There was always a significant divide between the flagship Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series and the speaker echelons below it. The new 700 Series narrows that gap, both technologically and sonically.


There’s something special about bookshelf speakers. Most would think of them of larger, heftier floorstanders, not least in terms of bass. But a well-tuned, carefully located and suitably mounted bookshelf can make musical magic.

The new Bowers & Wilkins S2 is a compact, two-way stand-mount design. It’s part of the new 700 Series family, which replaces B&W’s previous CM Series with a range consisting of three floorstanders, three bookshelves, a pair of centre channels, and an active subwoofer.

The 705 S2 is the biggest of the three bookshelves, and the only featuring a standalone, top-mounted tweeter, mounted in a solid aluminium housing. As a result it bears more than a passing resemblance to the much more expensive B&W 805 Diamond, which is the British marque’s flagship stand-mounter.

The slightly smaller 705 S2 lacks the 805’s curved enclosure panels, and it has a rear-mounted bass-reflex port, while it features a carbon dome tweeter, compared to the diamond dome HF unit of the 805. But both speakers share the same 165 mm Continuum mid/bass unit.

The 705 S2 is handsome, and handsomely executed, thanks to real-wood veneer (unless you opt for the gloss black or satin white finish), well-engineered binding posts, and slim, magnetically located grilles. It demands a decent, damped stand for sturdy mounting at the correct height.

Despite its compact size, B&W claims a frequency response of 50 Hz – 28 kHz at ±3 dB, while the 88 dB/SPL efficiency promises a relatively untaxing load. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms, dipping to a 3,7 ohm minimum.

The Continuum midrange is at the core of the praise lavished on the latest 800 Series Diamond speakers, and its role here is equally laudable. Taking over from B&W’s Kevlar-coned mids, the new mid/bass employs a coated, proprietary material that offers low mass, high levels of stiffness, and controlled break-up for an altogether smoother, more progressive response.

The carbon-dome tweeter debuts in the 700 Series, and replaces the previous dual-aluminium design. The breakup point is raised to a lofty 47 kHz, while B&W claims it also ups the ante in terms of imaging and accuracy.

If you want to read all the technical bumph, you can find it on B&W’s website, here.

Iconic view from above showcases tweeter on top

The 705 S2s arrived brand new and unmolested, and were afforded a solid 100 hours of running-in time before sitting down for any serious listening. They were positioned on sand-filled stands about 800 mm away from the side walls and 1,9 m away from the rear wall, toed in slightly towards the listening position.

Much of the review listening was done with Electrocompaniet’s now defunct PI-2D integrated amp providing the urge, with the all-new Marantz PM8006 (review pending) serving as a brighter, airier counterpoint.

Sources included Lumin’s D1 network player, and another newcomer, the Marantz ND8006 disc player/network streamer. I used KEF’s highly regarded two-way LS50 monitors as a basis for comparison.

B&W makes much of the 700 Series’ studio heritage, and there are elements to the performance of these bookshelves that vindicate that claim. The overriding impression is of an accurate, attentive loudspeaker that pays close attention to both the broad strokes and the fine strands of the music.

There’s a sense of precision that permeates their performance, a penchant for clarity (especially in the upper registers, where much of the finer sonic detail resides) that can tend to lend a somewhat aloof air to the performance.

This is not a speaker that rolls off high frequencies to create a smoother, warmer, friendlier sound: instead, it takes its task of revealing the full extent of the music it’s presented with, very seriously indeed.

New 705 S2 benefits from 800 Series tech

That talent for exposing and exploring even the finest slivers of information cuts both way: it can make poorer recordings sound unbearable, while ensuring that more memorable productions are justly rewarded.

If the tweeters could be accused of being a little too critical at times, then the mid/bass is simply glorious. Drawing from the latest 800 Series Diamond family, the so-called Continuum driver continues its starring role in the 700 Series context. The delivery is smooth and even sensual, with a presence that is rich without becoming oversaturated.

There’s excellent pace and poise, too, allowing the 705s to approach their musical wares with an athletic enthusiasm. Even low bass is delivered with punch and bite, laying the groundwork for a sound that always engages the listener.

Forget about letting these speakers bumble along in the background: even at low volumes, they deliver sheer musicality in spades, compelling closer attention.

Casey Abrams’ compelling Chesky release, ‘Put A Spell On You’, is the perfect foil for these speakers, showcasing just how believably they image. The recording captures the performances with an almost visceral intensity, and the B&Ws make the most of that up-close realism.

They perfectly placed the deeply resonant double bass, the thrilling sax, the pin-point percussion and the acrobatic vocals on an expansive soundstage that seemed not in the least limited by the size of the speakers, nor the physical constraints of the listening room.

New B&W 705 S2 looks even better with grille removed

The transparency of the 705s was critical here, allowing the music complete freedom of movement in all planes, and enveloping the listener with a sound that always seemed more three-dimensional than merely stereo.

Chris Stapleton’s stirring acoustic guitar and raw-edged vocals on “Either Way” (‘From A Room: Vol 1’) were brought to life with a level of intensity that will make even the most jaded hi-fi fan sit up and take notice.

Again, it was the fullness, the presence and the sheer impact of the music that enthralled, especially produced by such compact two-way boxes. The speakers addressed textures and tones with equal impact, and never sounded challenged by the demanding dynamics of the recording.

On ‘I Was Wrong’ off the same set, the 705s showed of their ability to reach down deeply into the bass region, exposing the full impact and energy of the driving electric bass lines to full effect. The sound picture was finely focussed and dimensionally generous, immersing the listener in the music.

The rich fabric and complex textures of Robert Plant’s inventive music on ‘Carry Fire’ can be difficult to unravel, but on “Dance With You Tonight”, the 705s never lost their composure, while easily picking their way through the pounding percussion, wailing guitars and thundering bass. At the same time, they afforded Plant’s vocals loads of air and space.

U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience’ marks the band’s return to form, and the lucidity and depth of the 705s allowed the full impact of the bass lines, gentle guitar and almost circumspect percussion on “Summer Of Love” to shine through. Bono’s vocals sounded both tender and heroic, while the overall presentation was spine-tingling in its intensity.

When I compared the 705 S2s to the KEF LS50s, the KEFs produced a richer, heftier sound, with less prominent trebles and a more benign approach to upper trebles. However, the staging was less expansive especially in terms of height, alntough imaging was pretty much on par in terms of separation and depth.

The meatier KEFs provided more mid/bass punch, and were equally adept at dynamic swings. But the B&Ws were
more precise and more revealing, digging deep into the heart of the music, and the performance.

Tweeter housed in separate, solid aluminium housing

If there is a downside to the 705 S2s, it’s that the trebles can be too uncompromising. That’s less of a criticism than it is a mark of their inherent accuracy, but it can reveal some disconcerting shortcomings in lesser recordings.

And yes, those who like their bass big and bold enough to rattle windows and shake walls will want to look for something bigger.

But given their size, these bookshelf speakers cover a broader than expected tonal range with authority, while delivering a level of lucidity and dimensional generosity that makes for inviting, entertaining and ultimately rewarding listening.

PROS:  Top-class execution matched to finely rendered, engaging performance
CONS: May be considered too uncompromising for some, and some systems

– Deon Schoeman (info@avsa.co.za)

Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
Drive units: 165 mm Continuum mid/bass driver, 25 mm carbon dome tweeter
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Frequency response: 50 Hz – 28 kHz (±3 dB)
Power handling: 30 – 120 watts unclipped
Dimensions (HxWxD): 407 x 200  301 mm
Weight: 9,3 kg
PRICE: R41 990
SUPPLIED BY: HFX Systems. 011 907-9092
WEBSITE: www.hfxsystems.co.za

U2 – Songs Of Experience (Universal MQA FLAC)
Brandi Carlisle – By The Way, I Forgive You (Atlantic MQA FLAC)
Robert Plant – Carry Fire (Nonesuch 44/16 FLAC)
Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Vol1 (Decca 96/24 FLAC)
Casey Abrams – Put A Spell On You (Chesky 192/124 FLAC)

Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amp
Marantz PM8006 integrated amp
Lumin D1 network player
Marantz ND8006 network player
KEF LS50 loudspeakers

The Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond may be the British loudspeaker company’s flagship, but the technologies that range introduced are filtering down to more accessible models. The 702 S2 is a good case in point – and it has its own, distinctive sonic character


By Deon Schoeman

They say that pedigree improves the breed, and that certainly seems to be the case as far as the new B&W 700 Series 2 is concerned. The new range takes over from the previous CM Series, and embraces technology previously reserved for the hallowed 800 Series Diamond range.

Tall, slim and sporting a total of five drivers, the 702 S2 evaluated here is the flagship of the 700 S2 family. It makes full use of tall he innovations introduced in the line-up, including the B&W’s new Continuum midrange driver and the latest Aerofoil woofers.

However, the 702 S2 also benefits from a solid-body tweeter perched on top of the enclosure – just like on the 800 Series Diamond models. That provides some indication of the floorstander’s ambitious sonic goals.


Offered in rosenut real-wood veneer, satin white or gloss black, the 702 S2 is a tall and even imposing speaker. It’s relatively slim, but the plinth it rests on has a significantly larger footprint.

The plinth bolts onto the base of the speaker enclosure, and is also home to threaded apertures which can either house spikes or rounded, plastic-tipped feet, depending on the floor surface. Both are supplied.

The five-driver array is arranged conventionally, starting with the top-mounted, self-enclosed tweeter. The baffle itself is home to the silver-hued Continuum cone midrange, and a trio of Aerofoill woofers, all vertically arranged.

At the rear, a flared and etched bass port confirms the speaker’s bass reflex status. The flared shape and texture of the port is meant to address the ‘chuffing’ sometimes associated with air being expelled from the baffle.

A dual pair of speaker binding posts is provided to allow for bi-wiring. The solid metal posts ensure positive connection of speaker cables, and come with all-metal bridging plates for use when bi-wiring is not required.

Magnetically located cloth grilles are provided to protect the drive units from prying fingers, but in visual terms, the 702s look pretty good without the grilles – and in my opinion, sound slightly better, too.


As already mentioned, the big news with regards to the 700 S2 range in general, and the 702 floorstander in particular, is the technology carried over from the 800 Series Diamond.

The solid-body tweeter housing is a prime example. Previous top-of-enclosure tweeter housings used a hollow zinc enclosure, while this example is milled from solid aluminium, which is both stiffer and more inert.

The tweeter body also acts as a heatsink, and shares the decoupled configuration and acoustically transparent grille as in the 800 Series Diamond application.

The tweeter itself is two-piece design that combines a carbon-coated 30-micron aluminium front dome with a 300 micron carbon ring that matches the main dome’s shape. The so-called double-dome design is both very light and ultra-stiff, with a first break-up point only occurring at a claimed 47 kHz.

However, it’s the appearance of the Continuum midrange driver that is perhaps the most telling feature of the 702 S2. Replacing the yellow Kevlar-based cone that used to be a B&W hallmark for decades, the new midrange uses a new, bespoke woven composite cone material with carefully defined breakup characteristics.

The midrange also employs an aluminium chassis that’s stiffer than the comparable drivers in the CM Series. It’s not only more rigid, but also uses a tuned mass damper to absorb spurious resonances, while a new decoupling system promises enhanced clarity.

Moving on to the woofers, the three 165 mm bass drivers use the same Aerofoil cone profile first seen on the 800 Series Diamond. The cones here aren’t quite as fancy – they use paper instead of carbon fibre skins – but the composite sandwich structure is the same, as is the foam core and the curved profile.


The big 702 S2s require some care when unpacking, specifically because of the exposed nature of those tweeter enclosures. That aside, it’s a matter of bolting on the supplied plinths, opting for spikes or plastic-tipped feet, and locating the speakers in a suitable position.

In the AVSA listening room, the B&Ws sounded at their best well away from the rear wall and corners in a near-freestanding position, with the side walls about 55 cm away. After some experimentation, they were toed in a little more than halfway towards the listening position, with spikes ensuring good floor contact.

The plinths are quite a bit larger than the speakers themselves, which makes for a bigger footprint than the actual enclosure dimensions suggest, but also ensures good stability.

The review pair arrived brand new, so the speakers were allowed to settle in for around 100 hours before any evaluative listening commenced. I hooked them up to our Parasound Halo A21 power amp and Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp, with a Lumin L1 network player and Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite providing the source signal.


Once nicely run in, the 702 S2s quickly enamoured themselves with a wide open and generous sound that was both gripping and appealing. There’s nothing shy or reticent about these speakers: they grab the music by the scruff of the neck and dig into the very essence of the performance.

The big B&Ws are tonally rich and regal speakers that can do full justice to the lower registers, but without losing their grip on the music. There’s plenty of pace here, too – allowing the natural rhythm and excitement of the music to shine through with conviction.

Tonal progression was satisfyingly linear, with a particularly pleasing fullness to the midrange that allowed seamless integration with the lower frequencies. The result was meaty and impactful without sounding too rich or overbearing.

The tweeters lived up to their high-tech promise, displaying ample resolution and attack, together with the ability to resolve fine slivers of musical information. There was a slight tendency towards brightness in the upper trebles – o perhaps it was just a case of them approaching their task with unerring honesty.

That said, they did treat delicate details and nuances with deference and lucidity, affording the listener real insight and enjoyment.

Talking of clarity, I enjoyed the inherent transparency of the 702s: despite their considerable physical presence, they disguised their role as point sources effectively, getting well out of the way of the music.

For that reason, staging and imaging were believably executed. The imaging was precise and finely focussed, so that it became easy to visualise both the positioning and the presence of each instrument.

The 702s spread the music wide and deep across the generous soundstage, but without losing sight of the content being presented: they were as adept at recreating the impact and scale of a symphony orchestra as they were recreating the intimacy of and rapport expressed by a jazz trio.

The B&Ws coped well with the full, rich sound that permeates Anthem, Madeleine Peyroux’s new release. Despite the saturated mix, and a bass that can boom on lesser systems, the floorstanders easily maintained control.

They delivered their sonic wares with snappy impetus and plenty of impact, without constraining the pace of the music . The delivery was dimensionally generous and accessible, thanks to that expansive staging and finely honed imaging.

On ‘Party Tyme’, the interplay between the boisterous harmonica and the subdued but no less artistic lead guitar provided a fascinating subtext to Peyroux’s liquid vocals, while a solid bass and articulate percussion added the final, deft touches.

The B&Ws accurately reflected the additional reverb towards the end of the track, showing off their ability to spatially contextualise the music. And their talent for transparency was underlined again, making the music even more accessible and believable.

On Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma For The Cheap, the off-beat singer/songwriter’s sometimes fragile, always fascinating vocals and melodic mastery are showcased on a deceptively simple collection of songs that reference Lennon and McCartney in their universal accessibility and irresistible charm.

While the compositions are Tasjan’s own, there is a hooky familiarity to the music that endows them with immediate neo-classic status. The mix is unpretentious but unequivocally clear and revealing, allowing unencumbered access to every facet of the performance.

The 702s made the most of the music, never allowing the sound to digress into clinical interpretation, but managing to harness the soul and intent of the music.

Again, their ability to create a realistic soundspace provides vital breathing space, so that the often busy arrangements retain a sense of poise and clarity.

Tonally, the 702s’ penchant for hearty lower mids and punchy bass ensures the music is portrayed with foundation and substance, while the trebles are never allowed to sound splashy or unruly.

The often whimsical yet always fascinating music of the Punch Brothers on All Ashore proves that banjos, fiddles and mandolins can co-exist in a contemporary framework that is as fresh and innovative as it is genre-busting.

Chris Thile’s falsetto vocals spearhead layered vocal harmonies, mirrored by the burnished, finely fettled acoustic instruments. The sound is intricate, with a production that carefully examines every aspect, yet also manages the intuitive cohesion of the performance, which feels vivid and one-take live in its intensity.

This recording is also a deceptively tough challenge for loudspeakers: but to their credit, the B&Ws managed to track the intricacies of the performance, never shirking their responsibility to extract and deliver every sliver of sound with sonic precision.

They portrayed energetic conversation between the instruments on ‘Three Dots And A Dash’ with a vivid enthusiasm that allowed the electricity and the rapport between the performers to come to the fore.

There was a very real sense of acoustic space that allowed each instrument to be precisely placed, while creating an embracing, engrossing sound picture. The tonal generosity of the 702s stood them in good stead here, too, allowing the distinctive timbre and hue of each instrument to be realistically replicated.


Should the 702 S2s be considered a more affordable alternative to the 804 D3s? Not at all. For all their under-the-skin sophistication, the 702 S2 floorstanders are very different in design and execution.

Besides, they neither invite nor deserve that comparison. Compared to their CM Series predecessor, however, they represent a major step up in both presence and transparency, while delivering an impactful and entertaining performance.

There’s something vital and vivid about the way the 702 S2s go about their unmistakably musical business. They reveal a great deal about a performance, but also entertain in a foot-tapping, engaging way. And isn’t that what hi-fi is meant to be about?


Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm decoupled carbon dome tweeter
– 1x 150 mm Continuum cone midrange
– 3x 165 mm Aerofoil woofers
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 3,1 ohms minimum
Sensitivity: 90 dB (2,83V, 1 metre)
Frequency response: 45 Hz – 28 kHz (±3 dB)
Power handling: 300 watts unclipped programme
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 087 x 366 x 452 mm (Including plinth)
Weight: 29,5 kg each
R73 990
HFX Systems

Punch Brothers – All Ashore (Nonesuch 96/24 FLAC)
Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma For The Cheap (New West 44/16 FLAC)
Madeleine Peyroux – Anthem (Verve 96/24 FLAC)
Camille Thurman – Waiting For Sunrise (Chesky 192/24 FLAC)

Lumin D1 network player
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers
TelluriumQ and StraightWire cabling
IsoTek Aquarius power conditioner

Professional gear doesn’t often cross over successfully into the domestic hi-fi domain. But the JBL Synthesis monitors have a reputation for managing just that. The result is both realistic and musically thrilling

On paper, professional audio equipment – amplifiers and monitors in particular – should do a sterling job in a less taxing home entertainment environment. However, the priorities and applications of pro gear are significantly different.

For instance, professional speakers don’t have to blend into beautifully decorated home environments: they are workhorses, handsome in a form-follows-function kind of way, but with little in the way of lifestyle appeal.

They’re also meant to deliver an unwaveringly honest and accurate representation of the music across a broad bandwidth, often for hours on end, at above-average levels, while ensuring robust reliability.


The JBL Synthesis 4429 studio monitors fit that bill perfectly. Their large, slightly retro enclosures feature a compression horn system for tweeter and super tweeter, linked to a beefy woofer.

Both the 50 mm tweeter and 19mm super tweeter employ titanium diaphragms, while the bass driver features a 300 mm pure-pulp cone. The claimed frequency response extends from 40 Hz to 45 kHz (at -6 dB), and sensitivity is an efficient 91 dB.

The horn array occupies the upper part of the enclosure and uses a dense, mechanically inert material dubbed SonoGlass for the bi-radial horn. It’s flared to obviate resonance and boost overall clarity.

A removable cloth grille below the horn system hides a trademark blue-toned baffle and dual front-firing ports below the woofer, as well as adjustable attenuators for the HF and UHF frequencies. The rear panel has dual gold-plated binding posts, allowing bi-wiring.

The substantial enclosure is constructed from 25 mm MDF with real-wood veneer. At 635 mm tall and 400 mm wide, they’re larger than conventional standmount speakers, but not tall enough to be used in a floorstanding role.

As a result, they require custom-height stands – the review pair came with a pair of locally sourced and superbly made metal stands just 255 mm high, which places the super tweeter at around ear height. Total actual height of the JBL plus stand the comes to 890 mm.

Blue baffle is a JBL Synthesis monitor hallmark


For this review, the JBLs were placed in a free-standing location, well away from side and rear walls, and specifically avoiding corners, as these monitors are tonally generous, with a particular penchant for fast, powerful and full low frequencies.

They were toed in towards the listening position, but not completely, the idea being to find the optimum balance between image focus and generous staging. The review pair had already been run in, so there was no need for any extended break-in period.

Instead, I ran them just enough to get them settled in, hooked up to our Parasound Halo A21 power amp, partnered by a Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp. Source signals were provided by a Lumin D1 network streamer and a Marantz KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD deck, both running via a Bryston BDA-3 D/A converter.


From the outset, the US speaker duo delivered a full, big-hearted sound.  And yet, despite their tonal generosity, the 4429s never lost their agility or poise, always maintaining an athletic, succinct pace.

Initially, I felt that the monitors were adopting a slightly over-lavish approach, especially in the lower midrange, adding a certain warmth and richness to the sound, compared to more conventional hi-fi speakers.

However, it didn’t take long to get used to that full-range sound and to revel in the ability of the JBLs to do full justice to the complete tonal scope of the music. It added an underlying realism to the sound that made voices and instruments come vividly alive.

Attenuation controls allow performance to be customised

Equally important from a believability perspective was the fact that the JBLs did not allow the tonal richness to weigh them down. In fact, it was combination of tonal breadth, precise control and unbridled agility that allowed them to paint a sonic picture brimming with energy and enthusiasm.

And if you thought that those big boxes would get in the way of the music, think again: they managed to become almost completely invisible as point sources, with a level of transparency quite unexpected given their less than subtle visual presence.

Listening to Pat Metheny’s ‘Rise’, off the unusually titled Kin <–> set, the shimmering guitars were spread wide across the soundstage, interspersed with percussion and hand-claps, spotlighting the light-footed dexterity of the speakers.

They created an instant sense of dimension and presence, with the instruments occupying a real, identifiable position on the soundstage. The sheer speed of the speakers was showcased by the spectacular percussion, delivered with real punch and bite.

The 4429s expressed the joy and effervescence of the music with an zeal that was as mesmerising as it was infectious. The tenor sax tended towards brightness to the extent that I actually turned down the UHF by a quarter turn, which also  prevented cymbals from sounding too splashy..

This was more a measure of the recording’s balance that a shortcoming on the speakers’ part, and while purists might frown at such attenuation, it highlighted the additional versatility those controls provide, if used with care.

Metheny’s guitar sounded smooth and mellow, though, and the JBLs afforded it ample presence and timbre. The delivery was rich without sounding too abundant, allowing his flowing style to be interpreted beautifully.

The guitar provided a smooth, easy counterpoint to the spiky, incisive percussion. Staging was expansive, easily capturing the ambience of the recording, and allowing the music to escape the physical constraints of those bulky cabinets.

Indeed, you really do forget that they are there, becoming completely engaged by the music instead.

On the Mathias Landaeus Trio’s marvellous Opening set, the title track focuses on an expressive piano in close conversation with a sonorous upright bass, while the thoughtful percussion keeps careful, almost delicate pace.

The piano sounded vivid and intense, and the speakers had no trouble following the often intricate passages, delivering them with an almost liquid ease that was utterly enthralling.

Fine detail and nuances were presented with clarity and assurance, while always remaining perfectly integrated into the overall sonic picture, adding to a pervasive sense of presence and realism.

Indeed, there was something inherently visceral and exciting about the sound that was quite different from ‘normal’ hi-fi speakers. The JBLs had a compelling ability to make the music sound convincing, and, yes, authentic.

Compression horns look after midrange and treble

The Reference Recordings release of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, performed by the Kansas City Symphony under Michael Stern’s baton, is a majestic rendering of this classical work – and the JBLs made the most of it.

They had the tonal scope, the timbre and the sheer pace to bring the full impact and muscle of the orchestra into the listening room.

The 4429s easily reflected the substantial, challenging dynamic swings of this performance, while capturing both the intensity and the delicacy of the music with a relaxed ease, but without blunting the music’s energy or passion.

The orchestra’s physical presence was potently rendered, so that individual instruments were instantly and easily identifiable across a vast and deep soundstage. Again, the tonal generosity of the JBLs stood them in good stead, ensuring that the orchestra’s full impact could be as much heard as felt. Yes sir, those big 300 mm woofers move a lot of air!

On the classic Doobie Brothers track ‘Black Water, from their Southbound album, it was the transparency and sparkle of this multi-layered recording that stood out: it rewards the resolution and the dynamics of a good system with a sonic feast.

Despite a busy arrangement with lots of musical action, the JBLs remained unflustered and precise, providing a full-hued, foot-tapping and detailed delivery. Again, expansive staging afforded the performance plenty of breathing space.

The big monitors precisely rendered the splendid fiddles, the boisterous bass and the bright guitars, but also showed off a talent for cohesion that ensured a seamless, immersive sound picture and a pervasive dimensionality.

The 4429s are studio monitors that make home hi-fi seem tame


The JBL Synthesis 4429 monitors are not for those who like their speakers slim, polite and unobtrusive. They are unashamedly bold and functional and ideally deserve a large room in which to ply their musical trade.

But what a great job they do of playing music, and making that music come alive, thanks to a real talent for impact, tonal generosity, expansive staging and, surprisingly for such big boxes, transparency.

There’s a vitality to their delivery that is quite different from the hi-fi norm, as if they have a better, more believable grasp of the original performance. And for all their pace and boisterous personality, they never lose sight of vital nuances and subtleties.

Linked to an equally high-quality source and amplification with ample headroom (despite their inherent efficiency) these studio monitors create a magically musical listening experience. – DEON SCHOEMAN

Makes the music come alive.
Not exactly a lifestyle speaker.

Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, front-ported
Drive units:
19mm titanium diaphragm ultra-high frequency compression driver
50 mm titanium diaphragm high-frequency compression driver
300 mm pure-pulp woofer
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 6 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 91 dB (2,83V/1m)
Frequency response: 40 Hz – 45 kHz (-6 dB)
Power handling: 200 watts RMS
Dimensions (HxWxD): 635 x 400 x 300 mm
Weight: 32,3 kg each
R89 562 (pair)
HFX Systems.

Pat Metheny – Kin <–> (Nonesuch 44/16 WAV)
Mathias Landaeus Trio –  Opening (MA Recordings 176/24 WAV)
Benjamin Britten –  Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra – Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern (Reference Recordings 176/24 WAV)
Doobie Brothers – Southbound (Sony Music 44/24 FLAC)

Bryston BDA-3 DAC
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD deck
Lumin D1 network player
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers


The KEF LS50 is a benchmark bookshelf loudspeaker with an ability to outgun many larger, dearer designs. The LS50 Wireless may look similar, but thanks to its active configuration, it moves a few pegs higher up the performance ladder

Active loudspeakers have been favoured for professional applications such recording studio monitoring for a long time. The idea is a simple one: equip each speaker (each drive unit, even) with a dedicated, on-board amplifier, rather than hooking them to an external amplifier.

The benefit is a short signal path that’s more efficient and less exposed to interference, as well as the ability to tailor the amplifier to meet the specific demands and characteristics of the drive unit and enclosure design.

The advent of smaller, cool-running Class D amplifier modules has made the introduction of active speakers in the domestic environment more viable.

Incorporating control circuitry has allowed the creation of a seamless, aesthetically pleasing system that needs none of the traditional boxes (source components, amplifiers, etc) and literally consists of only the speakers themselves. The KEF LS50 Wireless is a good case in point.

Compact and handsome, the LS50W is a direct descendant of the passive LS50


If you’re familiar with the normal, passive KEF LS50, you’ll recognise the LS50 Wireless immediately. It uses the same, single UniQ driver placed in the centre of a fascia that curves away from the driver on all sides in the interests of unimpaired dispersion.

The review pair was finished in gloss black wit  blue-coned drivers, but various other enclosure and driver colours are available. While the similarities are obvious, there are also some distinctive differences between the passive and active versions.

In the case of the LS50 Wireless, the right-hand speaker acts as the master, and features a control panel on the top panel with touch-sensitive controls for power, volume and source selection.

In addition to the top controls, the right speaker has a fairly comprehensive rear control panel, comprising a stereo RCA analogue input set, a Toslink optical digital input, and an asynchronous USB Type B input.

Master speaker also houses most of the switchgear

Then there’s a subwoofer output for easy connection of a separate active sub, and two RJ45 network sockets – one to link the RH speaker to a LAN network, the other to connect the two LS50Ws.

EQ selector buttons allow the performance characteristics to be altered according to how the speakers are positioned: desk/stand and wall/free-standing. An IEC power socket completes the rear panel picture.

The presence of extruded aluminium heatsinks bolted to the rear panel of each speaker confirms that LS50 Wireless enclosures incorporate their own amplification. The flexible, oblong bass reflex port still exits at the rear, but is now surrounded by the heatsink panel.

The left, slave speaker does without much of the master’s switchgear, but there is an RJ45 socket to accept the link from the RH speaker, together with a small L/R balance control, and the ubiquitous IEC power socket.

To call the LS50W a wireless system isn’t entirely accurate: each speaker still needs to be connected to an AC wall plug via a power cable. And then there are the LAN cables linking the speakers to each other, and to a network – although you can opt for the built-in 2,4/5 GHz 802.11 Wi-Fi to achieve wireless network connectivity instead.


Central to the KEF LS50W system is a digital signal processing (DSP)-controlled design that allows a high-res digital signal path and the use of a digital pre-amp with streaming capabilities. A pair of Wolfson WM8740E 192 kHz/24-bit DACs is incorporated into each speaker – effectively one each for the mid/bass and high-frequency channels.

The UniQ driver array combines a 25 mm vented aluminium dome tweeter with KEF’s tangerine-shaped waveguide, and a 130 mm magnesium/aluminium alloy mid/bass unit, mounted on the same axis to ensure accurate time alignment.

Uni0-Q driver positions tweeter with waveguide and mid/bass driver on same axis

Each driver is powered by its own, dedicated amplifier: a 200 watt RMS Class D mono amp for the mid/bass unit, and a 30 watt mono Class A/B amp for the tweeter. A DSP-driven crossover further optimises time alignment in the interests of coherence and realism.

As the master speaker’s rear panel indicates, connectivity is comprehensive. In addition to the Toslink, USB and coaxial digital inputs (and the stereo analogue input set), the LS50W also offers Bluetooth 4.0 aptX, while it is DLNA compliant, which means it will recognise and access compatible components, such as network-attached storage (NAS) devices.


While the LS50 Wireless comes with a basic remote control, the free downloadable app offers a more comprehensive and intuitive interface. In fact, it really is the best way to set up and operate the LS50W.

Available for iOS and Android, it allows source selection (including DLNA servers on the same network), and provides integrated access to streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify. Of course there are also the usual playback controls, including random and repeat functionality.

The sound parameters of the LS50 can be tweaked via the app, including fine-tuning its sonic characteristics to suit specific room conditions and speaker placements.

These include the way the speaker is mounted (shelf or stand), how ‘lively’ or ‘damped’ the room is, the size of the room, and how close to walls the speakers are located. If a subwoofer is connected, the high-pass filter point can also be set.

It’s worth noting that the LS50W is Roon-ready, which means that the system is recognised as an endpoint, allowing the Roon app to deliver enhanced, centralised and metadata-rich access to all locally stored content on a network, as well as the full Tidal library.

Finally, while Bluetooth isn’t the first choice in sheer fidelity terms, it does allow content stored on connected devices such as a smartphone, to be played back. That also goes for Internet radio apps such as TuneIn and Radio Paradise.

For this review, the KEFs were placed on dedicated stands, and hooked up to each other via CAT5e LAN cable. Set-up was a cinch using the app, and although I used a wired connection to our office LAN, the Wi-Fi connection seemed equally stable by comparison.

A pair of passive KEFLS50s linked to an Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amp provided an interesting counterpoint.

Different driver and enclosure colours allow easier matching to specific interiors


For the most part, I ran the LS50W system without any external sources, using the pair of media servers linked to the listening room network as the sole source of music files.

A short stint coupling my 13-inch MacBook Pro running Audirvana 3 Plus to the speaker system via USB Type B was tried as an alternative, but the network option is a lot more elegant and lot less complex – and to my mind the LS50W is all about intuitive use, minimalism and elegance.

That said, don’t for a moment think of the LS50W as just another clever, slightly geeky and handsome lifestyle system. Once you crank these speakers up, you’ll realise why.

The first aspect you notice is the sheer stature and dimension of the music. The KEFs project a huge, room-filling stage that is really hard to equate with the compact dimensions of the speakers.

You keep on wanting to look for the floorstanders that surely must be hidden away somewhere. Or perhaps that sub in the corner isn’t switched off after all? No sir – no hidden speakers, no hidden sub.

Just like their passive stablemates, their transparency is admirable, allowing their role as point sources to become utterly invisible.

Imaging is pin-point accurate and dimensionality generous, while the tonal range, the dynamic scope and the sheer presence of the system always suggests – quite insistently – that you must be listening to something much bigger, and much more powerful, than a pair of small active speakers …

Listening to Brian Bromberg’s ‘Forgiveness’ (from Compared To That), the music’s sweeping sonic panoramas filled the room. The strings created a broad, wide, generous backdrop for Bromberg’s potent but articulate bass, in conversation with a beautifully melodic acoustic guitar.

No single element wasis allowed to dominate or overwhelm, but there was a clarity and a musical precision to the music that was utterly enticing. The upright bass was rendered with a percussive power that hits me right in the chest, so that I could feel us much as hear the notes.

Oh yes, and these KEFs can play indecently, raucously, kill-thy-neighbour loud, without losing their composure or finesse.

Despite their advanced tech, the LS50W have real lifestyle appeal

Turning Ophélie Gaillard’s lively rendition of CPE Bach’s ‘Concerto For Violincello en La Mineur’, the KEF system easily translated the delicacy and the texture of the cello, while allowing the incandescence of the accompanying chamber orchestra to shine through.

There was a luminosity to the music that could so easily have sounded bright and uncompromising, but the KEFs’ treatment was always musically sympathetic and sonically adept, allowing an immersive sense of involvement.

Indeed, seamless staging, believable intonation and a nimbleness of pace allowed the music to come alive.

Javier Limón’s Mujeres De Agua showcases the guitarist’s liquid but forceful solos, delivered with flamenco flourish and Spanish passion. On ‘El Béso Libanés’, the female vocals floated above the guitar, with the solo instrument always compellingly in the forefront.

The sense of dimension was almost cinematic, filling the room with sound and inviting the listener to experience the musical action. The precision of the rendition was never in doubt, but the delivery of the KEFs had a magical, essential truth about it that was instantly engrossing.

Compared to the ‘normal’, passive LS50s, the wireless system displayed a sound that was more coherent, more focussed, more emphatic. The lower frequencies were more controlled, but also punchier, while dynamic swings were handled with greater assertion.

The tonal character was smooth, but perhaps not as effusive as the passive LS50s, presenting a slightly more restrained, but no less believable, sonic picture.

Use of DSP means positioning is less critical than with passive LS50


In some ways the KEF LS50 Wireless system is ahead of its time. It’s a supremely elegant and sonically compelling counterpoint to high-end systems costing tens of thousands more. It requires little space, and a minimum of ancillaries, yet delivers a huge, immersive and authentic performance.

Controlled via a clever app, and offering a rich variety of potential sources, the KEF system fuses convenience, lifestyle, aesthetics and real sonic talent into a very satisfying whole. And yes, the perfect integration of source, amplification and speakers is one of the underlying reasons behind its giant-killing capabilities.

Whether traditionalists will be prepared to ditch their purist pre-amps, massive power amps, turntables, DACs and transports, and opt for a small set of speakers and a library of stored and on-line music instead, remains to be seen.

Admittedly, larger rooms might need more oomph – something that a subwoofer (or two) will deliver quite easily without robbing the system of its inherent simplicity. And some might feel that the LS50W’s inability to cope with DSD files is an inherent shortcoming.

But once you’ve heard and experienced the LS50 Wireless system, hi-fi in the conventional sense will never be the same again.

Elegant, convenient and musically compelling counterpoint to conventional hi-fi.
No DSD support. Not truly wireless. Might struggle to fill larger spaces with sound.

Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
Drive units: Uni-Q array: 25 mm vented aluminium dome tweeter, 130 mm alloy cone mid/bass
Amplification: Dual-mono. Tweeter: 30 watts RMS. Mid/bass: 200 watts RMS
Resolution: Up to 192 kHz/24-bit, input dependent
Analogue inputs: 1x stereo RCA
Digital inputs: 1x Toslink optical, 1x coaxial RCA, 1x asynchronous USB Type B
Connectivity: 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi (2,4/5 GHz), Bluetooth 4.0 aptX
Frequency response: 50 Hz – 28 kHz (standard setting, -3 dB)
Maximum output: 106 dB
Dimensions: (HxWxD): 300 x 200 x 308 mm
Weight: 10,2 kg (master), 10,0 kg (slave)
R35 800
Sky Audio.

KEF LS50 passive loudspeakers
Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amp
Synology DS214se NAS
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD deck

Brian Bromberg Compared To That (Artistry 44/16 FLAC)
Ophélie Gaillard – Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (Aparte 96/24 FLAC)
Javier Limón – Mujeres De Agua (Universal 44/16 AIFF)

The KEF LS50 Wireless is already a popular active loudspeaker choice. The LSX offers similar benefits in an even smaller, more affordable package. But can it still deliver the sonic goods?


By Deon Schoeman

When KEF launched the LS50 bookshelf speaker, it caused something of a sensation. It combined appealing looks, clever tech and giant-killing performance in a compact, user-friendly package.

The British speaker maker’s next masterstroke was creating an active version of the LS50 dubbed the LS50 Wireless. With on-board amplification and performance-enhancing digital signal processing, the LS50W could straddle both lifestyle and specialist audio roles.

Late last year, KEF introduced the LSX – for all intents a scaled-down version of the LS50, with a scaled-down price to match, while offering even greater convenience. However, it raised the question whether the LSX had become too lifestyle-orientated.

Could a speaker standing less than 25 cm tall still sound good enough to satisfy critical audio fans and music lovers? Or was the LSX merely trading on the reputation of its larger LS50W sibling?


The LSX is indeed compact, but it packs a lot of tech. These diminutive active speakers are designed to operate as a wire-free stereo set with no need for ancillaries such as separate amplifiers or source components.

They certainly look the lifestyle part, with a choice of bright colours and innovative, fabric-clad enclosures that are likely to polarise opinion, but will have the fashionistas and trendoids ooh-in and ah-ing in delight.

Even from my own, arguably more pragmatic viewpoint, the LSXs look and feel appealing. The rear-ported reflex enclosures have a reassuring heft that promises both physical and sonic substance. And yes, those bright colours add eye candy appeal, together with KEF’s equally eye-catching Uni-Q concentric driver.

As mentioned, the LSX is reminiscent of the LS50 and LS50W, but it’s about 30 percent smaller. The stereo set consists of a master and a slave unit, but unlike the LS50W, the slave can be wirelessly paired to the master, making for an almost completely cable-free set-up.

I say almost because the LSX speakers still need to be tethered to power cables, which also means you need to site them within reasonable proximity of a power outlet.

Linking the two LSX speakers wirelessly also limits audio performance – at least on paper. Resolution is restricted to 48 kHz/24-bit resolution – which is still better than CD quality. Those who want higher-res 96 kHz/24-bit operation need to link the two speakers with the CAT5E cable provided.

The LSX can be connected to a home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and while the former is attractive from the no-wires perspective, and works trouble-free as long as there is a strong signal, those who habitually play back high-res files from a NAS may find a wired Ethernet connection more reliable.

The master speaker offers a rear control panel that has connections for Ethernet, Toslink optical, and an analogue stereo minijack input, allowing the wired connection of sources such as a turntable or a CD player, for instance. There is also a subwoofer output.

Don’t be fooled by the USB socket, though: it’s not an input for storage devices, but rather serves as a way to charge mobile devices – useful if you’re actually using that device to stream music to the KEFs.

Talking of streaming, the LSX offer integrated support for Tidal and Spotify, and can source music files from NAS devices. Bluetooth 4.2 utilising the aptX codec allows smart devices to be connected wirelessly, opening the door to playback from other streaming sources such as Deezer and Apple Music, for instance. Apple AirPlay is also supported.

Control is via a pair of cellphone apps – a bit of a clunky arrangement, and KEF would do well to look at ways to merge the functionality of the control and streaming apps into one – after all much of the user experience relies on the intuitiveness of the apps.

For those who have discovered the multiple benefits of the Roon music management system, the good news is that the system recognises the LSXs as a Roon endpoint, which means you can effectively use Roon and Roon Remote to stream directly to the KEFs.


The LSX may be small, but it’s big on tech and innovation.

The Uni-Q driver array, effectively a coaxial speaker with both mid/bass driver and tweeter aligned on the same axis to enhance coherence, focus and imaging, is a well-established KEF development, and has been specifically tailored for its application here.

Here, it consists of a 115 mm mid/bass driver utilising a magnesium alloy cone, coupled with a 19 mm vented dome tweeter. Each LSX gets a pair of Class D mono amplifiers, driving the tweeter and mid/bass individually.

The amps are paired with dedicated D/A converters operating at up to 96/24 as mentioned, or 48/24 if master and slave are linked wirelessly. Of course, the LSX will accept higher-res data streams up to 192/24, but will downsample those accordingly. DSD is not supported.

The LSX is equipped with a proprietary digital signal processing system that uses bespoke algorithms to enhance performance.

Included is a series of selectable EQ settings, either accessed via easy-to-understand presets based on how and where the LSXs are positioned, or directly via adjustments to parameters such as high-pass and low-pass filter points, phase, treble trim, and subwoofer-specific settings.


The LSX review pair was shelf-mounted, and positioned quite close to the room’s side walls, about 3 metres apart. Network connection was via Ethernet, although I also tried Wi-Fi, which worked perfectly.

The master and slave units were linked wirelessly throughout, and while tethering them allowed higher-res playback, I never felt that the slight audible improvement (a bit more air and detail) was worth the hassle of the extra Ethernet cable.

Installation and set-up was painless and easy, although as mentioned, I found the two-app arrangement – one for control, one for streaming – clunky and counterintuitive.

I also experienced problems when trying to stream Tidal natively via the KEF streaming app: playback was intermittently interrupted, regardless of whether the KEFs were hooked up to the network via WiFi or Ethernet.

Spotify showed no such issues, and Tidal streamed perfectly via the Roon app, including high-res MQA-encoded files. Disappointingly, a support request logged with KEF remained unanswered.

The glitchy Tidal was the only functional shortcoming experienced. All other services operated seamlessly, including navigating and sourcing content from the Synology NAS on my network, and hooking up an Apple iPhone to the LSX via Bluetooth and AirPlay.


Sonically, the LSXs exceeded expectations at every level. They delivered their musical wares with an enthusiasm and generosity that made them sound much bigger and bolder than their diminutive dimensions would suggest.

Not only that, but the tonal spread was generous, too: shelf-mounted and positioned close to side walls but away from corners, the bass response was pretty impressive, if not exactly in the window-rattling league.

I was particularly impressed by the imaging, which was pin-point accurate and finely focussed, allowing the KEFs to create a large and well defined sound picture with plenty of definition and a real sense of depth and dimensionality.

The LSX’s mirror their larger LS50W siblings in their ability to become invisible as point sources, adding to the sound’s sense of seamlessness, and creating an inviting, engaging performance that easily draws the listener into the music.

There’s ample oomph from the on-board Class D amplification, too – the KEFs were happy to deliver the goods at higher listening levels without any sign of impending clipping, and lacked nothing as far as pace and momentum were considered.

Kick drums had plenty of slam, bass guitars were rendered with ample power and precision, and there was an inherent energy and brio to the delivery that made the music come alive.

On actor-turned-bandleader Jeff Goldblum’s sassy and enchanting The Capitol Sessions, the KEFs easily accommodated the swinging scale and lilt of the band, while capturing the enthusiasm and appreciation of the live recording’s audience.

The LSXs never sounded like small speakers trying to sound big, delivering a tonally rich sound and a surprisingly powerful and succinct bass performance. Staging was expansive, and imaging so detailed that it was easy to pick out the exact positioning of individual performers.

Paul Weller’s True Meanings sounded lifelike and incisive, with the little speakers delivering loads of pace and momentum. On ‘The Soul Searchers’ the articulate bass underpinning the song was delivered with as much verve as the sleek guitars and boisterous synths, with Weller’s reflective vocals closely examined.

Again, the KEFs impressed with the generosity and dimensionality of the soundstage, linked to their absolute transparency, to create a room-filling, thoroughly engaging sound.

The title track from the late great guitarist Jeff Golub’s Train Keeps A Rolling set is a fast-paced, fusion-laced jazz piece, filled with Latin-styled percussion, lyrical synths and Golub’s clean, fluid riffs.

The LSXs again showed off their propensity for sonic generosity, spreading the music wide and deep, and creating a sense of three-dimensionality quite at odds with their compact physical presence.


Big on tone and big on momentum, the KEF LSX are the biggest small speakers I’ve heard in a long time. Their size and wireless capabilities makes them easy to accommodate, even in smaller spaces, and they don’t need special stands or isolating platforms either.

Whether you choose an unobtrusive colour or a brighter hue, the LSXs have strong llifestyle appeal, and they look good in any setting.

But it’s the sound these tiny tots deliver that makes them the sonic showstoppers they are. Wide, deep and dimensional, with loads of impetus and a decent dose of bass, they can boogie with the best of them.

However, there’s also the kind of detail, refinement and transparency that will keep even critical listeners happy, which makes these KEFs good enough to be considered for primary listening, and not just as a lifestyle system for background music.

Add the convenience of the active configuration, streaming capability and wireless operation, and KEF has created a winner. Yes, they are small, but the LSXs offer a big musical package for the money.

Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
Drive units:
– Uni-Q array: 19 mm vented aluminium dome tweeter
– 115 mm magnesium alloy cone mid/bass
Amplification: Dual-mono
– Tweeter: 30 watts RMS.
– Mid/bass: 70 watts RMS
Resolution: Up to 192 kHz/24-bit, input dependent
Analogue inputs: 1x 3,5 mm minijack
Digital inputs: 1x Toslink optical,
Connectivity: 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi (2,4/5 GHz), Bluetooth 4.2 aptX
Frequency response: 59 Hz – 28 kHz (standard setting, ±3 dB)
Maximum output: 102 dB
Dimensions: (HxWxD): 240 x 155 x 180 mm
Weight: 3,6 kg (master), 3,5 kg (slave)
R19 990
Sky Audio

Synology 213+ NAS
13-inch MacBook Pro/MacOS 10.13.6/1 2,7 GHz Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM
iPhone 5 SE, iPad 4

Jeff Golub – Train Keeps A Rolling (eOne 44/16 on Tidal)
Jeff Goldblum – The Capitol Sessions (Decca/Universal 96/24 MQA on Tidal)
Paul Weller – True Meanings (Parlaphone
Van Morrison – The Prophet Speaks (Exile 96/24 MQA on Tidal)
Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.1 – Ivo Pogrelich/Claudio Abbado (DG 44/16 on Tidal)

There’s nothing subtle about the new KEF Q950. Large in stature and generous in their delivery, the big floorstanders also deliver plenty of thrills on the musical front.

By Deon Schoeman

KEF’s Q-Series loudspeakers have enjoyed an extended run of success, thanks to a combination of honest musicality and strong value, linked to the British marque’s reputation for innovative technology.

No wonder the Q-Series is now in its eighth generation. But for KEF, it also means continuously finding ways to improve on already popular range, while retaining that balance of performance and value. After all, you don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.

According to KEF, the latest Q-Series represents a significant overhaul of the range, with an emphasis on greater clarity, reduced distortion and extended bandwidth. In the process, drivers have been repositioned and reflex ports redesigned, while new components and materials have also been incorporated.

The Q-Series line-up still consists of a full model offering comprising three floorstanders, two stand-mount designs, a centre channel, and a Dolby Atmos module. The applications are equally versatile, embracing both stereo and home theatre roles.


For this first encounter with the new Q-Series, we’ve selected the flagship Q950, a tall, generously dimensioned floorstander that looks almost monolithic in its satin black finish with matching dark-hued drivers.

For those who might find the look too dour, there’s also the option of satin white, with white drivers, which admittedly look more contemporary.

The Q950’s five-driver complement is longitudinally arranged, with KEF’s coaxial 200 mm Uni-Q driver taking pride of place. It’s partnered by a 200 mm woofer, and a pair of 200 mm auxiliary bass radiators.

No grilles are provided (they’re available as an added cost option) but apart from the lack of protection from prying fingers, leaving the drive units exposed adds to the aesthetic appeal of the big Qs.

They’re located on bolt-on outriggers housing a total of four, adjustable coupling spikes, ensuring sturdy positioning and allowing effective levelling on uneven floor surfaces. The rear features a single pair of nicely turned out binding posts that will accept both spades and bananas.


While the Q950s appear pretty straightforward tower speakers, they’re underpinned by some innovative technology, while also introducing several changes compared to the previous range.

For starters, there’s the Uni-Q array, which is now housed in a dedicated, sealed chamber to reduce low-frequency load and prevent intermodulation distortion.

The Uni-Q tweeter features a damped loading tube for smoother in the lower-treble region, while a cone neck coupler has been added to reduce output in the cone breakup region for enhanced clarity.

The woofer gains an enhanced cone structure for reduced breakup, while a revised suspension design allows greater excursion, but also improved control.

The bass radiators also get a new, rubber-based suspension to boost excursion, allowing a lower tuning frequency. Larger roll surrounds allow a longer throw to reduce distortion at higher sound pressure levels.

Finally, an all-new crossover with low-distortion inductors has been introduced, which KEF says obviates the need for bi-wiring.


The review pair had ample playing time under the belt, and so it was simply a case of bolting on the outriders to the bottom of the enclosures, inserting the coupling spikes and positioning them in the AVSA listening room.

As the big Qs aren’t shy in the bass department, I specifically opted to position them in a freestanding configuration. They ended up around 650 mm from the side walls, but 1,8 m from the rear wall, and towed in a little more than halfway towards the listening position.

Much of the listening for this review was done with the Q950s powered by the punchy and articulate Primare I35 on review at the time (read it here http://www.avsa.co.za/primare-i35-capturing-musics-heart-and-soul/ ), which had plenty of oomph and control. A Lumin D1 network streamer operated as primary music source, drawing from a NAS-based music library.


In overall terms, the big KEF Q950s sounded generous and accessible, with an ear-friendly approach that was spatially magnanimous, and rich in tonal spread.

They were well up to the challenge of reproducing the kind of low frequencies that will rattle window frames, while the midrange was full and creamy. Trebles were clean and clear enough to reveal plenty of detail.

As a result, there was a physicality and a presence to their performance that made the music come alive. Bass guitars were rendered with percussive timbre and stature, while piano passages exuded a pleasing warmth and tone.

But make no mistake: there was nothing languid or mellow about the Q950s – they delivered their musical wares with plenty of energy and enthusiasm, adding to the thrill and engagement of the listening experience.

Large floorstanders often struggle a little in the transparency department, but to their credit, the Q950s were able to disguise their role as point sources well, while projecting a generous and inviting soundstage.

Not surprisingly, they were able to do full justice to large-scale performances, spreading the sound deep and wide and affording the music plenty of air and space.

For all their tonal richness and powerful bottom-end delivery, the KEFs managed a clarity and a sense of purpose that allowed them to reveal ample detail. The slide of fingers on a fret board, the percussive pluck of a plectrum on steel strings, the snap of drum stick on snare – the Q950s faithfully reproduced them all.

On ‘Give Me Strength’, off Eric Clapton’s seminal 461 Ocean Boulevard (DSD64) the bass was almost tactile in its depth and intensity, but without becoming overbearing, providing a powerful backdrop for the finely filigreed Hammond organ and the lazy interplay between pace and snare drums.

Clapton’s voice and lyrical guitar are in a subtle, soulful dialogue, while the rhythm guitar is almost inaudibly subtle on the right – but the KEFs held it all together with confident composure, doing full justice to the entire arrangement.

That ability to express the thrust and essence of the music without losing sight of the finer elements was demonstrated with equal vigour on Boz Scaggs’ latest set, Out Of The Blues (96/24 FLAC).

Scaggs’ honeyed, blues-tinged vocals deservedly take centre stage on ‘I’ve Just Got To Forget You’, but there’s a lot more to enjoy on a crowded stage that includes a lively horn section, splashy percussion, a sassy sax and deep, driving bass lines.

Again the Q950s were able to peel back the layers of sound, recreating a satisfying sense of space and dimension while ensuring that the less apparent contributions (piano and organ, for instance) were afforded their rightful place on the soundstage.

While it would be easy to typecast the KEFs as best suited to rousing rock or uptempo big band jazz, the Q950s deserve to be credited with a broader spread of talents. Chitose Okahiro’s transcripted, solo piano rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony No. 6 was rendered with due respect to the explosive dynamics and shimmering virtuosity of the pianist.

The KEFs managed to do true justice to the full spectrum of the Okahiro’s splendid performance: from the most tender of diminuendos to the most rousing of crescendos. The piano was afforded stature and authority, but the KEFs also laid bare its gripping expression of pathos and emotion.


Gunter Wand and the NDR Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op.60 may be a little too measured for some tastes, but Wand’s direction allows ample expression of emotive content, while the recording effectively captures the majesty and momentum of the orchestra.

The Q950s had no trouble reproducing the lower registers, ensuring a solid sonic foundation to the delivery, while the imaging was accurate enough to precisely place the various sections – strings, horns, cellos, woodwinds, double basses, percussion – on the expansive soundstage.

The Q950s balanced power and momentum with ample finesse, allowing both the broad swathes of sound and the finer nuances to be treated with equal deference and precision.


The new Q-Series puts a self-proclaimed emphasis on enhanced clarity and imaging, and the Q950s vindicate that mission statement in practice.

While they deliver a generous, boisterous sound that easily fills rooms and does full justice to large-scale recordings, their real talent likes in their ability to link that sonic generosity to insight, dimensionality and detail.

They deserve decent power to show their full potential, and their inherent lucidity also means that they’ll make the most of good sources. But most of all, these are enthralling and entertaining towers that represent good value for money, too.


Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, ABR
Drive units:
– 200 mm aluminium-cone UniQ with 38 mm vented-dome tweeter
– 200 mm hybrid aluminium-cone woofer
– 2x 200 mm aluminium auxiliary bass radiator
Bi-wiring: No
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 3,2 ohms minimum
Sensitivity: 91 dB (2,83V/1 m)
Frequency response: 44 Hz – 28 kHz (±3 dB)
Power requirements: (15 – 200 watts)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 116 x 357 x 328 mm
Weight: 20,6 kg
R27 770
Sky Audio

Lumin D1 network player
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD deck
Bryston BDA-3 D/A converter
Primare I35 integrated amplifier
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers
Synology 214se NAS
XLO Reference and TelluriumQ cabling

Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard (Polydor/Universal DSD64)
Bozz Scaggs – Out Of The Blues (Concord 96/24 FLAC)
Chitose Okahiro – Transcription: Tchaikovsky ‘Pathetique’ Symphony No. 6 (ProPiano 44/16 WAV)
Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op.60 – Gunter Wand, NDR Symphony Orchestra (RCA SACD)

In the first of a regular series of reviews featuring pre-owned classic and vintage audio equipment, we take a close listen to the Linn Kan II bookshelf speaker – and are reminded what all the fuss was about 30 years-plus ago


The list of iconic British bookshelf speakers is a long one – too long to comprehensively  itemise here. But some of the best known designs include the legendary LS3/5a built by the likes of Rogers and Spendor, the Epos ES11, the ProAc Tablet – and, of course, the Linn Kan.

The Kan is a small, two-way bookshelf speaker that actually lives up to that description in that it is meant to be positioned on a shelf, or stands, close to a wall. That said, it’s arguably happiest (and sounds best) when located on a set of rigid, spiked stands: Linn actually offered bespoke stands for the Kan.


The Kan was first released in 1979, and underwent a number of running changes and improvements during its model cycle. These included upgraded crossover components, and up-specced drivers.

The Kans were finally replaced by the Kan II in 1991. While cosmetically very similar, the most noticeable difference was the provision for bi-wiring via two sets of recessed binding posts. These were linked to a completely reworked crossover designed to provide a more linear response, with less midrange emphasis.

The drivers remained the same as before, but were now sealed to the baffle using rubber gaskets rather than silicon, while a Kustone block was glued to the inside of the rear panel in order to improve bass definition.

The Linn Kan has always divided opinion. The voicing of the originals was considered too coloured by its detractors, and some believe they were optimised for use with Naim electronics. The Kan II was meant to be more tonally balanced, with improved bass response, and it too has its friends and foes.

Either way, these are speakers that are either vehemently detested or ardently adored, depending on who you speak to.


The review pair are Linn Kan IIs, and retain their original enclosures and grilles, which show some scuff marks and mild scratches, but are generally in excellent condition. If anything, the signs of wear add to their vintage charm.

The speakers were thoroughly checked and electrically restored by the team at HFX Systems, but the specifications and drivers remain original.

The 19 mm soft dome tweeter is flush-mounted, and partnered by a 110 mm polypropylene-coned KEF B110 mid/bass driver. As mentioned, the drivers are sealed using rubber gaskets, ensuring an airtight infinite baffle enclosure.

The sealed, portless design ensures that the Kan II is suitable for locating close to walls while also benefiting low-frequency response.

At 86 dB, the Kans aren’t the most efficient speakers and ideally need a fair bit of amplifier wallop behind them to give their best. And because of their inherently revealing and even slightly critical nature, they also deserve a decent source signal.


I installed the Linns on tallish spiked stands and hooked them up to our Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amp. A Lumin D1 network streamer and a Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD player took turns to deliver the musical fare.

The original plan was to place them close to the rear wall of the listening room as recommended, but trial and error showed that, for my ears, the best results were obtained in a more freestanding position, well away from corners and walls. More about this later.

As I wasn’t sure how long it had been since the speakers had been used, I allowed them to run for a good 24 hours before settling in for the first of several listening sessions.


The last time I heard Linn Kans must have been a good 30 years ago, when Soundlab was still the appointed importers, and was operating from an always stylish shop in Braamfontein.

I remember them sounding unexpectedly generous for such a small speaker, and almost ethereally lucid, with a talent for transparency that permanently converted me into a fan of quality stand-mount speakers.

It turns out my memory served me well (at least this time): in our listening room, the Kans delivered a sound that was crisply and clearly defined, with a full harvest of detail. They created a wide and seamless soundstage that defied both the boundaries of the listening room and their own physical presence.

Indeed, as all classy bookshelf speakers should, they disappeared completely, displaying a real talent for transparency and remaining completely unobtrusive. That it was hard to equate what I was hearing to the ultra-compact boxes perched on their stands only added to the illusion of the music emanating from elsewhere.

I expected the Kans to be on the lean side tonally, especially since I defied the recommended close-to-the-wall placement, opting for a free-standing position instead. But while they won’t rattle doors, the little Linns certainly sounded more wholesome than expected.

The upper bass was taut and fast, adding useful punch and authority to the delivery, while the midrange was poised and finely rendered, allowing the speakers to capture and project the essence and the substance of the music to engrossing effect.

High frequencies were delivered with a sense of clarity and air that allowed even the subtlest sliver of musical information to shine through, while also ensuring full and unrestricted access to the music.

I enjoyed the space, the pace and the seamlessness of the Kans’ delivery, which made for thrilling and engaging listening. What they lacked in bass slam and low-end authority, they made up for with their wide-open, generously dimensioned sound, their energy, and their flawless transparency.

Those attributes were put to particular good use on Loreena McKennit’s recently released Lost Souls. On ‘Spanish Guitars And Night Plazas’ the singer’s vocals were allowed to freely soar above and across a richly hued tapestry of acoustic guitars, strings and mesmerising percussion.

The Kans easily captured the music’s vast sonic landscapes while paying close attention to its nuances and subtleties, allowing them to capture the full impact and emotive content of the finely recorded performance.

While the Linns struggled to replicate the sheer grandeur and impact of the London Symphony Orchestra backing pianist Maria Joao Pires’ reading of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 under the baton of Bernard Haitink, they managed to express the scale of the recording, while closely examining the timbre and tempo of the piano.

Again, it was the clarity and expanse of the sound picture that allowed an unencumbered view of the performance’s every facet, while the transparency of the speakers allowed absolute focus on the music itself.

When I moved the Kans close to the rear wall as recommended, there was certainly a boost in lower-end response. The music gained foundation and stature, too. But on the downside some of the presentation’s lucidity was lost in the process, while tonal progression seemed less linear, too.

Of course, speaker positioning remains a matter of personal preference, and is also influenced by the acoustic properties of the listening room, but I’d rather forsake the extra LF presence in favour of the transparency, clarity and honesty that makes the Linn Kans special.


The Linn Kans were always at the more expensive side of the price spectrum in their class, and in the South African context, they are no longer often offered for sale. Also, because they’ve been out of production for so long (probably around 30 years now) finding a used pair in good condition isn’t becoming any easier.

As a result, you can expect to pay at least R5k and probably more for a decent pair with traceable provenance. System matching is also important: the Kans may well be considered too honest for some, and will tend to expose flaws with unerring truthfulness.

However, those looking for a well-built classic speaker that prioritises transparency, expansive staging, pin-point imaging and real pace over bottom-end authority, should put the Linn Kan – and especially the Kan II – on their shortlist.

Deon Schoeman


Enclosure type: Sealed, infinite baffle
Drive units:
– 19 mm soft-dome tweeter
– 110 mm polypropylene cone mid/bass
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 6,8 ohms (minimum)
Sensitivity: 86 dB (1 watt/1 metre)
Frequency response: 70 Hz – 20 kHz (±3 dB)
Crossover point: 2,7 kHz
Power handling: 50 watts RMS
Dimensions (HxWxD): 303 x 188 x 164 mm
Weight: 5 kg each
HFX Systems

Lumin D1 network player
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD player
Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amp
KEF LS50 speakers
Synology DS214se NAS

Loreena McKennit – Lost Souls (Universal 44/16 FLAC)
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.2 – Maria Joao Pires – Haitink/LSO (LSO 96/24 FLAC)
Luke Winslow – Blue Mesa (Bloodshot 44/16 FLAC)

You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a pair of electrostatic loudspeakers. Much more unusual than their dynamic rivals, they can breathe life and soul into the music, albeit with some compromises. The Martin Logan Classic ESL 9 loudspeakers attempt to offer the best of both worlds

By Deon Schoeman

Electrostatic speakers tend to polarise opinion. They have a reputation for seamless, three-dimensional imaging and an airy, wide-open soundstage that is as accessible as it is musically appealing.

However, many electrostatic speakers are considered limited in tonal scope – and more specifically, lacking in bottom-end capability. They can also be notoriously challenging to drive.

Their much-maligned lack of bass has led some to accuse electrostatics of being limited in musical scope: great with female vocals and acoustic ensembles, for instance, but ultimately disappointing when it comes to large-scale orchestral works, or good old rock ’n roll.

As always, one should beware of sweeping statements. So much depends on factors such as room acoustics, speaker placement and amplification choice, that such shortcomings can only be judged in real-world installations.

But yes, the lack of good old bottom-end wallop is a well documented shortcoming of many pure electrostatics.

One obvious way to address the shortfall in bass is to add a subwoofer, with the only caveat being the need to ensure the seamless transition between sub and the electrostatic transducer – a feat that’s by no means as simple to achieve as it sounds.

The path Martin Logan has typically chosen for its electrostatics is a more accurately termed a hybrid one. Thus, the electrostatic transducer’s tonal focus starts in the lower midrange region, while conventional bass drivers look after the bass and sub-bass.


The Classic ESL 9 is the most compact member of Martin Logan’s Masterpiece Series, which is headed up by the majestic and imposing Neolith. But compact by no means suggests small – it’s still very much a Martin Logan electrostatic in shape and execution.

It retains the statuesque shape that has made Martin Logan electrostatics among the hi-fi world’s most recognisable loudspeakers. A tall and slim, curved and semi-transparent transducer visually dominates, integrally supported by a woofer enclosure at the base of the panel.

The fact that the transducers are semi-transparent, and that the bass enclosure extends rearwards, makes the Classic ELS 9 less imposing than one would expect of a speaker standing 1,5 m tall. And yes, it’s elegant and distinctive in a contemporary, minimalist kind of way.

The electrostatic transducer uses a precision-perforated steel panel coated with a special polymer, and hosts a vacuum-bonded membrane just 0,013 mm thick. It’s mounted to the bass enclosure via a rigid frame that prevents vibration while ensuring perfect alignment with the bass enclosure.

That enclosure is described as an asymmetrical chamber design, and features a rear-firing slot port. It’s home to a pair of high-excursion 200 mm aluminium cone woofers – one at the front and the other at the rear of the enclosure in a push-pull configuration.

The rear panel offers impressively engineered twin binding post pairs to allow for bi-wiring, and there’s a dedicated port for the compact, wall wart-type power supply. The Classic ESL 9s are offered in variety of real-wood veneers, as well as gloss piano lacquer black.

A meticulously executed crossover network employing custom-wound transformers, air-core coils and polyester capacitors provides a crossover point of 380 Hz. System frequency response is a claimed 34 Hz – 23 kHz (±3 dB).

Although the ESL 9 has an easy-to-drive sensitivity of 90 dB, it can be a challenging speaker because of its low impedance: nominal impedance is 4 ohms, but that can drop to as low as 0,8 ohms, so these are best powered by some decent amplification with ample headroom if they’re to deliver their best.


At just under 40 kg, the Martin Logans aren’t impossible to manage once they’ve been unpacked. They were easily incorporated in our 6 x 4 metre listening room, positioned in a free-standing configuration away from side and rear walls.

After some experimentation, they ended up about one-third into the room and slightly toed in towards the listening position. This seemed to offer the best compromise between soundstage dimensionality and transparency.

Our regular Parasound Halo A21 power amp was well up to the task of driving the ESL 9s, while the rest of the system comprised a Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp, and a Lumin D1/L1 network player.


If you’ve ever heard a pair of electrostatics, you’ll know that they have a beguiling sound that easily seduces, and soon becomes addictive. That’s also true of the Classic ESL 9s.

There is something about the way the sound picture is utterly divorced from the devices producing it that is almost magical: the music commands a space and presence of its own, creating an almost palpable sense of dimensionality.

That presence allows an instant and enthralling rapport between music and listener in a way that is much harder for conventional, dynamic driver-based speaker designs to achieve.

You always seem to be focusing on the music, rather than the way it is being delivered, because that delivery is so effortless, so un-electronic. You hear actual guitars, violins and vocals – not an audio system reproducing them.

In the case of the Classic ESL 9s, that sense of authenticity isn’t limited by any tonal compromises: in addition to ethereal trebles and rich, tactile midrange hues, the MLs bring real bottom-end impetus to the musical party.

It’s a refined, tidily integrated and tautly delivered bass that adds vital substance and foundation to the music. I still wouldn’t describe the ESL 9 as a raucous rock ’n roller, and its emphasis is more on balanced, polished and insightful sonics than on get-down-and-boogie excitement. But it’s certainly not scared to tackle some vintage Led Zeppelin, or high-impact Daft Punk.

Andrew Bird’s often mesmerising vocals on My Finest Work Yet dominate an unexpectedly accessible and multi-faceted set, with strong melodies and a clean production adding further appeal.

On ‘Bellevue Bridge Club’ the backing band is unexpectedly rumbustious, with the drum kit particularly punchy and prominent, yet allowing enough scope and space for a soulful piano, exuberant strings, delicate guitar riffs and a faithful bass on the busy, intimately rendered soundstage.

It’s to the credit of the ESL 9s that they allowed an unwavering and inviting view of the performance. They were utterly transparent, with their physical presence seemingly irrelevant with regards to the actual projection and dimensionality of the sound picture.

Imaging was keenly focussed, and the soundstage holographically presented, but not beyond the scope of what’s been captured by the recording: the MLs exuded a powerful sense of realism and never exaggerated for the sake of effect.

As a result, there was an inherent truthfulness and authenticity to the music that made for compelling, addictive listening.

The double bass rarely stars in classical concertos, and Ödön Rácz still has to share the stage with János Balázs’ effervescent violin in the charming dual concerto by Giovanni Bottesini that opens My Double Bass. But if anything, the violin’s presence also serves to highlight the considerable charms of the corpulent bass instrument.

Again, the ESL 9s allowed unencumbered access to the performance, recreating a clearly delineated soundstage on which the exact physical position of the solo instruments and their accompanying ensemble was vividly portrayed.

The instruments themselves were presented with almost startling realism: the lyrical sheen of the violin was beautifully juxtaposed against the muscular, sonorous – and no less agile – double bass.

The MLs were able to make the most of the interplay between these two instruments, expressing the double bass with loads of authority, while allowing the violin to soar across the layered, finely rendered music picture.

The Classic ESL 9s always had the pace and the resolution to showcase the technical mastery of the two soloists, while also doing full justice to the artistic and emotive mastery of the performance.

On Vance Joy Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Australian indie folk exponent’s almost breathless excitement, the ambience of the venue and the reaction of the audience all contribute to the kind of electricity and immediacy that is typical of good live recordings.

The Martin Logans revelled in the challenge, propelling the listener right into the heart of the musical action.

Listening to ‘Like Gold’, the performance had the edge and glisten of the real thing. From the attack of the acoustic guitar and the depth and impact of the bass to the slam of the bass drum and the articulate, artful percussion, the electrostatics, the panels sounded viscerally real.

The result was a pervasive sense of realism that transcended the usual hi-fi listening experience. The music sounded so present and so true that it became easy to imagine actually being part of the audience.

The sometimes esoteric, yet always intriguing fusion of jazz and rock that is Snarky Puppy presents a system with some very real challenges.

On ‘Xavi’, off the band’s latest release, Immigrance, driving bass lines and mesmerising drumwork underpin majestic shafts of brass, aggressive electric guitars and a guttural electric violin in a complex melange of tone, melody and rhythm.

The Classic ESL 9s allowed every aspect of the full, complex arrangement to be exposed and appreciated. They never lost their composure, and retained a transparency and accessibility that encouraged full enjoyment of the music


As I said at the beginning of this review, there is something special, even magical about electrostatics in general – and that’s also true of these Martin Logans.

Specifically, the Classic ESL 9s have a way of making the most of the music on offer, delivering their audio wares with a wide-open realism that makes for riveting listening. They do so without ever losing sight of the essence of the performance, so that the results are both sonically and musically satisfying.

To their credit, the tonal range is broad and seamlessly presented, with no disconnect between the electrostatic transducer’s luscious midrange and clear treble and the punchy, incisive bass of the dual woofers.

Add that holographic imaging, assisted by the almost complete transparency of the Martin Logans, and the result is spellbinding in every sense of the word.

System type: Electrostatic transducer with integrated bass module
Drive units:
– 1 120 x 230 mm XStat CLS transducer
– Dual 200 mm aluminium cone woofers
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal, 0,8 ohms minimum at 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 90 dB (2,83V/metre)
Frequency response: 34 Hz – 23 kHz (±3 dB)
Recommended amplification: 50 – 400 watts (4 ohms)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 520 x 264 x 646 mm
Weight: 34,5 kg each
R116 800
Audio Specialists

Lumin D1/L1 network playback system
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp

Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet (Lorna Vista/Virgin EMI)
Ödön Rácz – My Double Bass (DG)
Vance Joy – Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Atlantic)
Snarky Puppy – Immigrance (Ground Up Records)

Paradigm’s latest Premier range draws from the advanced technology applied to the Canadian marque’s high-end Persona line-up, even though it’s a few rungs lower on the seniority ladder. Now wonder then that the flagship Premier 800F is a sonically splendid speaker that punches well above its weight

By Deon Schoeman

Paradigm’s Premier Series speakers don’t have quite the high-end status of the flagship Personas, given that they fit in above the entry-level Monitor SE line-up, but below the Prestige series.

However, the Premiers do share some of the flagship range’s characteristics. For instance, the enclosures are not as radically curved, but they are tapered and feature rounded top panels in the interests of combating standing waves.

The Premiers also benefit from Paradigm’s most recent driver and crossover technologies, including X-PAL dome tweeters, perforated phase-aligning lenses for tweeters and mids, and ART-surround woofers. More about these a little later.

The Premier line-up comprises two floorstanders, two standmount models and two centre channel speakers. The 800F under scrutiny here is the top model in the range, and also the largest.

There’s also a slightly more modest 700F, still with four drivers in a three-way configuration, while both Premier standmount speakers – the B200 and B100 – are two-way designs in the classic bookshelf tradition.


Standing just a touch over a metre tall, the 800F is a tall, slim tower speaker that manages to look less imposing and more elegant than its dimensions suggest. It rests on subtle outriders that can be fitted with floor-saving, rounded plastic feet or coupling spikes.

The front baffle is home to four drive units – arranged longitudinally from the tweeter to then dual woofers. The review pair was finished in gloss black, but white and woodgrain veneer are also on offer.

The 800Fs are supplied with thin, magnetically located cloth grilles that are said to be acoustically transparent, but also serve as protection from prying fingers. Frankly, the speakers look pretty good without those grilles, too – in our all-black pair, the drivers were also finished in black, creating a pleasingly homogenous effect.

As mentioned, the 800Fs feature a tapered enclosure – not rounded as in the Personas, but a more geometric design that sees the rear half of the enclosure tapering towards the rear panel. The top surfaces are rounded, and finished in a matt composite.

A smoothly flared bass-reflex port exits about halfway up on the rear panel, while the binding post terminal at the base of the offers a dual set of gold-plated posts to allow for bi-wiring. They include gold-plated jumpers.


There’s more to those enclosures than handsome aesthetics, however. What do you don’t see is the extensive bracing, and the 19 mm thick MDF panels that makes up the cabinet. At 25 mm, the front baffle is even thicker, offering a reassuringly solid mounting platform for the drivers.

The driver complement kicks off with a 25 mm X-PAL aluminium dome tweeter, equipped with what Paradigm calls a perforated phase-aligning (PPA) lens. At face value, this looks like a carefully patterned protective grille, but there’s a lot more to the design.

Without getting too technical, the theory behind the lens acknowledges that sound radiated from different parts of the tweeter’s dome will reach the listener in a different phase. The lens is meant to smooth out the on-axis and off-axis response by blocking out sound elements that are out of phase.

The same principle is applied to the carbon-infused polypropylene midrange driver, which gets a commensurately larger phase aligning lens. As mentioned, the lenses also serve as useful protection of the actual diaphragms – and look handsome and distinctive, too.

The twin woofers are identical, and feature 165 mm carbon-infused cones, but accompanied here by what Paradigm refers to as active ridge technology (ART) surrounds. The injection-moulded surrounds feature a clever serrated design that allows greater excursion, leading to a 3dB gain in output, while reducing distortion by 50 percent.

The crossover is a second-order, electro-acoustic design with crossover points at 700 Hz and 2,5 kHz. In-room sensitivity is a claimed 92 dB, which together with a nominal 8 ohm impedance suggests a benign load.

The claimed on-axis frequency response of 50 Hz – 22 kHz seems a little pessimistic, however: in real-world conditions, the floorstanders always seem to reach down much lower than those figures intimate.


For this review, the Premier 800Fs were hooked up to our usual Parasound Halo A21 reference power amp, controlled by a Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp. Source signals were served up by a Lumin D1 network player, and a Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD deck, the latter in combination with a Bryston BDA-3 D/A converter.

I also used the excellent (and rare!) Revolve/Graham Pantom II/Van Den Hul Colibri record deck currently on review, in combination with a Valve Audio Whisper phono stage.

The speakers were set up in a typically freestanding position, about 70 cm from the side walls and well over a metre from the rear wall, and toed in slightly towards the listening position. I used coupling spikes as opposed to the rubber feet.

Later, the 800Fs were also used in a home theatre role, performing main front channel duties in conjunction with a monster Prestige 600C centre channel speaker submitted at the same time. However that review will appear separately at a later date.


The Premier 800Fs certainly show their class and talent in a stereo role. Instantly noticeable is how transparent these speakers are, which is no mean feat for a large, multidriver floorstander.

Their ability to deliver a finely focussed, precisely formed sonic image, while spreading that image over a vast and generous soundstage, conspires to create an immersive, intense sound that inexorably draws the listener into the very essence of the music.

That talent for wide-open staging is accompanied by a tonal signature that’s wholesome and powerful, with loads of bottom end slam, and a perfectly saturated midrange that endows the music with body and presence.

That said, it’s not a sound that exaggerates nor overwhelms. The high-frequency treatment places the emphasis on clarity, allowing the speakers to harvest and showcase a satisfying level of detail.

I also enjoyed the taut precision of these speakers. For all their low-frequency potential, they never allowed those low bass notes to sound woolly or lethargic. Admittedly, decent amplification is central to that capability, but it also speaks for the speaker’s inherent poise and precision.

As a result, the 800Fs were able to paint a full-scale, thoroughly believable sound picture that afforded the music comprehensive scope to come into its own, regardless of genre. From rock quartets to chamber music ensembles, from dreamy psych-pop to bad-ass blues, the Paradigms always made the most of the music.

The deceptively simple arrangement of ‘Poison In Your Cup’ from KT Tunstall’s latest release, WAX, showcases the singer’s husky-edged vocals against a soulful bass, easy acoustic guitar and laid-back percussion.

The Premiers allowed Tunstall’s voice to jump into the room with an intensity that was almost three-dimensional. The speakers captured every inflection of those vocals, while accurately reflecting the intimate arrangement, and allowing even the subtlest details – the metallic zing of the guitar strings, the dull but muscular thump of the kick drum, the brushed snare – to be captured convincingly.

Jazz guitar legend John Scofield’s casual, almost off-hand style is easy to misinterpret as simplistic, but on closer scrutiny, it is the combination of thoughtful phrasing, surprising harmonics and technical savvy that makes the music so satisfying to listen to.

On ‘Uncle Southern’ (from Combo 66), his electric guitar takes centre stage, but is ably supported by the multifaceted Hammond B3 organ of Gerald Clayton, Vincente Archer’s articulate double bass, and some equally inventive drumming by Bill Stewart.

Again, I enjoyed the way the Premiers managed to create just the right sense of realism, reflecting an intimate but lively acoustic space in which the music was allowed full dynamic scope. It became easy to listen to the music without any sense of the electronics delivering them, and to imagine the actual presence of the performers in the listening room.

Long-time Journey frontman Steve Perry’s comeback release, Traces, offers a more multidimensional offering than expected, ranging from fairly straightforward arena rock to more heartfelt, melodic material. Perry’s voice is the real star here, though, showing off a level of emotion and maturity which wasn’t always as obvious in the Journey context.

Thus, on ‘In The Rain’, Perry’s vocal range is showcased more honestly than usual, initially offset against a simple piano, but that soon swells and grows into a larger-scale sonic backdrop of strings, bass and backing vocals.

The Premiers easily reflected the scale and scope of the performance, providing loads of space for Perry’s vocals, and the burgeoning arrangement, while always retaining their composure.

The Premiers relished the challenge of interpreting the testing dynamics and Bruno Walter’s emotive reading of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ No. 8. They provided both the scale and the impetus to allow the grand sweep of the music to be as much heard as experienced.

The speakers were able to accurately track the often extreme dynamic swings of the performance, while their generous staging provided a believably three-dimensional canvas for the performance.

I enjoyed their penchant for fine detail and nuance, which added to the overall sense of realism, yet never sounded exaggerated. In fact, there was a real sense of musical credibility to their performance that allowed the music to come alive.


There’s a lot to like about the Paradigm 800F floorstanders. First and foremost, they sound musically authentic, with a large, generous and inviting sound that does everything from classic symphonies to hard rockers full justice.

But there’s also ample attention to detail, and plenty of insight, ensuring that the Paradigms are able to get under the skin of the music, and to extract more than just mere notes and rhythms.

Add superb composure, and a tonal range broad enough to make those low notes come alive and upper trebles to glisten with truthfulness, and you have a musically talented, wholly entertaining speaker that can stand its ground against rivals costing a lot more.

Enclosure type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm X-PAL dome tweeter
– 1x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene cone midrange
– 2x 165 mm ART-surround carbon-infused polypropylene cone woofers
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 92 dB in-room
Frequency response: 50 Hz – 22 kHz (on axis, ±2 dB)
Amplifier power range: 15 – 250 watts
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 053 x 230 x 350 mm
Weight: 24,2 kg
R33 295
Audio Specialists

Lumin D1 network player
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player
Bryston BDA-3 DAC
Revolve/Graham Phantom II/VdHul Colibri record deck
Valve Audio Whisper phono stage
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF R500 loudspeakers

KT Tunstall – WAX (Rostrum 96/24 FLAC)
John Scofield – Combo 66 – (Verve 96/24 MQA via Tidal)
Steve Perry – Traces (Fantasy Records 48/24 FLAC MQA via Tidal)
Schubert – Unfinished Symphony No.8  – Bruno Walter/New York Philharmonic (Columbia DSD)

Easily underrated, centre channel speakers are vital to the home cinema experience. Paradigm’s affordable Monitor SE 2000C delivers the goods, at a very keen price


Centre channel loudspeakers are arguably the unsung heroes of any surround sound speaker system, because they’re responsible for a big slice of the soundtrack pie.

Projecting dialogue effectively and convincingly is a key role of the centre speaker, but its ability to blend in with the front left and right channels to create a seamless front stage is equally important.

The latter requirement makes it almost imperative that the centre channel speaker is carefully matched to front left and right speakers: they should share the same midrange and high-frequency drivers, and feature identical voicing to ensure smooth tonal integration.


The 2000C is the sole centre channel offering in Paradigm’s latest Monitor SE loudspeaker range. We recently reviewed the new entry-level line-up’s 6000F floorstanders (see review here http://www.avsa.co.za/paradigm-monitor-se-6000f-big-bang-for-the-buck/), but local importer Audio Specialists also included a 2000C for assessment.
The 2000C is a compact centre channel speaker, designed to match the other members of the new Monitor SE range in aesthetic and performance terms. Vitally, it promises identical voicing, thanks to the use of the same tweeter and dual midrange array.


Like the rest of the Monitor SE range, the 2000C can be ordered in smart matt black or gloss white veneer, with a clip-on black cloth grille. Behind that grille, you’ll find a trio of drivers: a 25 mm PAL-X tweeter, flanked by a 140 mm mid/bass driver on either side.

The aluminium dome tweeter uses Paradigm’s proprietary Perforated Phase-Aligning lens – a clever phase plug that gets rid of out-of-phase frequencies to deliver a smoother response without any roll-off or tonal colouring.
The mid/bass drivers feature light and stiff mineral-filled polypropylene cones, inverted dust caps and downroll surrounds.

The rear panel sees a binding post panel with a single pair of gold-plated binding posts, and two reflex ports. The fit and finish of the 2000C is good for such a well-priced speaker, with no tactile sense of this being a budget offering.


As mentioned, the 2000C was partnered by the same range’s tall, slim 6000F floorstanders reviewed to form what should potentially be a sonically uniform LCR front speaker array.

They were driven by our regular Marantz SR6011 AV receiver, with Atlantic Technology surrounds and surround backs delivering the remaining channels. A single Atlantic Technology active sub provided the low frequencies.

Like the 6000Fs, I allowed for about 50 hours of running-in time before recalibrating the Marantz’s channel levels and settling in for some concerted listening.


Not surprisingly, the 2000C proved to be a perfect partner for the 6000Fs, providing a smoothly matched, evenly rendered front stage with plenty of substance, pace and punch.

I’m a sucker for James Bond movies, and the car chase that opens Quantum Of Solace is a good test of surround sound impact, steering and staging.

The sound was delivered with plenty of substance and bravado, allowing the revving car engines to sound real and forceful, while the gunfire was both directionally believable and percussively realistic. The cars crashing into barriers and buildings sounded forceful enough to make me flinch.

That said the 2000C wasn’t just about delivering effects with powerful realism. It shone when projecting dialogue, lending timbre and presence to voices and easily projecting its sonic wares above the special effects.

Both the inherent speed and full tonality of the speaker stood it in good stead, allowing for voices to sound natural and persuasive, while still doing full justice to the ambience of the overall soundtrack.

This was particularly well illustrated by the juxtaposition of the traditional Sienna town square horse race, and the subterranean action happening directly below it, until Bond and his quarry emerge into the town itself.

Out on the square, the sound of the crowds and the thundering hooves of the race horses was portrayed on an expansive, panoramic soundstage, while the almost claustrophobic, tense ambience of the dungeon below was portrayed with chilling intensity.

Later, in Haiti, that ability to cope with both close-miked dialogue and fast-paced action sequences was again ably demonstrated by the boatyard scene. Here, Bond commandeers a fishing boat and then rescues his unwilling heroine while fending off the close attentions of a flotilla of rubber ducks.

Again, it was the ability of the 2000C to maintain an unwavering sonic focus, and to provide the sonic anchor to the overall soundtrack action that impressed most.

The 2000C can do more than fast and furious, though. It wasn’t in the least intimidated by the large-scale staging and sheer complexity of Hans Zimmer’s Live In Prague performance.

Here, it combined with the rest of the speaker array to weave a dense, colourful and utterly engaging sound picture that managed to convey the scale, electricity and splendour of the performance to compelling effect.

The 2000C showed its sonic class by capturing the timbre and presence of the instruments, while projecting both the broad swathes of sound and the fine slivers of detail. Equally vital to the overall sense of realism was the seamless bond between centre and front channels, ensuring a wide and atmospheric front stage that was able to do justice to the full weight and impact of the performance.


The Paradigm Monitor SE 2000C is a fine centre channel speaker that finds a good balance between physical size and sonic presence.

But it really needs to be considered in the broader context of a surround system, where partnering it with the 6000Fs or even their slightly smaller brethren will guarantee a consistency of voice and tonal character that is at the core of its appeal.

Adding Paradigm Surround 3s or even Monitor SE bookshelves for the surround and back channels should make for a cohesive, immersive and enjoyable multichannel performance – without breaking the bank.

Deon Schoeman


Enclosure type: Centre channel, bass reflex
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm perforated, phase-aligning tweeter
– 2x 140 mm mineral-filled polypropylene cone mid/bass drivers
Bi-wiring: No
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 93 dB (in-room)
Frequency response: 64 Hz – 21 kHz (± 3 dB)
Power handling: 50 watts max
Dimensions (HxWxD): 183 x 1975 x 280 mm
Weight: 8,6 kg
R3 020
Audio Specialists

Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F floorstanding speakers
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround sound speakers
Optoma HD80 projector

Quantum of Solace (Blu-ray)
Interstellar (Blu-ray)
Hans Zimmer – Live In Prague (Blu-ray)
The Dark Knight (Blu-ray)