When we heard the X300A loudspeakers from KEF ever so briefly at Munich High-End 2013 we were pretty impressed by these powered desktop speakers and so when KEF approached Hifi Pig and asked us if we’d be interested in taking a listen to them at home we jumped at the chance.
The first thing you notice when unpacking the speakers is their physical size (they’re pretty big for desktops) and then it’s their weight, they’re 7.5 Kg per speaker. The next thing is the finish which is a sort of metallic textured grey that looks pretty smart and contemporary and finishes off the black front baffle very nicely indeed. They look solid and well put together.
Pop them on the desk and you realise that these really are quite large speakers for the role they’re supposed to fulfil – they’re about the same size as the Q Acoustics Concept 20s we had for a while. I use an ancient child’s double-width school desk that I’ve modified for a large person (I’ve stuck new legs on the bottom) and the KEFs take up a good deal of the available space leaving very little extra space for paperwork – I’m left with room for my laptop and mouse mat and that’s about it, which isn’t exactly ideal but then I’m aware my desk is a little unusual and most other people will have more conventional grown up spaces on which to work.
The internal volume of the speakers is 4.7litres and what you have essentially is a two-way bass reflex speaker using KEF’s Uni-Q driver array which is a 25mm vented aluminium dome in the centre of a 130mm magnesium/aluminium alloy mid/bass unit. What this gives you is a point source arrangement and so I was expecting imaging to be pretty impressive…we’ll see.
The X300 are active and each has twin AB amps that deliver 50 watts to the woofers and 20 watts to the tweeters. Of course, being active both speakers need to be plugged into a mains supply. Using the computer as source it’s a simple matter of plugging the included USB from computer to the back of the left hand speaker and then connecting the two speakers together with another included USB cable. Set up takes a couple of minutes and on powering up JRiver Media player you’ve got tunes – you can also connect via a mini jack so you can connect to an ipod or whatever.
Controls are minimal and on the back of the left speaker you’ve got a tiny little knob for system gain and on the right speaker a similar knob for balance. I’d have preferred to have the controls for gain and balance more accessible on the front panel. Apart from the IEC, the port and an on/off switch (left hand speaker only) that’s about it…apart from the heatsink and a switch for desktop or standmount positioning – I don’t think the connectivity needs make these really ideal for standmounting and so it remained in the desktop position, as did the speakers. The only indication the speakers are turned on is a tiny and unobtrusive LED above the driver on the left hand speaker.
They’re modern looking, nicely put together and I quite like them sat on my desk, despite their size and I’m quite happy to sacrifice the space given the music I’m hearing.
They’ll play 96kHz 24bit files straight from the USB jack of your computer and so what they do take up in desk space you sort of make up in that you don’t need an extra amplifier…they’re still pretty big though.
First file on the player was Armand van Helden’s “2 Future 4 U” and the imaging is an immediate (and expected) strongpoint of the X300As. OK, these speakers are around 70cm apart as I have them set up, but you get thrown up a nice and enveloping stage that is actually very 3 dimensional and you can pick a mix apart pretty easily. Cranking the volume up a bit gives you decent enough but not mega low bass which is never-the-less tight and controlled and all the frequencies seem pretty well how they should be here. If you listen to electronic music on your desk top then the X300As are really very good indeed…I found it hard not to just play this style of music if truth be known! My youngest son (you can read his review below) has had the KEFs for a week or so before I got to hear them and, given his taste in music, I know he will have loved them.
Essentially what you have here is a nearfield monitor that has been designed specifically for the home market. I had a play with Ableton Live mixing some of my own tunes and they’re really rather good in that role and I suppose a good few people will use them as both desk top monitors for music making and for listening to tunes in a more conventional sense. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to professional monitors if truth be known and so I can’t really compare on this front to what’s available today…and besides I don’t think this is where KEF sees its market for these loudspeakers being.
The new David Cosby album “Coz” is a bit of a cracker and I have it as high-rez file and it has to be said that the little X300s sound pretty good with this album despite them only handling 96kHz/24bit. I have to say here that I’d have liked to be able to have the hi-rez files I have to play at their proper resolution and the DSD crowd obviously don’t get a look in which will possibly put off a few desktop audiophiles I’m afraid to say.
There’s that enveloping sound I mentioned before, which is a little headphone-like, but the speakers are so close to my ears that there’s little I can do about this – in fact I quite like it. However, push the chair back a foot or two and you get what is basically a normal stereo image but on a smaller scale than with the main rig. The imaging and staging of instruments in front of you is obviously quite narrow (but well beyond the speakers) in width, but it’s really nicely layered forward and back as well as in the vertical plane.
Mid ranges, as demonstrated by vocals are very well portrayed, as is piano as heard on Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird. Crank the volume up and there’s a little braking up of the sound at the very top end and things can get a little not quite right overall because of this but at normal listening levels all is well.
Phantom Limbs “Tumbling Down” sounds deep, resonant and there’s an overall warmth to the sound that is really quite appealing and makes the X300As an easy listen in that it’s not over analytical (perhaps precise would be a more audiophile word to use) … in fact I found myself listening for hours whilst I was working and I know I’m going to miss these when they go as they surely must.
The X300s are a dynamic, great fun and really engaging listen. I wouldn’t want them as my only speakers, but for a desktop speaker that sounds really great whilst I’m working they offer a great solution that is plug and play.
Here’s the thing, with all hifi systems there are compromises and I think what KEF have achieved here is a system that will appeal to those folk who want the convenience of being able to plug in a pair of speakers to their computer and just listen to music without having to mess about or think about cables, amps and DACs.
The X300s do play music and they play it in a really engaging and enjoyable fashion and if the ultimate in resolution isn’t a main consideration, but having a very good overall sound in a relatively compact package is a priority then I think you will love these speakers.
£600 is quite a lot of money for a desktop system in many ways, but then you’ve got no amp or DAC…or cables come to think of it… to spend extra money on and whilst I wouldn’t suggest these offer exceptional value for money they’re certainly not outrageously priced. They’re well built, solid and look the business in a cool and modern kind of way.
I’ve really enjoyed these loudspeakers a great deal and if I could justify spending another £600 on yet more speakers I’d buy them in a flash as I know they’d allow me to listen to loads more music and in a more enjoyable and more inclusive way than I currently do on the desktop headphone set up. Perhaps I’ve actually justified the spend to myself in that last sentence…
Sound Quality – 7.5/10
Value for Money 7.5/10
Price when reviewed £600
Highly recommended for people who love music and want to hear it presented in a foot tapping and enjoyable fashion whilst at their desks.
Author – Stuart Smith
Given that these loudspeakers are very much aimed at the computer generations we thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of a 16 year old.
Ever since I started listening to music, I’ve been part of the “ipod Generation” and my primary source of music and entertainment has either been my PC or my portable audio device with mid to high end headphones.
The KEF X300A speakers make the transition from headphone to speaker very easy. I only used them in the desk configuration and coupled them up with my gaming/media PC setup (I should point out that there is a stand mode as well). The installation is pretty simple, but can get a bit messy with the amount of cables that are needed for them to function.(2 power cables and 2 mini USB to USB cables). The cables are nothing special, just bog-standard ones.
The speakers on the other hand are sublime. First of all they look drop dead gorgeous with their brushed metal sides and highly detailed drivers, the KEF logo sits proudly on the front of both speakers.
Moving on to sound, the X300A’s sound very good, they give an all round punchy and dynamic sound without being over the top. They’re also very versatile and can excel with all music from electronic to acoustic. I also tested the speakers with other types of media like films and games, where they performed just as well.
Some may say that £600 is a bit steep for a pair of desk speakers but being powered speakers they are the only thing you need to buy to have a fully functioning hifi setup (obviously you need a PC or MAC but I’m guessing that everybody already has one). The sound quality and finish more than justifies the price.
In conclusion, KEF have made a great first impression with me, showing me that entering the world of hifi isn’t so complicated (or expensive) and that a pair of speakers can change the way you listen to music.
Build Quality- 9/10
Sound Quality- 8/10
Value for money- 7/10
I would recommend these speakers to anyone looking for a well rounded speaker for their PC or for a secondary/ bedroom setup. For me as a teenager, they fit the bill perfectly.
Price when reviewed- £600
Author – Harry Smith