To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for your write-up [of the Devialet 120]. I have the Devialet 200 driving KEF LS50s with a Sumiko subwoofer. Because of SAM I want to go full range.
It would not break my heart to be happy with the KEF R900 over KEF’s Reference 3. I’d also consider the Magico S1 and perhaps Focal.
You did not go into depth -- how much better did the R900 sound with SAM activated? Could you be happy with that combo or would you still be looking for better?
Thanks for any feedback.
There is a simple reason why I didn't mention SAM in my 120 review -- a profile was not available at the time for the R900! I have yet to hear SAM in action, but my views of the 120 itself remain the same -- it is the best piece of electronics I have ever heard. I’d imagine your LS50s positively sing.
That said, I can see you running into output limitations due to the fact that the little KEF is both a two-way loudspeaker and bookshelf type. And since SAM is volume dependent, with less overall bass output the louder the LS50 is pushed (to protect against over-excursion of the midbass section of the Uni-Q), you will really need a proper three-way, floorstanding speaker to maximize output and full-range bass response. As a result, the Magico S1, another two-way, is out of the equation. I love the way the S1 looks, and I know it sounds terrific, but like any two-way, it will have limits, even if it is a floorstander. Focal makes terrific loudspeakers, but since you did not mention a model, and seem to be a KEF fan, I will focus on the two options you mention from them.
So which KEF floorstander to buy: the R900 or the Reference 3? The R900 is one of the benchmarks at the $5000-per-pair price point. I owned a pair for over two years, and there are absolutely days I wish they were still around. R900s provide all of the treble and midrange clarity of your LS50s, plus bass that is far more taut and extended. The R900 is not quite full-range out of the box, but SAM should comfortably address that. The Reference 3 is a much more substantial loudspeaker: it has a more sophisticated Uni-Q driver, and it has a robust pair of 6.5" drivers that were designed specifically for the Reference range. The Reference-series cabinets also look to be noticeably more inert and dense (and, therefore, less resonant) than the R-series cabinets. It is safe to assume the Reference 3 is something like 90-95% of a "reference-level" loudspeaker for $13,000 per pair, while the R900 is maybe 80-85% for $5000 per pair.
If the cash isn't a huge concern, the Reference 3 is your answer. Paired with your Devialet 200, hand to heart, it is probably the system I would buy for myself if I didn’t have a huge conscience when it comes to the notion of value. But I do. And for that reason, if I were in your shoes, I would grab a pair of R900s, pocket the $8000 in price difference -- $8000! -- and be totally comfortable with the fact that I would have an incredible-sounding full-range system that punches way the hell above its weight. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel