KEF Reference 207/2 loudspeaker Page 2
On organ recordings the 207/2s effortlessly loaded up the room at low frequencies. It had been a long time since I'd played the 1983 Telarc CD of Michael Murray performing Bach on the organs at Los Angeles's First Congregational Church (CD-80088). This CD begins with the over-familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (which is not by Bach, nor was it written for the organ, nor was it originally in D minor). But while the KEFs handled this warhorse in a most satisfying manner, it wasn't for that work that I'd bought this disc. Musicologists dismiss Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, as an early work with naïve subjects and countersubjects that comprise simple scale passages. But there's something about this work that I find irresistible. The fugue ends with a thunderous ascending passage on the pedals. Even though the balance of this recording is quite dry, lesser full-range speakers than the KEFs tend to blur the individual notes in this passage overmuch. By contrast, the 207/2's woofers kept control of the music while still allowing the full weight of the 16' pipes to be heard.
My longtime favorite recording of Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony was recorded in London's Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin (CD, BBC Music Vol.12 No.12). The organ underpinning of the mysterious hymnal opening of the fourth movement purred into the room, while the massive climax a third of the way in—where the basses, reinforced by the organ, move stepwise downward while the three choirs sing their hearts out before the entrance of the soprano and baritone soloists—almost burst the walls of my room.
While the 207/2 had no discernible character in the midrange, there was something magic going on, almost as if the sound glowed—as if neutrality were a positive attribute rather than an absence of negatives. A recently acquired Japanese SACD of Beethoven overtures (Sony TDGD90013) with Sir Colin Davis conducting the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, released by TEAC to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Esoteric division, sounded glorious. The violins in Egmont were as silky-smooth as they are in real life, without being artificially mellow, and the cellos and double basses had the right balance of guttiness and weight. The image of the orchestra was solid and stable. More important, this was the first work I ever played as a young violinist in my school orchestra, and I never thought I would enjoy hearing it again. Yet with the KEFs, I found myself hearing into the overfamiliar notes as though they were new.
Naturally recorded piano was also favored by the Reference 207/2s. The next Stereophile CD release (STPH019-2) will be a reissue of Robert Silverman performing the two Rachmaninoff sonatas, recorded in analog in 1980 and originally released in 1999 as OrpheumMasters KSP802. Sonata 1 in d, Op.28, is a massive, Faustian work 40 minutes long. Playing back the 16-bit WAV master files via WiFi from my Slim Devices Transporter, I heard a remarkably even-handed quality in the way the KEFs presented the sound of the Steinway.
Recorded piano is particularly revealing of speaker problems at the top of the midrange, where some notes in the right-hand register will jump forward when they coincide with a cone-breakup mode or a problem in cone/surround termination. There was virtually none of that with the Reference 207/2s compared with the earlier version. In fact, though this recording is drier than my own recordings of Bob Silverman—listen to his performance of Liszt's Liebestraum on Editor's Choice, for example, where I deliberately captured more of the delicious acoustic of Albuquerque's First United Methodist Church—it sounded remarkably real. Still, at a realistic playback level, the tape hiss on the Rachmaninoff was more audible than I would have wished. And again, the combination of bass weight and control allowed the lower-frequency notes to speak with authority.
The KEFs offered a broad, deep, stable picture of the soundstage. The offstage choir in A Sea Symphony hung luminously in space at the back of the soundstage. When I played a DVD-A I had burned of the 24-bit/88.2kHz masters of Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), my re-creation of the band's onstage layout was presented unambiguously bare, the picture of each instrument stably placed in space. The effect was similar with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's Raising Sand (CD, Rounder 11661 9075-2), where producer T Bone Burnett went for a dark-sounding balance reminiscent of Daniel Lanois's work with Emmylou Harris. The mix on this album may be dark, but played back through speakers as revealing as the KEFs, it wasn't opaque.
I don't often make special mention of a speaker's dynamic capabilities in my reviews, because my relatively small room (about 24' by 15' with a 7' ceiling) tends to overload before the speakers themselves max out. But the Reference 207/2s were so free from grain and compression that I tended to play my music much louder than usual. They also responded well to very high power. I began the review with the 300W (into 4 ohms) Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks, and then moved on, first to the 300W into 4 ohms Boulder 860, then to the 1000W/4 ohms Parasound Halo JC 1 monos. Toward the end of the review period I borrowed a pair of Musical Fidelity 550k Supercharger monoblocks, which my measurements last September had indicated would deliver 850W into 4 ohms before clipping. The Levinsons and Parasounds take a balanced input; for the Musical Fidelity, which has only a single-ended line input, I used the same Ayre balanced cables but with XLR-RCA adapters on each end, to minimize the variables.
Oh my. The MF-KEF combination worked a treat. There was as much slam as with the Parasounds, but the highs were a tad smoother, a touch silkier. Just before embarking on this review, I received the finished pressings of my latest recording of Minnesotan male-voice choir Cantus. Tautologically titled Cantus (CD, Cantus CTS-1207), this isn't organized around a theme, like my six earlier CDs of the ensemble, but is a collection of popular encores, one of which, "Mogamigawa funa uta," is an arrangement of a Japanese folk song. There are foot stomps at the beginning and near the end, and in the mixing, to create a bigger sound, I cheated a little: I layered on top of one another three different takes of the nine singers stamping their feet. Through the KEFs driven by the Musical Fidelitys, it sounded as if I'd layered six takes—an awesome thump pressurized my room. Yet the combination didn't smear the low-level subtleties of the scoring of Morten Lauridsen's gloriously tonal "Ave dulcissma Maria," on the same CD.
Returning to Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall: "Blizzard Limbs" starts with drummer Mark Flynn riffing on kick drum, hi-hat, and snare—the Supercharger-driven KEFs simultaneously maximized the impact of his playing and reproduced the subtle details of the acoustic. There are three beats on the snare drum at 3:45 in this track that use up all 16 bits of the CD's dynamic range. The Reference 207/2s both reproduced the impact of those snare strokes without compression, and preserved how they lit up the recording venue's acoustic.
Yet this ability to pump power into the room wasn't achieved at the expense of low-level detail, or by emphasizing brashness over subtlety. Soon after the massive climax in the final movement of A Sea Symphony mentioned earlier, the solo voices are accompanied by a solo violin leading a woodwind choir. The delicacy with which this tender passage was presented by the big KEFs driven by the Superchargers rivaled what I hear from the best minimonitors—the Harbeth HL-P3ES2, for example.
While spaces remain in my heart for the Sonus Faber Amati homage, the mbl 111B, the Dynaudio Confidence C4, the original Revel Ultima Studio, and the Wilson Audio Sophia, I must say that the Series 2 revision of KEF's Reference 207, the 207/2, is overall the best-sounding full-range speaker I have used in my current listening room. To all intents and purposes, it is without flaw. The lows are extended and well defined, the midrange is pure, the treble is free of grain and naturally balanced, the dynamics are awesome, and the stereo imaging is accurate and stable. The 207/2 simply defines neutrality, but without losing sight of the musical message. $20,000 is still a lot of money, but for a pair of speakers of this caliber, it's tempting to declare the big KEF a bargain, considering that you can pay five times as much for speakers that sound only as good.