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The enclosure contains damping panels of pressed wood fiber and the array of internal braces follows Finite Elemente analysis to kill box talk at even high levels. Finish options include real nut-tree and palisander veneers as well as high-gloss black and white (the latter brand-new as of July/August 2012 and to my eyes très chic indeed). The grill attaches magnetically to leave no holes when going au naturel.
After peeling the speakers out of their separate cartons one reaches for the owner’s manual which, Ikea style, does without massive translations to favor pictorial instructions. Not covered? Banana users encounter small plastic covers in black and red which require unscrewing of the terminal tops, removal of the inserts and remounting of the tops before bananas will fit. Very laudable (competitors take note!) is the internalized jumper of the terminal plate which sports screws between upper and lower terminals. Turn the screw inward to activate the jumper for a single cable. Turn outward, the jumper exits the signal path and classic biwiring is on the menu.

Setup favors wide spacing. The rear panel sports two ports per woofer with inner and outer aerodynamic flares to avoid chuffing. Should this loading be less than fortuitous, included foam plugs can partially or completely seal off the ports. Cold out of the box I was first confronted by somewhat prominent and over-eager bass. During the first few hours of settling in I thus inserted the plugs which noticeably leaned out the foundation. A week of regular play later however the woofers had ‘arrived’ and I now ran the ports wide open for their positive contributions to low-end behavior.

R900 bass is clearly potent (more anon). KEF recommends from 65 to 100cm front-wall distance. I got the cleanest bass at the upper end of this recommendation but the differences weren’t vast. When it comes to setup these aren’t prima donnas. Quite the contrary. Last but not least the shipment includes cast aluminium footers which bolt to the bottoms and receive the included spikes. Those in need of floor protectors are directed at specialty dealers. Now I must mention one unpleasant behavior. During the first few weeks in my living room the KEFs emitted a noticeably chemical smell which seemed to originate from the woofers. Christian Stamms, product manager of German KEF importer GP Acoustics, declared this an exception as he’s had no complaints from dealers or end users. Fit ‘n’ finish are flawless meanwhile. The league in which the KEF R99 proposes to play for €3.600/pr stretches belief.

And to begin at the end, she does so sonically too. Performance occupies a realm which not long ago would have demanded five-figure stickers. That said, KEF’s speaker remains a bundle of compromises with sonic consequences. Those include that a designer limited to a particular cubic volume must chose between sensitivity (which subjectively impacts impulse response and dynamic contrast) and bass extension. A very credible –6dB @ 35Hz spec demonstrates that KEF’s engineers opted to gift the still moderately dimensioned R900 with impressively low bass. Sensitivity thus suffered a more mediocre figure and even impedance hits a minimum of 3 ohms. The simple upshot is that your amplifier should be both reasonably powerful and low-impedance happy. My Bryston 4BSST power amp was fully in its element whilst a 60wpc Symasym with current limits and a lighter balance made for a good tonal match but otherwise was a less inspired pairing most noticeable on bass transients. Weak chested valves are out of the picture as well.

As promised KEF’s Uni-Q driver exhibited very even lateral roll-off. Moving left or right won’t impact tonal balance to allow for wider than usual setup distance. Anyone sitting within about 3 meters will simply want to make sure that the ears are roughly on axis with the Uni-Q. Otherwise particularly male voices won’t sound as spectacularly uncoloured as they can and get a bit hooded. Greater distances in most rooms will imply less direct radiation to turn this less critical. Otherwise there’s blessedly little to fret over. As already indicated, one can essentially plunk the KEF down and start enjoying very satisfying results. The bass is so brilliantly controlled and taut that front-wall distance becomes mostly a function of personal taste without harbouring fears over undue girth. In my context I had best results when the speakers were aimed directly at me. This made for the ‘freshest’ tonal balance to complement my Bryston amp if not lighter Symasym.