Review: KEF T305 speaker system Page 3

With speakers that are designed to fit a small form factor, there's often something about the sound that immediately jumps out at you - something bad, like a midwoofer distorting or an obvious coloration. That wasn't the case with the KEF T305 system. In fact, I'd describe it as an easy system to listen to. Not that it's an easy-listening system (although I'm sure your Perry Como CDs would sound great through it), it just sounds good with a wide variety of material and never calls attention to itself.

When I played the Blu-ray Disc of the recent Star Trek movie, I promptly forgot I was listening to a skinny set of on-wall speakers. The KEF system didn't rock the room like a big home theater system would, but it definitely conveyed Star Trek's explosive action without ever noticeably distorting, without ever sounding feeble, and without ever committing a sonic error that made my ears gag. Of course, such feats are to be expected of a larger system, but in a system this small they're a real achievement.

Somehow, the T305 system seems to know its limits and wisely never tries to surpass them. On bass-heavy scenes like the spaceship landing and explosion that kick off Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the system gave me a satisfying amount of bass without audibly distorting. My guess is that KEF has some sort of frequency-dependent limiter in the subwoofer that lets it romp and stomp all it wants at frequencies above 40 Hz, but keeps things on a tight leash at frequencies below 40 Hz.

Given these speakers' form factors, it'd be logical for KEF to engineer them more for home theater than for music. My ears definitely got that impression. The system sounds fine for music; I put in many hours of listening to two-channel stereo CDs and always enjoyed it. However, it's not as involving as a serious music listener would probably want. The treble sounds a little soft, as if the tweeter starts to roll off above about 10 kHz; the acoustic guitars that begin Steve Earle's country classic "The Devil's Right Hand" lacked their usual sparkle. The little midwoofer doesn't sound so clear in the lower register of the male voice, making some guys' vocals sound a bit bloated or congested. Melodic bass lines tended to plod a little; electric bass notes lacked some of their characteristic growl and punch. An average person would think the T305 sounds great with music, but I doubt audiophiles would be impressed.

So while the home theater performance is excellent for a small system, the music performance is just OK. But I imagine most of the people who buy this system would use it primarily for movies and TV, secondarily for background music, and almost never for serious music listening.

The obvious competitor for the T305 is the Definitive Technology XTR-50. I can't think of a particular advantage either one has over the other - in fact, their performance is quite similar. I recommend letting your wife pick the one she thinks looks the nicest. Then you'll enjoy a performance advantage few speakers can offer: You won't have to listen to her complaints about your speakers.

The T305 would be a great home theater system for $1,999 even if the speakers were butt-ugly black boxes. The fact that the T305 delivers excellent home theater performance and is also one of the best-looking systems you can buy makes it a stunning achievement. And as long as your music listening doesn't get much more adventurous than smooth jazz and Jack-FM, I'm sure this system will do everything you want it to do.