As clever as they are, we can understand why some home cinema purists see soundbars as a bit of a gamble. Packing decoders, processors, amplifiers and speakers into such a compact cabinet must inevitably take its toll on performance, and as a result they’re never likely to match the sound quality you get from a set of separate 5.1-channel speakers.
However, there is one type of soundbar, typically produced by dedicated speaker manufacturers, that’s more likely to impress those with discerning sonic tastes. These ‘passive’ soundbars integrate the front and centre speakers into a single unit but leave all the processing, decoding and amplification to your AV receiver – that way you get the wall-mountability of a soundbar, but with the same sound quality as a traditional amp/speakers combo. The KHT8005 from KEF is one such soundbar, and is looking to replicate the success of Monitor Audio’s Radius HD system, which works on a similar principle.
Of course, without any signal processing on board, KEF’s soundbar doesn’t try and replicate a 5.1-channel effect using virtual surround technology like many soundbars. Instead, it comes with a pair of physical rear speakers (HTS7001) which guarantees a more convincing surround effect than virtual technology, but having to accommodate them and run cables to the back of the room does defeat the object somewhat.
Joining the KHT8003 soundbar and HTS7001 rears is the Kube-2 subwoofer, last seen in the line-up of the excellent KHT2005.3 system – a good omen indeed. This powered bass box packs a 200W amplifier and covers a frequency range of 35-150Hz, giving movie soundtracks the extra deep bass punch that the soundbar can’t provide on its own.
As we discovered from our first meeting, the Kube-2 is highly attractive thanks to its gorgeous gloss-black top panel and all-round curviness. It also sports volume and crossover dials on the back and switches to invert the phase and turn on the ‘EQ’ bass boost feature. On the inside it packs a side-firing 250mm long-throw bass driver with a 250mm auxiliary bass radiator for good measure.
As for the KHT8003, its true beauty can only be appreciated when you get up close – from afar it just looks like a common or garden black bar, which means it’ll nicely blend in with most TVs (it's designed for sets measuring 42in and over). But get your mitts on it and you can feel the solid build quality and elegant gloss black finish, plus its oval profile gives it an elegance missing from many soundbars.