Technology

Great-Looking Speakers (with Good Sound, Too)


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Editor's Rating: star rating

KEF's compact, five-speaker system is certainly elegant, and its sound is rich and textured

Call me a hypocrite. For years, I've been counseling friends, colleagues, and readers to make sure they accompany expensive, flat-panel televisions with a great sound system. But I've gone only halfway down that road myself. I own a high-end Pioneer Elite and a midrange Sony (SNE) multimedia receiver. But I have made do with a hodge-podge of relatively cheap speakers, from multiple manufacturers, that do not provide the best sound reproduction to make a 5.1-channel Dolby system sing.

On the hunt to practice what I preach, I've been looking for a set of stylish, but not over-the-top, compact speakers that fit nicely into my home décor. British speaker manufacturer KEF's beautifully crafted KHT-5005.2 ($2,000) five-speaker package nicely fits that bill.

Each speaker looks a bit like a long wand, with rounded edges just about everywhere you look. Available in black or silver-and-charcoal, they manage to look elegant without overpowering a room. Each speaker features technology that KEF calls UniQ drivers—0.6 in. metal-dome tweeters mounted in the center of a 3 in. woofer, with another pair of 3 in. woofers on the top and bottom. By combining the woofer and tweeter, the speakers more evenly distribute rich, textured sound without distortion.

Oval Subwoofer

The center channel and four satellite speakers measure 3.5 in. by 5 in. by 16.5 in., and each weighs 4.4 lbs. The unique-looking, oval-shaped 250-watt subwoofer weighs in at 24 lbs. and measures 17.3 in. by 7.7 in. by 15.4 in. One quibble with the design is that if you use its built-in stand, the subwoofer cable connection is a little cramped coming out of the input.

The company also sells an add-on, $600 module to adapt the rear speakers to wireless operation, as well as additional speakers for a 7.1 setup.

For those opting not to wall-mount or use add-on stands, the setup is relatively straightforward. I attached high-grade Monster cabling to the push-tab, color-coded speaker inputs on each satellite and connected the subwoofer through a cable (sold-separately) to my multimedia receiver.

Setting Up on Floor Stands

It gets a bit more complicated if you buy the stylish metal floor stands. In that case, you have to attach a connector to the bottom of the speaker, then thread the speaker cable through to the bottom of the stand and use a screwdriver to attach the base to the stand. You'll need to make allowances for the extra two feet or so of cabling used to thread to the bottom of the stand.

Despite its relatively compact size, the KEF system handles movies, music, and TV shows with skill. Like most such systems, the speakers sounded best when I was sitting in the center sweet spot of the system, but I still managed to catch nuanced sounds coming from particular channels as I moved around. Listening through the speakers, the musically themed August Rush movie on Blu-ray made me feel as though I was in an actual movie theater instead of my living room.

Better still, I could hear TV-show dialogue through my Pioneer receiver at much lower volume levels than with my own, older speakers. The subwoofer won't give you the room-shaking, window-rattling effect of much larger competitors, particularly if you're a rock music or action-movie fan, but you won't feel slighted.

The KHT-5005.2 will set you back a bit of money, but its sophisticated looks and precise, rich sound are surely worth the price.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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