KEF Q100 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

When I was auditioning speakers for my primary system, I came very close to buying a pair of KEF LS50s.  Those speakers are universally acclaimed for a reason.  Their imaging was spot on, and they conveyed music with extraordinary detail and rhythme.  I ultimately settled on a pair of Monitor Audio Silver 8 floorstanders, but I have never forgotten the KEF sound.  So when I read on Wirecutter that Amazon had discounted the KEF Q100, another well-reviewed KEF speaker, from $550 to $220, I jumped at the deal.  (The Q100 is still available for $250 as of writing this.  It has been replaced by the new Q150, which retail for $550.)

I listened to the KEFs with my Naim XS2 integrated amp and the Nakamich SR-2A (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  With the Naim, the bass was a little tigher and the highs a little more clear, but the KEFs were magical with either source.  For a
5 1/2-inch bookshelf speaker, they produce suprisingly strong and clear bass.  It can be a little boomy at times, particularly with poor recordings, but overall the KEFs produce a clear and rich sound that is extremely satisfying and musical.  You’ll find that you can’t help but to tap your knee or knod your head, even when listening to songs you’ve heard hundreds of times.

The KEFs also image suprisingly well.  Listening to Tidal through either the Benchmark DAC1 or the Dragonfly Black, Jack Johnson seemed to be sitting directly between the speakers and strumming his acoustic guitar.  The sense of space and realism was among the best I have heard from a speaker this size.   I would have expected to spend five times this much to achieve this level of detail and clarity.  For example, a fried of mine has Martin Logan’s bookshelfs with a ribbon tweeter, on which he spent about $1200, and the KEFs matched them every step of the way for clarity, detail, and imaging (the KEFs fell short in the bass and lower mid-range, but we are talking about a $1000 price difference).

The KEFs’ clarity carrried through to other recordings as well.  Nina Simone’s inimitable voice sounded as beautiful and crisp as ever, and her piano notes seemed to linger in space.  Listening to my favorite Pearl Jam acoustic tracks was equally enjoyable, as the KEFs had no trouble recreating Eddie Vedder’s raspy growls with realism and depth.  I listened to a variety of rock, jazz, and classical, and was impressed across the board, particularly with the KEFs reproduction of string instruments like cellos and violations.  There is a richness of tone that I just love.

The only genre where I thought the KEFs did not shine was hip hop.  Perhaps it was the strong bass lines permeating many of the albums I listened to (from A Tribe Called Quest to Wu Tang to Nas to Kendrick), but the sound often sounded a little muddled and boomy.  Thus, while I would strongly recommend these speakers to most music lovers, if you listen primarily to hip hop, you might want to look for a bigger speaker with greater low frequency extension (which you probably altready knew).

Overall, I’m not aware of a better deal for a new speaker from a first-rate manufacturer.  For $250, you are guaranteed to get years of listening enjoyment.  In fact, I’m not sure you’ll ever need to upgrade unless you want to spend at least $1000 more.  (I plan to keep mine.)  Highly, highly recommended.


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