The KEF R3 Meta speakers are an enticing prospect. These new standmounters are part of KEF’s updated R Series, a revamped speaker range that now incorporates the company’s celebrated MAT (Metamaterial Absorption Technology) innovation – an ingenious and successful technology that has been transforming KEF’s audio performance in recent speakers.
It’s an upgrade we are excited to hear: the original KEF R3 we tested a few years back received a five-star review, and the inclusion of MAT – from what we have heard already – should elevate the listening experience of the new speakers to a whole new standard. Do the R3 Metas live up to our expectations?
Build & design
It may not look like much has changed on the surface, and really it hasn't. In terms of the size, build quality and driver sizes, the R3 Meta is pretty much exactly the same as the previous model.
But that’s no problem at all, as these speakers are impeccably made. The finish and build quality are of a high standard, and they look elegant whether in our review sample’s indigo gloss special edition (available at no extra cost), or the gloss black, gloss white or walnut finishes.
As before, the R3 Meta is a three-way design and the only standmounter in 2023’s new R Series. Taking pride of place is KEF’s iconic Uni-Q driver array (which comprises a 25mm aluminium dome tweeter sitting right in the middle of a 12.5cm midrange driver) and a 16.5cm hybrid aluminium bass driver. The Uni-Q driver array is now in its 12th generation; it is designed to improve sound dispersion while also acting as a single source point for the high and mid frequencies. This type of driver design can be difficult to implement successfully, but KEF has had a knack for delivering a cohesive, integrated sound in recent models.
Drive units Uni-Q driver array (25mm tweeter, 12.5cm midrange), 16.5cm bass
Ported? Yes (rear)
Impedance 4 ohms
Dimensions (hwd) 42.2 x 20 x 33.6cm
Finishes x4 (black gloss, white gloss, walnut, indigo gloss special edition)
Another key improvement here is the inclusion of the aforementioned MAT (Metamaterial Absorption Technology). After its debut and success with the Award-winning LS50 Meta speakers (which sit below the R Series), it was inevitable that this revamped range would incorporate this MAT technology. MAT is a puck-sized, maze-like plastic structure that sits behind the tweeter and absorbs the unwanted backward radiation from the tweeter into the cabinet. KEF claims that MAT (made up of 30 tubes, each designed to absorb a particular high frequency) absorbs 99 per cent of these distorting sound waves. The result? Less distortion, clearer highs. It has made a huge difference in the speakers we have heard that have it (from the LS50 Meta to the similarly Award-winning LS50 Wireless II speakers). The MAT technology has also won its own What Hi-Fi? Innovation of the Year Award, such is its proven impact.
The R3 Meta’s Uni-Q driver array has also been modified to accommodate the new MAT structure behind the tweeter. These include a refined tweeter gap damper for improved resonance control, more flexible decoupling chassis for better vibration dampening, an enhanced crossover design and a fine-tuned signal path. All of this to deliver an even more transparent sound than before.
Elsewhere, the bass reflex port and bi-wire speaker terminals return on the back panel. The micro fibre grilles with precision-cut holes are designed to deliver maximum performance (and style) when the speakers are covered.
Getting the speakers set up and positioned doesn’t take long. We recommend placing the speakers on dedicated stands and leaving ample space from a wall. Thanks to the Uni-Q driver array’s wide dispersion properties, there is no need to spend much time fussing over the toe-in angle to get the perfect sweet spot, either. Angling them even slightly towards the general listening position should deliver a solid soundstage and convincing stereo imaging.
Making sure the rest of your system is also up to the task will ensure the R3 Metas shine, too. We plugged the speakers into our usual reference system driven by a Burmester 088/911 Mk III pre/power amplifier but also tried it with more price-compatible integrated amps, such as the excellent Naim Nait XS 3 (£2499) and the new Audiolab 9000A (£1999).
The R3 Metas simply flow with every type of music thrown at them. The even tonal balance and insight we liked so much in the LS50 Meta (and the older R3s) are present here, but with an additional layer of refinement, weight and openness that is instantly apparent. And yes, we are proven right in our lofty expectations: you can instantly hear the impact that the inclusion of the MAT technology has in these speakers.
The KEF speakers don’t just grab your attention from the start, they keep the momentum going over long periods of listening. The soundstage is wide open, giving breathing space to complex arrangements such as Radiohead’s 15 Step as well as Ólafur Arnald’s sparser piano pieces such as Ljósið, where you can get lost in the meditative, melancholy composition. Agnes Obel’s intimate, otherworldly vocals on her Aventine album come through crystal clear and sound beautifully nuanced. It’s an elegant, affecting performance.
What is astonishing is the amount of detail and texture the R3 Metas manage to eke out of every song. The initial pluckings of the violin and cello strings in Obel’s The Curse, the weight of the bow across the strings – there’s a convincing sense of depth and richness to each instrument, rendering them so three-dimensional in our listening room.
One of the advantages of the speakers’ Uni-Q driver array design is that the acoustic centre is the same for the tweeter and midrange, meaning the sound seems to be coming from the same point. That integration is key to the R3 Metas’ musically cohesive performance, and it is further bolstered by the dedicated bass driver that adds a whole extra layer of spaciousness and deeper bass.
That results in a sound that has authority, solidity and sounds of a piece, but is also dynamic and agile. Every note is etched with precision and the timing is spot on.
But the KEFs don’t simply major in refinement and precision; they also sound so much fun. Songs we have not played in a long while – Pon De Floor by Major Lazer, The Real Slim Shady by Eminem – win us over with an energy and playfulness that’s infectious. The meaty, driving basslines and slick rhythms are as natural to the KEFs as the way they convey the emotions (whether wistful or wry) behind vocals.
The KEFs have a graceful nature to them that hides just how accomplished they are. They are wonderfully transparent, at ease with any genre thrown at them: heavy metal, ’90s pop and classical works are all played over the testing period and the KEFs take it all in stride, simply relaying the music as faithfully as possible. The R3 Meta also sound enjoyable both at low volumes and high (without sounding too distorted) – that’s no mean feat for any speaker.
We bring out the older R3 model and it takes only a few opening notes of a song to confirm the gulf of difference between the two speakers. The MAT technology in the new R3 Meta once again makes such a huge impact: the sound is cleaner, more transparent and precise by spades.
That the new R3 Meta allow us to park our analytical observations after a while and simply enjoy listening to our music collection really says it all. To confirm: these are hugely enticing speakers in design and in performance.
We haven’t come across many stereo speakers at this price point in recent years that are so accomplished in all the ‘hi-fi’ ways and fun to listen to in the same breath. If your system and budget allow it, the new KEF R3 Meta are worth the plunge. We promise you will be entertained.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Compatibility 5
Read our review of the KEF LS50