KEF Reference 1s or Wilson Sophias

I’m using KEF Reference 1s driven by an Ayre XV-5 Twenty amp and augmented by a pair of Velodyne HGS-15s with bass management. The sound is excellent. I have a fond memory of the sound with Wilson Sophias, but a memory 20 years old. Has anyone had an opportunity to compare the sound with these two speakers within a closer time frame? If so, what are your thoughts?

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The latest incarnation of Wilson's is much more neutral than you'll remember. I haven't heard KEF speakers since they were making the robot turret type speakers.

Erik, I think my itch is over.  A 20 year old sonic memory is not a basis for making a $6K decision, and that seems to be the going price of Sophias.  In truth, the Reference 1s, augmented by the HGS-15s, are superb.  The subs integrate seamlessly using the acoustic room correction, and provide a very satisfying experience with large orchestrations.  Somehow the combination yields a wall of sound with detailed imaging within it.  Resurrecting a 20 year old memory often results in disappointment.

I am familiar with the Ref 1s and used to own the VX-5 twenty.  I can only imagine how beautiful these sound together!

I think it will come down to your sub integration. Do you a crossover as in a highpass? If not I would start there. 

Anyway I have demoed a number of kefs and the Wilson’s. They sound very different. My comments are based on the Sophia 3 and the Kef Reference 3. From memory far apart so big glass of salt water here… but I spent many hours with both. Current speakers I own are Revel 228be and I also use duel subs. 

The Wilson’s have a upper mid bass punch that most other brands lack. It is what makes them great. I think it is just a function of the large boxes. The Reference 3 seemed to rely on the port of its bass and sounded a bit ripe to me with a fair amount of box coloration. 

the sound stage is much more stable on the kefs. In the perfect sweet spot the Wilson’s are right there but the wilson are a one seat don’t move your head kind of soundstage but in the pocket are great. The kefs seemed wider too… different rooms and setups…


the highs are a wash, I don’t like either honesty. Both sounded hard when pushed. There was clear compression in the kefs and the Wilson’s focal tweeter shows its age now. 

non audiophile opinion… I enjoyed the wilson much more. They are fun, the bass slams, they have weight to the sound…. But I would skip the Sophia’s. They are old and the foams fall apart. The Sophia 3 is still a good but imo but after hearing the new silk tweeter I would want the Yvette but they are still $17,000ish used and that is how I ended up with Revel 228bes lol. The revels are a steal by the way. Easily bested the Reference 3 for me. They have poor bass extension though and need subs. Having used subs for 10 years now I don’t think I could ever run a system without them. Even the big Wilson’s I would want subs. 

Low-pass is by a Velodyne SMS-1 bass manager that provides acoustic room correction, high-pass by a balanced passive Marchand.  The KEFs are driven by Ayre KX-5 Twenty preamp and VX-5 Twenty amp.  Sources are Roon via Ethernet through a QX-5 Twenty and a DX-5 DSD disc player.  I'm never aware of the mains and subs as separate sonic sources. 

I love Wilson at the shows in rooms large enough to let them breathe. My current speakers are kef blades.