The KEF Mu3 review in a sentence: KEF has had a long old think before releasing its first ever pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds and what it's come up with is the exact opposite of ‘challenging’.
KEF is a giant of the hi-fi world and has only slowly and gradually moved into new-fangled ideas such as wireless speakers, streaming, true wireless earbuds and noise cancelling. Although perhaps to make up for that, its KEF Mu3 buds are making a play for both the best noise cancelling headphones chart, and the best true wireless earbuds hit parade.
Spoiler alert: it’s not so likely to win its play for the former, because the noise cancelling here is more of a pleasant afterthought than a compelling reason to buy. However, Mu3 deliver the true wireless goods nonetheless, and are certainly worthy of your consideration.
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KEF Mu3 review: price and availability
The KEF Mu3 are on sale now and will set UK customers back £199. In the United States, prospective owners will have to fork out $249. In Australia, meanwhile, the asking price is a relatively competitive AU$299.
KEF Mu3 review: build quality, design and battery life
Ever heard of Russ Lovegrove? Don’t worry if you haven’t - by the time you’ve fully experienced the KEF Mu3 it'll feel like you’re related.
His name is on the packaging. It’s on the inside of the charging case itself. There’s even a card in with the quick-start guide and warranty information, basically explaining that Russ is a designer to be reckoned with.
If you’ve seen any of Lovegrove’s other KEF designs - most notable are the Muo wireless speaker and the monstrously expensive Muon loudspeakers - you’ll know he favours a blobbily organic look, with many a soft curve evident. And that’s fundamentally what he’s delivered with the Mu3. The charging case is tactile and, yes, organically curved - and the glossy plasticised finish feels as good as it looks. The vaguely bean-like earbuds themselves are finished in the same material, and prove as easy in the ear as they are on the eye.
The earbuds tip the scales at just 5.8g each, and at a tidy 25 x 18 x 26mm they’re easy to position comfortably and will stay that way for hours. A comprehensive selection of eartips helps in this regard, too.
Each earbud has a physical button (rather than a touch surface) allowing for the usual controls: ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘noise-cancelling on/off/ambient sound’. Apart from your music player itself, this is it as far as control is concerned - there’s no voice-assistance compatibility, and there’s no control app. Inveterate EQ fiddlers will already be looking elsewhere.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.0 (which is capable of dealing with hi-res stuff from your more expensive streaming service subscriptions) and the Mu3 also feature simultaneous transmission (which ought to keep latency between left and right earbuds to an absolute minimum). Once the digital audio file is on board, it’s delivered by a pair of 8.2mm full-range dynamic drivers.
An IPX5 splash-proof rating rounds things off as far as specification goes, and it also goes some way to emphasising just how robust and well-made the Mu3 feel.
Battery life is very acceptable. The earbuds themselves hold a quite impressive nine hours of power, while the relatively bulky charging case is good for another 15 hours or so. Charging is via USB-C, and five minutes on the mains is enough to top up the KEF to last around an hour’s worth of funky jams.
KEF Mu3 earbuds review: sound quality
Once your buds are in position, the sound they make is equally tidy and comfortable. Stream some top-of-the-shop stuff from Qobuz or Tidal and the KEF are quite an engaging listen, with an agreeably grown-up smoothness and balance overall. Low frequencies are full-figured, and the highest frequencies summon a respectable amount of bite - they’re never less than polite, though. In between, the midrange is spacious and communicative. Integration throughout the entire frequency range is good, with no nasty peaks or troughs threatening to spoil the evenness and good taste of the overall presentation.
‘Good taste’, in fact, works well as a description of the way the Mu3 seek to present music. Switch down a notch in two in the quality of the incoming stream - perhaps by connecting to Spotify’s free tier - and the virtues the KEF seek to deliver on remain intact. An open, glossy presentation, with a combination of weight and warmth that’s just the right side of toasty. They’re nigh-on impossible to provoke, so even the roughest recordings or deliberately spiky performances have their sharp edges dulled off.
The flip-side to this attitude is a shortage of excitement and dynamic pizzazz, though. Tunes that should have their metaphorical eyes out on stalks are neutered somewhat by these earbuds’ unwillingness to properly sink their teeth in - they’re simply not prepared to rough it, and if the music you love demands meaningful attack and drive, the Mu3 may well constitute too much of a walk on the mild side.
Interestingly, things aren’t dissimilar when it comes to active noise-cancellation. The tidy, easy-to-achieve fit of the KEF offer a degree of passive noise-cancellation even before any electronics start doing their thing - and with active noise-cancelling switched on there’s no doubt the Mu3 deal with a fair bit of external sound. They’re no Bose QuietComfort Earbuds in this respect, though, and their unwillingness to properly assert themselves in this regard is just as thwarting as it is where reproduction of music is concerned. If you want to authentically rid yourself of ambient sound while listening, the KEF will probably prove just a little frustrating.
What is a guaranteed, nailed-on frustration, though, is the call quality of which the Mu3 are capable. Up to this point KEF has given a pretty thorough account of itself as an audio company to be reckoned with, the edgy and unnatural quality to its call-handling betrays its lack of experience as a telecommunications firm.
KEF Mu3 earbuds review: verdict
So-so call quality aside, there’s really not too much to take issue with here - but neither is there all that much to get wildly excited about, which is a bit of a problem in a market as congested as the true wireless buds market.
If a considered, quite self-consciously ‘grown up’ sound that’s the audio equivalent of an easy life is what you’re after, the KEF will deliver it - and in some style. If you need to hear the grit in the pearl, though, they may not fit the bill quite as well as some alternatives.