KEF X300A Digital Hi-Fi Speaker System


Equipment report
KEF X300A Digital Hi-Fi Speaker System

KEF’s versatile coincident driver, the Uni-Q, has been cast in a new role—a part, in my humble opinion, it has always been destined to play. It’s the X300A Digital Hi-Fi Speaker System. I’ve admired this unique transducer for some time but most recently when I evaluated the KEF LS50 (awarded a Golden Ear in Issue 235). I continue to feel it’s one of the most satisfying compact two-way speakers I’ve encountered in the last couple years. The speaker is not only visually arresting; it also boasts superb midrange sonics, full-bodied presence, and potent midbass punch. I always thought it could be the basis for an outstanding nearfield or portable monitor. And whaddya know—with the X300A KEF engineers have taken that next logical step and reimagined the LS50/Uni-Q for desktop duty and the world of computer media.

The speaker may only be eleven inches tall, but pint-sized or not, the X300A is no toy. The cabinet has been reduced in volume and trimmed in a more utilitarian finish. Visually immaculate it’s as clean as a whistle—with a front baffle with no visible hex-head mounting bolts or other distractions, just the anodized, aluminum Uni-Q (5" midbass and 1" tweeter) with its “tangerine” waveguide and uniquely ribbed surround and stylish trim ring. However, now it’s powered by two built-in Class AB amps and toroidal transformers that generate 50W for the mid/bass driver and 20W for the tweeter. The whole shebang is $800, about half the price of the LS50. (A wireless version of the X300A is available for $999.)

So far so good. But what makes the X300A a “Digital Hi-Fi System” relevant for the new breed of desktop recording engineers, music downloaders, and computer-media enthusiasts is the inclusion of a full-time, 24-bit/96kHz USB DAC. The takeaway is that all incoming signals are digitized, effectively making the X300A a self-contained stand-alone system that only requires a computer source to be complete. Tweakers may quibble, but users who want to get up and running with a minimum of hassle will celebrate.

Koincident and Klever

Setup is easy thanks in part to the supplied cables, which include a pair of two-meter USB-to-mini-USBs and the twin power cords required to power the internal amplifiers. All connections are secured from the back panel of the X300As. The left and right speakers serve specific functions. The left channel acts as the “parent,” the right channel as the “child.” One USB cable connects the computer source to the left channel; the other connects left and right channels together. A rear-panel knob on the left speaker controls volume, while another knob on the right channel handles balance. Just why the connections are buried on the back panel beats me. I would have been happier if the volume/balance adjustments were on the front.

In addition to the USB connection there is a 3.5mm auxiliary input on the back of the left channel for a personal player like an iPod/iPad. All incoming signals are then digitized via the X300A’s internal ADC, and later reconverted to analog.

A slider switch on the back of the left channel allows the user to optimize the X300A for two listening environments. In the “desk” position the X300a is set for nearfield desktop listening by rolling off the bass to alleviate potential boominess. When in the “stand” position the X300a is optimized for open-field listening and bass response is flattened out. Foam port plugs or “bungs” are also supplied for smoothing bass response to accord with wall/shelf placement. An optional five-meter USB-to-mini-USB cable is manufactured by Wireworld, and offered for conventional in-room positioning. I evaluated the X300A in two configurations—as desktop monitors and on floorstands in a traditional in-room configuration.

Featured Articles