KEF R Series 5.1.2 speaker system review

hccbestbuybadgev3KEF’s revamped R Series is just the ticket for a serious AV system. Ed Selley gets stuck in

Many speaker brands are in the habit of releasing new model ranges as an entirely new entity – new name, new driver configurations, even new price points – in the pursuit of 'going with the market.' At the other end of the scale, you have companies like KEF, which has had a Q Series, R Series and Reference Series for a very long time.

This new R Series replaces the 2012 iteration, but the system basics should be familiar to people with knowledge of its predecessor. Once again the R Series takes many of the features of KEF's Reference line, but makes them available at a more affordable price.

This familiarity is a little deceptive though. This is a completely new range, just one that has been created with a similar aesthetic and intention to before. The six-strong series – three floorstanders, one standmount, one centre channel and a Dolby Atmos-certified reflective speaker – are all built around the Uni-Q driver, itself a piece of ever-changing engineering. Now in its twelfth generation, the premise of this driver remains the same; placing the tweeter in the 'throat' of the midrange unit with the intention of creating a very even dispersion and harmony between the two.


This Uni-Q includes all the previous KEF refinements and now features a 'Shadow Flare', designed to extend the waveguide of the tweeter and further improve the dispersion. Uni-Q is the same size (5in) in all the R Series speakers, but the hybrid aluminium bass drivers that accompany it come in two different flavours, 6.5in and 5.25in. The R5 floorstander (£2,000 per pair), R2c centre (£850) and the R8a Atmos speaker (£800 per pair) tested here all use the 5.25in version.

R You Ready To Rumble?
The R5, then, is the baby of three floorstanders in the range, similar to the step-up R7 but constructed on a smaller scale to the same proportions. Its Uni-Q driver is sandwiched between a pair of bass drivers in a configuration that's the same as the R2c centre, suggesting a good backbone for a uniform LCR soundstage.

Given that it has as much interest in selling R5s to stereo customers as AV fans, KEF has decided to make the R Series Dolby Atmos speaker an add-on device rather than building it into the top of the floorstander cabinet. The R8a features a single Uni-Q driver, angled upwards for the transmission/reflection of height channel information. KEF also intends the R8a to act as a rear/surround speaker in a wall-mounted configuration (there's keyhole fixing on its base), but the system auditioned here uses R5 floorstanders front and back, because nothing succeeds quite like excess.

The final part of this package is from KEF's Kube subwoofer stable, the three-model series launched in 2017, to partner the brand's various speakers. Previously, R Series buyers would have looked to the R400b subwoofer (reviewed HCC #217), but this is now an 'out-going model', we're told.

The Kube 12b used here is the largest of Kubes, and generates its low-end via a single 12in driver, 300W Class D amplifier and iBX (Intelligent Bass Extension) DSP. It's a relatively large box (roughly 40cm in each dimension) but, thanks to a sealed cabinet and adjustable EQ settings, one that should 'dial in' to most spaces without too many headaches.

Immaculate Finish
The speakers themselves are room-friendly in all senses of the term. The R5 floorstander is fairly slender and is supplied with foam bungs for its twin bass ports, for installation closer to a wall. The nature of the Uni-Q driver allows a degree of placement flexibility that rivals don't always offer. The R2c and R8a, meanwhile, are sealed cabinets.

The speakers should also slip easily into most spaces because they're immaculately finished. As with many products, the devil is in the detail. KEF offers three colours for the R Series but, unusually, this applies to the whole speaker rather than the cabinet. This means the black R Series models have black bass and Uni-Q drivers, while the white and wood finish options have ones that better match those – and there are, of course, magnetically affixed grilles if you don't want any of this on display. The result is genuinely handsome bits of kit.

Note that if you plump for the R5, as we have, the R8a will align perfectly on the cabinet – something it won't do on the wider floorstanders.

The only real catch for the range is that there is no small standmount option. KEF's R3 standmount features the larger 6.5in woofers. Much as using a socking great pair of floorstanders front and rear offers the potential for great performance, it is rather bulky. I'd love to see an R1 design fill in that small gap in the series as it stands.

Embodiment Of Effortlessness
If you can accommodate the R5 for both front and surround channel duties, the results are seriously impressive. Set up as a 5.1.2 package in KEF's own well-treated but not over-damped AV demo room, on the end of an Arcam AVR850 receiver, the R Series is the physical embodiment of effortlessness.