I feel the KEF iQ3 bookshelf speakers are fantastic performers for the $500 asking price. I am positively amazed at how well these perform, even in my non-treated room. The level of refinement is shocking at this price level. While the fit and finish is reminiscent of speakers at and slightly above the price, what really counts is the sound.
I never believed that I could find a box speaker that had the midrange immediacy and purity that my maggies had, along with fantastic imaging. Well, I think I can have my cake and eat it.
The greatest strength about the iQ3 aside from driver integration is the midrange performance. The mids are rich, full, and warm sounding.The drivers sing as one thanks to the Uni-Q technology. The tweeter is at the center of the woofer cone, making for a point source design.. Imaging artifacts from external cabinetry between drivers (as well as simple distance between the drivers) is simply not there.
Driver integration is stellar as well. Due to the non-issues mentioned above, a well designed flare on the woofer, good quality crossover (have not been able to hear it), and quality jumpers on the back help to contribute to driver integration. The jumpers here are not wimpy stamped strips. KEF provides users with quality terminated jumpers, estimated to be about 10-12 gauge.
Highs are very smooth and extended. I normally do not like metal dome tweets, but these behave themselves very well. A trumpet has brilliant shimmer, and bite when called for. The clash and decay of cymbals is present in full form, but does not detract from the overall sonic picture.
Detail retrieval is also excellent as well. While listening to Chris Botti’s “When I Fall in Love”, the recording studio walls are easily heard as reverberations captured on the recording, seemingly appearing on the left and right side. Whether this was actually happening in the studio and recorded or if it was introduced after the fact is not something I know.
This leads me to the issue that this is one very well balanced speaker. Bass, treble, and midrange all blend into one. Nothing is out of proportion to my ear, and very smooth sounding. Midrange is also to the warm side, and I vastly prefer this. However, some people may find them too polite for rock music. This isn’t to say they can’t rock. It is just a smooth, warm rock versus a bombastic, in-your-face rock. If smooth and warm is your cup of tea, than enjoy.
Bass performance, while great, is what you would expect out of a bookshelf. It is still a little fat, but after playing them for 2 days straight they are smoothing out. In a medium sized room, they have enough bass to satisfy. Specs say 45Hz is the -3. Going by the type of music I have put in them, I would estimate my in room response to be in the 30’s.
I am powering them with my A-35r, a great combination in my opinion (provided you don’t crank it up too loud). The Pioneer has a warm sound, and to my ears is taking an edgy quality off the tweets. I demoed them at first on a Rotel 1052 receiver, and found them to be somewhat bright.
A potential downside is that these speakers are too good for the run of the mill AVR. These like some juice behind them. My A-35r will not drive them to high levels before clipping. While it is certainly good enough for me, it is something that a potential buyer needs to realize.
They do sound ever so slightly boxy, but the more I play them the less of this quality there is. I know it can take quite a while for these speakers to fully break in, so I do not see this as a problem. So far, they have had two days of usage.
Also, much of the warmth I have been hearing is without a doubt attributed to my Pioneer Elite A-35r integrated amp. When auditioning the iQ3 on Rotel pieces, I found the speakers to be somewhat on the bright side. While I don’t have the laser-like imaging of the Rotel, I prefer the warmer, more laid back sound of my A-35r.
All in all, I believe that if you are in the market for a pair of speakers in the $450-$550 range, they are without a doubt worth a look.