KEF Audio KHT 5005.2 5.1 On-wall Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers On-wall Loudspeakers
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Sunday, 01 April 2007

Huge changes are occurring in the audio/video industry. Flat panel displays are now sold at Costco and other super discount chains, having gone from high-priced status symbols to a practical and affordable option for nearly everyone. I love the floor space saved by such a display in my bedroom, but to truly take advantage of the savings of real estate, you likely need to get your speakers off the floor as well. This realization has led to a new market for speaker designers and builders, the so-called “lifestyle” speaker systems. Initially, these where expensive and sounded pretty lame but, over the years, quality improved and prices dropped just like the displays they are designed to complement. Now almost every speaker company offers at least one such system. KEF offers several levels of lifestyle systems and now they have upped the ante with the release of their new KHT 5005.2 system. Falling in the middle of their KHT line, the KHT 5005.2 comes as a complete home theater system, with four satellites, a center channel and powered subwoofer. The system sports improvements in KEF’s Uni-Q® driver and comes with a radically new subwoofer design. This entire 5.1 speaker system is available in matte silver or high gloss black to match your display and décor and costs just $1,999.

The five speakers come packed with the HTB2 subwoofer in a single box measuring 33.5 inches tall, 23.5 inches wide and 16.5 inches deep. The four satellites, model HTS 5001.2, and the center channel, model HTC5001.2, come housed inside another box. Each speaker is wrapped in plastic to protect the finish and packed in Styrofoam in two tiers, one for three speakers, the next for two. Each measures 16.5 inches at its longest point, is five inches deep and just under three-and-a-half inches at the greatest width. Each speaker has the shape of a slightly flattened cylinder, more narrow than deep, with the grilles covering the front half of the cylinder. The matte silver or gloss black casing covers the top and bottom and, on the center channel, the sides as well. These edges angle back so that the front is the widest part of the speaker. Tucked into one side of the rear half of the speaker ends are small recesses that house a pair of knurled metal binding posts, which accept bare wire or spades, but not bananas. The black mesh grilles are removable with some force and reveal the three three-inch drivers used in this speaker system. The two outer drivers are long excursion bass drivers, while the center driver is KEF’s Uni-Q® driver, which houses a six-tenths-of-an-inch aluminum dome tweeter in the acoustic center or the mid-bass cone, making for a near-perfect single-point source driver. KEF utilizes this set-up to ensure both drivers’ frequencies are delivered in-phase with precise focus and to provide the widest possible dispersion of their output.

Each of the satellites can be mounted on the included table-top stands; alternatively, the stands can be removed with the included Allen wrench and a small panel on the rear middle of the speaker can be flipped to access the bracket for attaching the speaker to wall-mount brackets also included in the package. Taller stands to convert the speakers to floor standers and fixed or infinitely adjustable desktop stands are available separately to tailor the speaker height to your needs. The center does not have any attachment point for the table-top mounts, but it does have the same reversible plate on the back for connecting to the wall mount. Another piece can be attached here for placing the center horizontally on a flat surface. Each of the speakers weighs five pounds and has a rated sensitivity of 87 dB at 2.83Volt/Meters. KEF quotes the maximum sound output of these transducers at 104 dB at one meter, and a frequency response of 100 Hz to 30 kHz. Overall build quality is excellent. The cabinets are very solid, given the light weight of the speakers, and rapping on the cast metal housings only gave me sore knuckles. The screw threads into the cabinets are not of the highest finish, but work fine.

The HTB2 Subwoofer completes the package and is as unique in appearance as it is in performance. Housed in another box inside the main system box, packed in Styrofoam and wrapped in a soft cloth to protect its available gloss silver or black finish, the sub looks more like something from a futuristic film than a speaker.

The HTB2 can be positioned vertically or horizontally. For simplicity’s sake, I will describe it as positioned vertically. The subwoofer measures 15.3 inches high by 17.3 inches wide and seven-point-three inches deep. In this position, the unit is essentially round from the front, with a small bit cleaved off the top and bottom, where the figure eight-shaped stand mounts and the power switch, fuse, single-ended line-in input, phase, bass boost and power on setting option switches are located. The matching top section has a KEF logo that doubles as the power indicator: red for standby, blue for on. From the front, the large black bass driver is plainly evident, and a matching auxiliary radiator is on the rear. From the outside of the drivers, the cabinet curves back, with a smooth rounded edge all around the disc-like shape of the speaker. The subwoofer weighs a little over 24 pounds, and has a quoted frequency response of 30 Hz – 250 Hz, with a maximum output of 110dBs. You can remove the stand it comes mounted on and attach the included rubber feet into the appropriate holes around the driver to position the sub flat on the floor for a more UFO look if desired.

To compensate for room conditions and user taste, the bass boost switch allows bass to be boosted by three or six decibels at around 40Hz. Phase can be inverted and the sub can be set to power on at a signal or to be hard-switched on or off.

When the KEF system arrived, I immediately unpacked the speakers, reviewed the installation manual and marked out where they would be best centered to the side of and below the plasma in my bedroom. I positioned the left and right speakers nine inches out from the vertical center of the display, and the center four inches below the horizontal center. My plasma is mounted on the outside wall of a concrete block house, so I have no studs to find. I used two 50-pound drywall anchors for each speaker after using the included template for mounting the wall brackets, then attached the speakers to previously-run wires and secured them to the wall mounts. I learned to attach the speaker wires first, as it is difficult to do once they are mounted. My 50-pound drywall anchors easily held each speaker’s five-pound weight securely.

The wall mounts allow toeing in and out of the speakers to adjust image focus. I found the left and right speakers did well faced straight ahead, while I settled on the center channel angled slightly upward, aiming at the listening height. The surrounds were placed on their included table stands on both my and my wife’s nightstands just off to the side and slightly behind our listening position. The small footprint of these speakers paid off, as they were almost unnoticeable on the nightstands and my wife never said a peep about their presence. I ended up with my ideal listening position between eight and 12 feet from each of the five speakers.

I tried several different places for the subwoofer and ended up with it positioned in the front left corner of the bedroom and settled on zero bass boost and zero degree phase, which seemed to provide plenty of bass for the room. I chose the auto power mode. It activated the speaker quickly and effectively throughout my time with them and allowed the sub to power down when not in use. KEF includes almost everything I needed to install these speakers. The only tools required to complete the installation were a pencil, large screwdriver and the drywall anchors I used to attach the brackets for the front three speakers to the walls. This is truly an all-inclusive system.

Once all the installation was completed, the speakers were connected to my Denon 4306 receiver, which has a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD HD-DVR, Samsung BDP-1000 Blu-ray player and a Denon 5910Ci universal player as sources. Power ran through a Monster Cable HTS 5000 power conditioner, with my Panasonic TH-42PX60U plasma handling the video. I received these speakers in the silver finish and it was a solid match to the silver and black case of my plasma; they just looked great together. I ran the entire system for a few weeks before doing any critical listening.

Music And Movies
For two-channel listening, I set my receiver to utilize the subwoofer and cued up disc one of Alchemy: Dire Straits Live (Warner Brothers). I truly appreciated the vast soundstage these little speakers made on “Once Upon a Time in the West.” The song starts out with a subtle background aura over the cheers of the crowd, with drums building in intensity. The soundstage was literally larger than my room. When the guitar and drums jumped in for the real start of the song, the guitar was smooth and clear, the bass drum deep and tight. I was treated to a rich sound not found in many full-sized speakers. The KEFs had smooth midrange and highs, and solid imaging to boot. While they sounded very good at low listening levels, a little more volume really opened up their sound and made them truly come to life. Moving on to “Love Over Gold,” Mark Knopfler’s vocal tone was rich, bass remained full while the keyboard and guitar were distinct but never harsh. The KEFs handled the quiet passages as easily as the loud, seeming to have limitless dynamic capability and amazing full-range sound. Subtle nuances were displayed with detail and distinction and the speakers seemed to simply disappear, leaving you alone with the music.

To test the KEFs on multi-channel audio, I went to some old school music and cued up Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare (Atlantic) on DVD-Audio. I bought this some time ago, but hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and listen to it thoroughly, so I was eager to hear how it would sound. The title track opens with a guitar, Alice’s subtle vocals and a calm bass line. All these elements were wonderfully reproduced. Vocals were clear, while the guitar had a smooth grace to it. The bass lines were deep with just a slight boom to them. When the rest of the band kicked in, the KEFs kept up and exceeded my expectations of such a small speaker system, handling the horns and the deep grooves that flow within the song. “Some Folks” comes on with a piano and the snapping of fingers. The piano simply surrounded me and the click of fingers was lively and fast. When Alice’s vocals joined in, they filled the room, never harsh or edgy. Bass was abundant and the subwoofer complimented the other speakers well. I was fully into the album by now, so when my favorite song “Cold Ethyl” came on, I cranked it up. Alice’s tribute to lifeless perversion rocks, so as the song progressed, I kept increasing the volume. The drums were powerful, while the guitar was in my face real and the cow bell stayed up front and rang true. I realized it was getting pretty loud, so to see just how loud it was, I got out my Radio Shack SPL meter and found I was running these speakers to 110 dB peaks. Sure, they got a little edgy at that extreme volume, but the fact that a small speaker system could produce this sound level is simply amazing to me. Even more surprising was the subwoofer’s ability to pump out the bass at this extreme level.

One of the first, and to my taste the worst, movies I used this system for was The Hills Have Eyes (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), a remake of an old suspense and gore film. The movie concerns a typical family that goes astray in the desert and gets attacked by nuclear irradiated mutants from an old government test site. While the movie offered nothing theatrically to me, its blend of subtle surround effects contrasting with intense explosions really put this system to the test. The KEFs easily handled everything this movie threw at them. Subtle sounds such as the falling of sand and small rocks were wonderfully reproduced. At one point, the crushing of a can in the right rear of the sound field was so real it caused me to jump to see if the dog had my drink. The subwoofer reproduced the explosions with power and depth and the dynamics were simply fabulous.

Into the Blue (Sony Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray was my next choice to test the KEF KHT 5005.2 system. This movie has a great medium to show off surround systems with all its underwater scenes and vast seascapes with boats, helicopters and planes flying about. The underwater sounds of creaking metal and bubbles created a soundstage larger than my room and gave the feel of being submerged in open water, with the sense of the vastness that situation affords. Planes and helicopters flew across the room with accuracy and transitioned wonderfully. The bass lines during the club scene were powerful, if only the slightest bit blurred. The KEFs had no problem whatsoever handling the dynamics of explosions, yet also clearly portrayed the subtle details found in the background. Voices were always clear and distinct.

I then moved onto Lady Vengeance (Tartan Video), the third film in a retribution trilogy by Korean director Park Chan-wook. The story is about Lee Guem-ja, a beautiful Korean girl wrongfully imprisoned for 13 years who gets out and seeks revenge on all who wronged her and her inmate friends. Like all films in this incredibly dark series, violence is extreme and the film filled with powerful, lofty music. The contrast of extremes was well produced by the KEFs. Strings filled the room, while angelic vocals hovered above me. The unearthly noises of the fight scenes had an eerie quality to them that added to the psychological gore of the movie. Subtle noises, such as the buzz of the fluorescent lighting and sounds coming from the neighboring apartments in the film, seemed utterly real.

The Downside
I spent about two months with these little speakers and really enjoyed my time with them, but they are not perfect. The subwoofer’s output was impressive, though the bass could be boomy at times. I found these speakers to open up and sound a little better at slightly higher than my usual movie and TV listening level, but not so much so to be problematic for anyone but the quietest of listeners.

The binding posts are slightly recessed and do not accept banana connectors, so they could pose difficulty for some people attaching speaker wires, especially if you tried to do this after wall-mounting them. The screw threads that hold the speakers to their stands are not the smoothest, but as you will likely only use them once and they performed flawlessly for me throughout this review, this is a trivial issue at best.

These are great little speakers. Their sound would be considered impressive even for “large” speakers, and they are offered at a very reasonable price. Despite my point about the bass sometime being a little boomy, I must also say that many of the subwoofers I am comparing it to cost more than this entire speaker system, and it is unfair to expect that level of performance out of this sub. All in all, the sub pumped out immense, thunderous bass, especially given its size. The build quality was first rate. Just before submitting this review, my Great Dane managed to hook the speaker wire to one of the surrounds and topple it onto the floor. Had I not seen it there, I would never have been able to tell, as I could find no damage to the cabinet or grille. Clearly, these are durable cases. The smooth highs and good-natured sound of this system made it a pleasure to hear. The unbelievable sound level output from the small system I had them in is nothing short of amazing. These speakers are not perfect – none are – but they do so much so well that any flaws are easily forgotten.

For under $2,000, there are many lifestyle speaker systems available. Few, if any, can offer you the across-the-board appeal of these speakers. I truly enjoyed having them in my bedroom and, if you are looking for a speaker system to give you the output and sound of floor-standers without the loss of square footage, you should check out the KEF KHT 5005.2. They offer amazing performance, multitudes of set-up options and jaw-dropping sound, all at a very reasonable price. Spend a little time with them and you might find that you want to keep them around. I did.
Manufacturer KEF Audio
Model KHT 5005.2 5.1 On-wall Speaker System
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D

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