KEF vs. KEF vs. PSB vs. PSB

To Doug Schneider,

I read with much interest your recent review of the KEF R500 and your comparisons with the PSB Imagine T2. I am indeed deciding between PSB or KEF speakers, and I have auditioned the PSB Synchrony One and the KEF R700. I did not have the chance to audition the KEF R500 nor the Imagine T2, unfortunately. I liked both the PSB Synchrony One and the KEF R700 but could not compare them side by side. I love the neutrality of the PSB Synchrony One, but with some songs I noticed too much resonance in the low bass, perhaps due to the room acoustics (?).

As you have auditioned these speakers I wonder if you could advise me about the best option based on your personal preferences. I am currently using an NAD C 356BEE (80Wpc) and use an external DAC to stream music from my computer (mostly CD quality). I would consider upgrading to the NAD C 390DD if you think there will be a significant improvement over the NAD C 356BEE.

If you were choosing between the KEF R500/R700 vs. the PSB Imagine T2 or the PSB Synchrony One, which one would you pick yourself?

Do you think that the KEF R500 is good enough for a medium-size room with a high ceiling? Or is the KEF R700 a better option? I play jazz, indie, and rock music the most. Some classical as well.

Do you think upgrading the amplifier from the NAD C 356BEE to the NAD C 390DD would have a significant effect on sound quality driving these speakers? You mentioned that this amp (NAD C 390DD) compares well with the Devialet D-Premier, so besides the amp itself, it seems that the digital processing created a "clearer" sound than the NAD C 356BEE could produce, unless I get a superb and expensive external DAC. Any suggestions about that?

Thanks indeed for your advice,

Lots of questions and some of them are pretty tough to answer, but I’ll try the best I can.

I’ve never compared the NAD C 390DD to the C 356BEE, so I can’t give you a definitive answer on which is better, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the C 390DD is, particularly with the speakers you’ve narrowed your choices down to. One reason is that it’s more powerful (150Wpc), which all the speakers you mentioned will appreciate, since they like quite a bit of juice behind them. I can’t help but think that the resonance in the bass you heard from the Synchrony One might have had something to do with a lack of power, because that speaker is fairly difficult to drive, particularly in the low end. But room acoustics might have played a role as well. Hard to say. That said, power matters, particularly in larger rooms with power-hungry speakers.

Another reason I think it might be better is that NAD has invested heavily in their Direct Digital technology because they feel it’s superior to conventional amplification. You can only put so much stock in any company’s claims, but given NAD’s long, admirable track record, that’s a claim that I take quite seriously, particularly since Colin Smith was taken with its sound when he reviewed it.

Finally, the C 390DD operates as more or less a power-DAC, which eliminates signal-degrading circuitry found in conventional electronics setups. That reduction in parts and components, in my opinion, probably helps create that clearer, cleaner sound that Colin heard. I’m not so sure any external DAC would outperform that. So an amp upgrade is something you should consider, whether it’s for the increased power or the superior sound quality.

Insofar as the R500 ($2599.98/pair) and R700 ($3599.98/pair) go, I’d go with the R700 in a larger room because of its superior bass performance -- greater depth and higher output capability. This is a case where more is better, so at least that’s narrowed down your speaker selection somewhat.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can narrow down your speaker selection any further because it’s impossible to choose between the KEF R700, PSB Imagine T2 ($3500/pair), and PSB Synchrony One ($5500/pair) without you hearing them all and simply deciding which one you think is best. That might raise some eyebrows because the Synchrony One costs considerably more than the Imagine T2 (as well as the R700) and they both come from the same company. You’d think that the One would automatically be better. That's not necessarily true -- both have strengths that will appeal to different listeners, so there’s no winner or loser there. I’ve talked to PSB’s Paul Barton about this and he agrees. The only area where the One is definitely better than the T2 is build quality -- its cabinet, which is made from wood and aluminum, is decidedly better built than the all-wood T2. It’s a toss-up which is better looking, though. The R700 has its own set of strengths as well, and its look is very different than both PSBs. So the best choice will come down to personal preference.

Frankly, I’m not sure right now which speaker I’d choose, given the differences in sound, appearance, and price. My suggestion: listen to all three speakers with the amp you’re going to use them with and decide based on what you hear. . . . Doug Schneider