Review: Kef Reference Model One Speaker

Category: Speakers

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

Showing 2 responses by loomisjohnson

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...
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.