What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Mon, 9 Sep 2013, 11:32am

KEF M200

Tested at £150
80100
4

The M200s are a fine first effort that excel in some areas – but they don’t quite make class-leader status

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For

  • Ridiculously powerful, authoritative bass
  • Detailed, smooth and open sound
  • Sturdy and lightweight build

Against

  • Bass could be overpowering for some
  • Lack the zip and pace of the class-leaders
  • Bulky appearance
  • Fitting process takes time

The KEF M200 headphones are the company’s first stab at bud-type earphones and follow hot on the heels of its first on-ear model, the KEF M500.

These in-ear headphones are an interesting, ambitious design and their bass power is out of this world. But they’re not quite the class-leaders we’d hoped for.

KEF M200

KEF M200: design

In keeping with the company’s first on-ear headphones, these in-ear alternatives appear to be cut from similar cloth. The aluminium alloy used for the driver enclosures looks familiar and the M200s share the same impressive robustness and solid build quality as their siblings.

The alloy cabinets look large compared with smaller earphones, such as the Sony XBA-2iP and the Klipsch X7i headphones, but they’re still appealing and that design gives certain performance benefits. We’ll come to that later.

Looping over the top of each earpiece is KEF’s Secure Arm, a pliable rubber hook, which hooks over and sits behind your ear when they’re in place.

KEF M200

The M200s come with a compact carry case that includes an airline adapter and small, medium and large silicone ear tips. As always, experiment to find which ones give the tightest seal.

The headphone cable is attached to both earpieces and features an Apple-compatible in-line mic and remote control. Call quality is clear and we didn’t have any problems hearing or being heard over a barrage of rush-hour traffic.

The 3.5mm jack extends vertically out of the top of your phone, as opposed to at a right angle, which you sometimes see on other earphones – so be careful if you keep your device in your trouser pocket.

KEF M200: fit and comfort

Because of their hook design, the KEFs aren’t quite plug-and-play. There’s a certain technique involved when it comes to fitting – so much so that KEF has created its own video guide.

The process involves lifting the rubber hook up a little, placing it over your ear, then lifting your ear up and sliding the eartip into place simultaneously. Repeat with the other, pulling the hook back down and over your ear to secure the earphone.

It’s easy once you get the technique down, but this more involved process might put some people off.

KEF M200

Once the M200s are firmly in place, you’ll notice how surprisingly light and unobtrusive they are. The soft, pliable rubber hooks don’t feel uncomfortable – it’s like they’re floating on the side of your head.

The extra support and isolation you get from this kind of design means cable noise is kept to a minimum too, which is great news for those looking for a commuting companion. The M200s also do a good job of noise isolation.

KEF M200: sound quality

Listen to these KEF headphones and the first thing that hits you is the bass. There’s a lot of it. Thanks to the technical wizardry inside each earpiece, KEF has managed to inject the kind of low frequency grunt you usually hear through conventional cans. The sheer sense of weight and scale on offer is remarkable.

Play The XX’s Intro from their self-titled album, and when the bass starts up the M200s kick with serious intent. We’ve certainly not heard anything else around this price that even comes close to sounding as powerful, from the £130 Sony XBA-2iPs to the £600 Sennheiser IE800 headphones. Our only slight reservation is some may find them a tad too forceful over a prolonged listen.

KEF M200

There’s a good sense of openness and clarity to the sound. Play Rihanna’s Stay and her vocal and the piano part are neatly presented – the track sounds open, airy with a surprisingly wide soundstage. Like the M500 on-ears, there’s a smooth side to the sound, which can help take the edge off any harsh recordings found on your playlist.

Our main criticism is the way the KEFs don’t quite manage to communicate the attack and fluidity of a track. Spin Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, and although there’s decent weight to the tune, the track doesn’t have quite the same level of attack as it does when heard through the likes of the Klipsch X7i buds.

Percussion strikes and the leading edges of the electric guitar lack zip and pep, so you don’t feel as obliged to tap along to the music as you should be.

KEF M200: verdict

There’s such a wealth of good earphones around this price, so it’s credit to the KEF M200s that they hold their own – even if they don’t quite set the market alight. If you like the design, definitely give them an audition.

MORE: Best in-ear headphones to buy in 2013

 

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