Wireless speakers are nothing new, but they're usually relatively cheap and portable and designed to pair over Bluetooth with your smartphone at a picnic or the beach. What if you wanted something a little more serious for your living room? The high-end KEF X300A bookshelf speakers, new to Australia, can stream via DLNA or AirPlay and support high resolution 96kHz/24-bit audio over USB. All of this is Good Stuff.
What Is It?
The KEF X300A Wireless is a $1399 pair of active stereo bookshelf speakers that can wirelessly receive a DLNA audio stream over its integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection, syncing up with your home or business Wi-Fi network. It's hefty, it's white, it looks incredible and it's built to be the speaker system you use inside your house.
The X300A Wireless improves upon the existing X300A, which has a 24-bit 96kHz-capable USB digital audio input, by adding networked DLNA media streaming support. While you can connect the X300A Wireless directly to your PC (or any analog audio device as well), you're not taking full advantage of its feature-set until you're using these speakers in your living room away from any fiddly wires and cables and streaming music using just your iPhone or Android smartphone.
Inputs? The X300A Wireless has them in spades. You can connect a PC or Mac using its miniUSB input, or connect any external analog audio device using a 3.5mm three-pole stereo input jack. You can network the new X300A with either wired Ethernet or its 802.11b/g Wi-Fi (it's a shame there's no 802.11n support). The speakers themselves are connected with another USB to miniUSB cable, and each has its own AC power plug and cable to power the dedicated Class A/B amplifiers hidden away inside.
The KEF X300A Wireless is built to service a specific part of the speaker market. It's made for those that don't have their own receiver/amplifiers, or that want a capable near-field PC music listening system, or those that want to stream music (but not subscription services like Spotify — more on that later) from their computers and smartphones.
What Is It Good At?
The sound that the KEF X300A Wireless creates is so worth the price tag. The tweeter and woofer aren't separate — as I was unboxing the speakers I thought they were actually using a single full-range driver, but it's just KEF's long-running Uni-Q array — but there is absolutely no problem with treble frequencies being muddled by midrange or bass at any volume. With a prodigious maximum volume level, the X300A Wireless is more than powerful enough for near-field music listening; when you use these speakers at a computer desk you're almost wasting their potential.
Whether you're listening via wireless DLNA or AirPlay or through the X300A Wireless's 3.5mm analog audio jack, there's no distortion even when you're pushing ear-bleeding SPLs. Bass response is excellent — there's a hell of a lot of low frequency oomph from these speakers, with a -3dB rated 58Hz low end. Not exactly floor-shaking, but more than enough for the vast majority of music listening in any average household.
They look great, too. I tried out the KEF X300A Wireless in its satin white finish, with a brushed laminate that looks and feels really nice, but there's also a black version that looks just as nice. The combination of smoothed and sharp edges gives the speakers a really nice profile, and the flared nine-spoke diffuser on the front of the tweeter is just beautiful. As far as form meeting function goes, the X300A is just art. They can produce a surprisingly wide soundstage, so wherever you have the speakers set up they'll produce room-filling sound. This is doubly convenient purely because their large size makes them difficult to position ideally on a small desk, so you aren't disadvantaged by sitting slightly outside the X300A's perfect sweet spot.
The KEF X300A is surprisingly versatile. You can change the speaker output balance and optimise the sound for desk or stand or bookshelf placement using the small switches and dials hidden away across the back of the left and right speakers, while the volume placement is hidden away as well (which is slightly more inconvenient). Where your run-of-the-mill bookshelf speakers are merely dumb vessels for sound, you can tweak the X300A courtesy of each speaker's integrated Class A/B amplifier.
Once you have them set up (more on that below), the X300A Wireless is easy to stream audio to. For the majority of my listening, I used the KEF DMC Android app, which can stream music saved on your Android device. I have a bunch of lossless FLAC and high bit-rate MP3s and other files that I streamed to the KEF X300A with no difficulties, and similarly had no issues using my PC to cast files from my NAS (via the PC) to the X300A.
What Is It Not Good At?
The setup procedure seems simple enough — it can be done with any wireless-enabled PC or Mac, or through the requisite Android or iOS app. In practice, though, it's imperfect, and I had to go through the (admittedly short) procedure half a dozen times before I got the speakers working.
The app is easy enough to follow, but it does a bit of Wi-Fi trickery behind the scenes on Android; it disconnects you from your main Wi-Fi network to hook up to the KEF X300A Wireless' own ad-hoc Wi-Fi network, asks you to associate the speakers with your existing Wi-Fi by entering its password, then switches back to your main Wi-Fi and then attempts to find the speakers anew. On my Samsung Galaxy S5 and Samsung Galaxy NotePRO, I had zero luck. Maybe there's something wrong with the Android app, but I had to download the Windows software to get the speakers working initially.
The KEF X300A Wireless speakers are quite large — 280 x 180 x 243mm — and heavy at 7.5kg. This makes them a difficult sell for smaller desks — I have a customised IKEA Micke at home, which is 730mm wide, and with the excellent Dell U2413 already 556mm wide, there's not even space for a single speaker beside the monitor. These speakers are not going to be at home on a small desk like the comparatively minute Audioengine A2. (At least it's a good excuse to wall-mount your LCD monitor.)
For the majority of today's music listeners, too, there's one huge caveat. You can't easily stream music from subscription services like Spotify or Rdio using either your PC or the mobile device apps to the X300A, so you'll have to own and possess everything that you want to play through the speakers. There's that extra level of disconnect compared to a more holistic system like Sonos — if you were expecting the perfect modern-day wireless audio setup for your home, you'll have to look elsewhere or wait for KEF to update its Android and iOS apps to suit.
Should You Buy It?
The $1399 KEF X300A speakers occupy a particular niche in the audiophile world — one that is a huge step up from other wireless speakers, in the market of other high-quality wired bookshelf speakers — and are pretty damn impressive in that niche. Feed them a high resolution wireless audio stream over DLNA and they perform as excellently as via wired, with just as much power or more than you'd expect for their size.
The X300A is relatively large for a pair of bookshelf speakers, but it's exactly that size advantage that gives them the ability to project full and rich audio with excellent bass in a near-field listening setup. If you have a desk that is able to accomodate its heft, and if you value the versatility that a wireless audio system brings, then you won't be disappointed with the X300A, even after taking into account the Australian asking price.