KEF R900s vs R500s

To Doug Schneider,

I read your reviews and those of Jeff Fritz very regularly, and with great interest. Unlike other reviewers, you guys don't hesitate to tell it like it is when a product does not deserve praise. In addition, I share your views that, while measurements don't tell the whole story, a speaker that measures poorly is not going to sound great, no matter how much fancy blah blah there is from the manufacturer and some reviewers about the speaker connecting you to the "soul of the music." I also share your preferences for speakers engineered towards neutrality, low distortion, wide dispersion, proper driver integration, etc.

I am considering upgrading my ten-year-old Thiel CS2.3 speakers, and my budget is around $5000-$6000. The KEF R900s are at the top of my list, and after reading your review of the R500, I was wondering if you had had a chance to hear their bigger siblings as well. In particular, do you feel the R900 retains the attributes that you so loved about the R500, while providing deeper and tauter bass (which would be useful to convey the scale of symphonic music, my favorite genre). Or do they lose in some areas to the R500s? Are there other speakers that you would recommend I consider and try to audition in this price range? One that many people have raved about is the Magnepan 3.7, though of course I understand ribbon dipoles are very different animals.

Thanks a lot for your insights and help.


I haven't heard the larger R900 or R700 models, but when I was reviewing the R500s I looked closely at the details of all three speakers. From what I could tell, they're all designed very similarly and, of course, they all use the same Uni-Q driver for the mids and highs. They differ only in cabinet and woofer size -- the R700 and R500 both have larger cabinets and woofers than the R500, resulting in deeper bass and more output capability in that range. From what I can tell, the rest of the sound should remain the same. What you'll really have to decide is if you need all that bass, and if you're willing to pay for it -- the R500s sell for about $2600 per pair, while the R900s are about $5000 per pair. Big difference. But you're right about needing bass to reproduce a symphony.

There's something else to consider: You make a point about wanting bass that's not only deeper but tauter, which is something I'd like to address because this can be a tricky area to assess. Oftentimes people think smaller speakers with limited bass output have tighter-sounding bass than larger speakers that reach lower in frequency. What's often happening is that the extra octave or more that the bigger speaker can deliver adds so much fullness that some mistake the extra heft for looseness, which leads them to believe the smaller speaker sounds tighter. That said, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the R700 or R900 don't sound as tight as the R500, simply because those speakers are reaching somewhat lower in the bass. Something to think about.

As for other speakers you should consider -- for $5000-$6000, PSB's Synchrony One is the first that comes to mind that I would consider alongside KEF's R500, R700, and R900 models.

I hope that I gave you some information that helps you make a better buying decision. I also want to thank you not only for writing in, but also for recognizing how important certain objective measurements are when it comes to loudspeaker design. As you mentioned, measurements don't necessarily tell the entire story, but they do tell a lot of it -- and they certainly tell me if a speaker has been competently designed or not. . . . Doug Schneider