KEF KHT3005SE 5.1 Surround Speaker Package Review

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Does the long term benchmark still measure up?

by AVForums Aug 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM

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    KEF KHT3005SE 5.1 Surround Speaker Package Review
    SRP: £1,000.00

    Introduction

    If the original KEF KHT2000 ‘Egg’ didn’t invent the concept, it can still be credited with having been the package that kick started the sub/sat move into affordable, mainstream acceptance. The combination of a classy and compact cast aluminium enclosure, plus the space efficient proprietary Uni-Q coincident source driver, was a marriage waiting to happen. It’s commercial success was assured, spawning a raft of imitators along the way.

    However, time stands still for no man. The original KHT2000 satellite has benefited from a few tweaks over the decade plus since it’s launch, and the KHT (KEF Home Theatre) range broadened out to include the superficially similar, but upmarket KHT3005. A new design in it’s own right, the 3005 enjoyed a revamp to SE status in 2007, since when the package has remained unchanged, save for the addition of a wireless option for the subwoofer along the way.

    Five years is a long time in a rapidly evolving market place and the compact sub/sat sector is about as hot as it gets, sprouting new competitors on an almost hour by hour basis. Does the KHT3005SE still what it takes to stay afloat on such choppy waters? We shall see...


    Design


    KEF KHT3005SE Design

    I can appreciate that a package comprising such small speakers, allows them all to be packed in the same box. When that same box also contains the small, but not insubstantial HT2B subwoofer, the whole shebang becomes a not inconsiderable one man lift. This is a point worth noting if you’re planning on walking the box back to your car, or live atop flights of stairs. The internal packaging comprises solid clamshells of dense polystyrene, that give confidence in the package surviving the worst a courier could deal out.
    The gods (or at least KEF) smiled upon me and saw fit to supply the KHT3005SEs in the high gloss white finish. Thoughtfully, those opting for this option of the two colours available (the other is obviously gloss black), will find that the speakers come supplied with both white and black grills. A nice touch and one that left me with grill choice paralysis for a few minutes. I eventually settled upon white on white for no reason whatsoever. Tomorrow I may go black. It's the way I roll.

    KEF KHT3005SE Design

    The mounting options also deliver a choice. Each of the satellites comes with a cast alloy foot that can either screw into the base of the enclosure for mounting on a shelf, or into a hole on the rear for wall mounting. KEF have thoughtfully provided a hole through the foot, through which the speaker cables can pass, if mounting on the wall, to keep the install clean. The wall mounting itself, is accomplished by a couple of slots in the base of the foot that hang on two screw heads. The feet, or rather the mounting of the satellite enclosure is further articulated by a ball socket that allows a considerable range adjustment to the direction in which the speakers are pointed. The centre speaker comes with one aditional option which is a very thin, soft rubber pad, shaped to fit the underside of the enclosure. As it's not fixed, this still profers a bit of pointing flexibility, but the main feature is that it is very low profile, only adding a few millimetres to the overall height. Handy if you've got a tight mounting space.

    The satellite enclosures are a very well made, single alloy casting. The quality of the fit is accentuated by some lovely bullet shaped binding posts that are easy to access and accept thick cable, but not spade connectors or banana plugs. No matter, because unlike most stylish connectors, these ones do up tighter than a gnat's chuff, and stay tight. Normally, after a week or so, you can retighten most binding posts, but these don't budge. Just above the binding posts is a small reflex port, on all but the centre speaker, which is a sealed cabinet. Turning to the business end; The fabric faced, plastic mesh grills, fix by magnets neatly onto the rubber covered baffle. Very discrete indentations mean the fit is square to the cabinet every time.

    KEF KHT3005SE Design

    The centerpiece of each baffle is a 115mm Uni-Q driver, the upgrades to which delivered the bulk of the SE suffix to the KHT3005SE package. For those newly awoken from a twenty year plus coma, the Uni-Q driver is worthy of description. Prior to it's arrival in the late eighties, coincident source drivers (where the tweeter shares the same axis as the mid, or mid/bass driver) had already been in existence for decades. However, due to the size of the tweeter, it tended to be mounted on the rear of the main driver magnet, firing though a horn/waveguide that replaced the normal pole piece. The new availability of rare earth magnets, in materials such as Neodymium, allowed the motor of the tweeter to shink to such a degree, that the tweeter could now fit on the pole piece at the dead centre of the mid/bass driver's cone. Now both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and if one compares the original Uni-Q array of the 1980s C Series, to that of the groundbreaking Concept Blade, it's clear there has been one helluva evolution visited upon the concept by KEF. It's fair to say, that whilst a few other driver manufacturers now offer a similar pole piece mounting of the tweeter, KEF are in a class of one in evolving the concept to it's current dizzy heights.

    Back to this particular Uni-Q driver, At the centre is a 19mm aluminium dome tweeter, hidden behind KEFs 'Tangerine' waveguide. The waveguide (part of the SE update) is an interesting piece of design. Not only does it serve the purpose of persuading the tweeter's dipsersion pattern to match that of the mid/bass driver that it is handing over to, the Tangerine element helps control reflections within the throat of the waveguide helping to smooth the on and off-axis response. This and the attention payed to the smooth physical transition where the edge of the waveguide meets the mid/bass cone helps toward delivering the ideal of an even level of radiation of all frequencies, whilst controlling the maximum angle of dispersion. Why do you want this? It allows the speaker to be less affected by the enviroment in which it is sat, thus delivering a performance that is more consistent across a wide range of rooms.

    The mid bass driver, as well as acting as the outer part of the waveguide, of course has it's own duties from the upper mid range, down to mid bass to handle. This poly cone looks unremarkable, save for the fine, radial stiffening ribs to the face of the cone. A compartively long throw roll surround aids with producing as much bass as is humanely possible from a small enclosure, the whole ensemble being mounted in a cast frame, with a further (shielded) neodymium magnet motor bringing up the rear.

    KEF KHT3005SE Design

    And that's all there is for the HTS3001SE satellites, but the HTC3001SE centre speaker adds a little more. In a multichnnel system, movies in particular load the centre speaker with the majority of the audio action. As it's also the speaker tasked with delivering clear dialogue, even when all hell is breaking loose, it tends to get a tough ride, more so when the speakers are this small. To this end, KEF have augmented the HTC3001SE centre with a couple of 75mm bass drivers that flank the Uni-Q unit and they roll in below 500Hz to augment the bass output, in a 2.5 way arrangement. The cabinet as well as being about 25% wider, is also about 25% deeper, giving a total increase in internal volume from 1.8 to 2.4 litres. This isn't purely about more bass. It's about sharing the bass duties across more voice coils and giving the mid/bass driver an easier time, thus staying clearer at high volumes.

    The final part of this 5.1 equation is in the shape of the HT2BSE Subwoofer. That shape is at once reminiscent of the satellites, whilst cutting quite a form of it's own, namely that of a nibbled Smartie. Technologically, it's fairly straight forward, with a 250mm diaphragm main driver and a nominal 250w of Class D power. Connections are limited to a single RCA Phono input and a two pin reversible mains lead. An on/off switch is augmented by a switch allowing automatic power on when sensing a signal. It's been a while since I moaned about auto settings that go to sleep mid movie/programme and KEF haven't changed that with the HT2BSE. The KEF logo, set in the glass top plate, glows a gentle red when in standby, switching to a mercifully gentle blue when under steam. I kept an eye on it and once on, it stayed on, for all but the very quietest of late night viewing. Other controls are a 0/180deg phase invert switch and a 'bass boost' control. This offers a boost of either 6 or 12dB centred on 40Hz for a bit more thud and rumble. To my ears, it made everything thud and rumble and thus it was left at it's default 0dB setting.

    There are features that mark the HT2BSE out. One is that the flat metal plate that forms the foot, can be removed. Three rubber plugs around the driver can be popped out to reveal screw holes, into which three long bullet shaped feet can be screwed.The subwoofer can then be mounted 'flat', should you have the requisite 225mm (or so) of clearance under a piece of furniture. I don't, so this remains untested, but it would have no impact on acoustic performance.

    KEF KHT3005SE Design

    The second point of interest was, when the original HT2B was launched, a bit of a novelty in domestic compact suboofers. The KEF makes use of an auxiliary bass radiator (ABR) to aid bass extension. Essentially, it's the same as the main driver, with it's magnet and voice coil removed and a weight attached in their place. Altering this weight adjusts the frequency at which it resonates, this point being somewhere below the main driver's natural output starts to roll off. In essence, it performs the same job as a port, where the tuning is accomplished by varying the ratio of the width and length to each other. So why not use a port? If, in order to fit the port in the available space, you have to make it too small, the velocity of the air in the port rises too high and becomes audible as chuffing and whistling which is just another form of distortion. Think of blowing through a whistle for a nice clean tone and then blowing too hard - it distorts the sound. With a skinny sub like the HT2BSE, where depth is at a premium, there isn't room for a large, free flowing port, an ABR is a skinny solution that is not only noisless - no air flows in and out of the cabinet - but also serves the duty of limiting the throw of the main driver, just like a port. It's resonace works in opposition to that of the powered driver, so as it's movement is at a maximum, the movement of the main driver is at a minimum, thus lowering distortion at all frequencies.

    Win, win? Not quite. For starters, an ABR is more complex and therefore more expensive than a toilet roll with a flare at each end. They are tens of pounds to a ports tens of pence. Also, when the output of the ABR starts to tail off below it's resonant frequency, it does so faster than that of a ported suwoofer - 36dB/octave against 24dB/octave. They give you well controlled, low distortion output, but below this point, there really is very little output. Now, whilst a small sealed sub with it's 12dB/octave may tail off far more gradually, playing well into the infrasonics, this will only be for the benefit of a measurement microphone as you simply won't hear it, never mind feel it. The option to go with an ABR, or even a port in a more conventional shaped sub, allows more audible output at the expense of stuff you can't hear and brings benefits in lowering distortion. The music boys may prefer the technically better phase control of a sealed sub, but for movies a few extra Decibels of output a few Hertz lower is a trade well worth making.

    Setup

    It doesn't get much simpler than one speaker cable per speaker and only one audio connection to the sub. The speakers (contrary to the pictures which were taken after unboxing) were mounted on my quasi wallmounts, at ear level for the left and right and as close to the bottom of the screen as possible - about double chin height. The rears were shelf mounted firing forward with a hint of toe in, this giving the greatest homogenity to the soundstage up the sides of the room.

    Whilst it may not hold true in every room, I was able to get a surprisingly flat in room response from the sub. With it being so slender and not actually being that wide, you can pretty much pull it 45cm out into the room, without actually taking up space that wouldn't be occupied by an average twelve incher. You also gain more positional tuning by simply turning it around as this shifts the drivers a further 225mm. The nett result was that I managed to get an in room repsonse I was happy with, without resorting to equalisation. I must stress that your mileage, may and probably will vary, but the point is the shape, in this instance gives you more latitude to play with.

    KEF KHT3005SE Setup


    Listening

    Listening was an interesting experience, not least because whilst the KHT3005SE is a current model, it’s a few years old and KEF themselves have since brought out models in (broadly) the same sector. I tested the T Series and very much liked it, plus I have recent experience of current direct competitors. It’s time to see if the yardstick still measures up!

    I’ll start by saying that whilst I find most speaker grills to be more acoustically transparent than they’re given credit for, there is a clear gain in clarity when these ones are removed. It’s not that they become overly dull, or unintelligible with them on, but there is a definite extra sparkle with them out of the way. This is no deal breaker as the 3005s look so good with them off and the magnetic fixing makes it the work of a moment. It is perhaps down to the quite heavy plastic mesh construction that backs the grill cloth, which in turn is quite sturdy. On the plus side, the grills offer phenomenal protection against fingers small and curious. Hence forth, all of my comments relate to the 3005s being used au naturale, so to speak.

    The signature wide sweet spot of the Uni-Q driver is clear to hear, or rather not, because you don’t hear shifts in the tonality and clarity of the satellites as you move around. My main sofa is a good wide three seater, with a further two seat variant off to one side, upon which the wife chooses to beach herself of an evening. As she is an insistent (read, piercingly constant) critic of speakers that aren’t clear off axis, I (1) check this out before she does and (2) am left in no doubt if she disagrees. There were no complaints, as is usual with the combination of herself and Uni-Q drivers, but we both felt there was definitely a volume level above which the 3005s work best. It’s not loud - somewhere about normal TV volume - but it would frustrate late night low level listeners, if your family is easily woken.

    KEF KHT3005SE Listening

    Above this point, the 3005s remain clear and composed up to surprisingly high levels, the extra drivers visited upon the centre speaker paying clear dividends here. Dialogue is well rendered and even when playing hard, doesn’t exhibit a tendency toward becoming boxy and closed in. Sibilance and harshness refuse to chime in and that’s in line with the very clean, almost laid back, presentation of the 3005 satellites in general. If anything, they’re almost too relaxed sounding, the initial impression being that they’re a bit dull and unexciting. Longer term listening changes that impression to a large degree. The 3005s haven’t been engineered to replace the lack of dynamic impact, small satellites (in general) suffer, with a peaked upper mid range to mask this fact with a forced, ‘impressive’ delivery. As such, the 3005s remain an easy, high volume long term proposition, that doesn’t leave your ears needing a rest.

    With four identical speakers in use, tonal coherence up and down the room with multi channel listening is excellent. But with a markedly different centre speaker, I was keen to test out left to right pans to poke holes, if they were to be found. There are several sequences in Cars 2 where Mater’s voice pans from out wide toward the centre, with not a lot else going on. This simple, but effective test, has found out some very expensive speakers, but the 3005s sailed through with flying colours, at all volumes with repeated playing. You get to play Cars 1 & 2 a lot with a near 4 year old in the house, so it is a very, very familiar sequence.

    The pleasant surprise of the package was the HT2BSE subwoofer, which played with dexterity and grunt, if not reaching the subterranean depths you’d only really get with a much larger subwoofer. Although bass extension for the satellites is quoted as 75Hz (65Hz for the larger centre) you really need half an octave or more, either side of this point for the combined output of the subwoofer and satellites to blend effectively when subject to your AV receiver’s bass management. Against the quoted figures, this mandates a crossover somewhere in the 100-120Hz region. You have to balance where you can place the subwoofer (ideally up front amongst the front speakers, as I could) with how close you sit, the space you have to fill and finally, your own personal preference. Applying all of that, with the measurements used when setting up, the most even response was achieved at 110Hz.

    KEF KHT3005SE Listening

    In subwoofer terms, this is quite high as one must remember that it’s output, although starting to decrease above this level, will still be meaningful as you approach 200Hz. The ear is very much more sensitive to anomalies, or under performance at these frequencies and a lot of budget subs, quite frankly, fail due to excessive distortion, or simply not reaching high enough to complete the blend. The HT2BSE holds it end of the bargain up well. It’s position remains aurally non-localizable, so you’re not aware it is playing as a discrete entity – exactly as it should be. Furthermore, with it’s significantly greater cone area, it delivers real dynamic punch in an area where the satellites would struggle, even though they can actually play the frequencies in question. The subwoofer has so much more dynamic headroom in this critical region, delivering visceral punches and gunfire with far more impact, than the satellites could hope to. So if you can get a sub to play well in this region, there are benefits to doing so and the KEF can.

    Now this will come as a shock to those who view me as a bass head and yes, if you want your flaires to flap along with inaudible infrasonic bass, then this is not the subwoofer for you. However, the ABR delivers surprisingly loud bass down to it’s actual in room cut-off (I measured high 20Hz region), below which play stops quite rapidly. More importantly, it does so with control and texture down to this point, giving complex bass sounds and for that matter, deep musical sounds, real fibre and pitch. In short, it doesn’t waffle, feels and sounds tight and has enough genuine clout to meet the demands of the satellites in the package.

    KEF KHT3005SE Listening

    I'll finish by nodding my head at music reproduction. With a realistic 30Hz to 20kHz rendition at all volumes short of very loud, plus the imaging delivered by the Uni-Q drivers in tiny cabinets, you can't fault the scale and precision of the stereo image from such a compact package. Running the relatively high crossover, helps kick drums deliver impact and rhythmic drive, the HT2BSE again worthy of note for it's tonal accuracy and grip on instrumental texture.

    However, the overall sense of restraint of the satellites was never quite shaken off. Clearly, Metallica fans are less well served than Eva Cassidy devotees, the overall refinement suiting tonal, rather than dynamically driven music better, as they tended to sanitise the raw edge of anger. My much loved, eponymous Rodrigo y Gabriella CD, bestrides the two camps and garnered an okay rating, whilst various Alison Krauss tracks sounded genuinely impressive. I don't know why, but I've been on a bit of a Nirvana bender lately (only the early pressings as the remasters are best burned in hell) and these too suffered a compression of excitement, whilst The Faces sounded excellent. A slightly more mixed bag compared to the movie/TV front, but it is worth noting that I never, ever found something rendered unlistenable. I recently listened to the Rodrigo y Gabriella and Nirvana's Nevermind at a friends house (he's a reviewer elsewhere) on a pair of active speakers that are billed as active monitors and I actively couldn't wait for either rendition to end. Those speakers did some things well, but a quacking port, or adding additional unwanted edge to an edgy recording don't add up to listenable. In that light, an absolute minimum of 'okay' may seem like damning with faint praise, but it's better than the alternative when you have to live with a speaker day to day, not just for a couple of weeks.

    Conclusion

    7
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    The Good

    • Superb build
    • Easy setup
    • Reliable consistency between rooms
    • Even handed between movies and music
    • Handles high SPLs well
    • Very refined sound
    • Excellent subwoofer
    • Praise be - there are white ones!
    • As child proof as you could hope

    The Bad

    • Sound best with grills off
    • Slightly restrained presentation
    • Very little else
    You own this Total 5
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    KEF KHT3005SE 5.1 Surround Speaker Package Review

    So, to answer the original question, the KHT3005SE is a package that can still hold it's head up against the younger upstarts. In material terms, it is superbly screwed together and it's finish is the equal of any compact sub/sat package, I've ever tested, regardless of price. They feel like they'll last forever and in terms of looks, they look as tasty as anything on the market, with a simplicity of form that won't date.

    Sound wise, they are still competitive, with class leading refinement, if not quite excitement. However, not everybody watches high octane action and for everybody else there are other solutions required. Clear dialogue, with a swelling rendition of the film's score and an expansive delivery of a film's foley effects, probably reflects 90% of film watchers needs and a good deal more of a TV watchers experience. Just this very night, I watched Accused on BBC HD and was struck by the realism of the sound of handcuffs in the opening seconds. To clear that one up, my father was a policeman and I used to play with his handcuffs as a child, you weirdos. The point is, that unique, damped metallic crackle is a familiar sound and the KHT3005SE's delivered it without an over emphasised metallic edge, that may be favoured by some and was thus, all the more realistic.

    I won't go so far as to say the memory trip brought back a olafactory metallic tang of Scalextric drenched in WD40, nor the unrepeatable smell of LEGO, but it made me realise there are more important things than full bore movie bombast at the expense of all else. There is a place for considered undersatement that delivers a listenable rendition of movies, music and TV, day in day out. There is also a place for having your socks blown off, but with most peoples rooms being a compromise, the KEF KHT3005SE package continues to deliver a worthy contender.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,000.00

    The Rundown

    Sound Quality

    7

    Build Quality

    10

    Value For Money

    7

    Verdict

    7

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