Dolby-Enabled speakers are proving surprisingly effective at delivering the height channel within a Dolby Atmos sound system. Designed to reflect sound off flat ceilings, they’re not only easier to install than in-ceiling architectural speakers but create an authentic ambiance in a smaller room that’s difficult to replicate with direct alternatives.

One catch says KEF, however, is that upfiring speakers are often only truly effective when placed in close proximity to the seating area – which can lead to some rather awkward placement issues. KEF aims to correct that with its R50 module, the latest addition to its high-end (and extremely glossy) R Series line.

The R50 utilises the brand’s trademark Uni-Q point source driver array. A 1in aluminium tweeter and ‘tangerine waveguide’ is positioned at the centre of a rigid 5in mid/bass unit, encircled by a distinctive surround to minimise distortion. 

To audition a pair of R50s, I shipped in a full complement of R Series speakers to create a homogenous 5.1.2 Atmos array. The setup used a pair of R500 towers, R200c centre, two R100 bookshelves and the compact R400b subwoofer. This assemblage proves handsome in the extreme. 

The R50s plonk exactly onto the front-facing floorstanders, but are also a perfect match with the brand’s bookshelf models. They don’t lock on though, just perch.  

The R50 is beautifully finished, sporting a piano gloss lacquer offset by contrasting silver drivers. Aesthetically, the enclosure looks gorgeous. While it’s tempting to leave the supplied clothe grille in the box, projector owners should note that the metallic drivers actually reflect the light from any front-facing PJ. This glinting could prove a distraction.

The full Atmos experience

Overall performance fittingly shines. The R50 is properly full-range, dropping low yet capable of crisp highs. Given that pretty much any object can be panned into the Atmos channel, it’s comforting knowing the R50 has the chops to respond – be it a sharp, dynamic report in American Sniper, or rousing, symphonic score in Jupiter Ascending.

What I found truly remarkable, though, was the reach of the Atmos channel. Typically, rival Dolby boxes tend to attenuate at distance. However, I could sit the R50s on the front speakers a good 3.5m away from my couch and still enjoy an excellent sense of height. The overall soundstage was spacious (the Dolby Atmos demo clip Amaze offers grin-inducing insect effects) and naturalistic.

The KEF R50 is easily the best-sounding Dolby Atmos speaker I’ve heard, both in terms of 3D clarity and effective dispersion. The catch, of course, is that you’ll probably want R Series speakers to match… and perhaps four R50s would sound even better than two...