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If I handed out labels, I’d call them paradoxical. They catch your attention from the word go and, similar to interesting valve amps, enchant with a dense and warm midrange. On the other hand, I had to investigate for quite some time just why their tonal balance was set as is and why the lack of lower bass failed to bother. I believe this voicing reflects a very personal choice and vision as though one very specific person stood behind the iQ30 project - not common for big companies. The sound of this speaker is centered on a warm and dense midrange but the biggest achievement in my opinion is the brilliant treble. From time to time I encounter opinions which call the KEF sound muddy or dry. People write emails and I learn at least as much from our readers as they do from me. But when I get conflicting signals, I must verify things for myself.

Driven by this curiosity, I listened to some discs just to investigate those particular aspects. I conclude that there had to be a flaw elsewhere in those readers’ systems to highlight their findings. While the iQ30 are not super precise loudspeakers in the sense of ultimate transient definition, they are finely resolving. On the other hand, they can exhibit a quite potent upper midrange. Everything will depend on what they’re connected to. With a balanced and rather powerful amplifier, their sonic assets will become obvious. As I said, the midrange is most important here as it is quite prominent but in reality the treble is best so I’ll start there. Just a few short years ago, a metal dome could not be this naturally vivid, not even an expensive one. The iQ30 does not cost much but the fullness of the cymbals on Sinatra’s That’s Life and the upper harmonics from Milt Jackson’s vibraphone on the Milt Jackson Quartet proved that KEF’s Tangerine phase corrector works well to produce a richly saturated treble. Although the dome extends to 40kHz, this isn’t synonymous with brightness but rather, phase coherence over the audible range. This was demonstrated on hi-res recordings played over Naim’s HDX. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s 24/96 Raising Sand and the beautiful 24/192 Magnetism by the Ben Heit Quartet Magnetism showed that such extended frequency response is normal and that RedBook limitations and brick-wall filters are one of the reasons why CDs sound plastic. This is also true for loudspeakers.

Still, the midrange here is the strongest band. After unpacking the loudspeakers from the box, they sounded a little nasal at first. An emphasized lower midrange was responsible for withdrawn air. While those effects disappeared with mechanical changes induced by burn-in to some extent, they never fully did to thus define the sound of these KEFs. This does somewhat limit the amount of music which will be reproduced as expected. Playing Tools’10,000 Days or Diorama’s maxi single Child of Entertainment, I obtained a balanced emission without a trace of aggression or treble hardness. There wasn’t a trace of blatancy to the sound, which is rare and registered with special satisfaction.

There was not much low bass either and the mid and upper bass played the bigger role. Rockers and electronic music lovers of course demand dynamics and a form of nerve. This cannot be achieve at this budget at least when the sound is supposed to be balanced and not grossly exaggerated. That’s why this presentation takes time to adjust to. It is worth the effort but I also acknowledge how it includes having to change how we imagine Rock should sound at home. But there is another side to it. Older Rock—I think about The Eagle’s Hotel California, ELO’s Time or Kate Bush’s The Whole Story Kate Bush—sounded incredibly good. They were not super dynamic but what remained was well tailored to the size of the speakers. The sound seemed bigger than size would suggest and everything was in its place to need no adjustment of expectations.

This is why I talked of a certain paradox. These are warm loudspeakers with a wonderful treble which nonetheless can at times seem too warm or too dry. I also mentioned how they are not excessively resolving but this does not mean that they fail to show up things. Au contraire. Comparing Blu-spec and HiQuality CD with their Redbook counterparts clearly showed the superiority of the new versions. Even when the changes were not spectacular, I always preferred the Bs and HQ readings. This Uni-Q shines with soundstage width and depth while sorting is nothing special and without a clear differentiation of various distances. Larger instrumental groups show up as groups rather than individual instruments. That’s it. These clearly aren’t run-of-the-mill speakers. They combine uncommon qualities rarely found in this combination. The iQ30 should be placed far away from the wall and fronted by a fairly powerful amplifier that’s not too bright. Then they’ll be really good.