If you want deeper bass from your new KEF's, have a listen to them powered by a Devialet with SAM configured for them. According to the Devialet website, this will push bass response from 40.2Hz down to 23.4 Hz (short port) and from 34Hz to 20.6Hz (long port).ellisdj said:Update / Write up on the Kef Ref 3's so far.
At the moment I have been using them as pure 2 channel no multi channel yet (Centre speaker still in box being changed later this week for a matching Kent and Foundry Finish unit)
If you dont want to read the full ramble and just want a conclusion then this is it - Its still early days but so far they have exceeded my wildest expectations in every area except one - its the only time in my life where I feel I am hearing near perfect sound, so much so I am hearing just music for the first time ever (I dont mean just in my system I mean full stop on any system I have ever heard) - I will explain this in more detail.
The speaker placement is fixed because of lack of space and they need to fit behind a drop down projector screen so I move the Main Listening Position (MLP) in the room initially by ear for the best sound - I then measured the freq response of both speakers with REW to see if the ear matched the reality and I wasnt too far off - there was a lot of excess bass as I expected in certain frequency regions and a small amount of bass eq about 5 filters per speaker fixed these issues, all done manually in the Meridian preamp/processor digitally before any analogue conversion. I also checked how similar the freq responses were of both speakers, the slight eq allowed me to align both speakers bass response more than close enough, something I have not paid enough attention to in the past – the rest of the frequencies of both speakers also matched up more than good enough – very happy with that.
I tried measuring the freq response forward and back of where I positioned my MLP by ear, it is a pretty stellar overall response at the MLP but with an approx 10db null from about 150 – 200hz, Ideally I don’t want this – moving forward measured a flatter response and moving back leaned off the lower bass terribly and was no good at all, so I was very close by ear but not as good as it could have been. However measuring has allowed me to see how I can improve the MLP and even a few inches forward or back makes a huge difference to the bass response at the MLP believe it or not.
I initially didnt move the MLP because lack of testing, lack of time and this was supposed to be a quick setup just to fix the bass so I could listen test the speakers out and let them run in. I was aware that a slightly forward MLP appeared to have a better bass response. I listened to the system as is for a day or so, then yesterday I tested moving slightly forward to see if it sounded as the graphs appeared. Amazingly a few inchs created 2 very separate presentations. Sitting back in the chair was like being on the edge of the sound – with it all being presented up front – with a slight leanness to the mid range (as measured) but with very good separate imaging. Sitting forward a few inchs put you right in the heart of the sound but with a more full range sound – I wasn’t sure what I preferred for a minute or 2 and went back and fourth many times. However I decided sitting forward was more accurate if the frequency response was without the null and being in the heart of the sound is more exciting and I think more accurate than being on the edge of it so I moved the seat and MLP forward about 3-4 inchs. I am very glad I did but I will check this with REW to make sure it is a better spot before settling 100% on this MLP.
Enough technical’s I could explain a lot more but how do the speakers sound and how do they compare to the MA Plats I had before.
A Run Down of how they sound – I can see why C’No always bangs the KEF drum on WHF – I am an instant convert – KEF do really know what they are doing. Reading the white paper for these speakers demonstrates the immense attention to details paid and is one of the reasons I was very interested in the speakers.
The Mid Range is incredible, its so clean its Lucid and its intoxicating – its the first thing you notice. Certain content I have tested so far Anne Bisson, Melody Gardot for example I still cant believe it – the richness in the Melody Gardot vocal in My One and Only Thrill album has taken on a completely new stride to how I have ever heard it before. I always thought this was a good disc, but its actually an amazing sounding CD. A year or so ago I took the Anne Bisson Tales from the Tree Tops CD to a local dealer and they played it on about £120k+ system consisting of Uber high end valve mono block amps and Estelon Speakers – amazing system, playing the song “Dry My Tears” on this system had incredible imaging beyond the speakers that left a Sound Quality imprint on me – well that imprint has been smudged by what I am now hearing. I don’t get that level of beyond the speakers imaging from the Refs with my system in my room – but what I get instead is still a sound free of the speakers that is full, rich and organic with an authentic character, the vocal has wonderful scale. By Authentic character I don’t mean its adding something to the sound, I actually think quite the opposite, its not and you are left with just the music
The new War of the Worlds Album song “Forever Autumn” the Liam Neeson narrative and the Gary Barlow sung vocal are hard to describe they are so tangible and authentic and defined
Other lesser quality content such as modern music from heavily compressed Now Thats CD’s – even the vocal in these has its own space in the sound stage – with nothing in the way, nothing smearing it, you just hear it as it is and it can be impressive. Jessie J's album Who you are - the live track "Big White Room" the vocal in this song on these speakers is somehting special.
The Treble – coming from ribbon tweeters I wasn’t sure if I would get on with a standard Aluminium Dome tweeter – however reading the white paper the tweeter setup in the REF’s is far from standard.
These are direct sounding speakers with a naturally very flat freq response in the high end, no roll off – the treble is superbly integrated, its a combination of both delicate and direct – I feel it benefits being so as it helps give the music presentation both crispness and energy. I am susceptible to bad / brittle sounding treble it catches my attention. I have had a few PMC speaker demos and the treble has always got my attention for this reason, its just not for me despite liking the rest of what the speakers have done.
The treble being direct is fine so long as the speaker sustains the presentation and doesn’t “harden up” with either increased volume or complexity of the music to become harsh.
I demo’d both the REF 1 and REF 3 and the REF 1 did seem to harden up where the REF 3 didnt at all – that is the main reason I bought the REF3 over the REF1, so far I have gladly heard no hardening up, you can hear where the quality of the content is poorer but this comes across as so – and not as the hardening of the presentation overall.
Bass – onto talking about bass – the so often weak link of the chain in my experience. I measured the bass and I am getting excellent bass output (using both short port inserts) from the speakers 90db without even turning up the wick too much – you can hear it straight away, there is a nicely balanced amount of bass to add support and foundation to the sound but not smear anything.
I have come from using 2 high quality subwoofers superbly integrated with book shelf speakers at a high crossover of 150hz. The KEF bass is faster, cleaner, more detailed and more bouncy than the bass I was getting from the subs – However this is where there is one weak link in the REF’s armour - its in the bass extension.
Presently I am only getting about 45hz bass at a lowest point, the bass is rolling off from about 50hz. Now previously using subs I am used to bass to 30hz then rolling off, a lot deeper foundation to the sound. This is very noticeable in some content like the track “Hey Now” on the London Grammar album. But in saying that I will happily trade that last bit of bass extension for the speed and clarity of the rest of the bass presentation I am getting currently – for now anyway.
One interesting thing I noticed when listening to a Hed Kandi house music mix – Disc one of the Hed Kandi Classics album – being a former DJ I can very much appreciate good mixing, on one of the songs I thought this bass sounds odd until the mix transpired and it was actually the combined beats were ever so slightly out of time, so there was the slightest bass beat echo added to the main beat – even though subtle I could hear the individual beats of each track overlaid slightly out of time as clear as day and that impressed me no end in terms of bass clarity – I bet the DJ mixing the tracks was not aware of it as the system he was listening on likely didnt have this resolution in the bass, otherwise he would have made the touch adjustment to fix it – super impressive stuff.
Imaging - This has been a very interesting area because it’s an area that has really exceeded my expectations but not in a way I expected. I have heard a small handful of systems image clearly beyond the speakers and I have had a lust for that performance attribute from my system at home. The KEF REF's have improved on this over the Monitor Audio Plats but if I said I was getting sound way beyond the front wall I would be lying.
I have found myself lusting after this presentation less – why is that you ask. I initially thought a sound going beyond the speakers is a 3D sound stage, I still think this to a degree but I feel slightly different now
I have found the presentation with the Refs to be very free of the speakers - Its literally out to the sides of the speakers, in between them, beyond them to a degree and right out to the listening position with the exact same scale, clarity, resolution and richness – no loss at all. Now to me that is a True 3D soundstage. For example Madonna Immaculate Collection – Vogue – known for its soundstage and excellent mix – the presentation is layered right out to the listening position with clarity and fullness to every aspect of the music – then amazingly in part of the track you get a full scale, full resolution and full richness Madonna vocal personally whispering / singing right beside and in each of your ears – I have never experienced anything quite like it before. Amazing sound engineering to create this effect and Amazing speaker engineering to present it like this Wow Wow Wow. I thought right then “tomorrow I am going to call Kef and ask to speak to the doctor designer of the speakers, I want to thank him and praise him for creating such a product”.
Another good example is Chasing the Dragon CD, I have been using track 2 Choir and Organ “Ave Maria” to test for beyond the speakers imaging, I thought the furthest away it sounds, the more beyond the speakers the better the speakers – However this has been wrong. The Refs present this track as if the Choir and singers are about as far away from you as the speakers - not very far, so you would think the imaging performance is poor based on the assumption further away is better. This would be wrong - the sound is presented like you are sitting that close to the actual Choir in the actual church – the layout, fullness, clarity and resolution of the vocal presentation of both the solo singers and individual choir singers and the church and organ ambience is presented with the authenticity of you actually being a few metres away from the live singers. Then I realised that is what you are supposed to experience, not the singers sounding far away from you – The REF's are actually getting you much closer to the original performance and to me this is true high fidelity and what we are all chasing.
Overall Presentation – the first word that springs to my mind is Energy – these speakers seem to put more energy into the music than I am used to – it makes listening to the music much more of an event. Some people might say it’s more live sounding, possibly – I just think its giving you much more of what was the intended presentation of the music.
A perfect example of this is Paulo Nuttini Sunny Side Up album track “10/10” its a reggae festival feel track that I always thought was a pretty poor quality track. Well I was very wrong – listening to it now its actually full of energy, full of life, full of the ambience of such an event and it makes you want to get up and dance as a result. What I previously mistook for poor quality was actually subtleties of ambient detail that was being lost into a smear of noise but the REF’s are able to present this clearly and in an authentic way to create a musical scene that you can straight away associate and be sucked into – that was clearly the intention of the artist and its actually done fantastically when its played back like this.
The Second word that springs to my mind is Scale – every element of the music has such a large scale that it adds more authenticity and realism to the content. That is one of the main reasons why I bought these speakers – speakers with the design of drivers above the tweeter always seems to have a scale to the sound I simply love.
Hearing Just Music for the first time – That was a big claim to make, I appreciate that but I do stand by it – by this I mean I sit and listen to the content and I am not aware of obvious flaw or error in the presentation – these flaws and errors are the reminder that you are you listening to hifi not music.
I am very aware of the different quality of the content and also very aware of the different style of the presentation of the content much more so than before, the presentation differences say between lively and subdued are much larger and obvious because the speakers are able to take you further emotionally, because they are delivering more of the music intent and extending the dynamics of the music. This is addictive and makes you want to listen more and more content
How do they compare to the MA Plat’s – Tonally they are not that much different and I was able to get pretty close to this with the Pl100 and subs setup – however when you spend a bit of time listening you can hear where the extra money has gone in terms of the price of these speakers by comparison – they are expensive, but boy are they good – their really good, their really really good.
Other things to point out – I have heard these speakers on different systems and in different rooms and they have sounded average to poor to very good – but they never truly lit me up with sound on any of the demos I had, not like they are doing in my home. The systems they were played back on were better than mine as well in terms of boxes. But this has showed to me again that the reason I am getting this sound is the skill in setting the speakers up – but more importantly the attention to details I have paid in every area – room acoustics, quality of digital source, power, Isolation, I use the best cables in the world etc I am certainly not trying to take away from the excellent engineering gone into these speakers far from it – just pointing out all the best speaker engineering in the world can be very easily let down if we are not careful.
Amplification - I was worried i might not have enough amp for the speakers, however the Bryston 9BSST sounds better than ever, and sounds better the more you turn it up - the speakers seem to eat the power no problems. In saying that I cant help but think a good set of mono block amps would elevate the performance even more but the standard I am hearing is high enough off a quality multi channel power amp if that is what you might be conisdering using with these speakers, feel assured.
I think if you have got this far you can probably tell I am smitten with these Speakers. They have exceeded my expectations not based on how much they cost and therefore how good they should sound, they have exceeded the sound quality I expected to achieve in my home listening room and pretty much ever heard before in my life. They are delivering on a level that I think will satisfy the perfectionist in me for many years to come, its the first time I have ever felt that work on the sound can stop and I can actually concentrate on the enjoyment of discovering new music and how good the existing music collection can sound.
What’s even more gratifying to me is that I have achieved this level of sound quality and reproduction from an AV system – I always knew it could be done and that I could get one system to be great at both roles if I kept at it with music always the side that needed the work.
In saying that work continues as I need to setup the AV side and I am looking forward to fellow enthusiasts and forum member friends hearing the speakers / system as it is now and giving me their feedback on it. First person will be in a couple of weeks.
Well worth a listen. The difference SAM makes to my speakers is very well worthwhile. Not bloated, or louder. Just deeper.