To Doug Schneider,

Sir, I am in a bit of a conundrum. It is time to upgrade my front speakers of my home-theater system. I live in a relatively small market and most of what I want to audition is not available in my area. In fact, to audition both at the same store I would have to drive five or six hours. I’m hopeful that you can provide some guidance and thoughts.

My primary concern is two-channel music. My experience has been that if it sounds good on two-channel music it will also do an adequate job for home theater. I will be doing two main stereo speakers and a center-channel. Also, I typically prefer a neutral to slightly laidback sound -- bright or bright-ish speakers tend to make my ears ring, even at lower volume levels, pretty easily.

I’ve found PSB and KEF both make great speakers. At RMAF a couple of years ago, I was totally blown away by the PSB Imagine T2. The KEF R series was there, but they were having some technical difficulties, and despite my attempts to listen I was unable to do so. I would look at the R500 or R700 due to space limitations.

Speaking of space limitations: the theater room area is approximately 11.5’ wide and 14’ deep, but it opens to a 14’ by 14’ game room at the back, with 8’ ceilings.  I’ve scoured the Internet and found that the PSBs tend to play well even relatively close to walls. I’ll have them about 15” to 18” from the side walls, and approximately 12” to 15” inches from the front wall. Any thoughts on the KEF R series and the PSB Imagine T2s for my environment?

Finally there are plenty of reviews on the KEF R500s and R900s, but the R700 seems to be getting far fewer reviews as the “middle child.”

Any insight or help that you can provide on the above would be much appreciated. Additionally, if there are two-channel or three-channel amplifiers I should consider, I would appreciate those thoughts as well. Right now Parasound and Rotel both have options worth considering.

United States

Let me start by telling you an interesting story about the KEF R700. I was the first person at SoundStage! to review or even here an R-series product: the R500. An amazing speaker for the price. I wrote a rave review about the R500 and it earned some awards from us. Immediately following my review, e-mails came in from people all over the world who wanted to learn more about it and the other R-series speakers. Questions also came in from our own writers, because they were interested in what was KEF’s newest line at that time.

Eventually, fellow-writers Hans Wetzel and Roger Kanno jumped in with both feet and bought KEFs for their listening rooms. But by applying the usual audiophile logic that “bigger is better,” they looked straight to the R900, not the R700 or R500, even though I was recommending the R700 to them based on the sizes of their listening spaces. They both ended up liking their R900s, but conceded to me later they wound up being a little too big for their rooms -- physically and, because of the prodigious bass output, sonically. Likely, the R700 would’ve been a better match for both. I think ego has a lot to do with the “bigger is better” mentality, for consumers and reviewers -- people usually look away from the middle of the line and go straight for the top, thinking that’s always better. Don’t let the lack of R700 reviews scare you away.

Back to your question about the PSB or KEF. You’re right, both companies make excellent speakers. They also both make excellent center-channel speakers to match their mains. The fact that you were impressed by the T2 means that you should keep it on your list. On the other hand, don’t discount KEF’s R series -- my feeling is that each model will sound a little different than the T2, but will be just as good. I also don’t think wall proximity is going to be an issue with the KEFs, unless you go for the R900 -- all that bass output could be a problem.

Although I could just tell you to buy one speaker or another just for the heck of it in order to give you some sort of answer, that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Out of these excellent choices, I really can’t tell you which is better for your situation. I know that auditioning is a problem for you, but I don’t want to lead you astray, either. The only thing I can suggest is to find a seller who will let you return them if you’re not happy. Another option is to take a day and drive to hear them -- if you live with these speakers for a long time, it will be probably be worth it. I’ve done that in the past and been thankful I did. Please write back and tell me what you end up with.

Insofar as amplifiers go, I agree that Rotel and Parasound are good brands to look at. If I were in your shoes, I’d lean toward the Parasound. Roger Kanno reviewed the Halo A 31 in April for SoundStage! Access and loved it. . . . Doug Schneider