- Written by Jim Clements
- Published on 04 August 2011
My initial impression of the KEF Q300' was that they were smooth, laid-back but detailed. This impression was formed straight away as I broke in the speakers on a small bedroom system with a proportionately small 25 wpc integrated amp. This smooth, laid-back and detailed sound eventually became my enduring impression of the KEF Q300's. This signature defined the Q300's even after I broke them in and installed them in my big system. They nevertheless benefitted substantially from an increase in amp power (and quality) at this point.
I even used the Q300's with a pair of Mark Levinson amplifiers just to test the limits of the speakers. Surely the KEF Q300's did not reveal all the air and transparency of the Levinson amps. But they aren't supposed to be able to do that! Not at $600 a pair. But I consider these speakers to be professional-grade studio monitors with a nice finish. They far surpassed my performance expectation for the price.
I started my serious listening with the LPCM 2.0 track of the Chris Botti Live in Boston Blu-ray. This is an excellent concert Blu-ray disc with high quality production values. It stars trumpeter Chris Botti leading his own band backed by the Boston Pops Orchestra. The speakers were being driven by the Anthem MRX 500 receiver with the ARC room correction off and no sub.
Botti's band is stacked with big time talent - think of Mark Whitfield on guitar, Robert Hurst on bass or Billy Childs on piano. But in my humble opinion, Billy Kilson, Botti's drummer since 2004, steals the show. He has his own unique style that he uses to really work over the cymbals producing world class polyphonic rhythms and amazing dynamic shadings. Give "Indian Summer" a whirl . . . Wow was all I could say! Over the Q300's, Kilson's cymbals really shone, although they didn't quite have all the air and extension of much more expensive speakers.
The KEF Q300's have great imaging and preserved the reverberant nature of the hall amazingly well for 2-channel set up. Botti has a very pure tone with his instrument and it came through the Q300's almost largely unscathed. With music, these speakers don't *need* a sub even in a larger room.
Although this concert is a veritable "Cavalcade" of stars, my favorite parts are when Botti is fronting his own band as in "Flamenco Sketches". That opinion quickly changed when Yo Yo Ma came on stage and later when the vulnerable Lucia Micarelli performed on "Emmanuel". With both of these stringed instruments, Yo Yo Ma's cello and Micarelli's violin, the Q300's really got the midrange right. And the coincident array as always provided excellent imagery on these tracks.
Keeping with a Boston-y theme, my next listening selection was the SACD remaster of the Living Stereo production Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor. This disc features Jasha Heifitz on violin with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as conducted by Charles Munch. I listened to the two-channel layer over the Anthem receiver and KEF Q300's. No sub was in play again this time.
These KEF Q300's are proving to be very musical speakers with all types of music but I feel they really come in to their own on orchestral works. The solo violin is nearly as clean and distortion-free as I've heard from this disc. The Q300's do not reproduce the lowest octave but you can still sense the "liveness" of a quality recording. With most material, I was perfectly happy with their bass reproduction.
True to their British pedigree, the KEF's displayed hair-raising rhythm and pace. Take Track 6, "Allegretto Non Troppo/Allegro Molto Vivace". There are a jillion notes a minute! Whew!!!! It gave me goosebumps. The soundstage was a little flatter than I'm used to on this disc, but you really don't give up a whole lot to much more costly options in this area.
Next I played the CD of The Decemberists – The King is Dead through my Oppo BDP 83SE. This is one of the discs that sounded better with a sub. So I activated my trusty old HSU Research VTF3 Mk3 sub. With this setup, the sound was about as good as you can get from a redbook CD – there was an uncanny naturalness to the sound. This CD played over the KEF Q300's had its own brand of synergy.
I love the instrumentation on The King is Dead; steel strings, harmonicas, fiddles, banjos, guitars, drums, etc. Plucked strings had a clean, round sound over the Q300's. The forlorn voices were far-off at times keeping their proper perspective. Track 6, "Down by the Water", just simply rocked the house. The drivers in the Q300's are surprisingly accomplished at this price point.
I also watched a couple of Blu-ray movies with the KEF Q300's. The first movie was the quirky film starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, Get Low. The bluegrass music on this movie is a big part of the story telling. It is well recorded as well. The artists include Alison Krauss, The Ink Spots, Jerry Douglas and the Steeldrivers. The fiddles sounded just right with the smooth KEF signature sound – warm and tactile. Allison Krauss's performance at the end of the movie was so pure sounding.
In the numerous quiet parts in Get Low, I could hear most every nuance in the environmental sounds. Voices too were nicely presented over the KEF Q300's. They could tend toward being a touch nasaly, but there was nary a hint of chestiness. This became most apparent with the controlled richness in the PA system at the Funeral Party. "Buy a ticket, tell a story!"
I also checked out the Blu-ray of the recent Denzel Washington release, Unstoppable. This movie was generally very good even as it became a little laborious in the third act. Although you may know the outcome of certain scenes, the filmmaker has a way of crafting the production so you stay on the edge of your seat. This is an art.
This Movie has a very high octane soundtrack that I thought would be a real test for the KEF Q300's. So, even in a large room with a 2.1-channel set-up, the Q300's produced remarkable dynamics and SPL capabilities. They are more sensitive than you may think. Although the speakers don't have great subjective HF extension, their sound is smooth and rich.