The KEF Q50a Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers bring the price point of Uni-Q concentric-driver technology in an add-on height speaker for 3D immersive-audio systems down to $499.99 per pair . Are these the speaker-toppers you've been waiting for?

Features and Specifications

You'll find the full specs for the Q50a Atmos-enabled speakers  here on KEF.com . The long-story-short of it is they offer a frequency response from 105 Hz to 18.5 kHz (+/-3 dB), 100-watt power handling, 8-ohm impedance, and 86 dB sensitivity. Maximum output is 106 dB at 1 meter (anechoic).

The 2-way concentric Uni-Q driver has a 5.25" aluminum woofer/mid cone and a 1" vented aluminum dome tweeter. KEF set the crossover to 2500 Hz.

This is a sealed design, there is no port. Each Atmos-enabled module measures 6.85" x 7.085" x 10.197" and weighs 9.4 pounds. Notably, the induced magnetic grills have some sound-absorbing foam built in, so if you use these as speaker-topper reflected-sound speakers, make sure you also use that grill (which also keeps dust out) These speakers are available in either black or white.

KEF included sound-absorptive foam on the Q50a grill to control the dispersion.
Setup and Performance

Setup was easy, at least if you are already familiar with Atmos-enabled speakers and setting up 3D immersive-audio systems. If you are not, Dolby publishes guidelines on installation, and KEF includes instructions and provides links on its website to get folks started. You can also get help from the members here at AVS Forum.

KEF would love it if you'd match these Atmos toppers with other KEF Q Series speakers , but IMO they are suitable for any system where they fit.

I only had a single pair, so I used them as front Atmos-enabled speakers in a 5.1.2 system. There's no need for a long review here to get to the point: If you set the system up correctly you'll get a good Atmos effect for a system that uses the reflected-sound approach. The KEF Q50a is a robust speaker that can play loud within its frequency range.

Notably, the Q50a need not only be used in a reflected sound 3D immersive audio speaker configuration. Dual keyhole slots on the "bottom" of the speaker allow it to hang on a wall and serve as a more conventional height speaker—an approach I've often found to be more effective than bouncing off the ceiling.

The hype over Dolby Atmos may have died down a bit in the years since it was introduced, but the format itself is a success. It's dominant for blockbuster film soundtracks and available on disc and through streaming.

5.1.2 can have a significant impact on the viewing experience. You still get an enhanced sense of height and spaciousness, although you give up overhead panning. Watching Atmos demo loops with the height channels turned on and then off made it clear the KEF Q50a helps make a difference with audio immersion.

Now, to be perfectly honest, 5.1.2 using the reflected-sound approach is a worthy compromise if one's lifestyle situation demands it (living room system in a condo where you can't cut holes in the ceiling, for example). But for movies, I'd suggest going with four overheads because with movies featuring elaborate Atmos mixes (like Gravity) you lose a lot of motion and object tracking up above.

Watching great movies is awesome, but my favorite use for Atmos is upmixing music. And here, 5.1.2 works just fine to "spray" a bit of ambience into the room. To my ears, KEF Q50a speakers plus the Dolby Surround upmixer in 5.1.2 with Center Spread turned on delivers a soundfield that complements just about everything I listen to, with no speaker localization and imaging that is 3-dimensional and also holds up anywhere you sit on a sofa.

What's crucial to upmixing music with Atmos is that the speaker itself is good for music. Some Atmos-enabled modules don't even try to be "real" speakers; they rely on simple paper full-range drivers for time and phase coherence, instead of using a sophisticated design like the Uni-Q. With KEF's design, you could use a pair of Q50a as satellites along with a sub and the system would sound fantastic (yeah, I did try that). The crossover point may be high given the -6 dB point of 96 Hz, but you can do it!

Anyhow, I live with my upmixer turned on; whether its music or gaming or non-Atmos/DTS:X movies/TV, I run it 24/7. Therefore, I depend on decent elevation speakers to keep things sounding good. These days, my preference is to hang the elevation channels where the wall meets the ceiling, so it thrilled me to see KEF accommodate this.

The main thing to know about the performance of the Q50a Atmos-enabled speakers is that once room correction does its thing, they will blend in well with just about any speaker system you pair them up with. If you plan to add Q50a speakers to an existing system, your primary concerns will be whether they fit and whether they are an aesthetic match, not so much whether they are up to the task sonically.

This is probably a good point to mention that the Q150 bookshelf speakers I reviewed some months back sounded excellent and represent a good value, I am confident that an all Q Series system would look and sound fantastic while competing with Internet-direct company offerings in terms of cost.

Conclusion

Long story short, these speakers are pure KEF, which means the measure well and sound great. The other half of the story is that being a Q Series product, the Q50a has an approachable price at $499.99/pair, as compared to the R50 at $1199.99/pair.

One of the best features of the KEF Q50a Dolby Atmos-enabled speaker is that you can choose how you use them—as a wall-mount height speaker or as a reflected-sound speaker. With the Uni-Q driver, there's no offset between the woofer and tweeter, which allows the sound to stay focused, regardless of which configuration you choose.

For delivering precise sound that creates the immersive illusion home-theater enthusiasts seek, at a price that's reasonable considering the tech you get, I'm giving an AVS Forum Recommended award to the Q50a.





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