To Doug Schneider,
I follow your speaker reviews with great interest -- they provide much knowledge and valuable information in my search for new speakers.
I have demoed both the KEF Reference 5 and the Focal Sopra No2, but, unfortunately, in different stores under different conditions, so a direct comparison is difficult. I find both speakers very impressive, but a bit different in character. The Sopra is really fun to listen to -- basically, everything sounds great and they are really musical in a very positive way. The KEF Reference 5 is to my ears even more resolving and, to use a perhaps not always the most important comparison criteria, more correct/neutral than the Sopra. However, since I demoed them under rather different conditions, it is really difficult to reach a definite conclusion.
I have also heard the KEF Reference 3, and the Reference 5 is actually even more resolving than the Reference 3, for some reason, so I guess that it is at least as resolving as the Reference 1 that you have reviewed. Which brings me to my question. Since you have reviewed the KEF Reference 1 and the Focal Sopra No2 under very similar conditions, would you be able to say anything about how you think the Reference 5 would perform compared to the Sopra No2 in your listening room? In your review of the Reference 1 you wrote, “The bottom-most octave excepted, it’s among the very best speakers I’ve heard of any size and price.” So, I am really curious about how you would judge the Reference 5, which has the bottom-most octave with full power.
Knowing how the KEF Reference 1 and the Focal Sopra No2 each sound because I reviewed them, and learning a bit about how KEF designs speakers when I visited their headquarters last year, I’m not surprised that you found the Reference 5 to be more neutral than the Sopra No2, even though your auditioning was at different stores. I found the Reference 1 to be unflinchingly accurate, which is what the KEF designers aim for when they create speakers -- pretty much a ruler-flat frequency response. On the other hand, I found the Sopra No2 to be natural sounding overall, but with more of a contoured frequency response designed to produce a very pleasing sound. Some might say that the KEF is, as you put it, “more correct,” since it’s more faithful to the recording; however, if you like the sound that the Sopra No2 puts forth, which, as you noticed, is fun to listen to, it’s hard to call that wrong. I really liked the way the Reference 1s and Sopra No2s performed in my room, despite sounding different.
Moving up the Reference line from the 1 to the 3 to the 5, the biggest improvements you’ll experience are deeper bass and an ability to play much louder. The improvements have entirely to do with the number of woofers and the size of the cabinets. The 1 has one woofer and the smallest cabinet. The 3 has two woofers and a bigger cabinet. The 5 has four woofers and the biggest cabinet. When it comes to bass depth and output capability, size tends to matter. As for why you feel the 5 is more resolving than the 3, I don’t know exactly. The only thing I can think of is that the 5 has the most woofers, so each one has to work a little less than the 3’s two woofers for the same output, which usually results in less distortion. But that’s just a guess. . . . Doug Schneider