Review: KEF Q300 Bookshelf Speakers | iLounge

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Review: KEF Q300 Bookshelf Speakers

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Highly Recommended

Company: KEF

Model: Q300

Price: $399

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Guido Gabriele

If you've ever shopped for speakers before, KEF likely needs no introduction. This British company has been making home audio components for over 50 years, and has been a favorite of audiophiles for about as long. In anticipation of KEF's recent update to its Q-Series speakers, we're taking a look at a bookshelf speaker that has become one of the go-to recommended speakers in the audiophile community: the Q300. Though the Q350 has been announced, the Q300 is still available and can be purchased for about half the price of the new model. We think the Q300 is one of the best ways to get started in this hobby.

The Q-Series has, for many years, been KEF’s entry point into its product line. The Q300 bookshelf speaker is one step above the Q100, using the same one-inch tweeter, but a larger 5.25-inch woofer. The Q300 has a large vinyl-wrapped MDF cabinet; at 14 inches high, 8.3 inches wide, and 11.9 inches deep, the Q300 strains the definition of “bookshelf” speaker and will probably be more at home on stands. Viewed head-on, the Q300’s drivers, ports, and baffle have a beautiful, futuristic look that can be — if desired — instantly converted to a more mundane and generic aesthetic with their included speaker grilles. The Q300 uses a large bass reflex cabinet; it’s front-ported, which we find makes it slightly easier to place in rooms where optimal distance from the back wall isn’t possible. The Q300 ships with wall-mount hooks pre-installed, though we’re hesitant to hang 17-pound speakers from our walls. The Q300 also comes with port plugs (or, technically, “bungs”) that can attenuate its bass response and impact; they work, but frankly we prefer the Q300’s sound in full force.

The core differentiator for the KEF Q300 — and most of KEF’s speakers — is its Uni-Q drive array. Most speakers feature a small tweeter mounted above a separate woofer, but KEF thinks this is like speaking out of “two mouths.” KEF’s proprietary Uni-Q driver positions the tweeter at the center of the woofer, so that all sound appears to come from the same point. The two drivers are coaxial but not connected, enabling them to move independently. Normally, this type of driver configuration would result in distortion between the two drivers, but KEF claims that its “Tangerine” tweeter waveguide and “Z-Flex” woofer surround eliminate distortion. According to KEF, this should have the secondary effect of widening the “sweet spot”, keeping the audio image consistent across a wider range of positions in the listening area. If there were any doubts about whether KEF believes in its Uni-Q driver array, take comfort in the fact that the company uses the same technology in its $140,000 top-of-the-line Muon loudspeakers. At the very least, the Uni-Q array enables the Q300 to be at once large (in cabinet size) and space-efficient — by placing both drivers in the same space, there is room for more air volume in cabinet and more space on the baffle for a front-ported design. There’s much more to say about this technology than we can cover here — KEF offers a mini-whitepaper on its website.

The Q300’s drivers are made of aluminum, which is lighter and stiffer than some other driver materials. These are 8-ohm speakers with a relatively low sensitivity of 87 dB. KEF recommends amplifier power of 15–120 watts; though we loved how well our 100W Schiit Vidar drove the Q300, we found that they were also driven fairly well by a 20W TEAC A-101DA, which is good news for those not looking to spend a ton of money on power amplifiers at the start. Inside is a simple first-order crossover that divides the workload between the Uni-Q drivers at 2500 Hz. The Q300’s frequency response is respectable, at 42 Hz – 40 kHz. The Q300 also features two sets of wiring posts that can be set for bi-wiring (running two sets of speaker cables from one amplifier) or bi-amping (using separate amplifiers for each driver) simply by turning two knobs on the back of each speaker — we didn’t test this feature, but we know there are audiophiles out there that will give it a shot. 

We were very impressed by the Q300’s sound. They sound clean, with substantial bass impact and plenty of low-end extension for music (although a subwoofer is probably needed for home theater) without overpowering the rest of the frequency range. We were particularly impressed by how much better the low-end of the Q300 sounded compared to our trusty JBL LSR305, which sounded boomy by comparison. Imaging and clarity of the Uni-Q driver is exceptional, and the waveguides seem to do the trick — the Q300’s sound did not seem to be substantially affected by lateral positioning, nor did we hear any distortion in treble despite the coaxial driver configuration. One caveat, though, is that vertical positioning might be a factor with this speaker. The only time the Q300’s low-end sounded overbearing was when the speakers were too high, with the reflex ports aimed at the ear. Best to follow the rule of thumb and set the tweeter at ear level to keep the sound in balance.

We may not be the first to say it, but we think it’s still worth saying: the Q300 is an excellent speaker. The marriage of KEF’s Uni-Q driver technology and a large ported cabinet has produced a very exciting, musical speaker for medium sized rooms. The KEF Q300 gets our strong recommendation.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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