KEF Q900 loudspeaker Page 2
I usually begin with vocal recordings because a) a good loudspeaker will permit the listener to make a human connection with a realistically reproduced human voice, and b) voices make me focus on the midrange, the part of the audioband that conveys most of the musical information provided by instruments and voices alike. In this regard the Q900 was remarkably good, reproducing a wide range of male and female voices with presence, and with no spatial distinction between fundamentals and sibilants. Solo voices, including that of Sara K. on her Don't I Know You from Somewhere? Solo Live (CD, Stockfisch SFR 357.6055.2), and the various voices on Blue Coast Collection: The E.S.E. Sessions (SACD, Blue Coast BCRSA 1012a, produced and engineered by Cookie Marenco) were uniformly coherent and realistic via the Q900s, and precisely placed on the soundstage.
The sound was similar with unaccompanied instruments, such as Rachel Barton Pine's silvery violin on her Capricho Latino (CD, Cedille CDR 9000 124), or William Carter's warm, woody guitar on Le Calme, a disc of late works by Fernando Sor (CD, Linn CKD 380). Vocal ensembles did not sound homogenized, but had a satisfying clarity that revealed the individual voices. It may be possible that all this was due to the coaxial design of the Q900's Uni-Q driver, which is, in effect, a single-point source. On the other hand, some multi-driver systems can do this, so one must accept that crossover and enclosure design are also factors.
In addition to a stable and relatively deep central soundstage, the Q900s amazed me with the sheer breadth of image they presented. The bigger the ensemble, the wider the soundstage. A recent and outstanding recording of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with soprano Christiane Oelze, baritone Michael Volle, and Markus Stenz conducting the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra (SACD, Oehms Classics OC657), was immersively spacious, with no loss of specificity of the vocal soloists. The KEFs did this sort of thing consistently, but without ever forcing a change in perspective on smaller ensembles.
I found the KEF's treble to be quite clean, detailed, and transparent, especially when fed good signals at reasonable levels. It was only when I really stressed the Q900 with very high levels that the Uni-Q tweeter became somewhat intolerant. I played Tchaikovsky's Symphony 5, in a new, spectacular performance by the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev (SACD, Pentatone PTC 5186 385), and found it spine-tingling but for the finale's cymbal clashes lifted me from my seat, the slam and splash weren't as clean as I've heard them through the very much-more expensive B&W 800 Diamonds.
Yes, the mere sight of three 8" bass cones raised my expectations of robust and prominent lows, but the KEF exceeded those expectations. One of my favorite tests for musical bass is the concert harp, which covers a very wide frequency range, and whose plucked strings offer sharp transients way down into the bass. There's no shortage of detail or power on harpist Lavinia Meijer's solo recital Fantasies & Impromptus (SACD, Channel Classics CCS SA 31711), which includes works by Spohr, Fauré, Pierné, Saint-Saëns, and others. The bass here was very deep, taut, and precise, all the while emanating from Meijer's central stage position.
By the bye, I was comparing, at rather high levels, the sounds of two disc players playing the organ compilation Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago CD 101) when I realized that the Q900s were shaking the room with authority. This so impressed me that, just for kicks, I called on my two Paradigm subwoofers (one Reference Servo-15, one Studio SUB 15) to assist below 40Hz, and thought it pretty close. Adding the EQ'd subs extended and amplified the shuddering, but not so much as would make them essential. Big bass-drum thwacks, such as in Pletnev's Tchaikovsky 5, had more palpable impact with the subs or through the big B&Ws, but the KEFs were no slouches. Basically, even though they worked well with them, the Q900s did not need help from subs.
Switching to the Q900s from my resident Paradigm Studio/60s suggested that the KEFs sounded much more open and airy, something I confirmed when I then swapped them back. The difference was mostly in the midrange, where the Paradigms seemed a bit hooded and recessed in comparison. Experiments with Audyssey MultEQ Pro and taking some measurements confirmed that the Q900s had a wider, flatter frequency response in my room than did the Paradigms. The KEFs also presented a more open, more spacious soundstage than had the PSB Imagine Ts or PSB Image T6s, at least according to my notes and my suspect memory.
The KEF Q900 must be considered from a number of different aspects. Visually and physically, the speaker is unremarkable. Its construction is more than adequate, but hardly of the level KEF lavishes on their Reference line. The same can be said of the appearance and finish, which are clean and utilitarian but prosaic. However, I don't wish to overemphasize any of this; the potential buyer will instantly decide whether or not the Q900 is suitable.
A not-unrelated consideration is that KEF seems to have made many choices that take advantage of its historical strength in driver design, rather than encumber the bill of materials with costs related to appearance. The 8" Uni-Q aluminum driver, with its larger-than-usual tweeter and Tangerine waveguide, is a notable sophistication for a speaker at this price. The addition of three more 8" cones, one active and two passive, supports a bass extension that is also uncommon for the price.
But the most important thingor, for the true audiophile, the only thingto consider is the Q900's sound. That sound is wide-range, balanced, and spacious, and seems to neither favor nor disfavor any genre of music. I have been sampling small floorstanders in the under-$2000 range for a number of years now, and there is no other speaker in that range that I prefer to the KEF Q900.