KEF Reference 207 loudspeaker Page 3

On recordings that themselves sound hard, such as the DVD-A of Yes's Magnification (Rhino R9 78250), the KEF was unforgiving. (Both this album and Tutu have rather gritty-sounding highs—is this due to a heavy hand on the watermarking knob?) Anne-Sophie Mutter's Brahms Violin Sonatas (EMI CDC 7 49299 2, CD) sounded definitely "scratchy," the violin jumping forward out of the soundstage on some high-treble notes but not on others. However, comparing this 1983 recording with Arturo Delmoni's superb-sounding but more cautious 1996 performance of Sonata 1 (John Marks JMR 2), which was also miked quite closely, indicated that the scratchiness was more likely due to early digital artifacts being more clearly revealed than to anything the speaker was doing wrong.

In fact, trying to identify what the KEF was doing wrong proved a frustrating experience in the month I used the speaker for everyday listening. It was both remarkably uncolored and neutrally balanced. "Midrange to die for!" I remarked when I was finalizing my choices for this issue's "Records To Die For" feature. And time and time again, I found myself marveling at the broad, stable, and deep picture the 207s offered into the recorded soundstage.

Summings up
The $15,000/pair Reference 207 was the latest in a series of high-performance speakers to grace my listening room, following on the heels of the Canton Karat Reference 2 DC ($10,000/pair, January 2003), the Mission Pilastro ($35,000/pair, December 2002), the mbl 111B ($17,000/pair, August 2002), and the Wilson Sophia ($11,000/pair, July 2002). Each had its strengths, none had significant flaws, yet I continue to be surprised at how different excellent, expensive speakers can sound from one another.

KEF has always been very much an engineering-led company, and its original Reference 107 was, in my opinion, a milestone. As I wrote last November, in my tribute to the most important audio components of the past 40 years (Vol.25 No.11, p.73), it "finally rammed home the lesson that speaker design primarily involved engineering rather than art. Yes, art is still an essential part of designing a musically satisfying speaker, but only when that art rides on a platform of solid engineering." As I remark in this issue's "As We See It," good measured performance doesn't tell you how a product sounds, but it does let you know that its designer knows what he's doing. KEF's Reference 207 is as well-engineered as you'd expect from a company with such a distinguished pedigree, and it does sound excellent, particularly when it comes to its clean, powerful, extended low frequencies, uncolored, natural-sounding midrange, and its stable, precisely defined stereo imaging.

The 207 is the best-sounding design to use KEF's Uni-Q driver array that I have heard, and competes head-on with such high-performance designs as the speakers listed above, as well as B&W's Nautilus 801 and Signature 800 and the Revel Ultima Studio. While my ultimate preference would be for the slightly less expensive Wilson and Revel designs, the big, beautiful-looking KEF is still a speaker I could live with for a long time. Highly recommended.

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