KEF's uniquely styled 'egg' speakers are usually associated with home cinema systems but their diminutive size and surprising sound quality also make them an ideal accompaniment for an iPod stereo system.
These systems basically allow you to shed your MP3 player's headphones and listen to your digital music files with freedom. Priced around £250, KEF's Picoforte 1 system uses a pair of KHT1000 series speakers with a two-part amplifier and dock that will accept and charge a full range of iPod designs. There's also a more expensive, £400 Picoforte 3 system -- what happened to 2? -- that features more substantial KHT3000 series speakers.
It's certainly one of the more attractive systems around -- but does have it the substance to support its style?
As mentioned, the design is a real eye catcher, featuring two perfectly moulded egg speakers with a compact, dual part main unit and stylish, credit card remote, all finished in a heavily lacquered black or white coating.
There are nine different dock cradles, which means it will accommodate practically every iPod in existence. A separate 3.5mm line-in connection means you can also connect an alternative portable media player, although it won't be charged as you play your music.
Another useful connection is an S-Video output (and alternative composite video out) that can be connected to your display to view film or photo files if you have one of the latest iPod designs. And, should you wish to add more oomph to the sound, there's a dedicated subwoofer preout -- although it's unlikely to be used in a system of this size.
The speakers use the same Uni-Q drive units found in KEF's more formidable hi-fi speakers and the integrated 2 x 35W digital amplifiers are capable of surprising power, especially considering the system's small stature. It's not necessarily earth shattering but will fill a bedroom or kitchen.
The system is incredibly easy to install and operate, while sound quality is a cut above the typical docks. It's easy to appreciate the audiophile company's more cultured sound with expressive detail, superb integration and a real sense of rhythmical timing. Low frequencies are tight and well controlled without overwhelming ambient subtleties -– it's simply a classy sound.
While it's difficult to fault the Picoforte 1's sound quality, we do have our doubts about the two-part design of the amplifier and dock/charger. All the necessary cables to connect the two and the speakers are supplied but it seems to expose unsightly cables, which detract from the otherwise clean design -- having a single unit would have been better.
There's also the comparatively high price tag and for the same money you can afford a more substantial system with extra features including digital radio or alarm facilities. Still, few of those systems can offer the same stylish design and outstanding sound quality.
While some iPod docks are more concerned with convenience, KEF's Picoforte 1 is dedicated to audiophile sound quality -- and the difference is evident. The super-stylish design delivers a more composed sound than typical docks and also displays decent quality videos and photos, although it's on the expensive side.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday