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KEF X300A desktop speaker system

KEF X300A desktop  speaker system

Hi-fi magazines are not known for their interest in desktop systems that work with a computer, but this is changing. For many people, their computer is now their main source of music (and, vinyl revival notwithstanding, this looks set to increase over the years) and an increasing number of us are now homeworkers, in ever-shrinking homes, the desktop speaker is fast becoming the main speaker.

A few hi-fi companies have seen this desktop audio market as an untapped potential, but have traditionally made products physically constrained by small speaker size – the B&W MM1 for example is a great sounding desktop speaker, but a great sounding beer-can sized desktop speaker. The KEF X300A is not fixed by the conventions of size imposed by desktop audio’s past. These are full-sized, active monitors, just ones fed by USB as well as the mains. A USB B-type socket connects the speakers to the computer and an USB-USB connector hooks speaker to speaker. There is a mini-jack auxiliary input, but the default pathway is very much USB.

And it’s here where you begin to see why KEF is taking desktop audio seriously. That USB input works to 24bit, 96kHz precision, but requires no custom drivers for PC or Mac use. The internal amplifiers (two per side) are Class A/B  affairs (20W to the tweeter, 50W to the bass), and it has a four way red/green LED in the cone surround denoting status. There is also a wireless version for AirPlay or DNLA systems.

This isn’t the bit most people will see first, though. Most people will look at these speakers and see a full-sized bookshelf speaker that bears more than a passing resemblance to the KEF LS50. The colour scheme is a little more muted (it’s all gun-metal grey rather than gloss black with a copper coloured Uni-Q unit) and the finish of the X300A is a more squared off (but round edged), ripple-touch wrap with a separate front and rear baffle than the organic shape of the LS50. All of which makes it look very tidy on the desk. The LS50 is a shade bigger all round, too. But – and the reminding of this will be a constant theme of this review – it is a desktop speaker, designed to sit close to your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. Yes, it has EQ settings for desktop and speaker stand use (suggesting the former is a near-field and the latter a mid-field installation), but this is used primarily in that desktop environment. While it would be a dereliction of duty not to evaluate it in context with other bookshelf and active bookshelf speakers (including, of course the LS50 itself), where it’s intended to go and the rivals it will face in that place must be drawn into the process.


The drive unit is a true Uni-Q model, with a 25mm vented aluminium dome tweeter sitting in the acoustic centre of a 130mm magnesium/aluminium alloy cone mid/bass driver. This doesn’t deliver gut-churning bass – 3dB down at 58Hz, according to the specs – but is designed for use in a setting where too much bass could easily overawe the listener. Almost unheard of in desktop speaker systems, the X300A comes with foam bungs with a removable centre section, allowing the user to tune the bass output of the speaker whether that desk or stand is close to a load-bearing wall, close to a partition wall (saying hello to a whole new potential category, cubicle-fi for office workers) or in free space. Your best bet – experiment. Note however that this is one of the places where the LS50 DNA begins to run out – it doesn’t have the squidgy port material of the LS50 and the bungs used are different in both cases.

In desktop speaker terms, this has a big footprint, each taking up some 18x22cm of desk space. However, one of the great advantages of a UniQ design is their dispersion is excellent. So it means you don’t need to have the speakers raised or angled to have the tweeter target your ears and you don’t need (and, in fact, probably shouldn’t) toe-in the loudspeakers. These are big and relatively powerful speakers for the desktop, however, and computer tables are not designed with audio in mind and a pumping bass line can end with those pen holder and other nonsense that crowd our desks buzzing along in sympathy. KEF puts useful rubber feet to minimise this problem, but I’d recommend a pair of foam Auralex MoPADs under each speaker too. That’s not a KEF-specific recommendation – I’d go for a set under any desktop speaker system larger than a Coke can.

Cut to the chase; this is the best tool for the job right now. I’ve been spoiled recently with excellent desktop audio (the Meridian Prime coupled with a pair of older AVI Neutron actives), but that solution takes up additional desktop real estate and the Neutrons would possibly be at their best perhaps a metre or so further from where I sit (if I want to listen to something at its best, I have to push back from the desktop, which kind of defeats the object). The X300A, on the other hand, needs no such reservation – they sit next either side of the monitor and pump out a very fine sound indeed.


The clever part of the X300A sound is that it is revealing enough of source material to make one want to play good lossless audio through them, but not so ruthlessly revealing as to make the sound of less-than-perfect YouTube or Spotify streamed music unlistenable. It’s not so dynamic that you find yourself constantly adjusting the volume control on the computer, but not so flat that you find yourself bored with endless Call of Duty carnage. And that’s perhaps its best selling point, it’s not just a hi-fi speaker – we can get a little prissy thinking that anything apart from high-quality music played through a speaker system is an abomination, but speakers in this field need to be as multi-role as the computer they connect to. Most hi-fi systems would struggle to get all of these out with equal aplomb, but the X300A aces it, because the overall sound is so seamless, so well integrated and just so well ‘sorted’ for its intended role.

There’s an obvious question. Is this a powered LS50 and if so, why would anyone pay about 20% more for the passive version? The short answer is ‘no’, the X300A is not quite a LS50. The drive unit and the cabinet are not as highly spec’d as in the LS50, and this speaker has a little less bass and very slightly more oil drum effects to the bass (where bass notes seem to take on a tuned ‘boing’ sound instead of just bass notes). Taken out of place – as in used in nearfield next to the LS50 – the X300A has a tendency to sound a touch undynamic and unexciting. But part of that comes down to the words, ‘taken out of place’; used in context, as in so close if you stretch out your arms, they rest on the cabinet, they have all the excitement and dynamic range you need. They work perfectly in that setting.

If you compare this speaker system to most other products designed for desktop computer audio, it’s like comparing an Airbus A380 with a paper dart. The MM1 take a stab at getting close to the sound of the X300A, but even here they are not in the same league. They lack the volume, the dynamic range, the frequency extension and much of the transparency of the KEF X300A; it is not the first, nor will it be the last speaker to take this listening arena seriously, but it does this with such élan, such energy and such sheer sound quality, it has to be one of the best ever.


Technical Specifications

4.7l Two-way active bass reflex loudspeaker system

Drive units: Uni-Q driver array – 25mm vented aluminium dome tweeter in acoustic centre of 130mm magnesium/aluminium alloy cone

Frequency Response: 58Hz-28kHz (±3dB)

Max SPL: 104dB

Amplifier power: LF – 50W, HF – 20W (both Class AB)

DAC resolution: up to 24bit, 96kHz precision

Inputs: 3.5mm analogue stereo jack, USB 2.0 mini type B

Controls: input volume control, balance control

Dimensions (HxWxD): 28x18x24.3cm

Weight: 7.5kg per loudspeaker

Price: £599 per pair

Manufactured by: GP Acoustics (UK) Ltd


Tel: +44(0)1622 672261

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