In recent years, we’ve written about a lot of headphones, Bluetooth speakers, and loudspeakers. There is, however, another type of sound system that we rarely see: desktop speaker systems. Simple two-channel systems, sometimes with a subwoofer, used to be a standard accessory with every new computer purchase; these systems added sound to desktop systems and upgraded laptop sound without the need for an amplifier or DAC, and were built with desk space in mind. These days, it seems like many of us are settling for laptop speakers, and many companies are devoting their efforts either to small “personal” speakers or full-size components. KEF, however, is one of those companies that still believes in desktop speaker systems. Today we’re checking out KEF’s “Egg”, a versatile and well-built system that brings the company’s high-tech driver design to a desk-friendly package.
Let’s start with the name: “Egg.” It’s not quite as serious as the rest of KEF’s speakers (i.e. the Q300 we reviewed last year), or the likes of its competition (i.e. “Klipsch Promedia 2.1”), but it fits. You could say that the Egg’s speakers look like eggs, but we think they look more like something out of a 1960s Stanley Kubrick film. White, blue, and black matte colorways are available, each with a matching fabric grille. They’re fairly heavy for their size (just under five pounds each), and feel dense, without any squeaks or creaks despite their all-plastic build. The Egg is clearly designed with desktop use in mind — each speaker is tilted slightly upwards and cannot be further adjusted. The left speaker connects to the right using a 4-pin molex-style connector; the cable is long enough to place the Egg on either side of a large desk, but can be shortened by winding it under a lip on the left speaker’s base. Four buttons on the right speaker handle all the necessary controls (power/pairing, volume, and source select), and a single unobtrusive LED changes color to indicate which input is selected. We love the minimalist look of the Egg and we are happy with its build quality.
KEF calls the Egg an “All Rounder,” maybe hedging bets as the users follow the trend away from traditional desktop speaker systems. To some extent, KEF’s claim is true — the Egg features almost every commonly used input (USB, optical, Bluetooth aptX, and 3.5mm analog), USB and optical cables are included in the box, and a headphone output is included on the right speaker. The remote control and optical input make the Egg a viable choice for a two-channel TV speaker upgrade but, as we’ll explain below, we don’t think the Egg is ideal for home theater use on its own. Similarly, the Egg’s Bluetooth is a handy feature, but is not an ideal pairing for iOS — its volume and track controls aren’t recognized by iOS, and the Egg’s lack of AAC support means your iPhone won’t get to take advantage of higher-bitrate wireless streaming. As a near-field desktop system, however, the Egg is much more at home: a USB connection allows for the highest-quality audio playback supported by the Egg (24bit/96khz) without the need for driver installation, track and volume controls work directly with the operating system and, if you’re going wireless, macOS can stream to the Egg using the aptX Bluetooth codec. The Egg is versatile, but its full potential is realized when connected to a computer via USB. We’re willing to bet that KEF probably feels this way too — the Egg’s USB port is cleanly hidden behind the right speaker, but the analog/optical combo port is hidden under a silicone nub on its side.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Egg is the fact that it uses the same driver technology as larger, higher-priced KEF loudspeakers. The Egg features a smaller version of the Uni-Q driver array that we saw on the Q300, which places the tweeter (with KEF’s “Tangerine” waveguide) at the center of the woofer, all in a ported enclosure. In our testing, this seemed to enable the Egg to achieve the same excellent imaging, low distortion, and consistent sound as the Q300 we tested last year (yes, better than Apple’s HomePod). Sound from the Egg is crisp, clear, and accurate, absolutely blowing laptop speakers out of the water, and with a far clearer midrange than the oft-recommend Klipsch Promedia 2.1. There’s some great tech in the Uni-Q driver, but it doesn’t break the laws of physics — the Egg is limited in its bass extension. In sharp contrast to the HomePod, the Egg struggles with deep bass, reducing some tones to “thups,” with a sound that can sound thinner and occasionally nasal by comparison. The Egg’s frequency response is fine for the video you’d most likely watch on a computer and most music, and a no-brainer upgrade for most TV watching, but not ideal for home theater — when we subjected the Egg to the Hans Zimmer torture test (The Dark Knight and Blade Runner 2049) we heard the Egg’s grilles buzz in some scenes. This was completely fixed when we added a subwoofer via the Egg’s dedicated sub out port, though it doesn’t appear that the Egg applies any crossover when the subwoofer is added.
Comparisons to the HomePod are inevitable, especially since Apple’s new speaker is $150 cheaper. The Egg is, however, a very different product. The HomePod is a personal smart speaker with limited input capability focused on specific use cases and a bass-emphasized sound signature. The Egg, by contrast, is fit for a far wider range of uses and, even if its low-end is lacking without a subwoofer, has a far more versatile sound signature than the HomePod. Compared to other desktop speaker systems, the Egg shines. Users get most of the benefits of KEF’s point-source Uni-Q driver configuration, with lots of inputs and a built-in DAC and amplifier. We have no hesitation recommending the Egg — just leave a little room in the budget to add a subwoofer down the road.
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