Help me choose - KEF Reference 200 or XQ Series?

My system will be used primarily for home theater (85%). I plan on using a Pioneer Elite VSX-49TXi receiver (130 watts per channel over 7 channels at 8 ohms) which I expect will do everything I want. I figure I can always add amps or go to components later if I desire. I currently have a 10” Velodyne subwoofer that I will use until the budget allows an upgrade. The room size is about 23’ wide by 31’ long. I will be using a little more than half of the area for our home theater (14’ x 31’) with the sofa about 12’ back from the HDTV (hopefully a hot new 55” to 80” LCOS display next spring).

My wife and I have listened to a wide range of speakers and really love the sound and imaging of the KEFs. Sorry B&W fans, the sound just didn’t fit our particular tastes though we checked out both the 800 and CDM NT series. I believe this is a one-time, 20+ year shot at buying speakers since we have three young children to raise and educate. With that theory in mind, I think we’ll be best served by buying the best speakers we can possibly afford as we can always upgrade other components later as our budget allows. As we all know, a wholesale change of speakers for a 5.1 or 7.1 HT setup is horrendously expensive to do at once if you are concerned with timbre matching.

As for the speakers, here are my contemplated options:

Qty Model MSRP Street Used
4 Reference 201 7,000 5,498 3,600
4 KEF Stands 990 856 856
1 Reference 202c 2,000 1,588 1,040

TOTAL 9,990 7,942 5,496

Qty Model MSRP Street Used
2 Reference 203 5,000 3,949 2,600
2 Reference 201 3,500 2,749 1,800
2 KEF Stands 495 428 428
1 Reference 202c 2,000 1,588 1,040

TOTAL 10,995 8,714 5,868

Qty Model MSRP Street Used
2 XQ5 3,000 2,445 N/A
2 XQ3 2,000 1,545 N/A
2 KEF Stands 495 428 N/A
1 XQ2c 1,450 1,250 N/A

TOTAL 6,945 5,668 N/A

Qty Model MSRP Street Used
4 XQ3 4,000 3,090 N/A
2 KEF Stands 990 856 N/A
1 XQ2c 1,450 1,250 N/A

TOTAL 6,440 5,196 N/A

As you can see, the used prices of Options #1 and #2 for KEF Reference Series speakers compares favorably with the street price of the new KEF XQ series to make my decision more challenging. While I would prefer either Option #2 or #3 in order to get the 203 or XQ5 floorstanders, our concern is the ability to fit the larger speakers into the décor of our next home. While floorstanders would work great in our current dedicated HT area, I’d hate to seem them not work out in our next home. The advantage to going with four Reference 201 speakers now is that if it worked out in the future, I could add 203s to the front for an awesome 7.1 setup. Alternatively, I could also do four XQ3s now and add a pair of XQ5s later.

So far, we haven’t been able to demo the KEF Reference Series against the XQ series in the same room. My wife and I feel we can’t go wrong either way assuming that we can find the used Reference series speakers over time. My wife also prefers the look of the Reference series – an always important issue.

Now to my most important question – which option would you choose and more importantly – why?

Thanks much!
I believe you're getting cart before horse. Wait until you get room & then try out demos. When installing, remember, location…location…location & take your time to choose. You will have to listen to a mistake too, unless you've beaucoup bucks, then it doesn't matter.
In one of the British mage, either Hi-Fi News or Hi-Fi+, I read a very luke-warm review of the KEF XQ Series. Sorry that I can't recall which...I was sitting in Barnes and Noble and pouring through like 6 audio magazines for free, because I am one cheap, ugly bastard. Anyway, the review said that XQ lost many of the good traits of the Ref series, and didn't even really improve that much upon the mere Q series in overall sound. If you can possibly swing it, the 203/201 combo, or even the all 201, seems like it could work out really well (if matched with the proper electronics). I would just prefer, on a purely personal note, to get a little closer to full-range with the fronts (i.e., 203's rather than 201's).
Beavis - Thanks for your comments.

I am concerned that you say to wait until I get a room to demo the speakers at home. So far, I've listened to the KEFs at 5 different stores and liked the sound at each of them. If speakers are that sensitive to the specific room, I am very concerned as to how they will perform in future homes. My whole point in getting a high-end speaker is that it will perform well wherever I live over the next 20 years.

I do believe placement is critical and I believe AVIA, a sound meter or the MACC feature of the Pioneer 49TXi will help me adjust my speakers to best fit my room.
Thedautch - I'm ROFLMAO at your response as I'm as "thrifty" as you when checking out magazines. Would you happen to remember what month you read the luke-warm reviews? I'd love to read it.

I had a chance to listen to the XQ vs. the Q series in the same room and thought that there was a very big improvement from the Q7 to the XQ5. To me, the XQ5 had a much better sound across the board and better imaging. My wife felt the same way.

It's really a bummer I haven't been able to listen to the KEF 203 or 201 vs. the XQ series. Assuming I can find the 203s or 201s used, they will probably be the best choice. I would feel especially lucky if I could find a set of 205s at a great price to go with a set of 201s. I've listened to this particular setup a number of times and have absolutely marveled at the sound in a home theater setup. Maybe I can convince my wife that since the floorstander would work for our current space, we could always find a new home for them in another room or sell them if we couldn't find an appropriate space down the road.
As a current owner of Kef Reference 2~2's, these are my thoughts. The rears do very little when it comes to music and HT. The fronts and center do most of the work besides the sub. The XQ is way ahead of the Q series. You could also look at last years model of Reference (2~1,2,3,4). You need to decide if this setup will also do 2 channel or not. If it does, then buy the 205's or 2~2's at least and add the XQ3's as rears or even some RDM's(used). The Kef uni-q sound is important to maintain but it is not neccessary to have the same group in one room.(ie all reference or all XQ or all Q)

My only regret in my system is not going separates from the first. buy a used good receiver and a great amp if you can't find a reasonable processor. I just picked up an Anthem MCA5 series II(200w per channel @8ohm) amp to go with my Integra 8.2 receiver. The Integra drove the 2~2's okay but the amp added lots of dynamic and sonic improvements. These Kef can really use lots of power to show their true colors. (BTW, a THX select receiver has the exact same processor as a THX ultra receiver except that it's amp is rated for a smaller room.)

Sorry about the rambling.
Thank you Mark for your response.

Do you think the Pioneer 49TXi will be underpowered for the KEFs if I use a 203 or 205 in front? I usually don't listen to HT or music all that loud. My theory is that the 49TXi is a good reciever and that I can add an amp to it down the road if needed.

Were you aware that you can use the 49TXi to bi-amp the speakers? This can be done by using the A & B channels for the main. The downside is that you can then only go 5.1 for HT rather than 7.1. Remember, the Pioneer drives all 7 channels at 130 watts.

I've read so many positive threads and reviews on the 49TXi and I must say - I love the gadget nature to it. It has a ton of programmability and the MACC which seems impressive.

Are the Kef Reference 2~2 series magnetically shielded? Where do you think I can hear them? Have you ever heard your speakers side-by-side vs. either the new Reference or XQ series? I'm curious as to how you thought they compared.

In the meantime, I'll see if I can dig up some information on the KEF site regarding your speakers.

Thank you again for the feedback!
I think the Pioneer will do a nice job driving them. You will not fully realize their capability using a source at 130wpc. Similar to my experience.
They are magnetically shielded. My speakers fall closer in sound to the new 200 series but the XQ is not that far away either. The XQ is slightly leaner in the mid-range but definitely above the Q line. You could use the XQ line till the 200 series can be had used.

Hate to throw a monkey wrench in ,but I listened to some Thiel CS 2.3's a few weeks ago and was quite impressed. FWIW.
I got a chance to listen to new KEF 203s and 205s again. I really do love their sound. I think either would make a good choice for my fronts. I have seen more used 203s than 205s. Being so new, I think it will be a long while before the XQs will be available on a used basis - so from that perspective, I hope to find the used 203s or 205s which is approved by the wife in terms of sound and looks.

One of the tough things will be to decide whether to hold out for the more expensive 205s and go a bit cheaper for the rears. I'm not sure whether this will be the best approach or not. I've heard of a few people using the KEF Eggs for the surrounds and being quite happy with them. It seems as though you are saying that having Reference grade speakers for the rear isn't nearly as critical as it is for the fronts and center. Please correct me if I am wrong.

You're probably right - the Pioneer will drive them just fine but someday a bit more power may be in order.

I looked into the Thiels on their web site and on a few reviews. Based on what I read, it seems as though they have a design philosophy similar to KEF. Is the sound fairly comparable? Do you prefer them to your KEF 2~2s? After all the reading I did about them - and they do seem worth consideration - I found out the two nearest dealers are both over 250 miles away in different directions - bummer!

Thanks again for the analysis!
Yes getting reference for the front left and right is important especially if there are times you want to listen to 2 channel music. If you like the sound of the 203 and 205, I would pick the 205 for the added bass extension long term. You could use almost anything for the rears. I would probably not do the satellites though. Look for some Q or RDM or something similar with the Uni-Q drivers.
For the center channel, you dont have to use the extra large reference center. I think the step down would probably be fine. Remember the larger the speaker the more that receiver has to work to drive it properly.
The Thiels sound very similar to Kef. I only listened for about 10 minutes but the similarity is so close I could not accuartely characterize the differences. I'm thinking of using their in-wall for my second zones.
The XQ and the 200 ref series came out at the same time.
Hopefully I'll eventually be able to find a deal on some used 205s. You're right - for the center the 202c should be fine with no need for the "killer" 204c as nice as it may be.

The KEF Eggs are an interesting thought, but the 201s or something from the XQ or Q series depending on budget may be a better choice.

I'm glad to hear the sound of the Thiels is very close to the KEFs. I was considering the 250 mile trip but given you say that the sound is close and I really do like the sound of the KEFs as is, it's probably not worth the marginal difference.

Thanks again for all your help!
I'd go for option 1 with a KEF PSW4000 sub. I shopped for subs for 14 years, bought several, returned all (many different companies) and finally found the new KEF. Frankly, it's the only subwoofer that I found that didn't fall into the "is it good enough to tolerate" category. Rather it's in the "it makes my system sound better" category. Of course, set up is somewhat difficult, as it is with any sub. However, the KEF makes it easier because it has an RF remote so you can make adjustments from your prefered listening position.

I've never had the chance to listen to any KEF Sub. Have you ever tried or listened to any of the SVS subs? Given what I've read, it sounds as though their new PB2-Plus would be a dynamite addition to the KEFs. I'd love to hear your advice since it sounds like you've spent a lot of time making comparisons.

I do like the thought of the remote that the KEF sub has - a real nice touch!
I'm currently running a Velodyne FSR-12 with my Kefs. The Velo is a servo controlled unit and comes with a remote as well. I believe it complements the Kefs nicely because they both happen to have a drier sound and I've always been thrilled by how quickly the sub reports the base and then stops.

I haven't listened to any SVS subs as I haven't found them in my area. I have listened to every sub made by Velodyne, Infinity, Klipsch, Boston Acoustics, Definitive Technology, Yamaha, SunFire and B&W. I have also listened to several miscellaneous subs by other companies. The one that stands out is one by Von Schweikert called the VR S/1. It is extremely clean but not very deep or powerful.

Compared to the others, the Kef PSW4000 was absouletly light-years ahead. The SunFires are powerful but muddy as can be. The Velodynes come in two flavors. The small ones are clean but not very deep or powerful, the large ones are deep and powerful but muddy. Of the ones I listened to, the DefTechs are pretty good and substantially cheaper than the Kef. However, I wasn't willing to spend $1200 for a sub that was just good enought to tolerate, but not good enough to love. So I spent $2k for the Kef which is a very enjoyable-to-listen-to product.

I tested the Kef quite extensively in two different stores and at home before I purchased it. I tested it on difficult material (acapella music with deep vocals, solo bass guitar, and piano - very clean) and I tested it with cinima (the Matrix - shakes everything in my house on all three floors). I even tried shutting off my main woofers (they're bi-amped) and dialing up the sub's crossover frequency to 140Hz so that it would produce all of the bass. This is very difficult for a sub - especially a downfiring sub - and the Kef performed flawlessly. On this same test, the Velodyne HGS-12 made everything sound the same - from voice to piano, it all went "boom". Very dissapointing.
Thanks for the info Lee! I'll have to find the KEF sub to demo sometime. BTW, I just bought a pair of KEF 203s here on Audiogon! I can't wait to get them!
If it was me I would definetly go with the Reference set up rather than the XQ set. I am a Sales Manager for Ultimate Electronics, which we are authorized dealers of KEF and have had the chance to compare the two side by side. Both are very accurate, clean and easy to lisen to speakers, however the Reference seems to have a more even tone throught the whole listening range. The reference also is better at producing the "sublteties" that the XQ series can overlook. In question to which set of the reference should you go with, In my opinion, the 205's clearly out perform the 203's. The 205's will play anything from opera to classic rock and roll, as well as any movie, where as the 203's just dont have the grace with the more classical style of music. They (203's) do very well with more upbeat, rock style music and very good with movies. The bass response to the 203's seem better than on the 205's, (odd since the driver is smaller) but with the addition of a good sub, this is not an issue. Remember that which ever system that you get, these speakers require about 60-100 hours of break-in before they really start to "sing".

Good luck!!