KEF Reference Series Model Four loudspeaker Page 2
The system used in the review of the Model Four consisted of the Denon DP-S1 CD transport, Mark Levinson No.36 D/A converter (the two linked by a Kimber AGDL coaxial digital cable), and a Jeff Rowland Design Group Consummate preamp. Amplification and cables will be discussed in the review. All auditioning took place in my (approximately) 26' by 18' by 11' listening room.
Because I began my auditioning of the KEFs immediately after finishing with the Wilson WITTs, I started by placing them in the same locations the WITTs had vacated, a few feet out from the short wall of my listening room. At this point, I was using XLO Reference interconnects from D/A converter to preamp and preamp to amplifier. The interconnects were unbalanced, the amplifier a Mark Levinson No.332. Speaker cables were a single run (not bi-wire) of XLO Reference. Things didn't really come together on this first try. Imaging was fair, but there was an occasional phasey quality to the sound. The room's sidewalls were damped, so odd reflections seemed an unlikely cause.
Bass was decent, though not remarkable. The top end was a little dry, and the midrange rather forward with a trace of coloration. Minor repositioning didn't really solve the problems, so I completely rearranged things, moving the KEFs to the loudspeaker locations I generally favor in my room, firing across a diagonal. Things definitely started looking up at this point. But I still did not feel I was getting the best out of the loudspeakers.
It was hard to find things to criticize in the Four's mids and highs; they were clean and sweet (that dryness noted above largely disappeared with the change in location). Yet something seemed lacking. It was, perhaps, that "snap" that J. Gordon Holt refers to. Or perhaps it was simply a lack of air.
The sound was not at all dull, but was closed-in compared with, say, the Energy Veritas v2.8 or the Wilson WITT. Otherwise good recordings, which on other good loudspeakers tend to be a little aggressive-sounding, were sweeter than I'm accustomed to hearing them. The Reference Four appeared to be simply too forgiving and polite. The bottom-end balance contributed to this—rich and warm-sounding through the mid and upper bass. While the bass was deep and powerful, it was not at all tight or well-defined—certainly no competition for even the hardly lean-sounding Veritas or WITT. These loudspeakers both measure and sound a little rich in the same region, but manage to grab hold when needed. The Reference Four was let down by its too-much (quantity), too-little (quality) lower octaves.
I must add that I had the same impression of the KEF when I heard it, briefly, in KEF's own listening room in England. Big, full-bodied, and rich—but not very transparent. That extra warmth reduced the clarity through the midrange, also, though that midrange was otherwise very good. Perhaps just a trace more forward than I like it, but now very low in coloration, including the all-important vocal region. Imaging was solid—in the sweet spot, the phasiness disappeared—though not really better than I am accustomed to (most good loudspeakers image very well in my listening room when properly set up). Depth was good, though that combination of warmth and slight midrange forwardness kept the depth from being really notable.
Up to this point I had used both the Levinson No.332 and Krell KSA-300S amplifiers. Things sounded a little tighter with the Krell, but the overall balance was not dramatically different.
Making it happen
It's amazing how, when evaluating a product, you can set off on a tangent, and, operating through the back door, find just the right combination of associated components to make that product come alive. That is exactly what happened to me with the Model Four. Up to now, I'd been listening to a decent pair of loudspeakers priced in a range where "decent" just doesn't cut it. The Four didn't irritate. It sounded clean and relatively uncolored. But the big KEF really didn't get up and dance, either. In fact, the speaker was just a little lead-footed. At this point I made two changes. I went to a bi-wire set of Monster M1.5 loudspeaker cables (a second set, or bi-wire set, of XLO References were not available to me, or I would have undoubtedly tried them first) and switched to a new Aragon 8008 power amplifier.
Better. Much better, in fact.