KEF is famous for its speakers, but the M500 headphones (and the KEF M200 in-ears) are the company's first attempt at tackling the headphone market.
It’s a bold move going straight in with a £250 pair of headphones, but out of the box the KEF M500s make a good first impression.
The precision-tooled and sandblasted aluminium frame feels sturdy and weighty – we wonder if it’s any coincidence that they look good next to an Apple laptop.
KEF M500: design
There are two tangle-proof 1.3m cables in the box. One has an in-line mic and three-button control for iPhone users, and the other is a plain cable.
Both have a 3.5mm connector for your smartphone, tablet or music source and a 2.5mm jack which fits in to the corresponding hole in the rear of the left earpiece; you’ll soon know if you’ve got the cable the wrong way round.
KEF’s ‘Smart Hinge’ rotates on two axes to help them fit to your head: they sit snugly, but don’t feel vice-like. Adjusting the headband length could be smoother, though – it’s a very stiff sliding action for both ear-pieces.
Otherwise, the left-to-right movement of the earpads helps to angle the drive units depending on the shape of your ears, and helps keep them secure.
Sat on your ears, the pads add a good degree of isolation from outside noise, although they’re no match for a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones such as the Bose QuietComfort 15.
KEF M500: sound quality
The bassline to J Cole’s Power Trip hits with authority. The KEFs favour refinement and solidity above mega-enthusiasm, but that does prevent them conveying the intent in this track.
Play Adele’s Skyfall and the track sounds suitably dramatic. Vocals are smooth and refined, too – an M500 tonal trait that means the M500s can still be your friend when it comes to harsh recordings.
However, there’s a slight lack of subtlety. Even more affordable headphones such as the excellent AKG K551 cans bring dynamic subtlety, fluidity and a neutrality that the KEF M500s can’t quite match. In our opinion, Skyfall, for example, doesn’t ebb and flow as naturally as it should.
If the K551s are too big for you to wear while you're out and about, then the 2012 Award-winning Beyerdynamic T50p at a similar price (and five stars) offer a more neutral, dynamic and detailed sound than the KEF M500s.
If you prefer a slightly richer, smoother balance then the Sennheiser Momentums at £260 would get our vote. Their bass is tauter and better defined too.
Back to the M500s. Switching between the two supplied cables, we found the one without mic sounded slightly purer – with the other there’s a hint of a rough edge to the presentation. This is something we often find with in-line mics.
And, although the mic sounds relatively clear for phone calls, the controls are quite small and fiddly. We found fingers tend to smother the buttons and pressing them with a nail was the more effective option.
KEF M500: verdict
Considering KEF’s lack of experience in headphone design, the M500s are a fine starting point. They don’t quite have the timing or dynamics of the class-leaders, but their smooth and likeable sound is going to get them plenty of admirers.