KEF KHT 5005.2 Wireless Surround Speaker System with Wireless 5000 Series Option Page 3
Nevertheless, the positives outweighed the negatives. The warmth and fullness was pleasant enough, and the slightly crisp top end kept the overall balance from sounding muddled. Details were well reproduced, if a bit less than totally refined. Imaging was believable, though depth was just fair.
But I was still not happy with the bass from the HTB2 subwoofer. It responded down to 30Hz or slightly below, but sounded "slow" or, as British audio reviewers are inclined to say, it lacked sufficient "pace and rhythm." It also appeared to reduce the clarity of the sound well above its nominal 100Hz crossover. None of the subwoofer's adjustments significantly changed this result.
A that point I removed the HTB2 from the system and substituted a more conventional, larger subwoofer, though one still small enough to be an appropriate match for the system: the $299 HSU Research STF-1. The HSU was positioned in the same location where the KEF sub had been, the main difference being that the KEF drivers were positioned vertically (I used the vertical orientation rather than the horizontal) and the HDU driver faces down, with its port firing out the back.
The improvement was not subtle. The bass was now tight, crisp, and deep. The entire sound spectrum livened up as well. The imaging became more precise, and the upper bass-midrange clarity was surprisingly effective for such a small system. There was slight coloration in the midrange on some program material, but this important region was more notable for just how seldom I heard anything resembling boxiness or nasality.
Freed of an overwarm upper bass, the treble stood out more. If it was a bit too prominent and overly obvious on brighter program material—and it was—on better balanced programming it produced a believable sense of detail and spaciousness. The KEFs' treble was still up front in a way that might put off the serious audiophile who likes the top end to call less attention to itself, but such a buyer will not likely, in any event, be looking in this product category for a new two-channel speaker system. Despite this, however, the overall performance of this system in the midrange and high end suggests that KEF may have something in this 3" concentric Uni-Q driver that, with a little added refinement, could be productively used in one or more of its larger, more upmarket designs.
Next I added in the center channel HTC5001.2. The Outlaw receiver has a 3 Stereo mode to steer common left-right material to the center channel, and it worked beautifully for this test. To keep potential coloration down, I mounted the HTC5001.2 so that its front baffle (which starts where the grille meets the solid portion of the cabinet) was at the front edge of the surface it was sitting on. In other words, I positioned it to minimize reflections off of the mounting surface. (If you set it up this way, I also recommend using blobs of mounting putty, such as Blu-Tac or its many clones, to keep this light speaker from sliding off the edge!)
The system sounded even better when I added the HTC5001.2, locking down center vocalists and adding a welcome bit of body (but not bloat) to the mix. More importantly, in the 3 Stereo music configuration the center, even mounted horizontally, blended in nearly perfectly with the left and right, even well off axis (where it locked in an image that two-channels alone rarely maintain as you move away from the center).
All Together Now
On to the full system, this time with the wireless HTS5001.2s at the surround locations, the HSU sub still in place, and movies on the menu. The KEFs filled the room with a impressive sound on the standard Dolby Digital soundtracks from Blu-ray discs as diverse as Music and Lyrics and Hellboy. The opening scenes in the latter film have a huge dynamic range, and as long as you stay below raise the roof levels, the KEF system did it justice. The fine details in the mix were crystal clear, and this highly active soundtrack had convincing force.
As impressive as these very small speakers are, however, they can't quite replicate the full-bodied weight of even moderately sized bookshelf speakers, particularly at the theater-like movie playback levels many listeners prefer. They will play cleanly at far higher volume settings than you might expect given their size, but they can't work miracles.
As with music, the top end of the HTS5001.2/ HTC5001.2 configuration could be a bit bright on some material. The percussion on the music number that opens Music and Lyrics was decidedly fizzy-sounding. While the source might be blamed for this, the same characteristic was largely absent through a more conventional bookshelf speaker—the comparably-priced Revel M12 ($350/each). Fortunately, other, cleaner soundtracks fared far better on the KEFs. There wasn't a hint of this problem on Chicken Little. Don't laugh. Perhaps because they can be more closely controlled, the soundtracks on many animated films are state-of-the-art. This may not be among the best such films (though it's more fun than you might expect) but it definitely has one of the best soundtracks I've heard recently.
Film dialog on the HTC5001.2 speaker could also sometimes have a slightly boxy, "canned" quality. While this never disappeared entirely on the films I watched, it did vary from barely noticeable to clearly audible, depending on the soundtrack. It surprised me, since vocals had not sounded obviously colored with that same center speaker on most music—even vocals—in the Outlaw receiver's 3 Stereo music mode. To a certain degree, this sort of coloration seems inherent in many soundtracks. But my listening tests suggest that the characteristics of the HTC5001.2 tend to exaggerate it slightly; it was less obvious on larger speakers, such as the Revel M12, when the latter was temporarily pressed into center channel duty.
KEF's wireless system worked like a charm. While further refinements will still be needed before a wireless speaker can fully replicate the quality of an equivalent wired unit, it's already more than sufficient for most film surround. And its convenience will allow surrounds to be used properly in applications where wired surrounds may require the sort of aesthetic compromises (or extensive work for in-wall speaker runs) that some users can't or won't tolerate. If you don't need it, your $600 will be better spent elsewhere. If you do, the cost is more than a fair trade.
The HTS5001.2/HTC5001.2 speaker system can provide impressive, rewarding home theater and music performance in a small or medium-sized room. It's not free of compromises that larger, but still relatively small, bookshelf speakers can often avoid, but that's true of most small, "lifestyle" products. Nevertheless, it may surprise you, as it did me, and can compete with many small, moderately priced mini-monitors that claim a more obvious audiophile pedigree.
But only with a suitable subwoofer. And in my room, at least that subwoofer was not KEF's matching HTB2. It makes a stunning, radical design statement very unlike the conventional box subwoofer, but for me the clarity and tautness of its bass was neither up to its price level nor the best complement to the impressive HTS5001.2/HTC5001.2 system. Bass in real rooms being what it is, however, it may well work better in your environment.
Wireless surrounds operate flawlessly
Bass (from low to upper bass) from HTB2 tended to be over-ripe and "slow"
Unforgiving of bright material; treble can sometimes be too obvious
Available loudness level is generous for a small-medium size rooms, but more limited than from many larger, comparably-priced speakers
Wired HTS5001.2s still sound better than wireless