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This review first appeared in the April 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the KEF iQ30 in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or KEF. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacu
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime
Preamp: Leben RS-28CX
Integrated amp: Leben CS300
Power amp: Luxman M-800A
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Cables: CD-preamp Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52, pre/power amp Velum NF-G SE; speaker cable Velum LS-G; power cords Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 on CDP, 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 on preamp and power amp
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CDP
Review component retail: zł 1.900/pr

We have previously covered KEF Audio. Still, since our last review of their model C7, a lot of time has passed and I have no good reason for that. Certain conspiracy theory lovers would of course have us test a KEF product every month to confirm the usual paranoid accusations that advertisements translate into reviews. Occasionally I do pick something interesting from this British company’s broad catalogue. That was the case with the C7 which earned our Product of the Yeat 2009 award. Today I present the iQ30, a medium-sized bookshelf loudspeaker in the basic iQ range. This is one of their longest-running lines where technologies were updated most often. The letter Q indicates KEF’s coaxial Uni-Q system which places the acoustical centers of both drivers in one location. This dual-concentric approach was first introduced in 1988’s C series and since has become a company trademark. The creation of such a drive system was made possible by the availability of neodymium-iron-boron magnets which are extremely powerful yet compact. The latter was essential since the tweeter occupies the spot usually taken up by the mid/woofer’s dust cap. Such placement creates point-source dispersion and is worth fighting for.

We now must acknowledge that KEF wasn’t first with this solution. The oldest coaxial systems predate WWII with Western Electric, JBL and Tannoy. Today Pioneer, Thiel, Altec, Cabasse and SEAS offer similar solutions. After Tannoy’s dual concentric which was introduced in 1947 to be 63 years old already, KEF’s is most widely known today.

At 40 years younger than Tannoy’s unit, it still keeps getting refined. KEF’s tweeter of course always remains centrally placed inside the mid/woofer. Tannoy’s sits behind the mid/woofer’s magnet to radiate through a waveguide.

Although KEF’s materials call this the new Q series with an attendant logo, the official terminology makes it iQ. Yet this is not the same as the original iQ series. Two to three years ago, the tweeter grew a new phase plug which is called Tangerine. A second rather more recent novelty is the fashionable white finish priced like the base version.

Sound. The following discs were used during the review: Feel the Difference of the Blu-spec CD: Jazz Selection, Sony Music Japan, SICP-20050-1, Blu-spec CD + CD; HiQualityCD. Jazz Selection, EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90010, HQCD + CD; Ben Heit Quartet, Magnetism, Acousence Records, ACO80108, 24/192, FLAC. Diorama, Child of Entertainment, Accession Records, A 119, SP CD; Electric Light Orchestra, Time, Epic/Sony Music Direct (Japan), MHCP-1161, CD; Frank Sinatra, That’s Life, Reprise/Universal Music Company/Sinatra Society of Japan, UICY-94423, SHM-CD, Kate Bush, The Whole Story, EMI/Toshiba-EMI, TOCP-67822, CD; Madeleine Peyroux, Bare Bones, Rounder/Universal Music LLC, UCCU-1188, CD; Milt Jackson Quartet, Milt Jackson Quartet, Prestige/JVC, VICJ-41534, K2 CD; Monteverdi, Ottavo Libro dei Madrigali, Concerto Italiano, Opus 111, OPS 30-187, CD; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, Rounder, 478020, 24/96, FLAC; Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin’, Blue Note/Audio Wave, AWMXR-0003, XRCD24; The Eagles, Hotel California, Asylium Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-11936, CD; Tool, 10,000 Days, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 819912, CCD.

I very quickly discovered this speaker’s higher efficiency over my standard Dobermann. The iQ30 played louder at the same setting. Something else was confirmed equally quick – the KEFs need extended run in. While I requested a preconditioned pair, mine was virgin and took a solid week of play before coming around. Based on my experience, one can split good audio gear—particularly speakers—into roughly two categories. There are those which grab our attention from the very first moment and suck us into their sonic universe without delay; and those which mature slowly or to which we warm up over time. I refer only to quality speakers here. In either case the music lover discovers the true potential over time. To reach a certain balanced consensus, we need to scrape from the first type the nice appealing element which so seduced us at the beginning; and with the second slowly reach the important valid qualities. Depending on type, the process moves in opposite directions – from the outside to the inside and vice versa. I’m certain you’ve had occasion where a component at first brilliant became annoying over time while others grew nobler and shed their initial blandness. KEF’s iQ30 are good, even very good speakers. Yet they don’t properly fit these two profiles.