The Power of One
In desktop mode, the X300A L/Rs were poised about thirty inches from my seat, angled inward a few degrees, and tilted up slightly. From the moment I cued up Stravinsky’s Pulcinella [Argo] with its vivid palette of short themes and quirky rhythms it was clear that nearfield listening is an ideal mission for the Uni-Q design. The immediate effect was a speaker system that was well balanced and dynamically adept, with a strong midband balance and a firm presence range. The X300A is nicely graduated across the macro/micro-dynamic landscape with an image stability and pinpoint focus that are only approached by true single-driver designs.
Timbrally, the X300A reproduces music with a slightly cooler, forward tilt. It’s not a laid-back, cool-your-heels kind of speaker. It’s pacey, with a jump factor that should get your trackball and paperweights dancing. A cut like Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” is all about the groove it establishes, and the X300A sets it beautifully. The track is reproduced with terrific dynamic snap, crackling transient action off the snare, and a sensation of weight and impact unusual in a desktop speaker. The background vocals featuring the soulful Michael MacDonald are stunningly articulate.
As a result of the system’s proximity in a nearfield setup its sonic personality has a more upfront character—and a drier one. Because of its intimacy, I perceived more of the inner workings of a recording like Norah Jones’ Not Too Late [Blue Note] and less of the reverberant layering from the ambient environment of the listening space. The tiniest instrumental details take on greater immediacy, as transient attack and other low-level dynamic information tend to step forward. The presentation is not always strictly natural in my view, but it is addictive and allows music to attain a clarity and specificity that are more akin to headphone listening but without the bullet-to-the-brain oddities of most cans.
Much of this impression owes to the fact that bass response is punchier and better defined than truly extended; in a desktop setup, low-end response never descends appreciably below the upper midbass regions. As a result a cello, for example, sounds a bit more sinewy than warmly reverberant and reveals more bite off the bow than resonances from the instrument’s body. Similarly on vocals, choral groupings, and massed strings, a hint more of the tweeter is unmasked by the lighter tonal balance. More so, for example than it is with KEF’s own LS50.
In terms of scale, no one is going to be fooled into thinking that the London Symphony Orchestra is actually playing on the desktop. But even at this reduced size, the soundstage and image proportion are so complete, layered, and stable, that it’s like observing an impeccably detailed, highly resolved miniaturized performance. If you’re unaccustomed to high-end desktop listening, it’s actually an amazing experience to enter the world that the X300A creates.
When the X300As are lifted onto floor stands and set out into the room, their sonic character shifts dramatically. Bass response deepens. Ambience retrieval and reverberant cues from acoustic recordings are heightened. A greater degree of warmth is introduced and some of the desktop dryness is reduced. The key is wall/corner positioning. The farther the distance from those boundaries the greater the reduction in low-frequency reinforcement. On the other hand, close proximity can thicken bass output and create soupy incoherence. In my setup, “just right” happened to be about eighteen to twenty-four inches (measured at the front baffle) from the back wall. Here, the X300A created a more lifelike impression of orchestral scale and an immersive surrounding acoustic that was both riveting and realistic. In SPLs there’s little need to coddle the X300, but keep in mind that a five-inch transducer does have its limits. On a punishing track like the Copland Fanfare for the Common Man [Reference Recordings] I could get reliable output into the lower-to-mid-90dB range at roughly six feet or so (higher in the nearfield), but I backed off above that when a flurry of tympani concussions caused an occasional bbbuuurrrp from the Uni-Q.
I cannot avoid a quick comparison to its passive/analog cousin, the LS50. In tonal balance they are clearly cut from the same cloth. But in output and dynamic gradients the LS50 offers a larger, warmer canvas. It also creates a more convincing illusion of soundstage scale and dimension, as it should for roughly twice the price—DAC and amp not included.
How good is the internal DAC? Hard to say since the X300A allows “no substitutions.” But it is certainly more than up to the task and further grousing would be missing the point concerning the lengths KEF has gone to make listening to the X300A a seamless experience. The versatile X300A creates two distinct listening options and both are loads of fun. Whether you’re a computer enthusiast or an old guard high-ender, I can’t imagine you not falling in love with KEF’s perky little plug-in.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Two-way, powered loudspeaker in bass-reflex enclosure
Drivers: Uni-Q array, 1" tweeter, 5.25" mid/bass
Frequency response: 79Hz–28kHz (47Hz–45kHz -6dB)
Internal amplification: 50W, mid/bass; 20W, tweeter
Dimensions: 11.1" x 7.1" x 9.6"
Weight: 16.5 lbs.
GP Acoustics Inc.
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, New Jersey 07746