KEF is one of the few stalwart British speaker manufacturers that successfully evolved from its purist audiophile roots to become a more mainstream brand. KEF's separate, high-end home theater offerings are excellent, and its beautifully styled packaged systems, such as the new KHT-5005.2, maintain KEF's sound-quality standards. The cast-metal speaker cabinets are not only elegantly proportioned, they house KEF's advanced Uni-Q driver array that features a 0.6-inch metal-dome tweeter mounted in the center of a 3-inch woofer, plus another pair of 3-inch woofers. The Uni-Q design is said to provide more precisely focused imaging than conventional separate tweeter and woofer designs. The matching dual 10-inch powered subwoofer is both stylish and powerful, and yet its audiophile breeding is apparent in its taut definition. The KHT-5005.2 handles home theater and music with equal zeal. Some may blanch at the $2,000 price tag, but for a speaker system that looks and sounds this good, it's money well spent.
The KEF KHT-5005.2 slender cast-metal speakers have a unique shape; when you look at them from the side, the tops and bottoms of the cabinets taper inward at a radical angle. The design gives the system a very modern yet understated appearance. The four satellites each stand 17 inches tall and weigh 4.4 pounds each. They're premounted on matching (removable) table stands; metal wall brackets are also included. KEF also offers two other stand options: an adjustable-height shelf stand and a fixed-height floor stand, which follows the contour of the speakers. The 16.5-inch-wide center speaker, the HTC5001.2, is essentially one of the satellite speakers resting on its side. It can be wall-mounted or placed on a TV or shelf. The speakers' curved cloth grilles aren't removable.
The doughnut-shaped HTB2 subwoofer matches the speakers' curves, and we think it's one of the coolest-looking subs around. KEF doesn't supply grilles for the sub, so the front and rear woofers are naked to the world. The sub can either stand vertically or lie horizontally on three spiked feet. When standing, it measures 15.5 inches high, 17.3 inches wide, and just 7.6 inches deep. It weighs 24.2 pounds.
The entire ensemble is finished in automotive-grade high-gloss silver or black paint. Buyers interested in expanding the system to a 6.1 or 7.1 configuration can invest in additional satellite speakers (HTS5001.2). KEF also offers a wireless kit for the surround channels ($600); the speakers and the kit are available in a single package as well (KHT5005.2W), but the $2,600 price doesn't offer any savings versus purchasing both separately..
Instead of the usual separate tweeter and woofer, KEF's patented Uni-Q driver produces a wide range of frequencies from a "point source" tweeter/woofer driver, which creates a more uniform sound for listeners sitting directly in front of the speaker and for those sitting to the left and right of the speaker. The five KHT5005.2 satellites each house a Uni-Q driver array with a 0.6-inch metal-dome tweeter mounted in the center of a 3-inch woofer, plus a pair of conventional 3-inch woofers. The center and satellite speakers have the identical driver complement. We were a little surprised that the 3-inch Uni-Q driver is smaller than the Uni-Q driver used in the less-expensive KEF KHT-3005 satellites; that system utilizes a 0.75-inch aluminum-dome tweeter mounted in a 4.25-inch woofer. All metal speaker connectors accept bare wire ends or spades. The connectors are pretty robust, but in a $2,000 speaker system we expect even sturdier five-way binding posts.
The subwoofer is an old friend--we'd previously heard it anchoring the KEF FiveTwo systems and the aforementioned KHT-3005. When sold separately (in black or silver), it retails for $800--so it accounts for a good 40 percent of the KHT-5005.2's overall price tag. The HTB2 has front- and rear-mounted 10-inch woofers, but only the front woofer is powered by the 250-watt onboard digital amplifier (the rear woofer produces bass passively, from the internal air pressure created by the movement of the front woofer). The sub doesn't have a volume control or crossover network; those functions are handled by your AV receiver's bass management system (see below). The sub's base is fitted with a three-position switch that controls deep bass boost and a phase control. Connectivity is limited to one RCA input--and you need to turn the sub upside down to access the controls and make the cable connection.
The KHT-5005.2's mostly pictorial owner's manual is pretty skimpy and fails to mention specific bass management settings. We experimented, starting with 80 Hertz, and eventually settled on 120 Hz--the higher frequency crossover setting yielded the smoothest bass transition from the subwoofer to the satellites.
The looming score of The Good German DVD had the sort of weighty presence we'd expect from a much larger system. The sub's rich-sounding support played a role in our impressions, but the slender satellites held up their end of the bargain. Their sound was highly detailed and yet beautifully refined. Dialogue was consistently articulate and nicely balanced.
Ratcheting up from the retro drama to a big action movie, we further tested the KHT-5005.2's home theater stamina with the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest DVD. When the giant Kraken sea monster attacks the Flying Dutchman and men are picked up in its tentacles and tossed overboard, the KEF system was impressive. Whatever remaining doubts we had about the little system's gravitas disappeared when we heard the ship break in half.
Moving onto music with the Chants and Carols CD from the Russian Yale Chorus, the KEF system was truly in its element. Recorded at the Dwight Chapel at Yale University, the sound of the male and female singers was stunningly presented by the KHT-5005.2. The sense of being in the chapel, hearing the voices in that acoustic setting made the musical experience feel richer. The CD has a track where each member of the chorus states his or her name, and when I'm sitting centered between the stereo speakers, I can hear the precise position of each voice. To verify KEF claims of the Uni-Q's off-axis imaging capabilities, we repeated the track, listening from the left and right sides of the couch; the imaging was less exacting, but still very good.
Taken at full blast, hard rock from Aerosmith's Rockin' The Joint CD revealed the inadequacies in the satellites--they sounded somewhat strident and harsh. Turning down the volume to medium-loud mostly cured that problem, but the KEF's lackluster performance on rock is a fact of life for this--and most every other--smaller lifestyle speaker system.
The sub is no slouch, but if bona fide, room-shaking home theater bombast is what you're looking for, check out the Cerwin Vega CVHD 5.1 speaker package. Its massive 12-inch subwoofer has what it takes to rattle the windows--though it's far larger and less attractive than the KEF's. The Cerwin Vega system is more powerful, but the satellites aren't as refined-sounding as the KEF's--then again, the Cerwin Vega is around half the price of the KEF system. The Cerwin's sats are also too small to win over rock fans. Likewise, the NHT Verve IV 5.1 system is a strong competitor to the KEF--it's also $2,000 and features a similar lifestyle-friendly size--but we think the KHT-5005.2 has the edge in terms of looks. And remember: if the 5005.2 is still too big or expensive, the smaller--and also great-sounding--KEF KHT-3005 system can be had for $500 less.
The KHT-5005.2 satellites' volume and dynamic range limitations, especially on DVDs, are less than what we would have expected considering their trim dimensions, but it can't work miracles. The KEF system is nowhere as powerful as a full-size system, such as Aperion Audio's Intimus 533-PT Cinema HD, which retails for a little less than the KHT-5005.2--but the giant tower speakers of the Aperion system certainly won't blend into the dÃ©cor of a room the way the more svelte KHT-5005.2 speakers will.