KEF Q Series Dolby Atmos Speaker System Review
If you’re looking for a little upward firing action, you’ve come to the right place
What is the KEF Q Series Speaker System?The KEF Q Series is the entry level point for KEF ownership. We have already looked at the KEF Q350 standmount as a stereo offering and have found them to be a seriously strong proposition at their asking price. Multichannel is no less important to KEF though and the Q Series has arrived equipped with the ability to function in a number of configurations including – importantly for 2017 – the ability to do object-based immersive audio surround.
KEF was early out of the blocks with a Dolby Atmos solution. The R Series arrived in the market with an upward firing speaker in the form of the R50. KEF makes in-wall and in-ceiling speakers so effectively had the downward firing angle solved from the outset but the addition of the R50 makes the R Series an extremely flexible means of convincing people who might have wanted to ‘stick at five’ that Atmos may be for them.
As such, the Q Series arrives equipped with similar functionality. Do some of the impressive traits of the Q350 translate into AV bliss and can the Q Series deliver high quality object based surround at an (almost) affordable price point? Just as importantly, what happens when you revert to a ‘normal’ soundtrack? Time to find out.
SpecificationsTo save time and space in what will still be a fairly substantial body of text, I would refer you to the review of the KEF Q350 for comments on the Uni-Q driver and the specific revisions for this generation of speakers. Suffice to say that the revisions – while generally part of the details – have left the Q Series with a very capable main drive unit indeed. The system here of Q750 fronts, Q650c Centre and Q350 rears all use the larger 6.5 inch version of this driver while the Q50a is equipped with the smaller 5.25 inch version.
The floorstanding models – of which the Q750 is the middle of three are notable because they are sealed cabinet designs. The design of the Q750 is interesting because while there are four visible drivers, only the top Uni Q and third driver are actually conventional drivers with voice coils and a connection to the crossover – which works them as a 2.5 design. The second and fourth units are passive radiators that augment the low end output and help control it. KEF’s arguments for doing so are that the speaker as equipped is more sensitive than a conventionally ported design and placement in room is easier.
KEF is sufficiently keen with the principle that the Q650 Centre is also fitted with a passive radiator – in this case one rather than two. This does mean that in terms of ‘real’ drivers, the Q650 has the same radiating area as the Q750 which should help the transition from one speaker to another. It also means that the Q650 is absolutely massive – more of which in a bit. As a passive radiator in a two-way standmount is not really a practical concept, the Q350 is rear ported as noted in the original review. With an identical Uni-Q device in every corner though, the KEF should hand over effectively from speaker to speaker.
The Q50 was the last member of the family to appear and in some ways it is the most flexible of the models in the pack. As is the case with the R50, the primary use for the Q50 is to sit on top of the front and rear channels to allow for the use of Atmos and DTS-X. This is potentially slightly less elegant than building the upward firing driver into the cabinet itself but for KEF, who wants to sell plenty of Q Series speakers to two channel customers, it leaves those speakers looking like a bespoke two channel offering and adds this functionality as needed. KEF has taken the Q50 a step further though in that the Q50 can be used as a surround speaker in its own right. The underside is fitted with a set of wall mount eyes and the angled driver equates to delivering the correct positioning for the seated listener across a fairly wide spread of mounting heights. As far as I’m concerned, this is sound thinking from KEF and should help the Q50 do better numbers than might be the case if it was solely for upward firing duties.
There is no subwoofer in the Q Series range so KEF suggests using a member of the Kube family that works as KEF’s affordable subwoofer across multiple ranges. The Kube 10b is the middle of three units and uses an ten inch driver powered by a 300 watt class D amplifier. The enclosure is sealed and augmented by an eight inch passive radiator. An interesting addition to the spec is the presence of a three position switch that adjusts the output of the Kube 10b depending on whether it is in free space, placed against a wall or placed in a corner. Exactly what operations this performs are unclear but it does seem to work extremely effectively.
DesignThe stereo pair of Q350s were delivered in the white finish and I opined at the time that I would probably prefer the black. Having had this complete set sent in the black, I stand by this statement… but I’d like to make it clear that the Q Series is really ridiculously black. After a little bit of time with nine jet black speakers in my lounge, I began to gain an understanding of Johnny Nice Painter from The Fast Show, yelling “BLACK” from time to time and going a bit loopy. With no fripperies or adornments, the KEFs tend toward being a little monolithic. It’s clear from some of the comments I’ve read that many people like how these speakers look and I might be something of an outlier but it would be a bit too much for my room. Of course, if you’re looking for something for a batcave, these are pretty much perfect.
They are also beautifully built and abound with nice touches from that elegant Uni-Q driver to the rubber feet on the Q50 that ensures it sits on top of the main speakers but stays usefully decoupled at the same time. The Q750 has an outrigger and spike system for the plinth that gives it a relatively large footprint which might count against using it in tight spaces but renders it very stable indeed. This statement applies with knobs on for the Q650 Centre which at 63cm wide is one of the largest centre speakers I’ve every tested. KEF has decided against building a 5.25 inch centre so there’s no small option (and it means that if you want to have matching drivers across the front, you’ll need larger stereo speakers too). It is highly likely that KEF has done their homework and decided that if you are going for Atmos and the like, you’ll want a serious set of speakers (although they do make smaller packages) but it does limit the market slightly.
KEF has taken the Q50 a step further though, in that it can be used as a surround speaker in its own right
How were the KEFs tested?The KEFs were used in a 5.1.4 configuration with a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver running with an Emotiva A-700 power amp running the main speakers and leaving the Yamaha to the Q50s. Source equipment included a Cambridge Audio 752BD Blu Ray player, Sky HD, an Amazon Fire TV stick and all displaying via a Panasonic GT60 Plasma. A Yamaha WX-AD10 was used for testing Tidal and streamed audio content. Material used has included Blu Ray, broadcast and on-demand video, lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as Tidal and Spotify.
Sound QualityOnce unboxed and installed, the KEFs make some aspects of their performance clear from the outset. This is an impressively sensitive set of speakers that don’t need a huge amount of power to be driven to usefully cinematic levels. KEF’s work on the bass radiators across the front has clearly delivered on their intention of making these speakers easy to drive and benign in terms of impedance and the like. Given the squeeze being put on amp manufacturers to give us more channels for the same price – splitting the budget available as they do so – having a set of speakers that can do more with less seems like solid business practise.
There is also the same exceptional sense of three dimensionality that the stereo pair of Q350s demonstrated. The fight in the building stairwell in Suicide Squad is very well handled, the KEFs don’t seek to change its fundamentally chaotic nature but there is a logic to how it takes events and moves them from speaker to speaker that is useful for locking the information on screen and making it more logical at the same time. The panning of material across the front three speakers in particular is stunningly even and exceptionally cohesive. With five main speakers, the information shift is excellent and with seven speakers it would be better still.
And make no mistake, the Q50 fills its role in the system extremely well too. The shift from horizontal to vertical is as seamless and the movement between speakers and tonality is extremely consistent. What really helps the Q50 is that it feels like it has a scale and weight in its own right. KEF claims that it rolls off sharply from about 90Hz but while I wouldn’t use one as a subwoofer, it feels like it has more going on than that. This helps it deliver an energy and scale to the effects that gels well with the other speakers in the set.
In some ways, while these speakers are extremely good with some ballistic action going on, it’s what happens when you ask them to do something less frenetic that they truly start to excel. Watching Nightcrawler – for no other reason that I rather fancied watching it again – the way that the KEFs handle Lou Bloom’s entry into the house to shoot footage is absolutely exceptional. There’s very little in the way of effects as this happens but what there is in the mix is there to load tensions and the KEF handles this perfectly. With Sully, the courtroom scene is a masterpiece in muttered conversations, changing in tone as the evidence changes. There are plenty of speakers that live to deliver the heavyweight moments in cinema, it’s dealing with the little moments that frequently unsettle them though and here the Q Series is imperious.
The Kube 10b also turns in a solid performance. To be perfectly clear, where it my money, I’d still go for a BK Electronics P12-300SB for much the same amount of money but the performance of the KEF sub is good. It extends down below the Q750 (and by extension every other speaker in the set) and integrates well at the same time. Fast, sustained impacts can reveal a fractionally sluggish side but for the very reasonable asking price, this is a very capable and flexible sub that should work in a variety of locations.
These abilities are noteworthy for film but the KEFs are just as happy with broadcast material too. The Q650C might be a bit of a monster but it can handle muffled dialogue with absolute indifference. Having the KEFs available for the standard choices of broadcast TV has been very pleasant indeed because – as noted – when you aren’t looking for pin-you-to-the-wall dynamics (and when watching The Great British Bakeoff I confess I’m really not), they deliver a simple, honest and tonally brilliant take on events. If you need explosions, they’re ready and willing but more importantly they consistently get the details right.
Their stereo performance is also good. I found that best results are achieved running the Q750s on their own without the Kube10b helping as the Q750 is better controlled and more agile than the sub (and has more than enough low end to make music sound convincing in its own right). That same effortless three dimensionality and tonality that the Q350 has is present here too and the Q750 does a fine job of taking even dense and congested recordings and making them sound more open and spacious. A very quick test with them wired to the Naim Supernait 2 which oversaw the Q350 review suggests that the floorstander isn’t quite as rhythmically assured as the standmount but both are perfectly capable getting you engaged with the music.
In some ways, while these speakers are extremely good with ballistic action, it’s when you ask them to do something less frenetic that they truly excel
- Outstandingly spacious and refined sound
- Easy to drive
- Superbly built
- Rather large
- Can be a little ruthless
- Some limits to the Kube 10b's extension
KEF Q Series Dolby Atmos Speaker System ReviewOnce again author’s privilege allows me to point out that while I prefer the black to the white, I still don’t think the latest Q Series is an especially beautiful set of speakers. In an ordinary sized lounge, this is a large and rather oppressive surround package and it might be a bit much for the keen enthusiast still using their lounge for its primary task. If you have the space and décor for them though, this is a deeply capable set of speakers. KEF has ensured that the considerable skills of the Q Series in stereo are just as useful in multichannel and topped it off – literally – with a very fine Dolby Atmos speaker indeed. This is a system capable of being truly cinematic when required and when you combine that with strong performance with broadcast material and good musicality, you have a package that has to be considered worthy of recommendation.
Value For Money8
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