KEF FiveTwo Series Model 7 review:

KEF FiveTwo Series Model 7

The Model 7 doesn't make very much bass on its own, so we had to work extrahard at getting a reasonable bass blend between the Model 7s and the HTB2 sub. We were constantly adjusting the sub's volume level over the course of a few days before the Model 7/HTB2 combo sounded balanced on most of our CDs and DVDs.

The Model 7 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, the Uni-Q's "point source" sound produces more precise imaging for those listeners. Each Model 7 has two Uni-Qs: one for the left or right channel, and one for the center channel. Bass is generated by two 3-inch woofers on each speaker. The speaker's side is fitted with a flat-panel driver that bounces off the room's sidewalls to create enveloping surround sound.

We booted up the King Kong DVD to put the Model 7's faux-surround abilities to the test. The movie's jungle scenes sounded huge, with all sorts of birds and insects buzzing around the entire front wall of our home theater, extending a few feet forward of the speakers. Kong's growls were menacingly deep, and when he started tossing cars on the city streets, the crashing metal hulks didn't quite have the weighty impact we'd expect from larger speakers, but the sound was exceptionally vivid. Judged by the standards of virtual-surround speaker systems, the Model 7 was definitely an above-average performer.

Virtual-surround systems' stock in trade is home theater, and they rarely pass muster on music, but the Model 7 shined when we played Variations, an audiophile CD of solo Beethoven piano works. The KEF's richness of tone, clarity, expressive dynamics, and rock-solid imaging were--by any standard--excellent. Hard rock was almost as successful: Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" wasn't overtly reined in by the Model 7's trim size. KEF's FiveTwo Series speakers are the best-sounding virtual-surround speakers for music we've tested so far.

Finishing up, we compared the Model 7 with KEF's larger FiveTwo Series offering, the Model 11. Not surprisingly, the two speakers sound very similar, but the larger speakers' surround sound was a little more enveloping and could play louder without distress. Otherwise we were hard pressed to hear any major differences, so unless your room is huge or you like to listen really loud, save $800 and get the Model 7.

How do the FiveTwo speakers compare to other virtual-surround speakers? There's the rub: while they're very good, the Model 7 and the Model 11 weren't quite as enveloping as the single-speaker Yamaha YSP-1100 ($1,500)--that model remains the champ at creating a believable surround effect from fewer than five speakers. Still, the KEF speakers sound better overall, and they have the best matching subwoofer of any system we've tested. If you prefer the "2.1" configuration and you don't mind investing some time and effort into optimizing the sound, the KEF FiveTwo Series speakers are worth an audition.

What you'll pay

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