KEF Reference Series Model Four loudspeaker Page 3

The speakers balance remained a little up-front, but never in-your-face. Solo instruments and voices were surprisingly palpable now, helped by a tighter quality in the mid- and upper-bass. On the Fairfield Four's Standing in the Safety Zone (Warner Bros. 9 26945-2), the solo vocals still sounded a little rich and warm, but only enough to give the vocals an appealingly full-bodied character. On Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind (Reprise 6392-2), the same positive vocal qualities were noted, together with a guitar accompaniment which was sweet, clean, and subtly detailed. Sibilants on this and other recordings were neither fizzy nor smothered. The mid and upper bass were still not quite there, but the Model Four was now closer to the mark. On the King's Singers' Good Vibrations (RCA Victor 09026-60938-2), the balance was definitely on the full side of neutral, but not enough to irritate.

The main effect of the fullness was to slightly close down the sound, reducing the sense of openness and transparency. The same was true on recordings as diverse as Dean Peer's Travelogue (Fahrenheit FR2451) and the soundtrack from Sneakers (Columbia CK53146). Bass guitar (on the former) and percussive drums (on the latter) were just a little less punchy than they should have been. The top-end remained a little forgiving. But little else was wrong or missing.

I now returned to the Krell KSA-300s amplifier, but this time with the above-mentioned Monster bi-wire loudspeaker cables. What I now heard is no reflection on the Aragon amplifier (review to come), but a tribute to the loudspeaker control of the Krell. The bass was dramatically cleaner and tighter. This shouldn't have surprised me; when I reviewed the Energy Veritas v2.8s, it was this very combination of loudspeaker cable and amplifier which tightened up the sound of that loudspeaker.

The Krell really forced the KEFs to get a grip on the bass. This hadn't been true to the same extent when I used the Krell with the XLO loudspeaker cables. Synergy, as ever, is everything. Or most everything. KEF argues that their Reference loudspeakers can be used with modest electronics, and I have no doubt that there are other suitable amplifier/cable combinations—and less expensive ones—that will solve this loudspeaker's tendency to lay it on too heavily in the bottom end. But the combination I found was the Krell/Monster. The Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2 is one of my favorite tests of bass clarity and drive. The bass percussion on this recording must be heard on a good system to truly appreciate the meaning of bass punch, and over the Reference Fours, in their final setup, it now had it, with room to spare.

Cleaning up the mid and upper bass also did wonders for the rest of the audible spectrum. While I would still rate the Model Four as being below the very best loudspeakers in its presentation of inner detail, transparency, and top-end openness and air, the margin was now small. The bass control of the Krell, combined with its vivid low and mid treble (which can make it sound a trace bright on some loudspeakers compared with some of the competition) was just the right prescription for the KEF. The speaker no longer sounded as polite or forgiving as before. Recordings which tend to be just a little bright—though otherwise superb—such as Mark Knopfler's Screenplaying (Warner Brothers 9362-45457-2), were now just a bit bright on the KEFs, where before they had been smoothed-over and sweetened.

Tightening up the bass can also do wonders for the soundstage precision and focus. And the KEF's soundstaging, good before, definitely moved up a notch on the scale, particularly in the reproduction of depth. If you want to hear excellent depth reproduction, listen to "Hostias" from the Berlioz Requiem (Telarc CD-80109-2) on a first-class pair of loudspeakers. Like the KEF Model Fours.

Before I switched to the Krell/Monster cable combination for driving the KEFs, I'd intended to try moving the Model Fours yet again, this time to the long wall of my listening room. I never look forward to these major rearrangements, but sometimes there's no other option. The change wrought by the Krell/Monster tandem made that rearrangement unnecessary.

Before I made the last amplifier/cable change, I was pondering how to rate a loudspeaker that so clearly belonged in Class B in Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing in the midrange and highs, and so clearly not class B in the bass. Extension, yes. Clarity, no.

After the amplifier/cable change, however, I had no doubt. While the bass from the KEFs isn't the tightest I've heard, or the deepest, with the optimal combination of amplifier and cable, it's definitely competitive with the best I've had in my listening room. The same goes for other vital aspects of its performance, as well—midrange, highs, soundstage, dynamic range, and power handling capability.

It's amazing how the right ancillaries, in the right room, can make a loudspeaker's performance come together. In the end, I was delighted with the performance of the KEF Reference Four. All loudspeakers require careful system matching, and the more a loudspeaker ultimately has to offer, the more difficult it can be to tap its full potential. The bass of the Model Four is a challenge to tame—a common problem with large loudspeakers. Two of my favorites, the Wilson WITT and the Energy Veritas v2.8, also require care and feeding to keep their bass under control. I would definitely put the Model Four in the category of "hard to tame but worth the effort." I advise auditioning it with the associated equipment you plan to use it with.

And I don't recommend this speaker for a small room. It needs room to breathe. There are several other models in the Reference series which would, I feel, be better suited to small spaces. But if you can give a pair of Model Fours the room they need, and match them to the right system, you won't be disappointed with the result.

KH America Inc.
89 Doug Brown Way
Holliston, MA 01746
(800) 352-8175