KEF R7 HiFi Speakers Review
Have KEF gone and done it again?
KEF a company with a history dating back over 50 years have really been on a roll in the last five year with knock out products being released one after the other and they are showing no signs of slowing down with the new R Series. A full redesign of what was already a very accomplished product line KEF are boasting over one thousand changes, just think about that number for a minute.
I was very happy and excited to take a pair of the new R7, the larger of the two very similar looking floor standing speakers home for review to see what sound quality KEF had achieved for a speaker at this price point.
Special thanks to Nintronics the excellent hifi and AV dealership for loaning me this sample for review
Looked very familiar
Despite the very high number of changes in the new R7 speakers they look very familiar, the design very much mimics the companies outstanding Reference Range of speakers. The R7 could easily pass as a younger brother to the Reference 3, they both have a modern and elegant styling, purposeful but not over bearing. The all black R7 is a very nice finish, despite making it difficult to find things to write about. In this instance I think simplicity is no bad thing.
The speakers are a domestic friendly size and weigh 25kg each, they are easy to move around and tweak the position. The build quality is excellent and I was impressed with the high gloss paint finish.
One new visual aspect to new R range is the speaker grilles which are a completely new design and for once actually add rather than subtract to the aesthetic, while protecting the drivers from any prying fingers.
How much Reference DNA is there in the R7
KEF are very transparent in how they engineer technologies for their speakers, their aim is share designs across their entire range and this is very evident in the inclusion of the UniQ in every speaker they make. The R7 visually resembling the Reference 3 is not by chance its the result of its design benefiting from the engineering work completed during the Reference project.
The first resemblance is the Shadow Flare that surrounds the UniQ driver, this was taken directly from Reference and is there to prevent the tweeter having any line of sight with the edges of the cabinet. This helps with the retrieval of more fine details and nuance.
The next resemblance is the low frequency drivers, the D’apolito driver array is common across varying speaker brands and is a particular favourite of mine so I was very happy to see it used on the R Series floor standers. The low frequency drivers are about the nicest looking you will see across any speaker brand with their discrete, surround less design and concave smooth driver its just damn sexy. How often do you say that about a 6 1/2 inch speaker bass driver. In the R7 they are a hybrid design combining two skin materials, aluminium and paper to create enough stiffess for a piston like motion.
To control the drivers KEF have redesigned the magnet system to create a more even magnetic field for a more impressive and impactful low end
Attentions to Detail
Whenever KEF release a new speaker I am deeply impressed by their attentions to detail. In the R7 they have employed a very comprehensive bracing system, using the constrained layer bracing system similar to the system used in Reference. This system utilises internal braces joined by a ‘lossy’ interface and is highly effective at dissipating unwanted vibrations that would otherwise artificially change the sound and music.
The R7 uses KEF Flexible port technology first seen in the LS50. The ports in R Series feature innovative flexible walls and using computational fluid dynamics, the flare and profile of each port is calculated to delay the onset of turbulence, preventing this from colouring the midrange.
12th Iteration of the UniQ
UniQ technology has been at the heart of KEF speakers for about as long as I have been alive and its used for specific and very good reasons and its been under development and improvement all this time. In the new R series speakers the UniQ is improved again. KEF have reduced a resonance in the minute gaps between Uni-Q’s separate elements reducing any slight colouration this added.
Easy to setup
I placed the R7 in the usual spot in my room paying very close attention to the speakers toe in angle. Having reviewed quite a few different speakers recently I have changed tactic with my speaker toe in strategy choosing to set the speakers as wide apart as I can with the speakers facing mostly straight forward (maybe a slight amount of toe in) This strategy creates a more open and cohesive sound stage between the speakers with a trade off of some perceived depth, well at least that is what I thought, more on that later.
The KEF R7 suited this strategy perfectly and following a Dirac Live set of measurements and correction I was very happy with the overall results. Dirac live really worked wonders on the R7 in my room despite all the GIK acoustic treatment I have employed. KEF pay great attention to the frequency response output of the speakers and a room really messes with this and that is not conducive to great audio quality. Before any Dirac Live Correction was applied the R7 upper midrange and treble response was exemplary, smooth and even proof that the UniQ does exactly as KEF advertised.
Starting where I left off
I started the review using the same electronics I used in the previous review the Leema Acoustics Elements Integrated (#Mighty Mouse) and Chord Electronics Qutest as the DAC and Tellurium Q Silver II speaker cables. It was a positive start for sure and the sound was impressive and I could tell the R7 are a well designed capable speaker and I really wanted to push them.
Coming back with a Game Changer
I visited Nintronics to return some equipment to them and discussed with them my thoughts on the R7 and how I could tell they were capable of more than I was giving them. They suggested a try the new Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 as a DAC instead of the Qutest with its more resolving chipset and balanced connections. I then saw some sexy valves housed in a green and black chassis that I just had to take away with me. I have been desperate to try a Valve amplifier forever and the combination of a Hugo TT2 to be used as a DAC and pre amplifier with a McIntosch MC275 Legendary power amplifier was put into my car. That wasn't all, my car was graced with another Chord Electronics gem that I have been desperate to try and this combination was sure to push the qualities of the R7 with the added bonus of exposing me to KEF on Tubes - what was this going to sound like?? I was very excited to try.
I started slowly so I could assess the qualities of each product and what they might add or take away from the sound with the R7 setup as they was. I have spent a lot of time with Chord Electronics DACs having reviewed nearly all of their recent models so I knew what to expect from the Hugo TT 2 and it delivered exactly that. Using the TT2 allowed me to use Tellurium Q Silver Diamond Balanced cables, these are exquisite cables and again added, or rather removed what I expected. The big surprise was the McIntosh MC275 - Wow what a star, what an amplifier. I listened to this new combination for several days as happy as an audiophile could be, a lucid smooth but organic detailed sound that had that draw, we all know it, a sound that has itching to get back in the listening seat as much as possible to enjoy as much music as can be fitted into a day. In some regards this was some of the most enjoyable sound I have had in my listening room to date which is saying a lot considering the quality of products I have reviewed in the last year. KEF being great on Tubes was a real surprise one and I wanted to hear much more of.
Audiophiles are naturally greedy creatures
After several days of happiness my analytical side kicked in and I remembered my goal of pushing the R7 as much as possible to see what they could really do, it was time to pull out the big guns. Initially I replaced the Tellurium Q Silver II speaker cable with the companies much higher end speaker cable the Silver Diamond knowing this would cast the net wide open between the R7's and what came before them. Making this change was very interesting because it was not a wholly positive experience. There was a lot of positive change but not all positive and this puzzled me for a short while, until I realised the Silver Diamond Speaker Cable and ultimately the R7 was transparent enough to show me all the good and not so good of the audio system chain before them. This was extremely impressive, the R7 were this transparent, because we are talking about a very high performing digital and analogue chain.
It was time to bring out the game changer, I installed the Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler before Hugo TT 2 and set it to dual BNC output mode upscaling to its maximum of 768khz (705.6 from 44.1Khz). Coupled with this change I installed the Wave High Fidelity Stream Digital BNC Cables between the Hugo M Scaler and Hugo TT 2 knowing these would be about the best cables to entrust to this important link. This really was a sensible and clever move because from here things got seriously good and at last I was ready to assess the actual performance of the KEF R7.
Refined, Detailed & Articulate
It would be easy to lose focus here and sing the praises of the Chord Hugo M Scaler, but putting my feet back on the ground and focusing the KEF R7 were giving me all the improvements I was hearing from the game changing digital technology. I had hit a fantastic audio plateau where the sound was nearly everything to me and I dare say would be to a large portion of audiophiles. A sweet and smooth detailed presentation with fantastic articulation across a wide open sound stage with excellent clarity and focus. The sonic images the R7 were creating between and outside the speakers were full scale, clean and presented with a very near KEF
Reference level of clarity.
More impressive was how the central sound stage opened up and the sense of depth increased, aided with improved clarity and focus to the sounds with the most depth. The R7 were performing to a level in this regard I was not expecting but relished in listening to.
I have seen comments written on forums where audiophiles complain of speakers becoming too good at what they do but seemingly losing the fun factor. The term fun will differ between audiophiles but I believe fun comes from a speakers ability to convey the energy of the musical, maybe even the intended emotion. From the song demonstration video above you can see the KEF R7 are able to convey the lively and passionate musical intent from the Ana Moura Track Oz Buzios.
Can do Complex
The KEF R7 proved themselves to be very capable speakers across a big variety of music styles and I tried to test them and find a weak spot in their performance, I failed. Even more complex pieces of music such as Dead Can Dance Song of the Stars the R7 proved just how capable they are as you can see from the song demonstration video below.
KEF R7 Perfect Speaker?
Its very easy to get carried away when listening to a great sounding hifi system, one that is really pushing all the right buttons for you as an audiophile. Are the KEF R7 the perfect speaker, of course not and they are not marketed as such. If I was going to be ultra critical and unfairly compare them against the whole market of speakers, their bass could be more powerful and they could be more transparent. Both of these you get and more as you move up the KEF range to the Reference and Blade speakers. What was startling to me was just how familiar the sound quality was, very close to sound I am used to from my KEF Reference 3 speakers, however I am still to hear the Hugo M Scaler and Tubes with the Reference 3 and know there is a lot more to come from these speakers. Despite that, If the audiophile can achieve that level of sound quality from the R7 speakers at their price point of £2600 it makes them incredible value for money.
I am full of admiration for KEF and the R7 speakers, they have impressed me immensely with their sonic performance, without even considering their price point and they are testament to KEF sharing and filtering technologies across all their speaker models. They are a speaker many audiophiles will be able to afford. They are a speaker many audiophiles will love and can enjoy for many years safe in the knowledge that their system can be upgraded and the R7 will keep giving and that is one of their most exciting aspects.
I make this recommendation to any audiophiles considering purchasing the R7, at the same time invest in some IsoAcoustic GAIA speaker isolators, the extra cost will be worth it.
Congratulations to KEF, you have done it again, the R7 is a fantastic speaker
A Serious Bang for Buck Award is granted in recognition of a products stand out high performance being significantly greater than its perceived price point