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KEF R300 Bookshelf Speaker Review

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Listen and you shall hear


– Wilco – A Ghost Is Born (2004)
– Ida Maria – Fortress ’round my heart (2009)
– Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (2001
– Dvorak New World Symphony with Kertesz and London Symphony Orchestra
– Damien Rice – 0 (2003)
– Azure Ray (2001)

After listening for a few weeks, the first long lasting impression I have of the R300 is clarity, especially in the critical midrange, where most of music lives. Vocals are produced vividly and generally without harshness or hardness. The treble does not call attention to itself, while bass notes are tight and articulate. Resolution is exemplary, provided the rest of your system has the same capability.

The second strong impression that stuck is the absence of a metallic sheen that I occasionally hear on vocals from metal drivers. This is like a shiny coating, which covers over the human voice, thus making the singer somewhat robotic and hard sounding. The song, “In The End” from Ida Maria’s Fortress ’round My Heart” demonstrates these two R300 virtues well, showing off her raw and raspy voice – albeit with emotion – clearly, naturally and without veiling.

The R300 can rock and show off some other strengths of the speaker. There is some great guitar work on Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born, for example on the track “At Least That’s What You Said.” All the buzz, feedback, crunch and distortion of Jeff Tweedy’s and John Stirrett’s guitars are reproduced faithfully. The dynamic range from Tweedy’s soft singing at the beginning of the song to the band’s full instrumental jam blast was impressive. The sound did not get congested during the jam as I could hear each instrument separately. Nor did I hear any discontinuity between drivers. This is in no small part due to the Uni-Q driver and integration of the 6.5 inch bass driver. I found no discontinuity like I was hearing separate drivers trying to work together.

Harmonic textures from my tube equipment are reproduced faithfully by the R300. A good example is the track “Revelator” on Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator). Gillian and David Rawlings simultaneously play some dissonant notes and chords on their guitars throughout the song. The R300 is able to show the strength of my tube equipment by conveying the subtle tuning differences of each guitar with their jarring but beautiful notes.

Dispersion with the Uni-Q driver is wide, definitely wider than my reference AAD 2001 speakers. Dispersion and time coherence are two strong points and the rasion d’être of the Uni-Q point driver array. While sitting nearly in front of one speaker, I was able to hear decent imaging from the speaker opposite me. If you have friends over for a listening session, no one has to jump for the center seat anymore.

Spatial presentation is good but not as pinpoint as a few other speakers I have auditioned, but I prefer a slightly diffused image instead of clearly defined performers. I prefer this type of presentation because it is similar to what I hear in live concerts. I know there are some people who like 3D cutout images, so I am pointing out that this is not one of the speaker’s strengths for those who prefer such imaging, at least in my system.

There is no hint of boxiness for a (ahem) box speaker. In this regard KEF did a superb job getting the sound outside the cabinets. Sound emanated above, in front and everywhere else when the recording demanded it. On the track “Sleep” -featured in the film, The Devil Wears Prada – Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink of the group Azure Ray are singing harmony just in front of each speaker and not in the speaker. Maria is singing in front of the left speaker, and Orenda is singing in front of the right speaker, or is it vice versa? In my opinion, the absence of boxiness is almost on par with electrostatic or planar panel speakers, but without the disadvantage of the latter types producing larger than life singers or instruments. Imagine you are a Lilliputian hearing Gulliver sing in front of you. Okay, maybe not that big.

The perception of depth was good for this price class, but fell short of the very best regardless of price. This is evident on the aforementioned track, “In The End” where the backup chorus is singing slightly behind Ida Maria, but should have been further back. A few other speakers I have heard reproduce better depth, including my own AAD 2001.

I think Antonin Dvorak’s chef-d’oeuvre is his Symphony No. 9 in E minor “From the New World,” a brilliant blending of European and American musical influences. I have about a half dozen versions of this symphonic piece, but my favorite version is Istvan Kertesz conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. This may not be the definitive or most transparent version, but under Kertesz’s direction the music flows beautifully. The R300 produced crescendo peaks capably, with a wide gradation from the softest to the loudest notes. Tympani strikes had the correct skin tone. Violin tremolo notes are appropriately revealed as vibrating and jagged, while the bowing is silky smooth. Under Kertesz’s direction, the individual sections are working perfectly as a collective unit and the R300 did a nice job bringing this out.

Transients are very good, in particular the striking of snare drum or cymbal in Damien Rice’s “Delicate” on the hauntingly beautiful album O. Mid-bass is present but slightly attenuated on some recordings when compared with a fuller range speaker such as my reference AAD 2001 monitors which can produce notes in the low 30 Hz region. For example, in the live recording of “Looking for a Home” performed evocatively by Keith Greeninger and Dayan Kai the singers are stomping their feet on a wooden floor in keeping time. I hear the stomping but it is attenuated when compared to the AAD 2001’s more prominent and deeper reproduction. This slight mid-bass attenuation and absence of low bass makes some recordings sound a bit leaner when compared to my AAD speakers. Since the bass response of the R300 only goes down to 42Hz but with a loss of 6 dB, you can’t defeat the laws of physics. So for lovers of large tuba and pipe organ music, I suggest adding a subwoofer to complement the R300, perhaps KEF’s own R series subwoofer.

Towards the end of the review period, I substituted the Rogue 99 Super Magnum and Music Reference RM10 combination with my Virtue Audio M451 Sensation integrated amplifier. Instrumental harmonics and vocal intonations were spot on when listening with my tube equipment. Although probably more tonally accurate with my solid state Virtue M451 in the mix the resultant sonic presentation didn’t capture my emotional involvement as well. For example, sibilance was more pronounced with my Virtue Audio Sensation amp and R300 combination. Harmonics and instrumental texture, as well as vocals were richer and fuller with my all tube electronics. This ability though to discern a change makes the R300 a good monitoring transducer with its chameleon like ability; allowing the listener to evaluate differences among components easily.

This is the end my friend

The KEF R300 and my tube components produced a very nice symbiotic or synergistic relationship together. It is impossible not to be biased favorably toward the KEF R300. The attractiveness, material quality, fit and finish, and most of all the sound quality equals excellent value for anyone looking for a speaker in this price range. No audio component is perfect, regardless of price. I consider the few faults found minor. The R300 is well worth an audition and you may find the speaker more than satisfies your need at a cost below what you are willing to spend. Add a subwoofer if a full range speaker is the requirement. Until next time, I wish you happy listening.

Associated Components:

  • Digital front end:OppO 981 DVD player, mainly used as a transportB.M.C. PureDACOppO 981 DVD player, used as a transport
  • Amplification:
    Rogue Audio Ninety Nine Super Magnum preampVirtue Audio M451 Sensation digital switching integrated amplifier with Astron power supplyMusic Reference RM10 tube amplifier
  • Loudspeakers:AAD 2001 stand mounted speakers
  • Cabling:Audio Sensibility Impact RCA interconnectsAudio Sensibility Testament speaker cableAudio Sensibility Statement digital S/PDIF cable

    Supra Cables power cord

    Triode Wire Labs power cord

  • Accessories:Redpoint Black hole isolation feet

20 Responses to KEF R300 Bookshelf Speaker Review

  1. David Kellogg says:

    Paul’s prose continues to amuse: don’t know if I prefer the image of Gulliver singing to the Liliputians or “the band’s full instrumental jam blast”. Each was refreshing, both were delightful and evocative. I think I have to go with Gulliver, as the idea of a giant voice being tamed by fine electronics brings a smile to my face. When was the last time a reviewer so artfully threaded an 18th C fantasy author through the tapestry of his write-up? Paul has taken things from ‘Son et Lumiere’ to ‘Son et Literature’, a nice, wry twist reminiscent of the appeal and craftsmanship of the top of a mouth-watering Challah.

    • Paul Mah says:

      Thanks for your “tasty” remarks. For my next review, I will try to go from ‘Son et Literature’ to ‘Son et l’histoire’ if I can remember a witty quote from a noted historian, perhaps by Virgil, Gibbon, or T. de Bary. Nah, they are all pretty dry.


  2. packfill says:

    Excellent write up. I bought some KEFs about 20 years ago and they are still going strong. A reliable company and good value for your dollar.

  3. tom says:

    love the review especially the amusing anecdotes by MR. Mah.

  4. I enjoyed your review of the KEF’s. And especially appreciated the literary reference. It’s nice when the discussion opens up to wider issues of life and culture– and even the essence of music, not just its sound.

  5. Bill says:

    Write! on Paul new KEF stuff

  6. sam says:

    Enjoyed the review bit like every other review it was one sided. As if author was afraid of comparing it with other speakers. It mentions LS50 in the beginning but does not comprehensive the two either because KEF forbidden it or he did not feel qualified.

  7. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Sam,

    I compared the R300 to my reference AAD 2001 speakers in the review. I didn’t have the LS50 on hand to compare in my system.


  8. klu says:

    nice write-up ~ thanx! i just purchased some R300s and so i am very interested in what others are saying about them…particularly your comments about their different [and apparently positive] response to tube amps as opposed to solid-state. my onkyo is not a tube, but is very clean and has a nice DAC in it. i would love to hear my speakers hooked up to a nice, warm tube amp, if only for comparison.

    • Paul Mah says:

      Hi Klu,

      Thanks for the comment. I hope you do get a chance to hear the R300 with a good tube amp.


  9. Mark G. says:

    I am about to purchase the R300 and will be using them with the slightly warm NAD M3 and M51 so these should match well. I am selling some lovely Neat Motive S1s to make room. I have two REL T Zero subs for a near-field listening setup so I think the R300s should play well in this setup. Nice review, thanks.

  10. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Mark,

    Based on your setup, the R300s should work well in your system. Good luck with the sound you want!


  11. Michael says:

    Will they fit with a Roksan Kandy2 system ? I am not into technical details. I just want quality and enjoy.

  12. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Michael,

    The short answer is yes. Roksan amps are known for speed and rhythm, which the KEF R300 also does well.


  13. John K says:

    Just wanted to ask if the old Nakamichi AV 10 or Receiver 2 matchup with the KEF R300’s?
    Thanks for your time.

  14. Maxpro says:

    Which will suites best with R300 Exposure 3010S2 or Hegel H80 or Arcam a39

    • Noble says:

      Hey, I’m using it with Exposure 3010S2; awesome texture and resolution throughout the spectrum. Nice vocal and rich mid-range as well. I was with Marantz earlier..
      Heard the R300s a good match with Hegel as well, but couldn’t get an audition, check that one as well.
      All the best!

  15. Ralph Pleasant says:

    Can I combine the R300 speakers with the Marantz M-CR612 system?

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