KEF has been competing with Monitor Audio for the compact floorstander crown for a while now. First there were the iQ5s, which ran riot in the sector for a good couple of years; then Monitor Audio, wisely using the KEF as its yard stick, released the BR5s.
KEF fought back with the visually identical, but much-improved iQ5SEs, and although we expected them to give the Monitor Audios a run for their money, they've only recently appeared together in a group test. And, you know what? KEF has nailed it.
The fact that these aren't aesthetically different to the iQ5s is no bad thing: these are gorgeous, compact floorstanders. The Uni-Q driver, which incorporates both the tweeter and a mid/bass unit, makes for a neat, uncluttered face.
The cabinets may look the same, but musically these are very different beasts from their predecessors. The iQ5s majored on refinement, while the SEs offer rather brilliant speed and punch.
There are few recently released albums that offer a sterner test to hi-fi equipment than We Started Nothing by The Ting Tings, but the KEFs take to it like a duck to water. The intense rhythm sections are conveyed with awesome speed, accuracy and timing, while Katie White's vocals come across as sultry or surly as required.
More after the break
Old spice? Pace, punch, precision…The SEs equally impress with bigger, classical pieces such as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. They're a little leaner than the older iQ5s, but still spacious and atmospheric, with excellent stereo imaging.
That speed and precision combines with great dynamic range to build a sense of drama and suspense, and when the crescendos arrive, they're delivered with punch and composure.
The only problem for the KEFs is the exceptional competition here. The B&W 685s offer much of the speed and drive of these floorstanders, but with extra refinement, weight and all-round flexibility.
So, although the iQ5SEs are undoubtedly extremely good floorstanders, and easily five-star speakers, they're just pipped to the top spot by B&W's 685s.