No, that's not my beautiful house in the picture above, with its colour coordinated pillows, strategically scattered magazines, and perfectly misplaced popcorn, but with the low profile KEF T205 Surround Sound Speaker System in place it sure sounds like it.
The KEF lifestyle photograph taken inside my modest apartment would feature scattered shipping boxes, various implements of child amusement, the odd fast food bag, and 100 per cent more lazy cat, all coated with a thin layer of Swiffer-resistant dust. Mine is not a home one takes product shots in; on particularly bad days one might consider shooting the resident to put him out of his misery.
But clear yourself off a spot on the Big Lots clearance couch, grab the Xbox 360 controller, crank up the volume on the (oddly new-ish) audio receiver for some Gears of War 3 with the KEFs connected and you'll find yourself transported to a much happier place, where the popped corn falls gracefully to the table top and nothing remotely smells of animal urine.
It's amazing the difference a $US1800 surround sound speaker system makes.
My apartment might not be sort of place you'd expect to find an expensive surround sound speaker system, but it really is the perfect location for KEF's ridiculously thin T-series speakers. Here, amidst the collector's edition boxes, shelves filled with paperbacks, DVDs, Blu-rays, HD DVDs, and action figures; here where the stacks of things are arraigned in even bigger stacks, a set of 35m deep speakers is a godsend. Mount them on the wall and the sleek and simple design could almost pass for art. Set them on their small included stands and you can hide more clutter behind them. KEF even makes a set of Selecta-mount floor stands that automatically adjust the crossover, because speakers sound different standalone than they do up against the wall.
How did it get so thin? The key to the T-series' flatness is KEF's low profile driver technology. The company has created a new type of twin-layered diaphragm (the bit that vibrates to make sound) that's fully-functional at as little as five millimeters deep. Coupled with concentric suspension to a compact neodymium magnet assembly, you've got a drive unit that's more shallow than Jersey Shore's Snooki, and nearly as loud.
After much staring at my wall with power screwdriver in hand, I opted to use the included short stands for my frontal installation, with Selecta-mount stands for the satellites. Connecting the speaker wires was slightly more complicated than I'm used to (I'm a spring guy), involving a pair of small holes in the back of each unit and allen wrench to turn screws and lock the wires down, but the end result is a wired connection that won't tear out if a clumsy oaf of a reviewer trips over them four or five times a day.
The only complication arose when I went to install the subwoofer. The T-2 subwoofer is a powered affair bereft of standard speaker connections. Instead it uses an RCA-style plug, which my poor Best Buy special combo DVD surround sound receiver would not accept. So I spent $US200 on a Pioneer VSX-520-K 5.1 surround sound receiver, just so I could review and then return this set of speakers. Considering I'll have to replace the KEF T205 system with something compatible after they go back to the manufacturer, this has been one expensive trial period.
But so completely worth it.
I didn't expect sound this rich and detailed to come from speakers this thin. I grew up in a time when the bigger and deeper the speaker, the better they sounded, or so it seemed. It was a time when speakers bigger than your person were a status symbol. Entire walls were dedicated to vibrating cones of sound. And it was only one wall, because surround sound was listening to Jimi Hendrix flip from left to right ear in your headphones, wondering when the acid would kick in.
I fully expected to be disappointed by these wafer-thin speakers. Even as I unpacked them, marvelling at the slim profile and sexy faces of the speakers, I was imagining tinny audio boosted only by the deeper powered subwoofer. Those expectations were shattered within 30 minutes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Yes it's a horrible movie, but the sound is perfect for putting a surround sound system through its paces. When the Michael Baybots took up arms, the air was filled with high-pitched whirring, deep thrumming base, and the sort of warbly clicking noises that make your throat go all wobbly when delivered via capable devices.
And the KEF T-Series speakers proved more than capable. Those unique electronic sounds took on new life when streamed from these magical panels. The high-frequency crisp well-defined, the mid-range faithful and clear. Low-range sounds were somewhat weak at first, but flipping the H-2 subwoofer's bass boost switch to +12db solved that problem in short measure. The sounds swirled about me fluidly, nary a dip between channels to be heard, and cranking the volume up to potentially evicted levels angered my neighbours with its surprising lack of distortion. Voices lost in the cacophony of clashing robots in my older audio setup were found once more, and soon the ramblings of Shia LaBeouf had me reaching for a video game, if only to shut him up.
The T205 system performed just as admirably with video games as it did movies. Its brilliant reproduction of Call of Duty: Black Ops' directional sound cues made playing single-player zombie mode even more unbearably terrifying for me (I am enough of a zombie mode pussy as it is). The KEF folks suggested I try out Dead Space 2, which proved a harrowing experience for all the right reasons. Combining Visceral's award-winning sound design with speakers of this calibre is not for the faint of heart.
The system's most glorious moment, however, came to me by way of a much more recent title.
After playing through Gears of War 3 with the KEF T205 Speaker System, I don't think I'd be satisfied playing it any other way. I've never been a big Gears fan, but the third instalment grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I give the team at Epic Games a good portion of the credit, but KEF definitely played a huge part. As the game played out on my screen the world of Sera came to life through sound. The urgent sound of gunfire. The deep, guttural voice of the Savage Boomer, commanding his living projectiles to dig. The reassuring footsteps of your companions behind you as the enemy advances.
And that one scene. The one I won't talk about, with the tanker. I just sat there, mouth hanging open as the power of the music and the moment took me where it would. Would it have been as moving and powerful coming from a lesser surround sound system or my television's built-in speakers? It's too late to find out now; I've been completely spoiled.
Between its outstanding performance, sleek and simple design, and the technology behind its slender form factor, the KEF T205 Surround Sound Speaker System isn't just a set of home theatre equipment that costs $US1800 — it's worth $US1800. It's not something I see myself being able to purchase in the near future, but it's certainly something to aspire to. For now I'll just work on my popcorn scattering.
The KEF T205 Surround Sound Speaker System is available now at KEF Direct for $US1,999.99. Amazon sells the system for $US1,799.99. Other configurations are available. Selecta-mount stands sell for $US279.99 per pair.
Here's the full set I tested. It's got three taller T301 speakers for the left, right and centre channels, a pair of shorter T101s for the satellites, and the T-2 powered subwoofer.
Here's what's going on on the inside.
They're just crazy thin. It's amazing the sound KEF crams into this tiny space.
I'll go ahead and let KEF explain how the hell they got the drive unit this thin.
Extensive use of finite element analysis has allowed the development of a new type of twin-layered diaphragm that, despite being as little as 5mm in depth, behaves pistonically over the whole of its working bandwidth. Driver depth is further reduced by a concentrically attached suspension and a compact Neodymium magnet assembly. The result is a new class of drive unit, of high acoustic performance and extremely compact dimensions, that allows exciting new possibilities for loudspeaker system design.
Model: T-2 Design: Closed box powered subwoofer Drive units: 1 x 250mm (10in.) Frequency response: 30Hz - 250Hz Amplifier: 250 Watts built-in Class-D Maximum output (SPL): 110dB Low pass filter variable: Fixed 250Hz, 2nd-order Low level signal inputs: RCA phono socket Internal volume: 12.7 Litres Power requirements: 100 - 240 V ac ~ 50/60Hz Weight: 13kg (28.6lbs) Dimensions: (H x W x D) 380 x 370 x 177 mm (15.0 x 14.6 x 7.0 in.)
Model: T101 Design: 115mm (4.5in.) dual layer MF / 25mm (1in.) aluminium HF Drive units: 115mm (4.5in.) dual layer MF / 25mm (1in.) aluminium HF Frequency response: 80Hz - 30kHz Crossover frequency: 1.7kHz Amplifier requirements: 10 - 100 W Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 90dB (wall mount) / 87dB (floor stand mount) Maximum output (SPL): 107dB Impedance: 8Ω Internal volume: 0.7 Litres Weight: 1kg (2.2lbs) Dimensions: (H x W x D) 330* x 140 x 35 mm (13.0 x 5.5 x 1.4 in.)
Model: T301 Design: Two and a half-way closed box Drive units: 2 x 115mm (4.5in.) dual layer MF / 25mm (1in.) aluminium HF Frequency response: 80Hz - 30kHz Crossover frequency: 1.7kHz Amplifier requirements: 10 - 150 W Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 88dB (floor stand mount) / 90dB (wall mount) Maximum output (SPL): 110dB Impedance: 8Ω Internal volume: 1.4 Litres Weight: 1.5kg (3.3lbs) Dimensions: (H x W x D) 600 x 140 x 35 mm (23.6 x 5.5 x 1.4 in.)