Cutting-edge sound and style almost never converge on a single speaker design, and when they do, they're almost always accompanied by exorbitant prices and gargantuan proportions. The sleek little guys rarely sound as good as they look, which is why the KEF KHT-3005--an exquisitely crafted $1,500 satellite/subwoofer package with egg-shaped, cast-aluminum speakers and a donut-round subwoofer--made a big impression on us. Instead of the usual medium-density fiberboard box cabinetry, the KEF KHT-3005 features cast-aluminum speaker pods, optimally shaped for sound. The four satellites stand just 9 inches tall premounted on matching table stands that can also serve as wall brackets (KEF also offers slender floor stands for the sats for $150 per pair). The satellites each weigh 6.6 pounds and feel remarkably solid.
You can either sit the 12-inch-wide, 13.2-pound center speaker on the included rubber table stand or wall-mount it with the supplied bracket. The matching 24.2-pound subwoofer has options, too; you can stand it up vertically or lay it horizontally on three spiked feet. We used it standing, and in that position, it measures 15.5 inches high, 17.5 wide, and just 7.6 deep.
The speakers' front baffles are covered with a black rubberized material, and the speaker grilles are held in place with magnets. The entire ensemble is finished in automotive-grade, high-gloss silver or black paint, and with its Porsche-like curves, the KHT-3005 looks more expensive than what it actually costs. Yes, we know $1,500 isn't cheap, but for high-end speakers, it's a relative bargain.
System setup is mostly straightforward, except for two details. The satellites' concealed speaker wire connectors are awkwardly placed on their lower rear ends, and they accept only stripped, bare wires--banana plugs and "spades" aren't welcome. The second nitpick concerns the effort required to smooth the bass blend between the satellites and subwoofer. KEF recommends setting your A/V receiver's bass management to 80Hz, but when we did that, the KHT-3005's bass disappeared on some CDs and DVDs. The lowest bass notes were properly reproduced, but the higher frequencies were missing in action, so male voices lacked body and warmth. We experimented with the subwoofer crossover control, first setting it to 100Hz, then to 120Hz; the higher-frequency crossover setting yielded the smoothest bass transition from the subwoofer to satellites. That level of adjustability isn't available on all A/V receivers, so buyers interested in the KHT-3005 should first consult the owner's manuals to make sure they can tweak the necessary subwoofer crossover settings. The exact setting will vary depending on room size and acoustic properties.Instead of the usual separate tweeter and woofer, the KEF KHT-3005's patented Uni-Q driver places the 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeter in the center of the 4.25-inch woofer. The center speaker uses the same Uni-Q driver, but its bass is augmented with a pair of 3-inch woofers.
The subwoofer has front and rear-mounted 10-inch woofers, but only the front woofer is powered by a 250-watt onboard digital amplifier. In comparison, the rear woofer produces bass passively, from the internal air pressure created by the movement of the front woofer. Unusually, the woofer lacks a volume control or a crossover network; those functions are handled by your A/V receiver's bass-management system. We found it somewhat inconvenient during setup, but in day-to-day use, we didn't miss the volume control. The sub's base is fitted with a phase control and a three-position switch for deep bass boost. Connectivity is limited to one RCA input.The KEF KHT-3005 sounds as good as it looks--which is to say stunning. The little speakers unleashed a large and deep sound field on Daniel Lanois's dreamy instrumental CD, Belladonna. The music seemed to blossom over the speakers, with the sound of lap steel guitars spreading outside the actual positions of the front left and right satellites and the drums' cymbals floating a foot or so above the speakers themselves. The treble range is perhaps just a trifle bright, but it's so delicate and airy, we don't mind.
The subwoofer's taut definition allows acoustic bass instruments to sound more realistic than most compact subs. The ripe bass lines rolling through the Belladonna CD had satisfying fullness and power, and the pitch of each note was clearly rendered. The Raconteurs' new CD, Broken Boy Soldiers, quickly demonstrated the little speakers weren't afraid to rock out. Jack White was doing his best Ozzy Osbourne impression on the title track's vocals, and his raucous guitar blasts came through loud and clear.
The KHT-3005's home-theater skills were even better. The House of Flying Daggers DVD was a treat, especially that amazing sequence where Ziyi Zhang dances and kicks massive drums. The subwoofer's deepest bass extended to the low 30Hz range in our home theater--a truly outstanding performance for a compact design. The KHT-3005's holographic presentation of three-dimensional space was extraordinary, with the jungle sequences on the King Kong DVD producing a seamless arc of sound encircling our home theater. We could pick out the sound of each bird and buzzing insect as they moved about.
So what are the KEF KHT-3005's limitations? Well, compared to a set of much larger speakers, they just don't offer the same volume capability, dynamic range, and home-theater impact. Higher-end full-size speaker packages simply play louder and deliver far greater home-theater impact. But if you're looking for a beautiful, compact, and reasonably affordable 5.1-speaker package, the KHT-3005 is as good as it gets.