Design - 94%
Movies performance - 95%
Music performance - 95%
Inputs and Features - 92%
Price / Quality - 89%
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KEF is an audio company that needs no introduction especially to those that know about HiFi equipment. Over the years they have become famous for creating some extremely amazing speakers and last year we had the pleasure of testing one of the floorstanders they had in their most successful and widely accepted Q series. While back then we tested the smaller Q550 and got very high scores from us today in our KEF Q950 review we will be looking at the biggest floorstanding model they have in the series.
Having reached it’s 8th iteration, the Q series has become famous because it brings many of KEF’s qualities on a more or less affordable price level. With a complete lineup consisting of three different floorstanders, the Q550, Q750 and Q950, two bookshelf speakers the Q150 and Q350 along with Q650c center speaker and a Dolby Atmos module, the Q50a, KEF provides a quality series for any home theater or music fan. The Q950 as with all the other speakers feature some amazing technologies like KEF’s Uni-Q driver array, high quality audio components and a carefully designed cabinet in order to be able to perform according to the manufacturer’s high standards.
When we reviewed the Q550 we were thrilled with their performance but their small size had a small impact on the lower end and they were not suited for very large spaces. Do the Q950 rectify these problems and do they manage to offer the kind of immersion you would expect from the biggest speakers in this famous lineup? Keep reading as we put them to the test to find out.
Design, Inputs and Features
First of all let’s talk about their size. Being the biggest speakers in the series these mean serious business and when you consider the size of the cabinet that measures 1116 x 357 x 328 mm with the plinth and weight 45.4 lbs (20.6 kg) then you understand that the Q950 do need some breathing space in order to reach their peak performance. These speakers are meant for big spaces and home theater areas but because they use a sealed cabinet design their placement is not affected as much by how close they are placed to a wall compared to a rear ported cabinet. A bass reflex cabinet may be able to perform slightly better on the low end but in the end it’s a give and take situation and really depends on the situation which design is better for each area.
The whole KEF Q series follow a very simple cabinet design with straight lines and sharp corners and give you a very distinct boxy look. This applies for many of KEF’s designs and the Q950 is no different. When you look at them you get a sense of a dark pillar and KEF has really done an excellent job with their redesigned cabinet for the series. Basically all the three floorstanders in the Q series has a similar layout and design properties and the only changes are the size of the cabinet along with the size of the drivers used.
The new design that KEF made for the latest Q series includes a sealed cabinet where they placed the Uni-Q driver in order to reduce the load on the cone and increase clarity and detail while delivering cleaner bass at the same time. Mid-range clarity is enhanced by driver improvements that means the DC blocking capacitor to be eliminated from the crossover, allowing a more natural roll-off between drivers. The cabinet comes in two colors and while both black and white fine satin finish variations look extremely nice we would like to have a few more to choose from.
The Q950 use special outrigger feet which are similar to the other Q series floorstanders. These use very sturdy materials and really fit the overall minimalism design of the cabinet but as usual with such designs they make the footprint of each speaker even bigger so you have to make sure you have the necessary space to fit them. These feet can be placed on hard floors but there are special spikes included in case you want to place them on soft surfaces like carpets also.
The grilles of the Q950 come in a slimline design and are magnetically attached to the front baffle something that certainly many appreciate as using these speakers without the grilles will not reveal any holes that would make the design uglier. As they are right now they look incredibly nice and highly sophisticated. The grilles, when attached cover the entire front face and this is one of the few cases where we do prefer the speakers without the grilles completely as the exposure of the drivers make them so much nicer and ominous that the uninspiring look the cabinet has with them on.
The only thing that should be noted is that the speakers come with no grilles in the box so this is the rare case where you will have to buy them separately if you don’t like with the drivers exposed which we find it hard to believe to be honest.
The back of the cabinet has a pretty clean design while with the new low-distortion inductors that has been introduced make the need for bi-wire connectors unnecessary according to KEF. As such we only get a pair of speaker connectors as we usually get in lower tier designs.
The Q950 features exactly the same high quality as the rest of the Q series speakers and similar to what we had seen in the Q550 before. This may be the entry level series for KEF but they have a certain quality and look to them that not many speakers in this category have.
The Q series and the Q950 specifically may come with a nice design and carefully constructed cabinet but what we get under the full frontal grille is what really make these speakers shine. Once again we find KEF’s highlight. With a 2 and a half enclosure type the Uni-Q array sits prominently at the top of the Q950’s drivers configuration.
A 200mm (8 in.) aluminum Uni-Q driver featuring the 38 mm (1.5 in.) tweeter in the acoustic center of the midrange cone in addition to the ‘tangerine’ waveguide over the tweeter dome create a wider, more even sound dispersion and a more accurate three-dimensional sound image. Further additions to the design include a damped tweeter loading tube that improves the treble performance and a low-distortion inductor on the crossover which according to KEF promises to offer a more clear bass response.
The Uni-Q driver array is practically the same as the design we saw in the Q550 with the only difference being the bigger tweeter and mid-range cone sizes. From an engineering point of view these speakers use exactly the same technologies, only the size changes. And the same can be said about the rest of the drivers that are used below the Uni-Q array.
As such we get a 200mm (8 in.) aluminium low-frequency driver which features a better cone structure for improved mid-range performance, a new spider suspension system in order to produce cleaner bass at high volumes and a larger roll surround in order to lower the distortion at high sound pressure levels. The accompanying dual 200mm (8 in.) aluminium ABRs have also been enhanced with a larger roll surround and a rubber suspension that KEF claims to be better than fabric and can result in deeper and louder performance.
The combination of the Uni-Q driver along with the 200 mm (8 in.) aluminium low frequency driver and the dual 200 mm (8 in.) aluminium ABRs give the Q950 a frequency range of 44Hz – 28kHz (±3dB), 8 ohms of nominal impendance, 91dB (2.83V/1m) of sensitivity while the crossover frequency has been set at 2.2kHz.
The binding posts are placed towards the bottom of the back face and they are of very high quality. You can use either bare wires, spades or special connectors like banana plugs. Having no bi-wire capabilities may seem like a step backwards as there are many home theater fans that like to use this connection method but KEF said with the design of the Q950 such a connection method is not necessary so we will just take their word for it.
As we always say when we do speaker reviews placing the speakers in your room needs some testing as there are some general principles to follow but nothing beats the good old “test as you go method”. Your ears are the best judge in such situations and so with the Q950s we had to do some back and forth until we get their placement right. Although our testing area is not exactly of the big kind we had no problem placing these little monsters in our setup. As with any speaker placing them near a wall will enhance it’s low end performance in expense of definition and clarity so it’s fight for balance between the two.
For our testing we placed the speakers around 2 feet away from the back wall as this is just about the maximum our space would allow us while the two front speakers were placed at a distance of about 9 feet. We had to toe-in them towards our listening position but again this needs some testing in order to determine the best acoustic result for your situation. Lastly you should keep in mind that as with all speakers if they are relatively new you should give them the necessary break-in time in order to reach their peak performance. Usually this period is about 100 hours in order to be certain how they will sound afterwards.
In all our speakers setups we use the same 4.0 channels audio setup when it comes for movies testing. We do this in order to determine how good the speakers can perform when there is no center channel or subwoofer as like this it’s easier to distinguish the speaker’s strengths and weaknesses. On the contrary for our music testing we switch into a pure 2.0 channel setup as this is the preferable configuration for many music purists. So without further delay we make the necessary calibrations with our Onkyo AV receiver and proceed with the testing.
For the flagship speakers of the series we wanted to go loud so what better opportunity to take out our 4K UHD of Saving Private Ryan with it’s totally flooring Dolby Atmos sound mix. We had reviewed the opening scene with the landing of Allied soldiers on Omaha beach countless times before and more or less we knew what this scene can offer in terms of dynamics, imaging and overall immersion. Obviously the lack of a subwoofer is certainly lowering the overall impact we are getting but this was the point as we needed to understand how low and how punchy the Q950s can be in such a scenario.
We start we the allied boats cutting through the waves as they approach the artillery battered beach and from the start the Q950s gave us an idea of what we should expect from them. The marine boat engines were struggling to push the metal hulls through the water while splashes were flying all over the place. The front channels did a magnificent job at giving the whole presentation a very natural and raw texture without loosing either in detail or power.
When the boats reach the beach and the front doors open a rain of machine gun fire ripped the front rows of American soldiers and the Q950s went into overdrive in their effort to give us the scene with force and the appropriate intensity. That very moment the front soundstage really exploded in front of us with it’s boundaries expanding far beyond the physical presence of the front speakers. You could really sense from where the bullets where coming front in the far distance while the two front channels did an excellent job with directionality and channel precision.
Having no center speaker didn’t affect the overall system’s performance when dialogue came into play as the two front floorstanders did a great job at covering this omission. Dialogue felt like it was really coming from the center and the Q950s never felt to worry about having to cover for another missing speaker. Dialogue was always clear and distinct and while we imagine that with the center speaker you would get slightly more volume and depth at the center we certainly never felt that we missed it. Great job on the Q950s on this regard.
But the speakers also mixed nicely with our surrounds giving us an amazing surround experience. Channel shifting felt precise and to the point, while transitioning from the front to the surrounds were done very smoothly and with no audible dead zones. The Q950s are amazing speakers in this regard and you should have no problem pairing them with any kind of surround speakers.
The Q950 in general amazed us with their clarity and sound definition. These are powerful speakers but they don’t only go loud as they like to give you plenty of details and the kind of multi-layered sound that creates a more deep performance. Mid-range felt spot on with good balance and plenty of control while the high end never felt over-powered or bothering. It was just about how it should be.
Now on the low end usually most speakers fall sort and that’s the reason why we go for dedicated subwoofers. But the Q950 did manage to provide a very respectable outcome even if not on par with what a subwoofer can offer. The floorstanders could manage to go deep and keep the bass clear without overshadowing the rest of the action. It may not be the chest pumping performance that some subwoofers can give you but for a setup that is without one the Q950s can cover this part and keep a straight face.
The bass had a very natural tone to it and never felt muddy while it gave the rest of the performance the necessary sonic foundation for all the other frequencies to be produced. If these can do so good without a subwoofer adding one will certainly give the Q950s the necessary freedom for an amazing performance overall.
The same kind of behavior we saw during the last scene we tried with the Battle of Ramelle. This scene provides some of the same qualities but in a more constraint environment. When the German Tiger tanks were approaching you could feel the uneasiness in the eyes of the soldiers as the rumble around them started to shake while the haunting tank tracks could be heard in the distance.
Everything from explosions to gun fire to debris falling all over the place felt very realistic and raw without loosing any of their detailing or texturing. Dialogue again was pretty clear and distinct even through all this mayhem and there were points that we forgot we had no center channel connected during this test. Overall an amazing experience and the Q950 did manage to give us plenty to go around even if we were only using a half baked surround system. With a center channel and a subwoofer we can image that their performance can go above and beyond.
For the second film as we like to do in all our tests we picked a few scenes from the Lord of the Rings films and for this one specifically we went for the Two Towers that features an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio track that is probably the best we have seen from the Blu-ray format so far.
First scene we went for is obviously the siege of Helm’s Deep as ten thousand Uruk Hai are storming the keep. What an amazing experience did the Q950s managed to offer us. To be honest it’s really hard to describe how good everything sounded as most probably we will fail to make them justice. The front soundstage was powerful, expansive and with amazing depth. There was not a single moment where we felt that the fronts failed to convey the powerful force of each scene.
When Saruman’s army is approaching the Keep’s walls you can feel the terrifying screams of the Uruk Hai while their spears and shields give you an idea of what is coming. The siege scene ask for an expansive performance and the Q950s manage to practically explode the size of the sound wall in front of us in all three axis. Everything felt so much more full and vivid and there is so much detailing that make such a sound mix so much more realistic and the speakers were never afraid to bring forth all these.
Once again we felt that the mid-range was exceptionally balanced while the high frequencies had the necessary clarity, resolution and detail that made them sound perfect to our ears. The bass was pretty good with the speakers reaching the low end with good control while it never felt like overshadowing the more fine details that were so crucial in such a performance.
But the Q950s are not only good with such loud and powerful scenes. In scenes like in the Fangorn Forrest, where ambiance and environmental audio plays a big role in order to give you the necessary immersion, the speakers proved to be excellent handlers when finesse and delicacy was required. Small bugs flying in the air, the leaves of the trees as they move with the wind, the footsteps of the hobbits as they walk through the forest, everything was rendered with precision and high resolution.
Closing there is not much more to say about the Q950s that we haven’t already mentioned above. The speakers are amazing and if you are looking for an excellent performing pair of floorstanding speakers that can be both powerful and elegant the Q950 fit the bill nicely.
But no test would be complete if we wouldn’t try some music on these also so as always we selected a few FLAC files that we streamed through our Onkyo AV receiver for the best quality possible. For this test we switched to a pure 2.0 channels setup with only the two Q950 speakers connected. So after the necessary re-calibrations we were ready for some tunes and rhythms.
If there is one thing these speakers can offer in spades is clarity and detailed sound. If you are looking for a pair that would fall into the HiFi category then the Q950s can do that just fine and without going extremely overboard with their price. The speakers can punch through multiple layers creating a really deep performance with finer details being added in every moment.
Another strong point these had was an exceptional sound imaging ability. It was very easy during this test to pinpoint from where each musical instrument was heard from giving you a much more realistic sense of the music stage. Stereo panning effects were extremely precise and with high accuracy while in general these speakers are not afraid to go high on the volume without loosing any of their integrity or balance. The cabinet never felt being stressed by the high volume and no audible distortions were present.
The mid-range was the best friend of the Q950s as we felt they had total control and were the best part of the connection between the high end of the lows. The highs felt alive and with amazing refinement while they never tired our ears or created ear fatigue that we had seen in some other similar speakers.
The low end was deep and intense but never overshadowed the rest of the frequencies and provided the excellent backdrop for the rest of the performance. Even with a few more demanding rhythms the Q950s never felt to struggle on the bass keeping a tight control and cohesive outcome that was really exciting and remarkable.
Usually in our music test we try various kinds of music like rock, jazz, electronic and classical among others to see if the speakers favor specific songs over others but in the ones we did try out we never felt that some were better than others. The KEF Q950 is the kind of speaker that can perform admirably no matter what music you throw at it. As an experienced maestro that has the knowledge and ability to give you a memorable acoustic experience so if you like power, control and finer details then these should really be added to your list.
We have reached the end of our review and with the Q950s KEF really has done an excellent job at creating a floorstanding speaker that has all the qualities of a HiFi speaker but without the need to spend a fortune on it. The Q series may be the most low end series KEF offers but from their behavior you will understand why this series has become so successful over the years that have been for sale.
Sometimes offering more exotic designs doesn’t mean better looks and the Q950 does follow the opposite route by offering a design that is as simple as it gets but at the same time it has something that makes them great looking and this most probably has to do with the look of the amazing Uni-Q driver array along with the rest of the 200mm drivers. Cabinet quality is pretty high, the outrigger feet look good while careful planning on the design stage has resulted in the drivers used to provide the Q950 the necessary tools to perform so amazing.
With very controlled mid-range, extremely detailed but never over-exciting highs and deep lows the speakers managed to amaze us with every sound and every rhythm with their clarity, high details, excellent acoustic signature and natural tones.
To be honest there are no obvious downsides to these speakers. Obviously you can get better overall sound but in our opinion you will have to go much much higher in price than these to get any meaningful difference. The speakers are pretty big so they may not be a good fit for smaller areas while with only two color options there is not much choice to be made there. Also the grilles are bought separately although we cannot believe you would prefer them with the grilles on. But as almost all speakers offer them we consider this a minor omission. Lastly these speakers need ample of power in order to offer you their peak performance so make sure you use the appropriate audio equipment that will offer them the chance to give you what they really are capable of.
Closing what we can say is that if you are looking for a good quality speaker for your home theater or music setup that combines all the qualities of more expensive speakers but at a more reasonable price the KEF Q950 are a great choice and one that will give you countless hours of acoustic excellence. Highly recommended.
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