KEF, Focal, Wilson, or Magnepan?

To Doug Schneider,

I just read your review of the Focal Sopra No2 in SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Very nice read, indeed -- very detailed.

I am just getting into the hi-fi game and I am looking to upgrade a little. I was looking at the Sopra No2 loudspeaker and was wondering if you would be kind enough to advise me or point me in the right direction. My room is fairly small, 5m x 4m, but I am going to get some treatment to help. I currently have a Hegel H390 integrated with Harbeth 30.1 speakers. I was looking at the KEF Reference 1 or 3 loudspeakers, or maybe the KEF R5. I then came across the Sopra No2 and thought this sounds like an amazing speaker. How would you say it compares to the KEF Reference speakers, and which is more forgiving in a small, not-so-ideal room?

I will be honest, my budget is fairly limited and would look to pick up second-hand or demo. If you think there’s another cheaper option that represents good value, I’d take a look. I was looking at Magnepan and Wilson Audio also, but the Wilsons are expensive.

I listen to a lot of electronic, EDM, rock, and folk via Roon.

Thanks for a great review all the same. I enjoyed reading it.

Sean F.

I’ll address the last speakers you mentioned first -- you should probably strike Wilson and Magnepan from the list. In hi-fi, price doesn’t always correlate with performance. For me, KEF and Focal make far more accurate and enjoyable speakers than Wilson does, even if the latter costs more. In a nutshell, you can do better for much less money with KEF or Focal.

Magnepan is a different story. I like the sound of many of Magnepan’s speakers, and they’re priced well, but they’re not the best for electronic, EDM, and rock, which represent three of the four music genres you listed. They simply don’t produce the dynamic range or bass weight to be really satisfying.

KEF makes accurate, revealing speakers that suit any musical genre. You might get away with the KEF Reference 1, which is a stand-mounted design, because it can output a high volume level cleanly. Plus, it can produce pretty deep bass. But if you can swing it, I think that the Reference 3 would be a better choice. It’s a floorstander capable of deeper bass and even higher output than the Reference 1. If the 3’s bass becomes too much, it comes with port plugs to tame the low-end output (it has two ports on the back, so you can plug both or just one). I personally like the Reference 3, but it’s also almost five times the price of the R5, which you also mentioned, so that’s obviously something to consider. If the Reference 1 and 3 don’t work out, then definitely look to the R5, but try to hear all three if you can, then you’ll really know for sure.

You’re right about the Sopra No2 -- it’s an amazing speaker, and, like the Reference 3 and R5, is also a floorstander. I reviewed both the Reference 3 and Sopra No2 in roughly the same timeframe. When I reviewed them, I found the No2 had a much livelier sound than the Reference 3, but its bass output wasn’t nearly as deep. In that regard, it was more like the Reference 1. Still, I found the No2 really fun to listen to, so it could thrill you as much as it did me. In fact, just thinking about the Reference 3 and Sopra No2, I’m not sure which I’d choose right now -- but do keep in touch and tell me what you ultimately do. . . . Doug Schneider