As a history teacher I enjoy reading the background of audio companies and their fascinating rise. British-based KEF is no exception. In 1961 BBC electrical engineer Kenneth Cooke founded KEF speakers. From the beginning Cooke focused on science and advanced materials to improve speaker performance. This passion led KEF in the 1960’s to use Mylar film in tweeters, Neoprene for the rubber surrounds in drivers, and Bextrene for the diaphragms. In 1977, KEF came out with separate enclosures within the speaker cabinet, one for the midrange/high frequencies and the other for the bass.
In the 1980’s KEF would take the combining of the mid/upper frequencies to the next level with the development of the Uni-Q driver design. Taking advantage of NASA’s development of the ten-fold power increase of neodymium/iron/boron magnetic properties a small tweeter could now be mounted within the mid driver in an array. In the three decades since, KEF has continued to advance the Uni-Q design. The audio press sang the praises of the stand mounted, Uni-Q based LS50.
In 2017, KEF unleashed the British-designed, Chinese built 8th generation of the Q series. The lineup comes in either satin black or satin white. In a way cool visual, the drivers are perfectly color-matched to the cabinet. The flagship Q950 full-size towers ($999 each) measure 41.75” H x 9.6” W x 12.9” D. Attaching the outrigger plinth bases adds tremendous stability to the 45.4 pound cabinet. Spikes are provided for those seeking tighter bass response due to room construction/design.
While my 9’x12’ listening space (at the time of the review) worked fine for any speaker at lower volumes and would be optimum for the stand mounted LS50 or mini-tower Q550, the Q950’s overwhelmed the space. Bigger isn’t always better, and either of smaller siblings would make for a better match in that space. Taking the Q950’s into my 15’x19’ living room provided the necessary space for the KEF’s to shine. The Q950’s are a room-friendly speaker. Fine-tuning via adjusting the placement is a near finicky-free experience with final positioning on the short wall, 8’ apart and some 30” inch out from the front wall. A slight toe-in finished a rather quick set period. The 2.5 way driver design presents a full helping of lower frequencies. Those finding the mid bass lacking tightness (in my case a non-standard crawl space under the floor), attaching the spikes or not to the plinth may bring sonic satisfaction depending on musical taste, or those using the Q950’s as part of an HT system.
When talking KEF speakers, it starts with the Uni-Q driver array. To understand the architecture, this exploded photo below tells the story. The overall design angle of the cone allows for a wide dispersion. The pure soprano of Alison Krauss in “Simple Love” retains the open, soft, breathy treble, while the higher piano notes find the balance between detail and warmth. The bluegrass track “Sawing on the Strings” demonstrates fine stereo separation; the banjo is pleasant, though a bit back on the stage. The acoustic guitar takes front placement with natural tonal character. Interestingly the Q950’s make the bass strings sound as if they are coming from a big old moonshine jug.
Continuing the parade of female vocals on the Q950’s, Amy Duncan’s “No Harvest” provides the same kind of airy soprano as Krauss, though with a bit more depth to match the rock elements. Equally impressive is the resolution of the cello bass notes paired against the vocals, each character is distinct, yet blends effortlessly. The coherence of Q950’s leaves no doubt of the physical scale of each instrument.
The Q950 cabinet continues the now 41-year tradition of the top section’s separate enclosure, holding the Uni-Q driver. The lower 2/3rds of the cabinet contain from top to bottom an 8” ABR (auxiliary bass radiator), 8” low frequency driver, and finally a second ABR. KEF has updated the suspension and increased the size of the roll surround on the driver.
One area where the Q950’s earns a top mark is frequency extension. Finding speakers at this price point that can do both top and a bottom naturally without brittleness or bloat is a rare feat. Barb Jungr’s cover of “The Times They Are A Changin’” offers wave after wave of detailed bass frequencies during the song’s opening moments. The driving bottom end of John Moreland’s “Amen, So Be It” demonstrates the Q950’s ability to easily pressurize the room. The ABR/LF Driver/ABR trifecta just can’t be matched by the LS50, even with the finest of stands that push the final price of the monitors above $2000.
The Q950’s fleshes out the warm tones of Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time”. This quality stays present whether amplified by tubes, solid state, or class D amplification. On the Q950’s, tubes sprinkle an extra bit of midrange magic, solid-state maintains excellent grip over bass frequencies, and class D detailed articulation. Pairing the Q950’s with the Peachtree nova150 provides enjoyable listening and makes for a fine starting point for a system.
Switching over to the jazz of Dave Grusin, the Q950’s dual ABR passive radiators in unison with the LF driver recreate the jabs of funky electric bass-led music in “Punta Del Soul”. The impact of this closed design places the entire Migration album in regular rotation during the review. Delving into the second and third tracks “Southwest Passage” and ‘First-Time Love”, the smooth decay of top piano keys and the natural tight ring of the triangle demonstrates the engineering and quality of the Uni-Q design.
The Q950’s are a wonderful match for this Grusin album. Take a listen to the percussion in “Western Woman”, the specific instrument detail coming from the background sounds of the right speaker, it’s a spot-on treat. The trumpet in “Polina” delivered from the front left cabinet is quite pleasant thanks to the Uni-Q driver.
The ability to play the full frequency range of music allows for a deep drilling into Tidal’s catalog. The ability of the Q950’s to replicate percussion alongside bass frequencies brings out various instrumental textures in Dead Can Dance’s Indian-influenced Into The Labyrinth.
Switching to more mainline rock, the Q950’s bold bass line in the Eagles “I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore” blends smoothly with the vocal harmonies of the Uni-Q driver. The same holds true for Portugal, The Man’s latest album Woodstock. Each instrument has a clearly defined area of the soundstage with the Q950’s. No muddying of the complex sonic waters with these speakers. The separate chamber for the Uni-Q driver and wide dispersion characteristics gets credit here.
Listening to one of my favorite symphonic works, Berlin Philharmonic’s Rimsky Korsakov: Scheherazade, the Q950’s filled the room spreading out the instrumentation in a wide arc. Quite impressive was the ability to present the subtle bass string plucks just past the 7-minute mark of “The Sea and the Sinbad’s Ship”. Add in the mellow sound from the woodwinds and Q950’s provide a quality listening experience.
Overall, the Q950’s lean forward in their presentation. While not for everyone, many will find this characteristic engaging as I did. Being a fan of warmer tones, listening to the guitar work of Mark Knopfler in “Telegraph Road” thru tube amplification demonstrates that the Q950’s sure hold over the listener. Though it bears repeating that these speakers sounded good in my system with all three amplification types, everyone’s room and systems are different, trust your ears.
Shopping for large speakers under $2k means checking off as many of the boxes in order of one’s personal preference. In the case of the KEF Q950’s one would be hard-pressed to leave any box unchecked. The basics are all covered, along with some items that many would consider extras at this price point. Well-done KEF!
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