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KEF M200 in-ear headphones review: Iffy fit, but impressive sound

If you can get a tight seal -- and that's a big if -- the British speaker company's new $200 in-ear headphones deliver very clean, well-balanced sound.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

In case you've never heard of KEF, it's a British company that makes premium speakers that generally sound really good. Those speakers tend to be a bit pricey -- and some are very pricey -- but now the company has made a foray into the headphone market with two new models, the $200 M200 Hi-Fi Earphones reviewed here and the $300 M500, an on-ear model.


KEF M200 in-ear headphones

The Good

The <b>KEF M200 Hi-Fi Earphones</b> deliver very clean, well-balanced sound and feature impressive build quality with aluminum housings and a flexible arm to keep the earphones securely in place. They also have an Apple-friendly inline remote/microphone and come with a nice carrying case.

The Bad

Because the housing is so large, some people will have trouble getting a tight seal and comfortable fit with the included eartips. Not getting a tight seal will seriously impact sound quality.

The Bottom Line

The KEF M200s sound excellent, with clean, accurate sound, but they just won't fit some ears.

Frankly, I had a bit of a hard time reviewing these headphones. As you can see, they have a pretty unique design. They're large for an in-ear model and that's because they have two drivers jammed into their aluminum housings.

The larger, 10mm driver is dedicated to low frequencies and the smaller, 5.5mm driver is dedicated to highs and mids. That's all great -- and the headphones sound impressive, with accurate, detailed sound. They really are an audiophile headphone and in terms of sound they can hold their own against most in-ear models in this price class.

The M200s have large housings with two drivers inside and flexible arms to help you get a secure fit. Sarah Tew/CNET

But the fit was a problem for me. I have somewhat smaller ears and the housing just wouldn't get past certain parts of my ear, so I couldn't jam any of the included eartips -- you get three sizes -- far enough into my ears to get a tight seal. While the bendable arm keeps the headphones on -- and in -- your ears, it doesn't help you achieve a tighter seal. And when you don't get a tight seal, you end up losing a lot of bass, and the headphones quickly go from sounding great to sounding not-so-great.

I had a few other quibbles. This is an Apple-friendly headphone that has an inline remote and microphone for making cell phone calls (call quality was decent, though when I was outside, callers said I sounded better when I held the microphone closer to my mouth). Some or all of the remote features may not work with non-Apple devices and the buttons on the remote were a little small. When I used the headphones outside, the wind seemed to reverberate through the aluminum housings more than for your typical, smallish in-ear headphones, which tend to hide inside your ear more and perhaps find a little more shelter from the wind.

A nice carrying case is included along with three sets of eartips (small, medium, and large) and an airplane adapter. Sarah Tew/CNET

But the headphones' fit was my real gripe and I'm not sure why companies spend all this time designing special drivers and housings and then neglect to get the eartips right. Sure, some people will be able to get a good fit with the included tips, but I tried these out on a few other people, and they all, including CNET contributor and audio guru Steve Guttenberg, had a hard time getting a tight seal.

My solution was to try out a few sets of longer tips that came with other earphones I've tested and I did find a set that allowed me to get a tight seal. The difference in sound was night and day. As I said, these can really sound great and they're a pleasure to listen to if you get the proper fit. They might not have quite enough bass for some folks who like a ton of bass, but I really liked their clean, accurate sound.

Close-up of the Apple-friendly inline remote/microphone.
Close-up of the Apple-friendly inline remote/microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

In some ways they reminded me of the $200 Bowers & Wilkins C5 earphones. That in-ear model also has a fairly large housing and incorporates an "arm" to help keep the earphones securely on your ears. The housing on that pair isn't quite as large as the housing on this one, but I still had some trouble with the fit of the Bowers & Wilkins and they aren't incredibly comfortable. I think the KEFs sound slightly better, with bass that's a bit punchier and a little more transparency, but the C5s also sound very good.

As far as comparing these with the company's more expensive M500s, I actually preferred the M200s sound, though the M500s are clearly more comfortable (comparing the fit of in-ear and on-ear headphones is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, however) and deliver more bass. The M200s are more forward (the sound felt more immediate) without being too bright; everything about them seemed a little tighter and more refined.

The M500s did better with hip-hop and techno tracks (Kaskade's "Atmosphere," example) and were also good for rock. The M200s are for someone who wants a natural, accurate-sounding headphone. I thought they did well with the Kings of Leon's "Supersoaker," a rock track that has several instruments playing at once and can end up sounding messy on lesser headphones. You can clearly hear each of the instruments without having one overpower the other -- or the vocals.

The housing houses two drivers (click image to enlarge). KEF

I suspect that in time KEF will provide a wider selection of eartips with these headphones that will help more people get a better and more comfortable fit. When the designers get the eartip equation right, these have the potential to be a four-star product. But as it stands, their fit and comfort level hold them back. That's a shame because they really do sound excellent if you can get a tight seal.


KEF M200 in-ear headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Sound 9Value 7