It was with considerable reluctance that I finally decided to return the KEFs to Best Buy, right on the last day of the half-month return period. I tried and tried to concoct various rationalizations to keep them, but in the end I just couldn’t do it. Why not? Because as much as I liked the superior detail, dynamics and imaging of the Q100, when I put the Wharfedales back in after 2 weeks of continuous listening to the KEFs, there was an immediate and visceral sense of “Ahhhhhh, now THAT’s what I’ve been missing!” This prolonged-exposure-to-one-speaker-then-sudden-switchback-to-another-speaker technique continues to be the most useful, in my experience.
As I noticed before in my previous speaker comparisons that included various models by Q-Acoustics, RBH, SVS, and Sony, the Wharfedales simply produce a combination of richness, smoothness and sweetness with my preferred musical genres that the KEFs just like the others simply could not compete with.
None of the other speakers had the effect of me wanting to sit and listen effortlessly for hours and hours. None of them produced music that created a palpable and indescribable EMOTIONAL response like the Wharfedales, even if they might have easily surpassed it in analytical performance categories (detail, dynamics, and imaging).
There is no denying that this is largely dependent on one’s personal preferences, musical tastes, usage habits, and of course, room acoustics.
If I listened to a lot of dynamic, high tempo music especially that with a lot of guitar, I am sure that I would have kept the KEFs and put the Wharfedales on Craigslist. As a couple of folks on this forum have remarked here and in other threads, the Q100s do amazing things with guitars, especially electric guitars---both the crunching Angus Young power chords and the more atmospheric, resonant Mark Knopfler variety, as well as general acoustic/classical guitar such as the Gypsy Kings and Andres Segovia. They also do very well with the likes of Dido due to their mid-bass punch and agility, which left my Wharfedales in the dust. (That said, neither speaker really requires a subwoofer during music listening.)
Yet the KEFs were not “bright” in terms of having screechy and irritating treble peaks like the SVS Primes, or worse, previous generation Klipsch. They didn’t make me grab the remote control to turn down the volume during musical peaks. However, I think it would be fair to say that their presentation is definitely “FORWARD”---the instruments certainly do seem dramatically closer to the listener. Everything just STANDS OUT.
This had its advantages and disadvantages, of course. Yes, I definitely could hear more of whatever was going on in each vocalist’s throat/mouth: the saliva/tongue noises, the lips parting in the half-second before the singing starts, their in-breaths and out-breaths throughout, etc. This was certainly arresting, since it almost never occurs with the Wharfedales. However, once the gee-whiz novelty wore off, the inevitable question comes up: is it actually NECESSARY, or even all that ENJOYABLE?
All I knew was, after about 30-60 minutes of listening to the KEFs at 70db or higher, I would find myself checking my watch. I would feel restless in my chair, and suddenly remember something or another that I just HAD to do, giving me an excuse to get up and otherwise move around. It might have been more psychological than physiological---because my physical EARS never felt “fatigued” in the regular sense of ringing, or being “tired” or “strained.” It was more as if my BRAIN was just saying, “Enough! Give me something else to process please, a different input. Distract me!”
The above is in marked contrast to the spontaneously relaxed-yet-absorbed, semi-hypnotic states that the Wharfedales very often trigger in me: namely, the experience of music as one organic, sensuous and continuous FLOW, wherein different notes and instruments and voices are constantly coming and going as a UNIFIED WHOLE, rather than as distinct BITS AND PIECES. This is impossible to truly convey in words, let alone empirically measure or verify. There are simply no specs for this. One thing is for sure: it is the direct opposite of ANALYTICAL listening.
Try this metaphor on for size: You could stand on a bridge watching the water flow past, noting the play of certain ripples, shadings and sparkles on the surface. Or, you could be dropped INTO the river, and happily drown in it without even noticing it.
Predictably, for movies the KEFs were excellent at making whatever that is happening onscreen that much more vivid and compelling, precisely because of their forward presentation and ample detail/dynamics. For anyone who mostly watches TV and movies, the KEFs are an impeccable choice, especially at the ridiculous $230/pair pricepoint.
I also tried a single Q100 as a center, first in vertical alignment and then on its side. As expected, there was no perceptible difference due to the concentric driver design, making it an ideal choice for a “matching” center if one were to go with the Q100s for the front L/R. Compared to previous centers I’ve had, there was no lack of voice clarity nor spaciousness. Male voices sounded as realistic as female voices, although I did notice that a single Wharfedale as the center produced richer male voices. Surprisingly, the soundstage was surprisingly of comparable scale, and overall detail/clarity was not that far apart. I am now very close to ordering another set of Wharfedales to use one as the center, unless Chane finally gets its act together and puts the A2.4 back on its website very soon, in which case my curiosity might get the better of me.
In a nutshell: I feel like I ran off with a stripper for two weeks.
She was definitely a head-turner, and probably coked up most of the time, which only made her that much hotter.
But in the end, it’s damn good to come home again.