KEF R107 loudspeaker John Atkinson 1991 part 4

The adjective "neutral," however, while held to be a positive quality in a hi-fi component, can also imply a lack of commitment, a shrinking from extreme positions. Thus it was with the KEFs. "They're a little polite?" ventured Tom Norton after I forced him to listen to the Dorian Pictures. Yes. They are. Compared with, for example, the Avalon Eclipses or Wilson WATT 3/Puppy combination, the R107/2s lose a little immediacy, offering a less dynamically vivid sound picture. They are also less forward-balanced than the similar-in-concept B&W 801 Matrix. But they still present all of the four-in-a-bar rhythmic drive on the Reference Recordings Garson album, and all the power of the live Jimi Hendrix (footnote 6) recording at the LA Forum in the new Lifelines box set (Reprise 9 26436-2).

"They don't quite have the seamless midband magic of the Apogee Stages on voice," added Tom, warming to his subject after I had subjected him to "Suo Gan" from the Empire of the Sun soundtrack (Warner Bros. 9 25668-2). That's true, too. There's a residual grain in the midband, at times almost a very slight hardness, that you don't get with the Apogees.

But, Major Tom, this is a moving-coil speaker. And it has bass definition and extension to wipe the Apogees' noses with. With a soundstage presentation to match.

Perhaps I'm getting old, but I can only take so much vividness at one time. Take the Avalons that I reviewed in January—they would make Ted Koppel talking about the savings and loan scandal sound exciting. But with the 107/2s, I spent hours digging out recordings that I had hitherto found unlistenable. I haven't played the 1983 Chandos recording of the Shostakovich G-minor Piano Quintet (CHAN 8342) since I bought it, for example, so offputting is the hard, steely sound of the augmented Borodin Trio within the bathroomy acoustic of London's Church of St. George the Martyr. But via the KEFs, their ability to decode space made sense of the reverberation and their smooth tonal balance tamed the sound, allowing me to appreciate the fact that all these years, I have had a superb performance sitting unheard on my shelves. Better the vividness be in the music than in the speakers, say I!

All the King's Men
Toward the end of Robert Penn Warren's perfect prose poem on the clash between reality and purity, he writes: "You meet somebody...in a corner at a party, while the glasses clink and somebody beats on a piano, you talk with a stranger whose mind seems to whet and sharpen your own and with whom a wonderful new vista of ideas is spied." To me, when your system is singing, when it features well-matched high-end components that are musically (as opposed to technically) accurate, this is the true impact of recorded music. A stranger to the music when you buy the LP or CD, the mere act of putting your new purchase in the player, or on the turntable, opens you up to new vistas that lead to new and unimagined depths of intellectual emotion plumbed, to new communions with the music's creators, that lead in turn to new recordings, until you can't believe how late the hour, how unfatigued the brain—how wiped-out the psyche.

But then, the next morning, the apprehension, the anxiety. Was it just that you'd been both receptive and forgiving, your selective deafness tuning out the hi-fi, focusing in on the music? As Mr. Warren subsequently wrote, "Then afterward...when you meet again...something happens, or almost always happens, to the gaiety, the brilliance, the communion...You remember the steps of the dance but the music isn't playing any more." It's the same with your system: you put one of the previous evening's records on—the magic's gone. The system wheezes and gasps, booms and buzzes—the music isn't playing any more. The record sounds like nothing at all, especially it doesn't sound how it did the previous evening. Musical misery! Audiophile angst! (Stereophile's search for recommended components could be summed up as our looking to minimize such common complaints.)

But that's with lesser speakers than KEF's latest incarnation of the R107. Throughout the time I spent with these speakers, record led to record, CD to CD. Sure, the 107/2's balance is polite, its dynamics a little restrained. But not at the expense of the musical sweep, the emotional dance. The speaker's big-boned sound, raw when required, civilized when appropriate, generous always, effortlessly opened a deep, well-defined passageway to the heart of whatever record I played.

Recommended as one of the few full-range dynamic loudspeakers that I have experienced to touch the soul—not just of the music, but of the listener.—John Atkinson



Footnote 6: Hendrix aficionados have no option but to check out Charles Shaar Murray's Crosstown Traffic (1989, Faber & Faber) for what is possibly the most insightful analysis of post-1950 popular music since Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City.—John Atkinson
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