The Model 11 comes with a special speaker cable that will probably be long enough for most buyers; we hope it is, because the 16-foot wire is your only hookup option. The cable's proprietary connectors are designed to plug into the speakers, and at the other end, five pairs of clearly labeled wires are intended for hookup to an A/V receiver's five channel speaker outputs. Unfortunately, the two speaker connectors aren't labeled left and right. We guessed, and noted during setup the left channel test tones were coming out of the right speaker, so we immediately turned off the amplifier, and reversed the connectors at the speaker ends. That did the trick, but KEF should have caught the labeling omission.
More gripes: the owner's manual is short on text and setup details and fails to mention that you'll have to adjust the receiver's five-speaker channel volume levels to achieve the most enveloping sound--and balance the subwoofer's volume to best blend with the Model 11. The KEF FiveTwo Series Model 11 features a new, all-metal, 3-inch version of KEF's Uni-Q combination woofer/tweeter driver. KEF claims that conventional speakers' separate tweeters and woofers produce a different sound "blend" for listeners in different parts of the room, while the Uni-Q's "point source" sound produces more precise imaging for those listeners. Each Model 11 has two Uni-Qs: one for the left or right channel and one for the center channel. The center channel's bass is generated by one 3-inch woofer, while the left/right channels' bass comes from four 3-inch woofers. The speaker's side is fitted with two flat-panel speakers that bounce off the room's side walls to create enveloping surround sound.
The Model 11 can be used with any brand of subwoofer. KEF subs start with PSW 1150 ($350), but KEF's excellent $799 HTB2 sub stylistically--and probably sonically--will be the best match. We used a HTB2 for all of our listening tests.
As large as it is, the Model 11 doesn't make very much bass on its own, so we had to work extrahard at getting a reasonable bass blend between the Model 11s and the HTB2 sub. We were constantly adjusting the sub's volume level over the course of a few days, before the Model 11/HTB2 combo sounded balanced on most of our CDs and DVDs. We started the KEF Model 11's stress tests with some music. Acoustic songs from Crosby, Stills, and Nash had plenty of snap and clarity. Vocals and guitars were vividly presented, and the soundstage was wider than the actual positions of the speakers in our home theater. Listening in stereo, we were happy to note that the system didn't produce even a hint of the processed sound we get from most virtual surround systems. The Model 11 impressed us in the way it presented the tactile details and textures running through Radiohead's Kid A CD, and the KEF HTB2 subwoofer's low bass support brought out the same level of detail in the bass. Yes, the sub is expensive, but it's also the best sub we've ever used with a virtual surround system. It makes a difference you can feel.
Lacking a center speaker, the Model 11 creates a "phantom" center from the left and right speakers. As long as we sat centered between the two speakers, dialogue was clearly focused in the center--moving toward one speaker would result in the center-channel sound moving in the same direction. On DVDs such as The Thin Red Line, we noted a tendency for the dialog to lack natural warmth, and voices were occasionally sibilant. Still, dialog intelligibility remained articulate, even in the midst of the major battle sequences.