KEF HTF8003 Soundbar Speaker System Page 2

If you choose the wireless option, KEF provides a small transmitter that accepts a wired line-level connection from the surround processor plus a power connection. The sub itself just requires a power connection. Making the wireless connection couldn’t have been easier. I plugged everything in, hit the transmitter’s power button, and the sub spit out test tones like a trouper.

Associated equipment included a Rotel RSX-1550 A/V receiver and an OPPO BDP-83SE universal disc player.

Hillbillies and Ghosts
The HTF8003 soundbar showed a definite preference for density and precision over width and spaciousness. This turned the concentrated horror effects of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (DTS-HD Master Audio) into a fairly intense experience. The story concerns reality-TV stars—one of them played with notable vigor by Henry Rollins—who are preyed upon by hillbillies. Actually, it might be an insult to the hillbilly community to refer to these deformed cannibals as hillbillies. Music and effects blended into an aggressive melange that felt OK at a moderate volume. The synthesized whiz of flying arrows was sharp enough to make me jump. Rushing water was pleasingly vivid. The system revealed some coloration only in vocal material. However, it didn’t impair dialogue intelligibility in this selection or the two that followed. It just sounded slightly artificial.

I won’t give away the plot of Passengers, in Dolby TrueHD, by noting that it begins with a plane crash. The effect was hot. It didn’t have much bass, but that wasn’t the sub’s fault (I later adjusted it upward). Anne Hathaway stars as a therapist who counsels the crash victims. The film features a slightly clichéd score that combines low strings with plunking piano. A rooftop interlude showed off the system’s low-level resolution with a subtle wash of street noise.

In the concept comedy 17 Again, Zac Efron and Matthew Perry play the same character, who hurtles back in time for a chance to relive his former life in high school. The transformation scene includes some rain and thunder that gave the soundbar and satellites a chance to blend together for some good 5.1channel envelopment. Musical interludes demonstrated the sub’s ability to produce musically appropriate bass.

Throughout the movie sessions and well into the music, I played with the sub’s volume, always moving in the direction of bigger and better. First, I adjusted the surround processor upward from its usual default setting of –4 dB (my room is bass rich) to 0 dB (not excessive for a well-behaved sub). This seemed to give voices the right balance. However, the effects were still on the light side, so I upped the sub crossover from 100 Hz to 120 Hz. (In retrospect, the earlier setting was too low for the 3-inch woofers.) As movies gave way to music, I also raised the sub’s three-way toggle above zero and eventually settled on the +6-dB setting. This beefed up the bass and drums without bloating them. The +12-dB setting wasn’t intolerable, but it was just a little too high.

Heaven on Earth
The biggest (literally) surprise among the music demos was Diana Krall’s Live in Rio, a Bluray release with DTS-HD Master Audio. It sounded much, much bigger than I expected from a soundbar that measures less than 40 inches wide and has coaxial drivers. The amount of activity in the surrounds made the difference. With the ambience of a cavernous club, applause routed heavily to the surrounds, and several audience singalongs, there was lots of activity in the mix. The music was also inherently big, with Krall’s four-piece band augmented by a Brazilian percussionist and string orchestra in a lilting blend of standards and bossa nova classics. At the sub’s +6-dB setting, string bass was deliciously even and tunefully focused. The orchestra was full, lush, and otherworldly with arrangements by the great Claus Ogerman. Krall complemented the magic by letting her voice go a little breathy.

The soundbar reverted to its narrow character when I switched the content to a less ambience-rich studio recording, Teddy Thompson’s Separate Ways CD. Dolby Pro Logic II opened up the soundstage a little but not much. It was constricted to the width of the bar in both surround and stereo. Teddy’s voice is the most beautiful one in a family full of great singers (including Richard, Linda, and Kamila Thompson). The lead vocal was well focused, which showed off his long sustain. But it was also a bit metallic, and it lacked the extra measure of sweetness that normally makes him a treat. The soundbar showed off the arrangements. It peeled back the layers of backing vocals and gave guest lead guitarist Richard Thompson plenty of electric zing.

A CD of Brahms and Verdi string quartets by the Artemis Quartett posed an operational problem. The low-frequency content, notably the cello, wasn’t strong enough to switch on the sub amp. Was this a problem with the wireless interface or with the sub itself? I plugged an interconnect cable into the sub, but the problem persisted. This isn’t the first time I’ve found a sub that was reluctant to switch on with a weak signal. Some subs circumvent the problem by providing three power settings: off, auto-on, and forced-on. In this case, the forced-on option wasn’t available. I played a few seconds of a booming pipeorgan recording to wake the sleeping subwoofer, then I went back to the quartet, and that solved the problem. This time, Dolby Pro Logic II extended the soundstage 6 inches beyond the outer edges of the soundbar. The string sound was clear and clean. It provided good separation in low-level passages, but it didn’t have much wood or midrange warmth.

In a sea of plastic soundbars, the KEF HTF8003 stands out for its beautiful and durable aluminum enclosure. It is a soundly engineered product, but its up-front voicing and tight dispersion pattern may not be for your taste. If you don’t mind a soundstage that isn’t much greater than the width of the soundbar, you’ll love the HTF8003’s steadfast nature.

If you want a wider soundstage, you might want to use five of the HTS3001SE satellites. While this review limited them to the surround channels, they’re strong enough to go up front as well.

The HTB2SE-W sub’s wireless option may solve a cabling problem for some rooms. If you want a good-sounding soundbar, sub, and sats that will complement a flat-panel investment with minimal intrusiveness, these products would do the job well.

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