Raymond Cooke, himself, would be proud of these speakers. KEF, which from the beginning has sought to take advantage of new, synthetic materials and state-of-the-art technologies, has remained true to its founder’s legacy of innovation to the present day.
The KEF Q500, a two-and-a-half-way bass-reflex design, is the introductory point for the company’s “Hi-Fi Speakers” Q Series loudspeaker line that also includes the Q700 and Q900 models. The obvious primary differences between the $1199-per-pair Q500 and its smaller siblings are the Q500’s larger drivers and cabinet dimensions. All Q Series loudspeakers use a high-quality, aluminum-coned driver complement, including the namesake Uni-Q array (which I describe later), with the Q500 employing drivers that each measure 5¼": one woofer, two auxiliary bass (passive) radiators, plus one Uni-Q midrange/treble array. (The Q700 and Q900 utilize 6½" and 8" drivers, respectively.) First introduced in the late 80s, the company’s unique (pun intended) driver is now in its 11th generation.
Upon opening the review samples’ cartons, I found the installation manual conveniently placed under the flaps—a nice, easy-access touch. The speakers were held in place by closed-cell foam inserts and carefully wrapped in both a foam sheet and a protective cardboard sleeve. All components associated with installing the speaker, i.e., the plinths, plinth-mounting hardware, spike feet, etc., were also carefully packaged in their own discrete containers.
The black oak finish of my review samples was flawless, and the overall build-quality of the speakers very impressive. Installing the spike feet on the plinths and leveling the speakers was an easy task. The spike adjustment is performed from above using the supplied hex wrench and a spirit level (not supplied). My listening room is in an old wood-frame house with floors that are far from being perfectly flat, but happily, the spikes’ extended adjustment range allowed a perfect level to be easily obtained. This was the fastest I have ever accomplished that task!
The KEFs are equipped with high-quality five-way binding posts, allowing for the use of almost any home-audio connector available. In addition, the Q500s are designed to be bi-wireable with an additional pair of binding posts to facilitate independent connection to the tweeters. When not bi-wired, rather than being fitted with external shorting straps or bars, the Q series speakers utilize the KEF link—a clever, internal shorting mechanism. Per the manufacturer’s description: “The link is done internally with an impedance-neutral short-run copper circuit. The electrical connection is made to the link run via a threaded connector that opens or closes the connection based on the position of the external knob. By using the circuit-board-based shorting link, no skin effect or capacitance difference between the planes of the connectors is introduced.”
The heart and soul of the loudspeaker series is the Uni-Q array, which provides the mid and high frequencies. The current version of the array resulted from engineering development during the company’s recent Concept Blade program. In brief, the Uni-Q array places both the midrange and tweeter drivers concentrically within the same mechanical structure to form a single acoustic source that’s coherent in position, directivity, and time. This is in contrast to the old “whizzer cone” drivers, which placed the tweeter in front of the lower-frequency driver, and not at the same acoustic point. Moreover, the manufacturer states that this alignment of the midrange (which provides many of the spatial clues in stereo listening) and the tweeter improves the tonal balance characteristics and broadens the listening area rather than limiting it to a sweet spot.
My listening room is 13' by 21', with lath-and-plaster walls, hardwood floors, and a 9' 4" plastered ceiling. The speakers are located on the long wall. With the exception of some large record-storage shelves along portions of two walls and a large floor rug, the room is “live.” I initially installed the Q500s 19" from the front wall with the faces toed-in towards the listening position, similar to the way my reference Sunfire CRM-2 speakers are oriented. My listening seat placed my ears level with the tweeters.
On first listen, I was immediately struck by the Q500’s clarity and articulation. In fact, during early listening to “Eleanor Rigby,” from Dick Hyman’s Brasilian Impressions [Command], I could hear the vibrations of the clarinet player’s reed—quite impressive. Listening to “Waltz For Debby” from Bill Evans’ CD of the same name [Original Jazz Classics], as well as tracks from Bob Brookmeyer and Friends CD [Sony], I was able to easily pick out and identify instruments and voices within the soundstage. It was also obvious that the upper-frequency limit was quite high, likely in excess of 20kHz (the manufacturer claims 40kHz) and was not lacking in output. On “Captain Caribe” from Dave Grusin Discovered Again! Plus [Sheffield Lab], I noticed the cymbals shimmered without sizzling, and the overall amount of high-frequency content and rich harmonics was amazing. On “The Peacocks,” from The Bill Evans Trio featuring Stan Getz CD [Milestone], the full-bodied timbre of Getz’s saxophone was well represented, as was his “spitting” into his instrument while playing to produce sharp, staccato sounds. At the same time, the Q500s revealed the very soft sounds of his fingers on the sax keys. Closing my eyes for a moment, I could envision Getz onstage playing.
On Yellowjackets’ Shades LP [MCA], Jimmy Haslip’s bass lines were, within the lower-bandwidth limit of the speaker, well represented, with a solid foundation. Subsequently, listening to “The Love Nest,” from Leroy Vinnegar’s Walkin’ the Basses CD [Contemporary], I found both the strings of Vinnegar’s upright bass and the rich harmonic content they generated to be well defined, with even more lifelike realism than the Shades LP.