KEF’s R500 loudspeaker sells for $2599.98 USD per pair and represents an incredible value, but it’s included in this list not for its price but for its sound. In his review of the R500 in August, Doug Schneider said: "Calling the R500 a great-sounding speaker for the price doesn’t tell the whole story -- the KEF R500 is a great-sounding loudspeaker by any measure. The fact that its price is so low simply makes it all that much better."
The R500’s design was inspired by KEF’s cutting-edge Blade model, which was released in 2011 and sells for $30,000/pair. Like the Blade, the R500 is designed around the company’s latest-generation Uni-Q driver. KEF’s Uni-Qs are coaxial drivers; that is, the tweeter sits at the center of the midrange cone. KEF has been refining their coaxials for years; the advantage of such a driver is that it allows the tweeter and midrange to act as a coincident point source: the sound of both drivers emanates from precisely the same point in space. This is something that discrete drivers can’t do. Above and below the Uni-Q are 5.25" woofers that are claimed to deliver usable bass down to 39Hz, and are crossed over to the Uni-Q’s midrange at 500Hz. All driver diaphragms are made of aluminum.
The cabinet is a conventional box of MDF, but is finished exceedingly well and available in a variety of real-wood veneers and painted finishes. The workmanship is topnotch. Solid-aluminum outrigger feet screw into the cabinet’s bottom and stick out to the sides, to give the R500 a sure footing on hard or carpeted floors. On the rear panel are top-grade binding posts with the unique Link dials, which permit single- or biwiring. The R500’s only cosmetic downside is its ho-hum grille.
But what makes the R500 special is its sound: soaring, clean, grain-free highs; midrange clarity that compares to speakers many multiples of its price; and full, deep bass that extends to below 40Hz in-room. The R500 can’t match the most expensive speakers in reference-level neutrality -- there’s a slight depression from 2 to 5kHz -- and its bass is a bit warm and lacks some definition. But the speaker’s measurements show that it’s not far off, with a +/-2dB frequency-response variance across the audioband and very-well-controlled dispersion. Doug found little to criticize about this design.
While the R500s’ performance across the board is exceedingly high, two things stand out. First is their imaging capability; as Doug said in his review, "The solidity of their center imaging and the way they positioned the performers so precisely on the soundstage, from left to right and from front to back, was better than the [PSB Imagine] T2s and the [Revel Ultima] Salon2s -- something I attribute to the acoustic benefits of that Uni-Q driver. This, to me, is not insignificant -- the clarity and rock-solid focus that result from placing the tweeter at the center of the midrange is something you can’t get from a discrete tweeter and midrange at any price -- and once you’ve experienced it, it’s tough to live without it." The other is the R500’s ability to play loud without strain. According to Doug, "The T2s, while impressive, crapped out a little earlier; the R500s played every bit as loud as my Revels while keeping their composure. Shockingly good performance for the price."
The R500 is the sixth floorstanding speaker to be listed as a Recommended Reference Component, and the second KEF model to make this select list -- the first was the Reference 201/2, a stand-mounted design that sells for $6000/pair. Of all six speakers, the R500 is, at $2599.98/pair, by far the least expensive (PSB’s Synchrony One, at $5500/pair, is the next step up). That makes it one of the most affordable reference-class speakers on the market today.
Manufacturer contact information:
Eccleston Road, Tovil, Maidstone
Kent, England ME15 6QP
Phone: +44 (0)1622-672261
Fax: +44 (0)1622-750653
KEF America / KEF Canada, Inc.
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, NJ 07746
Phone: (732) 683-2356
Fax: (732) 683-2358