KEF E305 5.1 speaker package Review
KEF goes to work on its Egg- with impressive results.
IntroductionCar analogies are dangerous things but if the sub/sat speaker market can be likened to hot hatches- compact, practical but still capable of barnstorming performance- the KEF ‘Egg’ is the Golf GTI. Like the VW wasn’t the first hot hatch, there are some designs that are older but the KEF was the one that really brought the concept to a wider audience. Like the VW it was widely imitated- the number of packages on the market exploded in the years after it was launched.
The comparison doesn’t end there either. Like the Golf, competitors came and went. A product might come along that stole the crown for a bit but it always seemed to gravitate back to the Egg in time for the next challenger. Also like the Golf, put bluntly, some generations of Egg were rather better than others. The KEF has always been competitive but this is not to say there haven’t been more competitive versions than others. Finally, like the hot hatch market, the sub sat market has had to evolve as the needs of customers change and market segments that simply didn’t exist when the first Egg broke cover- sound projectors and LCR’s to name but two- now compete for the same business.
As such, ten years after the original Egg comes the E305- an Egg for the present. The styling is instantly recognisable, the price has only risen by £100 over the original KHT2005 and it features many of the innovations that KEF has been working on as a company in the intervening years. Is this the equivalent of a ‘great’ GTI like the MKII 16v or 30th Anniversary or is it a soggy MKIII 8v with a blowing exhaust? Time for a test drive.
DesignThe basic ingredients of the E305 are recognisable to anyone who has used a set of Eggs in the last ten years. The E305 package contains five E301/301C satellites and a matching E2 subwoofer that all turns up in a single hefty box. In keeping with previous models, the satellits are designed to be free- standing but an optional (if slightly pricey) floorstand is available if required.
The other defining feature of the E305 is the Uni-Q driver. This is a KEF trademark and the version in the 301 is a 4.25 inch design with a centrally mounted 19mm dome. The Uni-Q is intended to offer a wider and more even dispersion than two drivers mounted in a conventional arrangement but in a speaker this size additionally allows KEF to reduce the size of the enclosure that the driver needs. This has historically allowed the Egg to be slightly more compact than the competition (although there is more than one way to skin a cat and this is no longer quite as true as it once was).
The latest Uni-Q includes the ‘Tangerine’ Wave Guide on the tweeter intended to aid dispersion of high frequency material. Whether or not it does this is hard to judge in the absence of listening to one without the guide fitted but it looks absolutely fantastic poking out from behind the grille and gives the KEF a really strong visual identity. The mid bass section is aluminium and makes use of the company’s ‘Z Flex’ surround technology to give the driver increased excursion. This means that the satellites hand over to the sub at a useful 90Hz (+/- 3dB) which should make for a usefully seamless transition.
The E2 subwoofer is a downward firing design with a single eight inch driver mated to a 250W Class D amplifier. The E2 is impressively minimalist as subs go. Your controls are limited to a phase switch, a bass boost setting and the ability to switch between auto and always on. You will note that this list does not extend to a crossover or volume control. These are set on your AV receiver and means that the KEF is effectively fit and forget provided that you have the required controls on your Amp. Equally, if you are a keen tweaker, this is not the subwoofer for you. Connectivity is limited to a single LFE input but for pretty much every situation the KEF is likely to be fitted in, it is quite enough. KEF claims extension down to 33Hz which is impressive given that the sub isn’t especially large. One minor but positive feature of the E2 is that the auto on/off works beautifully. It starts seamlessly and never seems to miss the first second of the performance which is all too common with other designs.
The slightly unusual shape of the sub is something to take into account. Although it isn’t very large, the design means that it is wider than you might expect and it doesn’t fit into spaces that the Cabasse and Q Acoustics subs do. If you are a slightly untidy person like I am, you can’t use it as an impromptu coffee table either but I suspect that storing back issues of The Economist wasn’t in the design brief.
The industrial design of the E305 is still very visibly an ‘Egg’ but I’m going to publicly state that this is by far the best looking iteration yet. Some of the older designs could look a little dumpy but the E305 has an elegance to it that doesn’t always come across in the pictures. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the 301 satellite is slightly taller and slimmer than the older models (or at least it looks taller and slimmer). The second is down to the foot. In older Eggs this attached directly to the chassis but the 301 has a foot with is separated from the body by a metal arm. Not only does this look smart, it means that the foot can rotate around a ball joint to become a wall mount. KEF has also fitted the terminals to the underside of the foot for neater aesthetics. These terminals aren’t able to accept banana plugs but they are sufficiently burly to handle most speaker cable without an issue.
Better still is the fit and finish. The Eggs have always been well built but the E305 is really very well bolted together indeed. The chassis are inert and feel hugely solid to the touch and each speaker feels extremely solid. The paint on the satellites is also rather lovely. I’m not normally a big fan of white speakers but the satin finish of the E305 is gorgeous and embarrassingly tactile- I’ll admit that I absent mindedly stroked one more than once. The foot is finished in unpainted steel and looks rather lovely too. The E2 Sub isn’t quite as substantial as the satellites and the satin finish isn’t quite so pleasing but this is still a package that looks absolutely up to the minute and the equal of anything else around the price point.
SetupThe KEF was installed on the end of a Cambridge Audio 751R and 752BD combination with Sky HD and a NAD DAC1 wireless DAC in support. KEF didn’t supply stands (and I didn’t ask for them) so the speakers were placed on Soundstyle Z2 stands on their standard feet. The sub was placed to one side of the front speakers and slightly in front of them. There were no strange results from the auto setup and I decided on a 90Hz crossover for use.
Material used included Wreck It Ralph and my go to disc for noise Unstoppable. I used lossless FLAC and Spotify for audio testing via a Lenovo ThinkPad. Like all other speakers that pass through the house, the KEF’s were used all the time so they have been used for day to day TV viewing.
Sound QualityThe E305 turned up having been run which meant that I was able to get stuck into to some critical listening straight off. Having got them installed (something that simple packaging and generally sound design practices make an extremely straightforward business), the KEF started to make some very definite sonic statements from the off. The good news is that most of these statements are very positive ones.
The KEF is immensely civilised. It can be pushed to very high levels and given the most frenetic material and it never really tips over in harshness or aggression. It is easy to confuse this civility with a lack of involvement but spend a bit more time with it and the KEF shows that it is quite capable of huge excitement- the ‘Medal of Heroes’ scene in Wreck It Ralph is wonderfully and invigoratingly ballistic. There is a smoothness and cohesion to the performance that might rob the KEF of an edge in a fifteen minute, full throttle demo next to some of the competition, but over a day of listening, the KEF pulls back some advantages. This is a very easy package to listen to for long periods.
Much of this cohesion stems from the very controlled handover between the satellites and the crossover to the sub. The soundstage across the front three speakers has no perceivable gaps or drops in it and the panning from side to side is extremely good. The satellites are clean, controlled and capable of impressive detail retrieval that means that the performance they produce is generally very believable. With the 90Hz crossover set, the handover to the sub is seamless and almost completely imperceptible which means that after a while the sub pulls the neatest trick a sub can be asked to do and effectively disappears from your perception during films.
The tradeoff that the sub asks in return is that it is not the most aggressive performer in the category. Compared to the Monitor Audio MASS system that went through before the KEF, there is a lack of outright slam when something blows up and on occasions you are hearing bass rather than feeling it but the KEF has clearly been voiced for speed and cohesion and it delivers on these requirements in a way that few of the competition can. Some listeners may find themselves wanting a little more low end heft though.
The advantage of the KEF’s more measured approach to bass, for me at least- is that this is a very musical sub sat package. The integration between speakers and sub really comes into its own when you play something fast that repeatedly passes through this crossover point like Air’s kitschy Surfing on a Rocket. The KEF sounds together in a way that some of its rivals cannot hope to match and the subwoofers agility and smoothness is suddenly a clear advantage rather than a hindrance. I’ve said in the past that even when you don’t intend to use a sub sat package for music, it can be such a key part of the film or TV experience and the KEF really delivers in this area.
One thing that is worth taking into account though is that the E305 is not the biggest sounding package going. A perceived attribute of coaxial drivers is that they are intended to deliver a wider and more even soundstage than the competition. In use, I have definitely found the KEF to deliver a very even performance but the dispersion is actually a little more limited than the more conventional Monitor Audio MASS which manages to sound bigger at the same posted dB level (possibly as a result of the taller stands that the MASS uses). In a normal sized lounge, the KEF is never going to struggle but it would not be my choice for some larger spaces- although it isn’t as if KEF are short of options to offer you if you need something for a larger room. No sub sat package is ever hugely sensitive but the KEF is a bit less sensitive than some of the competition so benefits from being used with an amp that has good power delivery.
Across a wide range of broadcast TV though, the longer I listened to the KEF, the more sense it made. It never sounded like it was phased by anything I watched and the smooth and controlled performance makes it very forgiving of less brilliantly mastered material and this also means that watching YouTube or other low bitrate sources via them is not likely to be a shrieky or unpleasant experience either. The KEF manages to balance excellent performance with high quality sources with a forgiving manner with lower bitrates too which is pretty much ideal for a speaker package you use all the time.
- Controlled, detailed and involving sound
- Superb design and aesthetics
- Flexible in terms of positioning
- Floorstand is expensive
- Some rivals can sound more initially exciting
- Subwoofer extension slightly limited
KEF E305 5.1 speaker package Review
It didn’t take very long after the KEF was up and running to realise that this is speaker package is a bit of class act. KEF has managed to keep the visual identity of the Egg and the design aspects that make it what it is but at the same time, they have also moved it forward a considerable distance over older versions. Other designs at or around the price can sometimes sound a bit bigger or fractionally more exciting but as a design to live with long term, the E305 is right up at the top of the pecking order. The E305 is a speaker package that you can play pretty much anything through and it will sound controlled, well integrated and entertaining.
The competition remains fierce and at £900 without floorstands (which themselves are rather pricey), the E305 is a more expensive offering than the Q Acoustics Q7000 or (given that the £1,000 asking price includes stands and cabling), the Cabasse Eole 3. Where the KEF goes most of the way to justifying the cost is the lovely industrial design and gorgeous finish. The KEF manages to look and feel special even when it isn’t running and that is going to win it a number of friends even before you turn it on. The E305 still mimics many of the attributes of a hot hatch and like the evergreen Golf, it is still the design that everyone else should be looking to beat. It might cost a little bit more but it really is worth it.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £900.00
Value For Money8
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