Kef Instant Theatre

We all know the score - you want that ultimate home cinema system in your living room. That brings in the cinema home mentality. Of course it would work. Push the sofa over there; the TV in that corner and as for the coffee table, well… that would have to go into the garden. Trouble is, the other half, while probably appreciating the end results certainly won't appreciate the amount of speakers normally need to achieve that “Cinema” feeling. 5.1 speakers sets may sound great but it's housing those 5 speakers and the sub that's the problem.

In steps Kef with its 2 speaker instant theatre. Two speakers? Pah, I've got more than that on my PC we hear you cry, but the Kef doesn't work like that. The system consists of a DVD player, subwoofer and just two speakers. The theory is, that if you combine traditional satellites with flatpanel arrays that aim to bounce the rear channels around you, you'll fool the listener into the illusion of proper surround sound system without the need for all those speakers. Most intriguing of all is the idea of a central channel normally used for voice is created virtually by the front two speakers.

Now that we've got the premise out of the way, let's examine the unit itself. Two speakers, 1 subwoofer and a main DVD unit. There might only be four bits to the set, but the subwoofer is heavy and big. It's 7in wide and 21in deep and weights 3 stone in old money. The main unit in comparison is thin, minimal and very shiny although still solid and heavy. The display when not in use is mirrored, and when it use the green LCD panel shine through stylishly. On the black there is a of connections to allow everything from TV and Satellite sound to be amplified when not watching DVDs to connecting the unit to other parts of your hi-fi.

Connecting the KIT together is very straightforward. To gain the best performance out of the speakers and the system, the KEF Instant Theatre uses dedicated cables. It is a neat and tidy solution but one that might not please the pure audiophile- and make replacement an issue in the longer term.

When playing DVDs the system performs well. We tested it with a number of movies including Collateral, The Matrix and Die Hard. All three, from the digital on film grittiness of Collateral, to the green-drenched CGI of The Matrix, perfomed well on our television screen. Of course you are reliant on have a good output source but then we are taking that for granted. More importantly on the sound front how do those phantom speakers perform?

Overall we would have to say that we were impressed. Our one reservation was a case of volume in that to get the most out of this system it's got to be loud. Turning up the volume means the system jumps into action, the lack of a front centre speaker become unnoticeable and the unit's ability to produce sound all around you is spooky.

We chose Die Hard for that fantastic airplane landing sequence at the beginning (“make fists with your toes”) and just as it would in a 5.1 system the plane sounded as if it really did fly overhead. Likewise the storming of the building, another great scene for testing cinema systems, in The Matrix really made us feel that we were there in the room. Bass was handled excellently.

Verdict

This is a very good system that will save you a ton of space in the living room and allow you to convince the other half that you can have 5.1 in your living room without the barrage of speakers to do it. However there are two clauses to this wonderment. Firstly that you'll have to be prepared to always play the system just that little be louder than you would perhaps be comfortable with in a block of flats, and secondly that you have to have a large bank balance, at £1200 these aren't cheap, but then anything good never is.

Much as we're impressed, we also recommend checking home cinema magazines when you're buying because the style wars rage on in home cinema land. The KIT's price tag would go a long way in both the looks and sound quality department- even further if you didn't care how ugly the units looked - then you could also connect any manufacturer's cable as well.