KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11 review: KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Beautifully styled and engineered 2.0-channel virtual surround speaker system; each speaker has 11 drivers; KEF's advanced Uni-Q drivers deliver razor-sharp imaging while the side-mounted NXT flat-panel speakers produce surround sound; designed to work with any A/V receiver.

The Bad The matching KEF HTB2 subwoofer adds $799 to the already expensive system price; proprietary 16-foot speaker cables could limit placement options in larger rooms and custom install settings; sparse instruction manual belies the time and effort that needs to be invested for optimal sound.

The Bottom Line While their surround effects fall a bit short of the best we've heard, KEF's beautifully crafted FiveTwo Series Model 11 speakers produce five channels of sound with exceptional audiophile-grade clarity.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0

Intro

KEF's Model 11 speakers ($2,000 per pair) are one of two models in the company's FiveTwo virtual surround product series, so named for their ability to produce five-channel surround sound from two speakers. Unlike most self-powered virtual surround systems that rely on proprietary digital surround processing, KEF's Model 11 was designed as a freestanding system, so it can be used with any A/V receiver. The 40-inch tall towers' height gave the company's engineers the room to fit the svelte speaker with 11 specially designed woofers and tweeters, and the exquisitely finished speakers have an upscale look that would be right at home next to a pricey 1080p video display. KEF's high-end approach pays dividends in audiophile sound quality, but the Model 11 falls short of the best competing systems as purveyors of immersive surround sound. That said, if you value audiophile-level clarity and detail over faux-surround sonic gymnastics, the KEF FiveTwo Model 11 speakers more than justify their admittedly high price tag. The elegant KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11 speaker stands on a curved, metal base. Fit and finish are executed to a very high standard--as we'd expect from a set of $2,000 speakers--and the drivers are covered with black cloth grilles on the front baffle as well as the sides of the speaker. The 40.2-inch tall speaker is 4.1 inches wide and weighs just 24.9 pounds--so it might be easily toppled over by small children or pets. Alternatively, the Model 11 can be wall mounted. Alternately, KEF also offers a smaller FiveTwo Series speaker, the Model 7 ($1,200).

The Model 11 comes with a special speaker cable that will probably be long enough for most buyers; we hope it is, because the 16-foot wire is your only hookup option. The cable's proprietary connectors are designed to plug into the speakers, and at the other end, five pairs of clearly labeled wires are intended for hookup to an A/V receiver's five channel speaker outputs. Unfortunately, the two speaker connectors aren't labeled left and right. We guessed, and noted during setup the left channel test tones were coming out of the right speaker, so we immediately turned off the amplifier, and reversed the connectors at the speaker ends. That did the trick, but KEF should have caught the labeling omission.

More gripes: the owner's manual is short on text and setup details and fails to mention that you'll have to adjust the receiver's five-speaker channel volume levels to achieve the most enveloping sound--and balance the subwoofer's volume to best blend with the Model 11. The KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11 features a new, all-metal, 3-inch version of KEF's Uni-Q combination woofer/tweeter driver. KEF claims that conventional speakers' separate tweeters and woofers produce a different sound "blend" for listeners in different parts of the room, while the Uni-Q's "point source" sound produces more precise imaging for those listeners. Each Model 11 has two Uni-Qs: one for the left or right channel and one for the center channel. The center channel's bass is generated by one 3-inch woofer, while the left/right channels' bass comes from four 3-inch woofers. The speaker's side is fitted with two flat-panel speakers that bounce off the room's side walls to create enveloping surround sound.

The Model 11 can be used with any brand of subwoofer. KEF subs start with PSW 1150 ($350), but KEF's excellent $799 HTB2 sub stylistically--and probably sonically--will be the best match. We used a HTB2 for all of our listening tests.

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