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KEF Mu3 Review

Verdict

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If you’ve decided you can live without the niceties in your next pair of true wireless ANC earbuds, the only question you have to ask yourself is: do I consider ‘smooth’ and ‘understated’ to be positive or negative qualities?

Pros

  • Balanced, glossy sound
  • Comfortable fit and pleasing finish
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Short of sonic drive and vigour
  • No control app or EQ adjustment
  • Neither noise-cancelling nor call quality impress

Key Features

  • ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0
  • Water resistanceIPX5
  • Battery life24-hour battery life

If you’ve even a passing interest in hi-fi in general, and loudspeakers in particular, you’ll know the name KEF. The company’s seldom been at the cutting-edge of technology, but when it has branched out – as it has with its LS50 and LSX wireless stereo speakers – the results have generally been impressive.

The Mu3 are the company’s first stab at wireless earbuds – and so they enter a market that is about as crowded and competitive as it gets. It’s going to take more than a brand name with heritage to make the Mu3 a success…

Availability

  • UKRRP: £199
  • USARRP: $249
  • AustraliaRRP: AU$299

The KEF Mu3 true wireless active noise-cancelling earbuds are on sale, and they’ll set UK customers back £199. KEF’s US website will sell you a pair for $249, but American customers won’t need to shop around for all that long before they do a bit better.

In Australia, meanwhile, you’re looking at a price around AU$299 – which isn’t the usual level of profiteering to which Australian customers have become resigned.

  • Designed by Ross Lovegrove
  • Nice glossy plasticised finish
  • Compact earbuds, massive charging case

This isn’t the first time KEF has turned to Ross Lovegrove to design its products; the company’s flagship loudspeakers, the wildly expensive Muon, are his work. But even though Muon are a couple of metres high, his name doesn’t feature as prominently on them as it does here. The packaging and the charging case both bear his name. There’s even a little card amongst the quick-start guide and warranty information, basically giving Mr L the big-up.

What you get with Ross Lovegrove design is an organic look, with blobby curves and soft recesses strongly to the fore. Where the earbuds are concerned, the result is a bean-like appearance – and at a compact 25 x 18 x 26mm, they’re not even particularly big beans. Their shape makes the earbuds easy to position and ensures they stay comfortable for hours on end.

KEF Mu3  Ross Lovegrove

Considering how compact the earbuds are, the charging case seems a bit on the hefty side – even if that heft is mitigated a little by its predictable curvaceousness. At least there’s decent power stored here: the charging case is good for around 15 hours, while the buds themselves hold a very impressive nine hours.

So the KEF will go all day and all night before they need to be attached to the mains via the case’s USB socket. Just five minutes powering up is enough to keep them working for an hour.

  • Physical, rather than touch-controls
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 8.2mm dynamic drivers

Ordinarily, we’re not enamoured by physical controls on wireless earbuds. Quite often the sound depends, to a lesser or greater extent, on the position of the buds in the wearer’s ear – and having to exert pressure on a control button can affect the way the earbuds fit. But here, the single button on each earbud is judged beautifully. As such, it’s possible to control ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘noise-cancelling on/off/ambient sound’ easily, and without affecting the fit.

This is doubly good news because there’s no other user interface with the Mu3, except from the music player itself. No voice-assistance, and no control app – and consequently no facility to adjust EQs.

KEF Mu3 charging case

The impression of robust build quality is reinforced by the IPX5 rating. As long as you’re reasonably careful, and avoid – for instance – scuba-diving, the Mu3 should happily survive the odd splash or two.

The KEF connect to your music player or smartphone via Bluetooth 5.0. That’s more than good enough to handle hi-res digital audio files from any of the numerous streaming services offering the good stuff. They’re also blessed with simultaneous transmission, to keep left/right latency to an absolute minimum. This is just as well, given that any number of rivals offer aptX Low Latency connectivity at this sort of money.

Once the audio file is on board, it’s delivered via a pair of 8.2mm full-range dynamic drivers. And if there’s any area of true wireless earbud specification to which KEF can lay claim to expertise, it’s here…

  • Open, spacious sound
  • Not the most exciting listen around
  • Noise-cancelling is a partial success

Sound quality here, as everywhere else, is quite subjective and a matter of taste. We’re confident that those who like a nice, calm audio experience will find plenty to admire in the Mu3, while those who favour a bit of sonic shock and awe will feel rather short-changed.

With a nice big Tidal Masters file of  Prince’s Lady Cab Driver playing, there’s no denying the weight, warmth and all-around generosity of the KEF presentation. Low frequencies are as burly as a night-club bouncer, while at the opposite end of the frequency range there’s an agreeable combination of bite and gentility – there’s never any suggestion that the Mu3 will allow the song to run away with itself. In between, the mid-range reveals enough fine detail to pack that inimitable vocal with character.

KEF Mu3 earbuds with ear-tips

The journey from the bottom of the frequency range to the top is smooth, integration is smooth, and the overall balance of the sound is, yes, smooth. There’s an overriding suggestion of good taste to the KEF presentation that’s sure to delight anyone who listens to music to be soothed rather than energised.

The Mu3 seem impossible to shift out of their comfort zone. Big by Newham Generals ought, by rights, to provoke a reaction – it’s a recording designed to engage below the waist, to intimidate, to goad. But the KEF dull the sharp edges, dial down the attack and, in the process, rob the recording of a lot of its raison d’etre. These buds simply aren’t prepared to slum it, and will judge you on your musical tastes if they’re not as glossy and, well, smooth as these earbuds would prefer. It follows that dynamism and drive are in relatively short supply, too.

‘Mild’ and ‘inoffensive’ could just as easily apply to the active noise-cancellation here, too. With the ANC switched off, the neat way the Mu3 fit offers a degree of passive noise-isolation. However, switch it on and, while external sounds are unarguably reduced, there’s nothing like the negation offered by equivalent Bose, Sony or Sennheiser alternatives.

‘Inoffensive’ isn’t a word you could conscientiously apply to the call quality on offer here, though. KEF may be a titan of loudspeaker design, but it has no pedigree where telecommunications are concerned – and it shows. It’s easier and less aggravating to send a text message than it is trying to conduct a conversation using the Mu3.

The KEF Mu3 aren’t perfect, but they’re perfect for some listeners. Listeners who value a warm, open and unthreatening presentation, who like a bit of individualistic design, who don’t mind their noise-cancelling headphones not quite cancelling all the noise, and who never intend to use them to make phone calls. The rest of us will weigh up these not-inconsiderable ‘pros’ against the not-quite-as-numerous ‘cons’, and then consider some of the many alternatives that this sort of money will buy.

Should you buy it?

You like a weighty, warm sound
The KEF Mu3 are the sonic equivalent of a big cuddle.

You want your earbuds to be able to rough it (in audio terms)
It’s not that the KEF are flustered by dynamic and/or attacking music; it’s just that they’d rather not engage.

Verdict

If you’ve decided you can live without the niceties in your next pair of true wireless ANC earbuds, the only question you have to ask yourself is: do I consider ‘smooth’ and ‘understated’ to be positive or negative qualities?

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FAQs

Does the KEF Mu3 have a control app?

No, these earbuds don’t support a control app. All features can be adjusted onboard

Does the KEF Mu3 have touch controls?

No, the Mu3 opts for physical buttons over touch controls

UK RRP
USA RRP
AUD RRP
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IP rating
Battery Hours
Fast charging
Weight
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
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Resolution
Driver (s)
Noise Cancellation?
Connectivity
Frequency Range
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Voice Assistant

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