KEF R11 vs KEF Reference 1

This is my first post so apologies if it’s in the wrong place. I currently own a pair of KEF LS50 passives with a Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amp. I’m daydreaming a little about a money-no-object upgrade and have been looking at either the KEF R11 or the KEF Reference 1. Obviously, one is tower one is a ‘bookshelf’, so I imagine they’re quite different but I was wondering if anyone had heard both (or either) and could compare the two in terms of bass response, soundstage, imaging, dynamics etc. and if they’re comparable at all? Is it worth the quite big jump up in price for the Reference 1?

I have also been looking at either the Cambridge Audio Edge A intergrated amp or the Hegel H390 to pair with the above. I know the Hegel has a higher power output per channel and I hear KEF use Hegel for shows and demos, so I’m sure it would be great - but I’m also a die-hard Cambridge Audio fan, so the Edge A would be a serious consideration too.

This would be for a Hi-Fi setup, I wouldn’t be using it for movies, just music. I mainly listen to accoustic and indie/electronic. It’d be great to hear your thoughts on this, I think this setup is a way off for me financially - but it’d be nice to have a goal to aim for as I’m saving up!


I am actually curious of the same. The Reference 1 is though quite a bit more expensive (at least the list price).
John Darko did a great video where he compares the Kef Reference + Hegel H390 matching vs the Kii Three actives.

If you have a listening room that’s bigger than 25 sq metres/270 sq feet you won’t regret buying a pair of KEF R11. However, if you listen to music in a room smaller than 25 sq m/270 sq ft these speakers will probably overpower the room with standing basswaves due to the large membrane area of the 2x4 woofers. They produce serious bass and sound pressure. And frankly, as a satisfied owner of the KEF Reference 1 speakers for 2 years now I don’t miss any bass in my 200 sq ft room. The KEF Reference 1 has quite significant bass reproduction for a “small” standmount speaker. And the KEF Reference 1 plays equally pleasing at high and moderate as well as at low listening volume. In fact, it’s one of very few speaker models that is able to provide you with the exact same amount of detail, dynamics and punch at very low volumes as when played loudly, which is not something you can say about many speakers regardless of price tag. Too often speakers tend to loose punch and dynamics when played softly at “late night-volume” - not so with the “small” KEF Reference 1.

The same quality does unfortunately not apply to the new KEF R11. Though it sounds magnificent and very engaging at moderate to high volumes, you just don’t get the same engaging and energetic musical experience when you play them at low volume.

Also, the KEF R11 - though very detailed - does not extract quite as much inner detail from the music as the KEF Reference 1.

Soundstage-wise the KEF R11 - in my experience - delivers a wider and taller stage than the KEF Reference 1. However the KEF Reference 1 still gives you a deeper stage with even greater precision in terms of image placement, ie the position of individual vocals and instruments. In my opinion, it’s as if the KEF R11 paints with a broader brush while the KEF Reference 1 depicts a band on stage with extremely natural proportions.

3D-wise both speaker models are among the very best in the market of “conventional” speakers. That KEF Uni-Q driver is simply out of this world when it comes to creating true holografic images in front of the speaker planes! Still, the KEF Reference 1 is actually somewhat better than the KEF R11 in this regard.

The KEF Reference 1 also betters the KEF R11 in terms of low distortion - even though the KEF R11 is very well engineered too.

If you usually stream/play music in HD quality (24 bit/96 khz or higher) you will adore the sound of the KEF Reference 1.

I have my KEF Reference 1 speakers in a 200 sq ft/20 sq m room along with a Marantz PM-10 amplifier, QED Supremus speaker cables and Audioquest Fire interconnect. My KEF Reference 1 speakers still surprise me with their extremely fast and contoured bass and their threedimensional sound.

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Personally, I find that HEGEL amplifiers sound a tad cold, so I would go with Cambridge or Naim amps anytime. They have a richer, fuller and warmer sound, if you ask me. But of course it all comes down to personal preference…