KEF R11 Loudspeaker Page 2

Finally the speakers are stabilised with a set of four outrigger feet, with spikes and floor-cups provided, and can be switched between single- and bi-wired connection using screw-switches on the terminal panel. These are much more convenient than those jumper plates you always seem to have lost when you need them, or having to make up wire links.

sqnote Simply Irresistible
Set up in PM's spacious listening room on the end of a system comprising a Melco N1ZS20/2 server [HFN Jun '17], dCS Vivaldi One player [HFN Feb '18] and Constellation Taurus Stereo power amp [HFN Dec '17], the R11s distinguished themselves by needing a lot less toe-in than many loudspeakers. This is something noted before with Uni-Q designs, although the speakers did benefit from a bit of breathing space to the rear and sides. This allowed the best bass definition without recourse to the foam bungs, which proved fairly extreme in their effect on the low-end and are best avoided if possible.

Set-up done, this proved one of the simplest, and most pleasurable, reviewing exercises I have done of late. I really liked the KEF R3s, despite their slightly odd 'big bookshelf' dimensions, and the R11s have the same sound, but on a much grander scale, and are really rather spectacular. Add in the fact that both PM and I thought they were somewhat more expensive, with the result that the true price came as a very pleasant surprise, and you can say that we were both decidedly impressed.

The location of that Uni-Q driver seems to play a major part in creating both the very euphonious balance of the speakers and their attention-grabbing imaging, so there's never any feeling of drivers 'handing over' to each other. Instead, there's an effortless sense of the sound coming from a single point, or rather a broad, deep soundstage between the cabinets. Only with the speakers playing at a very low level is there any feeling of 'left and right' – wind them up to normal comfortable listening settings (peaking at about 100dB according to my iPhone meter) and the sound fuses into a solid, substantial picture.

Thrill Of It All
With the Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin recording of Elgar's First Symphony [Decca 478 9353; 96kHz/24-bit], the R11s deliver a sound that's both mature and rich, while at the same time airy and free-breathing, with a real impression of the orchestra before the listener. But above all that, what these speakers do is create an almost ridiculously easy listening experience. Whether I concentrated hard or just sat back and relaxed, the sound was equally impressive, and it's amazing how quickly I could accept what the R11s were doing as the norm, dial them out, and just get on with enjoying the music.


Switch pace to a track like Joe Stilgoe's 'Mr Spiggott' [I Like This One; Candid CCD 79851, 96kHz/24-bit], and the delight is in the way the R11s extract so much from this simple piano jazz. It's also impossible not to appreciate how slickly they control and track every change of rhythm and time signature, and the vivacity with which they deliver the timbres of the instruments.

This same easy detail is much in evidence with the opening of The Who's 'Behind Blue Eyes' [from Polydor UIGY-9596; DSD64]. Roger Daltrey's slightly ethereal vocals are well imaged, along with the acoustic guitar, while John Entwistle's bass grumbles down in the mix with fine clarity. Then, as the track builds, the R11s' speed and definition allows Keith Moon's usual hell-for-leather drumming to crash out, along with those signature power chords. It's an exciting listen, and shows a pair of speakers can have fine control without robbing the music of any of its life.

The same characteristics, perhaps surprisingly, were much in evidence with the Rachel Podger/Academy of Ancient Music recording of Bach's Double Violin Concerto [from Harmonia Mundi France HMU 807155; DSD64]. Here the R11s delivered a sound packed with vitality, and with an appropriately 'boxy' sound to the solo instruments, and that attention-grabbing sense of rosin biting on string.

Change to a big orchestral work, such as Bernstein conducting the overture from his opera 'Candide' [Bernstein Conducts Bernstein; Sony Classical SS 89043, DSD64], and the R11s show all their abilities in one 4m 16s track. The opening is explosive and hard-charging, with a great impression of ordered chaos in both the writing and the sound. These speakers swiftly relax into the fluid, romantic middle section, then gather up the power for the closing, charging to the finish with especially notable punch in the percussion. It's a compact, total thrill-ride – on some speakers it can sound rather thin and brash, but via the R11s, with their solid low-end power, it just sounds big and exciting.

That's also true in the way the R11s handle piano which, with its combination of potential delicacy in the right hand and room-shaking ability in the left, is always a stern test of any speaker. Play Stephen Hough's recording of Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Litton [Hyperion SACDA67501/2] and the power of the musical forces, and drama they generate, grabs you in an instant. Yet it's just as easy to appreciate the balance and definition, and the superb soundstage image the speakers are casting, with the piano full-bodied before the orchestra.

Real Swing
Their ability with piano is also much in evidence with 'Rockin' In Riddim' from Monty Alexander's 2002 Telarc set [My America; SACD-63552]. Here the band slams in after the tiniest of piano figures, then settles into the familiar Ellington with piano and organ set against a growly bass-line and hard-pushing percussion. The R11s place every musician in a 'look, you can point at him' fashion, yet offset this technical ability with a real swing and sense of impetus, such that one is again taking their abilities as read, and just getting into the music. And that, folks, is just how it should be.

Hi-Fi News Verdict

I'd only a faint memory of the 'new KEF R-series' press release from last autumn, so had forgotten the R11s were just under £4k. They certainly sound a whole lot more, delivering a sound combining maturity and ease of listening with massive low-end punch when required, great imaging and fine detail. Choose one of the striking finishes to match your room, and just enjoy: this is high-end audio made easy.

GP Acoustics (UK) Ltd
Maidstone, Kent
Supplied by: GP Acoustics (UK) Ltd
01622 672 261