Before you even hear them, one look at KEF's two new virtual-surround systems confirms that they're visually stunning. The FiveTwo Series Model 11 ($2,000) is a full-size tower, and the FiveTwo Series Model 7 ($1,200, reviewed here) is a smaller speaker intended for stand- or wall-mounting. The FiveTwo moniker describes the systems ability to produce five-channel surround sound from two speakers--the front left/center/right and left/right surround channels are reproduced by different drivers within the speakers (with the ".1" bass channel routed to a separate subwoofer). Unlike many self-powered virtual-surround systems that rely on proprietary digital surround processing, KEF's Model 7 was designed as a freestanding system, so it can be used with any A/V receiver. KEF's high-end approach pays dividends in audiophile-grade sound quality, but the Model 7 falls short of the best competing systems as purveyors of immersive surround sound.
Finished in exquisite piano black or matte silver (with black accents), the Model 7 strikes a decidedly upscale pose that wouldn't look out of place next to a pricey 1080p video display. The elegant speaker has a rounded top and bottom and stands on a curved metal base; it can either be stand- or wall-mounted. Fit and finish are executed to a very high standard, and the drivers are covered with black cloth grilles on the front baffle and the sides of the speaker. The 15.7-inch tall speaker is 4.1 inches wide and weighs 8.5 pounds.
The Model 7 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 were designed to plug into the speakers, and at the other end, five pairs of clearly labeled wires intended for hookup to a receiver's five channel speaker outputs. Unfortunately, the two speaker connectors aren't labeled Left and Right. We guessed, and noted during setup that 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 it fails to mention that you'll have to adjust your 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 7.
The Model 7 can be used with any brand of subwoofer. KEF subs start with PSW 1150 ($350), but KEF's $799 HTB2 sub stylistically (and probably sonically) will be the best match. We used the HTB2 for all of our listening tests.