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  Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
I just picked these up (for $250 plus some sweat equity) from a neighbor who didn't want to hassle with shipping, plugged 'em into a modest bedroom system and have been unexpectedly pleased. The R1s were KEF's early 90s replacement for the much-venerated 104.2s and are, in my view, a superior speaker in every respect.

I owned the 104.2s for a time and, frankly, didn't get the hype--they're pleasant enough, but to my ears sounded excessively laid back, lacking in high-end sizzle and low end extension.

In contrast, the R1s (which, I believe were in the first series to use KEF's Uni-Q midrange/HF driver technology)are much more "modern" sounding--more detailed and much more forward than the 104.2s. The pricipal attribute of the Uni-Q driver is wide dispersion--these speakers have a HUGE soundstage, with no discernible sweet spot; they sound room-filling and non-directional from virtually anywhere in the room. (Curiously, KEF's current Uni-Q designs like the XQ series sound rather boxy and congested to me. Go figure). As a corollary, imaging is not as sharp as more conventional dynamic designs. Because they're so immersive, they're great speakers for HT. Judging from the fair-to-middlin' gear I'm using with 'em, they're unfussy about electronics. They do need to be placed away from the walls.

The big surprise with the R1s is bass quality. KEF lists their low end extension as only 55Hz, which, subjectively, sounds excessively conservative. The R1s actually produce real, deep bass which, for lack of better terms, sounds thick and rich. The bass is not, however, very tight and can sound "wobbly" with certain material. I paired the R!s with my modest Mirage sub not because they need to go deeper, but because the sub better controls the low end and prevents occassional boominess. Build quality is solid; they're relatively sleek and svelte, with nice curving baffles; WAF is high.

Compared to my twice-the-price Revel F32s, the KEFs have a slightly harsher midrange and less seamless integration between midrange and lowend. However the KEFs actually sound bigger, throw a larger soundstage and seem to have more bottom end; rock sounds rockier on the KEFs. I imagine that the larger multi-driver models in KEFs same Reference series would sound bigger still.

For whatever reason, this series hasn't acquired the same cachet as KEF's earlier releases, and as a consequence you'll find 'em listed at bargain basement prices. These won't challenge Wilsons or Dunlavys for audiophile sainthood, but at their used prices they're quite a bargain for a very solid speaker.

Associated gear
parasound hca 1200a power amp
denon avr-3300 preamp
integra 5.5 dvp
integra cdc 3.1 cdp
mirage f150 sub
black rhodium speaker cables/audioquest jade and monster ics

Similar products
KEF 104.2

by Loomisjohnson on 03-22-10 
  Follow ups
Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
Thanks. Nice review. Now, you've got me looking for a pair...
Jgiacalo 03-23-10



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
jgiacolo, some dealer (with whom i am wholly unaffiliated) has a pair of the reference 4s listed on agon for $1200 (srp $5500)--these were the top model in the series. i'd be awfully tempted...
Loomisjohnson 03-23-10



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
The R105/3's were the first reference speakers kef used uniQ drivers, and the R 1,2,3,4's look like next generation with modest improvements across the board. I wonder how those speakers would sound A/B against the R201/2's?
Steve59 03-10-12



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
Hi,
Thanks for your review.
I was offered to trade my KEF 103.2 speakers with a KEF referance model one.
Assuming that both models are in good condition, do you think it is a good bargain?
Thanks,
Shai

Farkashshai 03-19-13



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
"As a corollary, imaging is not as sharp as more conventional dynamic designs. Because they're so immersive, they're great speakers for HT. Judging from the fair-to-middlin' gear I'm using with 'em, they're unfussy about electronics. "

I would think that a more point source like uniQ driver is optimal for imaging (not to mention coherency) and would result in razor sharp imaging if done well.

Could it be that perhaps since the soundstage is apparently also larger than the norm that the perceived less sharpness in imaging is just a result of teh larger scale of presentation? Kinda like looking at an HD video source on a 60 or 80 inch screen rather than 32?

Mapman 03-19-13



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
farkashshai, i'm not especially familiar with the 103.2s, altho i did own the 104.2s of the same vintage and thought the reference ones are a better speaker--livelier and much more transparent. i do note that the 103.2s are a bookshelf speaker, so you'll get more low end with the r1s + you'd be trading an smaller $800 speaker for a bigger $2100, which may appeal to your frugal side.

mapman, you raise an interesting point--perhaps it is the size of the soundstage which creates the perception of less precise imaging (i'm using "imaging" in the sense of the speaker's "ability to float specific phantom images, reproducing the original sizes and locations of the instruments across the soundstage"). ultimately, however the perception does become the reality--with widely dispersing designs like these kefs or certain mirage or as ohms i personally don't hear the placement of instruments as precisely as on, say, proac or focal.

anyway, i've been enjoying these r1s for three years now, which is an eternity for me (adhd), and as always, appreciate the responses and insights.

Loomisjohnson 03-19-13



Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker
"i'm using "imaging" in the sense of the speaker's "ability to float specific phantom images, reproducing the original sizes and locations of the instruments across the soundstage"

Practically, reproducing original "sizes" of instruments is particularly problematic in most cases. "Location" not so much.

The reason is what I would refer to the "sonic perspective" of most recordings.

To distinguish size of one instrument from another, very close stereo miking would have to be applied. For larger ensembles then, multiple close stereo microphone pairs would have to be used. Then it has to be mixed together to sound coherent. What you get then regarding soundstage is very much an engineered mosaic of that parts that went into the recording. It has a soundstage, but not a "natural" one, except perhaps on very well recorded, closely miked solo or small ensemble recordings.

At the other extreme is use of minimal miking at a distance to capture the natural "sonic perspective" of the performance. Here you get big soundstage with accurate location of original players but not much in regards to "size" of instruments due to distance from players to microphones.

Then of course room acoustics during recording come into play in all cases as well.

You need a variety of good recordings as well as some supplemental information with details about how the recording was made as well to meaningfully access how well spatial relationships in the recording are reproduced.

Mapman 03-21-13



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