I only auditioned these for about 40 minutes, in a less than ideal set-up, which I am sure biased my experience of these speakers. I thought I would add my 2¢ because of some observations that might be useful to others.
First off, the listening system and environment: I listened to these in a large garage with a cement floor and no fabric on any surfaces, so that would tend to reflect the sound from the speakers. The source was a Sony 200-disc changer. I didn't get the model number, but I assume the sound quality was not too great. The amp was a Marantz Model 18 receiver, which I am told is the first Marantz receiver, and is supposed to have a warm, tube-like sound. I had the speakers set up about 8 feet apart, slightly toed-in, about 3 feet from the rear walls, and perhaps 8 feet or more from the side walls. I sat about 10 feet away from the speakers.
In my home system, I have a Hafler SE-100 preamp and an Adcom GFA-555ii driving a pair of JBL L100Ts, which are large, vintage floor-standers. They are good speakers, but I find them a little bright and bass-heavy for my taste. They do have good detail and a full, coherent sound (not time-coherent, they just keep the music together somehow). This is the reference to which I am comparing the KEF C-85 speakers. This is a vintage mid-fi setup, I would guess.
Ok, for those patient enough to have gotten this far, here is my impression of the KEF C-85s. First, I found them to have great clarity of detail with a slightly forward-sounding presentation. The level of detail was perhaps superior to that of my JBL L100Ts. I had a sense of separation between the different parts of the music, so that I could chose to listen to one particular instrument or voice and hear it distinctly. My guess is that the modern cone materials make this sort of detail possible. The KEF drivers used a woven-fiber material, which the owner told me was fiberglass, while most vintage speakers use paper cones. I liked the detail, while at the same time, it left me feeling slightly detached from the music.
I know others have described these speakers as relaxed, laid-back, and natural sounding. I can see why people say this, as the KEF C-85 do have a smooth, pleasing sound. At first, I did think they were quite relaxed and natural. After listening to several songs, however, I started to get the impression that the speakers were working to bring the music to me, if that makes any sense. I couldn't quite forget about the system and sink into the music.
The frequency range was good, and the bass was clear, tight, and not overwhelming (for the most part), as others have said in their reviews. I didn't listen to a lot of bass-heavy music during this audition, so I can't offer much about that. I will say that when the owner of the speakers first fired them up, he put the volume very high, and played music with a lot of bass. It sounded great! Wow, I was impressed with the detail! But it was too loud! And it wasn't very fun to listen to after a couple of minutes. I'm not sure I even really was able to listen to the music with any focus, with the bass going like that. Perhaps the owner was trying to pull the standard speaker salesroom trick on me. So I turned down the volume, turned the tone knobs on the amp to neutral, and put in a CD I had brought.
This CD, "Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares," sounded completely different. It is a difficult CD for some systems, which is why I use it to audition speakers. It is all vocal, full of dissonance and strange harmonics. The KEF speakers could not seem to convey the life and fullness of the music on this CD, particularly the full chorus sections. The solo vocal parts sounded good, but perhaps the complexity of detail with dozens of voices at once was a challenge. I don't know if maybe the CD player was at fault here, or what, but this music, which can be extremely emotional, moving, and full of nuances, seemed lifeless to me.
The overall reason I was less than completely satisfied is that these speakers seemed to be lacking that full, coherent sound that I hear from the JBL L100Ts. This was true not only for "Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares," but also for other music I played. It is somewhat difficult for me to explain exactly what I mean by full, coherent sound, but let me attempt it. When I am listening to music, I want to be drawn into the music, to experience it without analyzing or criticizing it. Many times, I can have this sort of experience with even a low-quality system, if my mood or the music is right. I do think that good equipment and sound quality can help, however. When music sounds right, all the parts fit together to make a whole with a life of its own. I find that many of the vintage speakers I own do this well, even though they have certain other weaknesses. With the KEF C-85s, and a pair of B&W 801s that I once listened to, there is great detail and separation, which sounds good, but less great integration of all of these detailed parts into a whole. While it is easier to follow a fascinating background instrumental line, for example, it is harder to just be swept up in the music underlying all those details. I think that perhaps this is what people mean when they describe a speaker as "clinical" or "detached."
Well, thank you to anyone who read this review. I do not mean it to be a put-down of these speakers, which I did actually enjoy quite well. I think I found that these are not exactly the speakers I would like to listen to a lot. Different speakers sound quite different, and people have many different preferences in sound. This is good, because it gives us a variety to compare and contrast. I would like to audition some Vandersteen speakers, as I suspect I would enjoy them more. If anyone has observations or comments on this review, please feel free to respond. Please also keep in mind the limitations of the audition conditions in which I heard these speakers.
Great speakers! Mines are actually the c55 model, sale uniq technology, 4 ohms. Very natural and relaxed sound, not tiring at all. Perfect size for a small room. Bass is deep but not "ghetto", voices sound great.
I bought the C75 back in the 90’s. The later Q series use the same what so called Uni-Q Technology. I compared these to everything in the store and everything I could find at other stores. It came down to the C75 against the much expensive B&W Nautilus. The C75 blew it away with there clarity, deep tight bass and wonderful uncolored mid's and high's. I listen to a lot of different types of music, I love classical and rock and roll, but trying to listen to classical on hard rock speakers doesn't cut it. To audition speakers I always use a digital recording of Beethoven's 5th, Berlin Philharmonic from 1985, the 2nd movement. About 1 min into the 2nd movement some french horns come in, with any other speaker except the C75 the horns sounded harsh and will hurt your ears on most speakers, but not with the C75 they sounded beautiful.
I have been using them from classical, rocks, light music, vocals, including the locals who are so familiar with the Eagles, Satana, Sarah Brightman, Taiwanese female vocal Cai Qin (??), Hong Kong male vocal Danny Summer (???). They are sound alive.
Having compared these with different models of the current popular brands in the local market such as ProAc, B & W, JM Lab, I have decided to keep mine for another 10 years at least.
I can't recommend these speakers highly enough. If you can find them BUY THEM! There is nothing else on the market that can touch them at in the blanket of HK$20,000 now in the market.
This is also a KEF C95 review. I have recently upgraded my system, and I've found that these speakers continue to please after more than 10 years of use. I auditioned many speakers in all price ranges before I purchased these, and I couldn't find better sound except for more than double the price. I am not sure, but it seems that the C95's were slightly modfied to become the Reference 1 or were merely renamed. The specifications are the same. Bi-wiring of the C95's definitely improved the bass response.