KEF Egg Digital Music System Review
Is the KEF Egg hard boiled? It's certainly hard to beat
What is the Egg Digital Music System?The KEF Egg Digital Music System is an all-in-one designed to work as a standalone Bluetooth audio system but additionally allow for the connection of a computer or digital source. It takes the form of a pair of active speakers and from the moment you clap eyes on them, it is abundantly clear that the Egg could only be a KEF product.
Why? Simply put, over the last decade, the Egg has become as synonymous with the KEF brand as kevlar is to Bowers & Wilkins, the Hofmeister kink is to BMW and cameos by Stan Lee in Marvel Films. The Egg has at various stages in its life been the pre-eminent home cinema satellite speaker and even in the years when there is notionally a superior product on the market, it is usually the benchmark that was being aimed at. There have been many iterations of Egg over the years but they have all been conventional passive satellites- until now.
The Digital Music System breaks new ground in the history of the Egg as it is an active stereo system. This is almost certainly a reflection of the need to move into new product categories to offset the decline in home cinema packages but the Egg has always been a fundamentally sound piece of speaker design so how does it fair when used as a piece of desktop audio?
SpecificationsThe Egg is very clearly related to the E305 home system that we tested some time back but there is a little more to their existence than shoving an amp into them and hoping for the best. Where the two speakers are identical is in their driver compliment. The Egg makes use of the same Uni-Q driver as the E305 and it is this device that originally gave the Egg its shape. The Uni-Q mounts the tweeter in the throat of the mid bass driver and therefore requires only a single mounting hole cut into the enclosure improving the structural rigidity and reducing the size of the chassis required.
In this case the Uni-Q is a 115mm aluminium mid bass driver with a 19mm tweeter placed at its centre. This has the standard refinements that KEF has been applying to the Uni-Q system. The tweeter is internally vented and features the distinctive 'Tangerine' waveguide in front of it. The midbass driver is fitted with the Z-Surround system that permits a more controlled excursion back and forth over a conventional surround. Like the passive E305, the Egg has a front mounted bass port which presumably augments the low end.
Quite how much low end there might be, is a bit of a mystery. KEF quotes figures of 80Hz- 45kHz for the E305 (a device generally sold with a subwoofer) but doesn't list any such figures for the Egg- which is designed to operate on its own- although some dealers and other websites have lifted the E305 figure and applied that to the Egg. Based on the laws of physics being fairly robust when it comes to speakers, we can assume that the frequency response will be very similar but active speakers can gain a little extra low end heft as a function of their design so it is possible that the standalone Egg goes a little deeper.
The Egg is made active by the use of a pair of 50 watt amplifiers. What makes the KEF decidedly unusual at this price (and indeed a fair bit above) is that it does genuinely use a pair of amplifiers. Each speaker is active instead of the more commonly encountered active master and passive slave pairing that speakers will generally use. Rather than have each speaker need a mains plug, the Egg has a single external PSU that attaches to one of the speakers. This then transfers power across to the second speaker via an umbilical cable. The arrangement is neat enough but the cable itself is on the short side at 1.5 metres. KEF can make the logical argument that these speakers should not really be any further apart than this and, they are almost certainly right, but a longer cable would allow for tidier placement and avoid the cable being stretched tight.
The Egg offers some useful connectivity. The KEF is fitted with Apt-X capable Bluetooth 4.0, a USB connection that works as a driverless type to a maximum sample rate of 24/96kHZ and an optical connection on a 3.5mm jack (for which KEF supplies a cable as well as a USB cable). The idea is that the Egg is as happy being used as pair of PC speakers as it is as a Bluetooth device or indeed being used to bolster the sound of a TV. The only significant omission is AirPlay but this would add to the cost and complexity of the speaker so it is fairly logical that it is not fitted. The only slight curiosity is that the optical connection lives some way adrift of the USB and power connections, under a flap on the side of the foot of the speaker which will be a little unsightly if in regular use.
The Egg additionally comes with a subwoofer connection in the form of a 3.5mm pre-out. This should allow for the connection of any suitable sub, including of course, the one supplied with the E305. The package is finished off with a remote control that is pleasingly substantial for a device of this type, although in use, it isn't very responsive.
DesignIf you don't know what a KEF Egg looks like by now, I hope your rehabilitation from solitary confinement is going well. The latest is actually less egg shaped than some preceding models- ironic in a way since these are the first models where KEF has stopped fighting the use of the term 'Egg' to describe them and formally embraced the title. Each satellite is an oval form that curves back into a droplet shape. Where the active Egg differs from the E305 is in the foot. As the Egg has to accomodate the electronics and inputs, it has a larger foot and leg than the passive version- a little bit of a shame as the arrangement on the E305 is very elegant indeed. This makes the Egg look a little more substantial and aids stability at the expense of the ability to wall mount.
The overall design and layout of the Egg is- short umbilical aside- a good one. This is a handsome pair of speakers and in the 'Frosted Blue' of the review samples, something that balances distinctive looks without being overbearing. The build quality is also of a good standard and the Egg feels solid and well finished for the price. The use of two separate speakers gives the Egg an advantage in the reproduction of stereo over single box rivals that is likely to be considerable.
The Egg offers some useful connectivity
How was the System tested?The KEF has been used in a conventional stereo sense, placed on my Quadraspire rack and also placed on a computer desk and tested in a more nearfield situation. In both cases, the speakers were connected to a Lenovo T530 ThinkPad running jRiver via USB and a Motorola Moto X via bluetooth. An iPhone 5S and Microsoft Lumia were also employed during Bluetooth testing. Material used included lossless and high resolution FLAC and streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal. In the course of PC testing, material such as YouTube and Vimeo were also employed.
Performance via USBAs the KEF does not need a USB driver to connect to a computer, getting it up and running is as simple as plugging it in, select the Egg as the output device and listening up. First impressions are positive and suggest that KEF has done a little more to the voicing of the active Egg than stick an amp in it and hope for the best.
First up, the realistic bit of the situation. The Egg comprises a pair of 4.5inch drivers in a small set of cabinets. The bass extension therefore is never going to be seismic whatever you play on them and regardless of where you place them. The Egg is certainly more effective when used nearfield but this is not the piece of audio equipment for heavy dub work. When used in my lounge, the KEF doesn't struggle to fill the space but the sound might be best described as a little lean. In a world of DSPs, passive radiators and other trickery, the KEF can feel a little undergunned in this regard.
The most surprising thing is that after about ten minutes, this seems to stop mattering. The brain is a funny thing and acclimatises to what it has to play with and this is aided by the rest of the frequency response sounding very good indeed. The KEF is a very clear and open sounding speaker that extracts impressive levels of detail from a recording and reproduces it in a way that sounds consistently convincing. This is most notable with voices. Listening to M83's fabulous Saturdays = Youth the spoken word sections of the album leap out of the KEFs and have a presence and clarity that is unusual at the price.
If this top end wasn't well supported by the rest of the frequency response, it would sound decidedly unnatural but the KEF has a very well balanced and open presentation from the lower midrange and up and it gives them an ability to communicate that is unusual at the price. The tonal balance is clever too. While the KEF might be described as 'well lit', it never becomes unduly bright or forward when pushed to high levels and allows the Egg to reveal impressive amounts of detail in a recording. There is also- by the simple nature of the design- a level of stereo image that is simply not present in rivals.
The ability to extract information and build a creditable soundstage from it is very welcome and as a final pleasing addition to the mix, the KEF is one of the least expensive devices I've tested that has the ability to show the benefits- if present- of high res audio. Listening to the 24/96kHz version of BlackStar against the Tidal version gives you a little more weight and space to Bowie's vocals and greater detail- if not greater depth- to the bass response. Despite this, the KEF remains listenable with lower bitrate material and you'll really have to plumb the depths of YouTube before you start to make it sound a little thin and unpleasant.
Performance with BluetoothConnected to the Motorola Moto X, nothing about the KEF's audio performance changes significantly. There is a sense, using the same files on Tidal (and naturally the same settings) that the Bluetooth is fractionally softer and less defined than over USB but the way that the KEF performs is still very listenable. One minor niggle is that there is no indicator for Apt-x but the KEF is hardly alone in lacking this.
The slight fly in the ointment is that the actual implementation of the Egg's Bluetooth doesn't feel quite as slick as some rival products that have passed through over the last few months. Range is a passable four metres or so- enough for most logical uses of the medium but some way down on what I know to be possible with the Moto. More annoyingly, at various stages during testing, the Egg has simply disconnected from the phone and required reselection. In order to confirm that this isn't a bug specific to the Moto, I've run some additional tests with a Microsoft Lumia and an iPhone 5S and had the same thing happen there (using Spotify as the playback software). This could be a quirk of the house or a quirk of the sample but it might be worth checking if Bluetooth is going to be your main connection source.
There is - by the simple nature of the design- a level of stereo image that is simply not present in rivals.
- Detailed and spacious sound
- Well built
- Usefully flexible
- Limited bass
- Connecting cable too short
- Some Bluetooth instability
KEF Egg Digital Music System ReviewIt is a testament to the adaptability of the Egg as a speaker that shorn of its subwoofer and running in two channels rather than five, this is still an impressive product. In a section of the market that is reliant as much on software and processing to shape the sound, the KEF feels impressively clean and natural. The bass response of the Egg is undeniably a little limited but used to its strengths- nearfield and by USB in particular, the Egg is able to produce a musical message that is very likeable. During listening, the similarity I kept drawing with the Egg was with the Eclipse TD-M1 speaker system. The KEF cannot completely emulate the mind blowing speed and involvement of the Eclipse but it does cost less than half as much. This means that the KEF has to be considered something of a bargain and certainly worthy of recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £350.00
Ease of Use8
Value for Money9
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