You just have to realize that the way we listen, share and discover music is constantly changing. Some cling to the CD, others have rekindled the love for good old fashioned vinyl - but most of us download our music from the web in one way or another. We buy and download music from iTunes, stream directly from services such as Spotify, Wimp or Soundcloud, and share with you our favorite songs on Facebook. And for the very youngest it's actually YouTube that is the most popular source of music in everyday life.
The problem with listening to music through your computer is the sound quality. The laptop's built-in speakers sound terrible and few PC speakers come close to anything that could be called high fidelity sound.
The need for a genuine pair of computer speakers with high-fidelity qualities has suddenly become much larger. This is something that English KEF also have realized. They began their career by building near field monitors for BBC fifty years ago, and now they have put all this experience and knowledge into a small digital speakers that will fit the new generation of music and audio enthusiasts.
KEF X300A are active digital speakers. Each speaker has a D/A converter with USB port, electronic crossover and two amplifiers that drive the bass/midrange and highs with 50 and 30 watts.
80 watts may not sound like much but in this case it is comparable to the double effect straight into the usual passive speaker because the effect is "taking a shortcut" directly to the speaker driver instead of being converted into heat via the meters of copper wire.
This is one of the advantages of active speakers, the manufacturer has full control over quality at every stage and can ensure that the amplifier and speaker drivers are perfectly matched in terms of power, impedance, and frequency response.
X300A can be connected to a PC or Mac with a USB cable, and the built-in D/A converter handles music files up to 24 bit/96 kHz resolution. So you can listen to everything from MP3 to high resolution master files, which is good news for us sound crazy people. Dynaudio's Xeo 3 wireless speaker can handle, for example, only up to 16 bit resolution (CD quality).
The speakers are equipped with KEFs characteristic Uni-Q coaxial drivers, where the tweeter sits in the middle of the bass driver. This patent makes the sound emit from the same point, providing an extremely precise and focused soundstage. The latest version of the Uni-Q driver is also found in similar models in the R series and in the costly Blade speakers.
How To Use X300A
It’s very simple to install the X300A There are four cables for the connection: a USB cable from the computer to the speakers, a USB cable through to the other speaker, and power cables to both speakers. That’s a few cords to keep track of, but the advantage is that everything works without hassle. The USB cables included are ~3 feet to your PC and ~6 feet between the speakers.
Thanks to the connection between the speakers via USB the audio is transmitted at lightning speed and synchronized in stereo. We didn´t notice any noise or "drop-outs" during the test and heard no displacement of the stereo perspective that we have encountered with some wireless speakers. X300A is turned off and on automatically when you pull out the USB cable and has rubber feet so they can stand directly on the desktop.
Once all the cables are plugged in, the speakers install themselves using the USB interface and automatically appear as external speakers in the audio menu on both PC and Mac. All you need to do is to set an appropriate volume level on the amplification with the volume knob on the back, then you can use the computer's volume control to control the sound.
We who grew up with large floor-standing speakers, thick cables and separate amplifier with a CD or record player on top, do not expect any true hi-fi sound from two small speakers and a laptop. But these KEF speakers are a great example of how good a computer stereo actually sounds. With a X300A on each side of the computer screen it turns the office into a small sound studio!
First impression is that the speakers will present an open, focused and super detailed sound in a classic KEF-style. They provide some of the same feel you´ll get when putting on a pair of really good headphones over your ears - the sound is dense and immersive, while the instruments can be placed with almost surgical precision in the soundscape.
You quickly realize that X300A is a honest and neutral sound intermediary who bring out the micro details that are usually lost in the hum and noise from standard PC speakers. It is wrong to compare with cheap computer speakers like our faithful Logitech models – it´s closer to compare with a couple of really good studio monitors. But while many studio monitors are a little cautious at the top (to spare your ears after long hours of mixing) there is lots of impact and energy in the treble from the small KEFs.
KEFs Uni-Q coaxial drivers suits exactly as I expected just fine for near field monitoring and provides an excellent holography even when sitting right in front of them at the desk. Even at only 2-3 feet the speakers paints a soundstage with impressive depth perspective - and sharper precision than the usual two-way speakers that for obvious reasons has a distance of 4 inches or more between the tweeter and midrange.
When you sit so close to the speakers, it is not uncommon to hear the interference and noise from the speaker channels, but with X300A you have to put your ear right next to it to hear even a hint of noise. The fan in my Macbook Pro sounds more than the background noise from the X300A. Such low levels of background noise also means you do not have to play very loud to hear the details clearly.
Another thing that stands out is the powerful and rhythmic bass. X300A has an impressively deep and juicy bass which even reproduces demanding drums and bass with stoic calm. Many portable speakers are a bit undersized and drop dynamics in the bass when it hits the hardest, but the KEFs have full control. They won´t go abysmally deep, and say stop immediately at ~50 Hz. The quality of the bass is however so good that it often gives the impression of going deeper.
KEF X300A do not make a fool of themselves in any way in larger rooms either. They managed to fill our test room of about 270 square feet with both loud and clean sound. But with that said, it should be noted that this is no “decibel monster” we’re talking about, and for demanding high fidelity and home theater, we would probably prefer speakers with even more sound pressure, power resources and deep bass. It seems that the tonal balance is designed for a life on the desktop rather than in the living room. X300A has a switch on the back that adjusts the sound for desk or stand location, but we did not hear any significant difference in the sound.
What we lack is an output for connecting a powered subwoofer. Also, the lack of normal digital inputs, optical or coaxial, put limitations for what kind of equipment you can connect. Which is a pity, more inputs had made X300A a more potent candidate for demanding hi-fi installations.
It can almost seem like KEF wanted to distance the X300A from its other hi-fi speakers. Maybe it´s strategically, for it is no doubt that this is an incredibly convenient and affordable pair of speakers, and you'll need a good amplifier and KEFs passive R300 if you are to beat them in all areas.
KEF X300A is in many ways a revolutionary good computer speakers. Plug them via USB and you´ll hear more detail and more life in your music files than you thought possible! The KEF speakers play loud, clean, and with rhythmic and rich bass, and serves a super sharp and very deep soundstage. They don´t do as well in the living room - the connections and inputs puts a stop to that. A little fly in the ointment, then, but on the other hand, X300A is mainly made to be pure hi-fi speakers for the desktop, and KEF has undoubtedly succeeded with that. If you put these on each side of the screen you can expect to spend a little more time in front of the computer ...
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- Like a professional studio monitor, each X300A wireless speaker has two dedicated class AB amplifiers - one for LF/MF and one for HF - to ensure accurate, distortion-free sound reproduction.
- With digital USB connection between speakers, the X300A wireless system turns your desktop, laptop, tablet or other mobile device into a source of listening pleasure to true high fidelity standards.
- The X300A Wireless is designed for both Apple (Mac OS X version 10.6 or later) and Microsoft (Windows 7 or later) operating systems, and you can stream your music by Airplay or DLNA from any Apple or Android device.
- For Android Users: Visit Google Play store to download the KEF DMC app which will allow you to freely swap between different music libraries and stream the music you want.
System type Two-way bass reflex
Drive units Uni-Q driver array: HF: 25mm (1in.) vented aluminium dome LF/MF: 130mm (5.25in.) magnesium/ aluminium alloy
Frequency response (±3dB) 58Hz - 28kHz
Frequency range (-6dB) 49Hz - 45kHz
Max peak SPL 104dB
Amplifier type Twin Class AB
Amplifier power LF: 50W HF: 20W
AC power input US/JP versions: 100-120 VAC, 50/60 Hz EU/UK/China versions: 220-240 VAC, 50Hz
Analogue input AUX: 3.5mm stereo jack
Digital input USB 2.0: mini USB type B connector
Resolution Up to 24-bit
Sampling rate Up to 96kHz, depending on source resolution
Controls Balance control AUX volume control USB volume control on PC
Internal volume 4.7 l
Dimension (H x W x D) Without heatsink: 280 x 180 x 215mm (11.0 x 7.1 x 8.5 in.) With heatsink: 280 x 180 x 243mm (11.0 x 7.1 x 9.6 in.)
Weight 7.5kg (16.5lbs) per speaker