New KEF Reference 5 speakers


After many months of auditioning speakers (and probably testing the patience of several salesmen) I finally decided to get the KEF Reference 5s.  I just loved the wide sound stage and almost holographic imaging, among other things.  They were delivered in February and I’ve spent many hours listening.  At first I was disappointed.  They just didn’t produce the same imaging at my house with my equipment as in the store.  Also, they sounded bright and harsh with violins and high end music.  The dealer came to my house along with the regional sales rep from KEF to provide advice.  They urged me to allow more break in time (at that point they had been played about 100 hours). After many more hours, I am becoming more acquainted with them.  They are still improving with time.  Them break in period seems to be very lon. They’ve played several hundred hours and are still improving. They are extremely source sensitive—meaning that a poorly engineered record or CD will sound terrible and a well recorded one can be great.  I suppose this is a good thing with the KEFS-that they reveal flaws so well says something about their accuracy. Unfortunately there seem to be more bad recordings than good ones so I’m finding many of my CDs and records very difficult to listen to.  I am still experimenting with speaker placement, learning which recordings are really good and which aren’t and other tweaks.  Not totally convinced it’s love but we are at least in like and the relationship is moving in a positive direction. I’ve delayed posting anything until now because I didn’t want to share any premature conclusions.  
fast
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I just have to say congrats: those speakers are way over-the-top, and likely will do you well for many, many upgrades in the RIGHT direction. And should be for the price, right?

My local dealer has them, and I have to say they are what I said in the above paragraph, and it's obvious. Even though I am not familiar with the system and components, listening through them with the streaming makes it super obvious to me the quality of the streaming lacks from what I was used to. 

Personally, if your system is making crappy sources sound like crap, that's a GREAT system! It's doing what it is supposed to do!
Those Kef are not the last word in resolution (quite British polite in fact) - so I am surprised you find them harsh and bright.

What are you using to drive them? I would recommend a warm tube preamp (not lush but warm). Mcintosh or Conrad Johnson. This will take the edge off everything and give you some mid range warmth.

What is your room like? Do you have absorbing rug or carpet? You might need to reduce reflectivity.
I love my Reference 5s.  Your patience will pay off and you will be rewarded with the soundstage and imaging you experienced in your demo once you dial them in.  You did not say what components you are using, but they do love an abundance of quality high current power. 
Approx 25 years in this hobby has taught me that one should not have to work so hard to enjoy a new purchase. If a component is going to work, you will know it quickly and instinctively, and without having to ditch 1/2 your CD collection...what a tragedy that would be! I predict that these speakers are just not for you.   
+1 bojack
You best love $19,000 speakers or you will just be spinnin’ your wheels after waiting for over three months for them to break in!
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dougsat, as a point of reference your experience with LS50s may not generalize well to Reference 5s.  I have six LS50s, two in a stereo setup and four used for surround.  All the LS50s were easy to place and none required extensive "break-in", although they are sensitive to the quality of the amps driving them.  Wonder if LS50 experience might generalize better to Blade 2s.

db
With 50 years in this hobby, I can say that if it doesn't wow me right out of the box, there is no amount of break in or fairy dust that will make it sound much better.  No speaker should need 200 hours of break in to sound decent, especially a pair that cost 19K.  If the speakers do indeed need that much break in time which is quite doubtful, why doesn't the factory do it before shipping?   

If you can only listen to half your music collection, then something is drastically wrong.  No way would I drop 19K on speakers, only to be able to listen to half my music collection.  I had an audiophile friend years ago who proudly told me that his system was so good that nothing sounded good on it because it showed all the flaws.  To that I say BS.  I would look for a preamp or integrated with tone controls to tame the speakers if you are dead set on keeping them.  If it were me, I would unload them very quickly and move on to something I could actually enjoy.
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@fast

First, congratulations on your Kef Reference 5 speakers.

Second, trust the process you went through, as evident from your other thread. You took your time to research, ask for advice, listen and evaluate before finalizing a choice and purchasing them.

Third, continue to be patient, as you have been. Break in does take time and since you have tubed components (ARC) you are likely not running the speakers continuously.

Fourth, as you know, good/great relationships take work and effort. And importantly, that effort does and will pay off. I’m assuming here, but I’m sure it took some time to dial in your system to satisfaction when you brought your Proac speakers into it.

Fifth, give yourself (your ears) and your system credit and kudos for being able to easily differentiate between better and poorer recording quality.

Looking forward to your ongoing reports on your very personal journey. All the best.
What was the amplification used at the store? I wonder if your dealer could help you out experimenting with a pre/amp other than ARC. I do not know specifically about KEF break-in, but speakers do not generally go from bad to good sounding. Brightness doesn't improve over hundreds of hours. Not that you asked but like others my suggestion would to very actively find a solution instead of giving it more time. 
It might be the aluminum tweeter giving you that bright harsh sound that you describe!
Ditto to bojack. After a couple hundred hours of burn in, if you are still trying to convince yourself you like something, it’s probably not for you. Doesn’t necessarily mean there is something inherently wrong with the product, it just means it does not float your boat the way you want it to.
One would hope that the dealer would allow you to demo the same frontend that was used in their demo room.

A process of elimination is in order here.
Don't wait til the warranty has elapsed with an extended "break-in" period.
A slightly different thought.  Is your room more livelythan the dealers?   It is amazing what $500 of sound treatments placed at the first reflection points can do to improve the sound of a “bright” speaker.  

I do agree with the others, for the amount you spent, you should love your purchase.  
I listened extensively to the REF 1 (well broken in) and it was a big disappointment, especially since I loved the KEF LS50s.  
The REF 1 come off as metallic and un-natural.  If the REF 5s are voiced similarly I can understand your hesitation.  
The REF 1s were hugely over priced even at a substantial discount from original MSRP.  
Strongly consider exchanging them for something more natural sounding.  
@avanti1960 May I ask what equipment you heard with the Reference 1s?  I agree that at $8000 USD MSRP, they're not the best value out there.
i heard the Kef Ref 5 at 2 different dealers. The second demo was terrible compared to the first which was very good. Different acoustic space and different associated components.my suggestion would be to  try  replicating the same as the dealer or change speakers. i always do a home demo with my equipment before any purchase.
I was quick to jump on the KEF Reference 1 bandwagon two years ago when they were first introduced in the US.  After many listening hours, I gave up and sold them.  They were the most disappointing purchase I ever made.  I think KEF speakers are very good, but this model is not one of them.
http://https//www.stereophile.com/content/kef-reference-5-loudspeaker-measurements

Looking at the impedance of your KEFs in the Stereophile review they're not exactly an easy load and you should drive them from the 4 Ohm tap of your ARC amp.

That impedance peak around 2.5kHz might also make your tube amp to highlight a little the frequencies in that region, making the speakers sound harsh.

I would try a SS amp that wouldn't have a problem driving them properly.
Avanti come on man your statements are just over the top

The REF 1 come off as metallic and un-natural. If the REF 5s are voiced similarly I can understand your hesitation.  
The REF 1s were hugely over priced even at a substantial discount from original MSRP.  
Strongly consider exchanging them for something more natural sounding.  

The Ref Ones have won many awards for their sound quality and the LS 50 are similar sounding without the superior resolution and holographic sound of the Ref 1s, so if you like the LS 50 you should love the Ref 1.

As per being overpriced again man compared to what a $9k pair of Focal Sopras, or an $8k pair of Vivids or any of the zillion $7-10k monitors that are on the market. The build quality of the Ref 1 is off the charts.

The Ref 1 are hardly unnatural sounding they sound like what you use them with which means they are truthful and accurate. Let me guess what is natural to you could it be an overly colored loudspeaker?

Fast you need to evaluate everything you are using with the Ref 5, we have sold them with Naim gear and the sound is stunning. 

The Ref 5 are amazing loudspeakers but must be used with the right gear which is the same issue you are going to have with any suitable high resolution low coloration design.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ Kef REF and Blade dealers


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audiotroy... did you REALLY suggest that the focal sopras have anything but incredible build quality?  
Local dealer got in another pair-ref 3's I believe. 

Spent a little time setting them up, but then they got so into listening to them, never really finished. 

And they were listening to Sonos?!

After being late coming home, my woman asked me what I thought about 13k for a speaker. I said they are for folks that have big money. I don't know if they are worth 13k, BUT if you have 13k, for that kind of money, they DO deliver 13k of performance.
No Contuzzi you don't read well do you. We were saying that the KEF Ref 1 are priced comensurately with any of the other major contenders.

I don't hear anyone talking about the Focal's being overpriced, they are not overpriced but again none of these other speakers are either. 

We sell the Paradigm Persona as well as the KEF's and both of these speakers are very well made and priced fairly for the build quality and driver technology as well as sound quality. 

Now we could have another discussion of $7 or $8k monitors that use off the shelf parts that cost a fraction of the price and then we might have something. 

Value is inherant in what you perceive it to be in.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ


Just a few impressions:

I can see why they can come off as bright and metallic, but my personal opinion is they are extremely detailed to the point of being unforgiving of being fed bright and metallic. Having listened to a few amps and such with them, they change quite a bit in the treble depending on not just what amp, but also the other components. ... More than most. 

Also, curiously, it SEEMED to me they wanted to be heard right on axis with the tweeter/midrange drivers. I could see lying on the couch with them. But anyway, the up-down axis with my head at the tweeter.mid seemed to snap things into focus, even maybe less bright. 

But having said that, they weren't weird to set up to me, or different than any other average speaker. Standing in other places in the room, being off to the right, left, standing at the back walls...the room reacted just as I would expect with any other speaker. The room still sounded better as a whole when the speakers were placed better as a whole. Regular speaker/room set-up rules still apply. 

Again, it SEEMS. Didn't get too much into it, just a few changes here and there until everyone decided to turn up and get into listening.
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I’m the original poster.  The hostility of some people here is very disturbing.  We’re talking about a hobby which is supposed to be fun!   Audiotroy I for one appreciate your input.  D2girls, chill out.  Let’s try to be civil and enjoy ourselves.  If I am now opening myself for attack by asking for some civility, so be it.  
Hi fast,
   Back to the topic at hand. Have things improved?
I am interested as well, any breakthroughs with the break in?
Thanks for bringing this discussion back on topic.  I am liking the Reference 5s more as I listen to them over longer periods.  Don’t known if the speakers are still breaking in, whether I am getting used to their sound or (probably) a combination of both.  I followed a suggestion on this board and changed the speaker wires from the 8 ohm to the 4 ohm terminals on my Audio Research power amp, which seems to help.  I have an old Musical Fidelity P170 solid state power amp and I’ve been thinking of trying this with my Audio Research preamp and the KEF speakers just to hear any difference.  I also may be able to borrow a McIntosh solid state power amp for the same purpose.  Some have suggested that solid state amps pair better with the KEF Reference 5s than tube amps, which is why I’ve considered this experiment.  All input is very welcome.  
@fast I’m having the same experience as you are but with the Ref 3’s. I also had AR gear and finally switched to McIntosh. Yes so much better and almost liveable, but still not making me 100% happy with all my music. I did a lot to try and like these speakers, but I’m finally calling it quits. It’s 8 months later and going to cut my loss. 
I started with an MC275 (90 wpc) with my Reference 5s and the sound was good.  Very smooth with nice mids and smooth highs.  Not the best resolution, but cast a fairly good sound stage.

I moved to Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks and the Reference 5s really opened up.  The Nemos are on the warm side, so didn't miss any of the wonderful mids and highs that I loved about the MC275.  The first thing I noticed was the much faster and very articulate bass.  The sound stage became much wider and deeper, with excellent separation.

As I mentioned above, the Reference 5s really like clean, high current power.  It will be interesting to get the results of your experiment and see if you can find a great matching amp in your setup.


@trknomo...………………………

I feel bad for you but I went through it as well with 2 different pairs of speakers.  One  pair I sold within 10 months for a 55% loss and another pair I had doe 18 months.  I hardly listened to that system during that entire time.  I took a big financial hit on those too.  

It's like I said at the beginning of this thread, if I am not liking the sound fresh out of the box, no amount of break in or fairy dust is going to make me like them more.  My advise would be to cut your losses now, life is way too short to agonize over something that is supposed to be fun, relaxing and enjoyable.
Thanks for all the input.  Stereo5, while I get your advice, I’m inclined to wait.  The speakers are several months old and aren’t going to depreciate much more than they have already over the months to come.  I’m listening to them every day.  
As I’ve said, I’m not ready to give up and there are good reasons to go slowly and be sure.  That includes time to try different electronics.  Not at all sure what I would like better and I hate the thought of going through the auditioning process again (the Monitor Audio P300ii was a close contender previously). TRknomo, sounds like we’ve had similar experiences.  I spent lots time listening to the Reference 3s at dealers and bought the 5s as a result because they are very similar except the 5s have two additional bass speakers  .  No dealer anywhere near me stocked the 5s so the first time I heard them was the day they were delivered.  What do you dislike about the 3 and do you have any idea what you’ll get to replace them?
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@fast Yes seems very similar. Funny I never listened to the Monitor Audio P300ii until after my disappointing purchase. If I had I would have purchased them instead as I think that was a speaker I could have lived with. 

 However since I didnt I’m taking my time and gonna spend as long as it takes. So far though at the top of my list of go backs and listen again are the Legacy Focus SE and the Magico A-3. Honestly if I just stopped right now and bought the Magico’s I would be happy and not look back.  But since it may take a bit to sell my Ref 3’s I’m going to listen to all I can.

 Fortunately  only took a small hit on the front end equipment by trading up and down with the dealer. It wasn’t till I went elsewhere and traded in my AR for McIntosh that I took a small loss. I was told the same thing though, it needed more break in time. It was my recordings, it was my speaker cables, it was my placement. At the end of the day I do realize it’s the speakers. I find that the Uniq driver does not play hard fast rock very well and just becomes very fatiguing. I can listen for an hour or two but then I’ve had enough. I’ve had less expensive equipment that I could spend the whole day listening to. So between PreAmp, Monos, TT, cables etc I have about 35K in and cant listen for more than a couple Albums. However with the same front end I sat at the MC dealer for a few hours and hated to leave when I needed to with no fatigue.

 I have an active thread going on here, check it out as I’ve recieved some good info that would benefit you as well. It the Best Speakers  that rock under 15K. 
Since this post is getting close to a year old, I’m wondering what the KEF owner thinks of them now.  Did you make any other changes to your system?  I’ve wanted to hear the 5s, but have none near me.  My 2 channel system now includes KEF 205.2s, McIntosh C50 pre, and McIntosh Mc452 power amp.  
Thanks for asking.  

The bottom line: I’m very happy to say that I am really liking the KEF Reference 5 speakers now.  The soundstage/imaging, dynamics—they are what I was hoping for but didn’t hear at first.  I think it took a long time for the KEFs to break in.  I also got some new equipment, as described below.  Finally, I had a visit from Dave,  the Audio Doctor who helped position the speakers and provided advice on equipment and other setup issues (please, let’s not detour into a discussion of the Audio Doctor and just leave it with my statement that he’s been extremely helpful to me).  

As for the changes to my system since my last post—new Wireworld cables (interconnects, usb, ethernet), an Innuous Zenith iii server to replace my Naim Unitiserve, Rega Planar 6 with Dynavector cartridge.  I’m considering a DAC to replace my Aurilac Vega 1. Dave demonstrated an Aqua DAC.  Also, I was able to borrow a PS Audio Directstream DAC with bridge (which sounds very good but keeps producing a clicking or pop noise over my speakers at random intervals, especially when using the bridge input—which may eliminate this DAC as a possibility).  Haven’t decided on another DAC but I’m in no rush.  Incidentally, the Innuous  is a great addition for the sound and the operational features.  Dave, helped me set it up with thousands of Albums and it feels like I must have almost every piece of music there is (I realize that’s not possible).  

My other equipment: Audio Research VT 130SE amp, LS 22 preamp, PH3 phono stage.  I’ve retubed these and had them checked over.  

The Reference 5s can be hard to find for audition.  I bought them, without hearing them and after much debate, after hearing and really liking the Reference 3s. Glad I stuck with the KEFs!
Good to hear, and congrats!  I’ve owned some iteration of the KEF Reference speaker since 1986, 107s.  I have a pair of 205.s and a pair of 203.2s.  I would like to hear the new Reference series, but the closest dealer is a couple hours away and doesn’t stock them.  Really like my 205’s and power them with McIntosh 452.  You may be convincing me to take a ride!!

As I mentioned, I ran into the same problem finding Reference 5s to audition.  I even called KEF’s US headquarters but the closest dealer they suggested was several hundred miles away.  I had no problem hearing the Reference 3 at local dealers and really liked them.  After much thought and talking  to several dealers, I decided that the Reference 5 would undoubtedly have the characteristics I liked in the 3 but with added bass. It was a little gamble sine I’d never heard them.   When the 5s arrived, I had some doubts which led to my post last May.  As raised in another thread, I don’t understand why companies like KEF require dealers to buy their products to show in their  store rather than lending them.  Hard to sell what you can’t show or demonstrate. 
This is a proof that good speakers really need
Very long break-in .my first Proac speakers open up after almost a year and my current Proac speakers (D30RS) opened up only after more than 6 month.
Glad you liked your Kef speakers eventually.
Congratulations fast on dialing in your Ref 5s.  I may have missed it, but did you ever mention what preamp/amp the dealer was using when you decided you wanted to purchase the speakers?  I would be curious.
As I mentioned, I never heard the Reference 5 at a dealer because no dealers had them in stock. I heard the Reference 3 at three local dealers but I honestly can’t remember what equipment they used.  I liked the Reference 3 at all three dealers and preferred them to several other models I auditioned, which is why I bought the 5s. I will add that, when the Audio Doctor visited, he was very impressed with the KEFs and with my older Audio Research amp, preamp and phono stage, none of which I bought from him.  To me, it was a good sign that he wasn’t just trying to sell the me unnecessary equipment.  
Hi fast, the reason I asked about the front end at the dealer when you were first impressed with the Ref 5 is that I would have gone the easy path of just buying the same gear. 

Regarding Audio Doctor, I called them and spoke with Dave, making it clear it was unlikely I was going to take a drive from Vermont to New Jersey to buy anything and I was accepting his invitation on Audiogon to call for his opinion even if not purchasing.  Dave was just very helpful and really spent an half hour just to answer some questions I had. 


I probably should have paid more attention to the front end equipment during the auditions but I wasn’t in the market for electronics.  I’m very happy with my 20+ years old Audio Research tube equipment and recently replaced the tubes and had it serviced.  I do recall that  the dealers tried to approximate my setup by using similar tube equipment for the auditions.

Glad you also had a good experience with Dave.  He told me that, before his visit, he thought I might need new electronics but, after hearing what I have, he no longer thought so.  He also visited some other dealers in my area and came away saying that some of their much more costly systems didn’t sound as good as my KEF Ref. 5/Audio Research equipment. He recommended adding  the Innuous Zenith 3, which I did and love, replacing my Aurilac Vega 1 dac, which I am working on, replacing my interconnects with Wireworld (which I have done) and adding a power conditioner—all of which I thought were reasonable recommendations .  
The fully tweeked up setup we had done at Fast's place sounded amazing and in terms of the marriage between the components, the room size and configuraton, as well as his taste in music, yes his system in our opinion did sound better than a local dealers YG Sonja setup with a Naim, DR 500 series amp and a Berkly Dac and Nordost cabling. which was a $300k rig.

What we added  a set of Isoacoustic Ghia Footers under the Ref 5
                           two set of Wireworld Platinum Interconencts
                            a Wireworld Ethernet and USB cable
                            a Innuous Zenith server
                            a Aqua Hifi Lascala MK II Dac 
                             two sets of Stein harmonizers
                              an Audio Magic Power Conditioner and an Isotek Syncro power cord
                              Audioquest Hurricane power cord for dac and server
                              ( the ARC gear had captive chords)

What was very interesting was the addition of another set of ears from the President? of the CA audio society who also heard the improvments that the Aqua dac and the Stein Harmonizers brought to the system. 

We have found that the carefully application of the right, components, cabling, and accessories will elevate the performance of a system tremendously. 

What wa clear is that as each piece of the tuning rig was added the system became more and more life like, which was really enlightening. 

The moral of the story system setup and synergy is what is crucial. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ