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KEF's FiveTwo Series: virtual surround an audiophile can love

KEF's FiveTwo Series Model 7 and Model 11 speakers offer a high-end virtual surround solution for discriminating listeners.

KEF FiveTwo Model 11
The KEF FiveTwo Model 11 tower speaker

The KEF FiveTwo Series speakers got a lot of coverage when they were announced in the fall. "Two speakers, sounds like five," declared Gizmodo, and that was indeed the draw. Available in two versions--the 15-inch-high Model 7 and 40-inch-tall Model 11--the FiveTwo Series speakers are KEF's first stab at virtual surround. Using multiple drivers (each model is named for the number of drivers it utilizes), the FiveTwo speakers deliver the five (front left/right, center, and surround left/right) channels of a true surround system from just two front speakers.

CNET was able to put both FiveTwo Series speakers to the test, and the results were impressive. The KEFs delivered some of the best sound quality we've heard from virtual surround speakers. Discriminating listeners will find the KEFs--especially the Model 11 towers--to be worthy of the company's audiophile reputation. But there is an important distinction: while the sonic quality was among the best we've heard from these types of speakers, the surround effects--while palpable--weren't quite as enveloping as those found on the single-speaker Yamaha YSP-1100 Digital Sound Projector, which is still the king of the virtual-surround hill. In other words, go for the Yamaha if you want better surround effects; opt for the KEFs if you want better sound overall.

KEF HTB2 subwoofer
The KEF HTB2 subwoofer KEF

A couple of other caveats: you'll need to provide your own subwoofer if you want any sort of decent bass for either of the FiveTwo models. Fortunately, KEF's matching HTB2 is an excellent choice. Aside from providing excellent complementary bass for the FiveTwos (or any other speakers, for that matter), the HTB2 can be mounted horizontally or vertically. It's also easily one of the coolest-looking subs you'll ever see. And while the speakers' pricing may induce a bit of sticker shock--$1,200 a pair for the Model 7s, $2,000 for the Model 11s, plus $800 for the aforementioned HTB2 subwoofer--it's worth noting that these speakers are in a whole different league from the ones you'll find on a sub-$500 home-theater-in-a-box system on sale at Costco. Like a luxury automobile, the KEFs cost more, but they're worth it. And--unlike a lot of HDTVs and video equipment--quality speakers should last for years, if not decades, and they won't be obsolete anytime soon.

Still intrigued? Check out the full, hands-on reviews of the KEF FiveTwo Series Model 7, the KEF Five Two Series Model 11, and the KEF HTB2.