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KEF Ci Series In-Ceiling Speakers Review

by June 14, 2011
KEF Ci Series In-Ceiling Speakers

KEF Ci Series In-Ceiling Speakers

  • Product Name: Ci Series In-Ceiling Speakers
  • Manufacturer: KEF
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: June 14, 2011 00:05
  • MSRP: $79-$400 ea.


  • Nominal impedance: 8Ohm
  • Sensitivity 
(2.83V @ 1m): 89dB/87dB
  • Frequency response +/-6dB open-backed: 38Hz - 34kHz/ 45Hz - 34kHz
  • Crossover frequency: 3.0kHz/3.8kHz
  • Drive units: 160mm (6.5in.)
19mm (0.75in.)/130mm (5.25in.)
19mm (0.75in.)
  • Recommended amplifier power: 10-125W/10-100W
  • Cut-out: 196mm (7.71in.)/ 158mm (6.22in.)
  • Diameter: 234.6mm (9.24in.)/193.4mm (7.61in.)
  • Depth: 
98mm (3.86in.)/
83mm (3.28in.)
  • Mounting depth: 91mm (3.58in.)
/77.8mm (3.06in.)
  • Optional rough in frame: RIF160R/RIF130R



  • Nominal impedance: 8Ohm
  • Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1m): 91dB
  • Frequency response +/-6dB open-backed: 50Hz - 20kHz
  • Crossover frequency: 3.2kHz
  • Drive units: Dual voice coil 160mm (6.5in.)
- 2 x 19mm (0.75in.)
  • Recommended amplifier power: 10-80W
  • Cut-out: 196mm (7.75in.)
  • Depth: 234.6mm (9.24in.)
93mm (3.66in.)
  • Mounting depth (can): 86mm (3.36in.)
  • Optional rough in frame: RIF160R
  • Nominal Impedance: 4Ohms
  • Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1m): 88dB
  • Frequency Response +/-6dB 2pi/open-backed: 80 - 27kHz
  • Frequency Response +/-6dB With back can: 110 - 27kHz
  • Crossover Frequency: 3kHz
  • Drive Units: 100mm / 19mm
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 10-50W
  • Uni-Q Array, Removeable Plastic Back Can
  • Product External Dimensions: 127mm (5in.) / 148mm (5.83in.)
  • Cut-out: 118mm (4.65in.)
  • Mounting Depth (bare/can): 100mm (3.94in.) / 145mm (5.71in.)



  • Inexpensive
  • Easy installation
  • Magnetized grilles
  • Paintable


  • Backboxes not included


KEF Ci Series Build Quality and General Installation and Setup

KEF Ci Series speakersOne category of speakers that is often overlooked is ceiling mounted speakers for whole house audio applications. Integrating audio into both new construction as well as existing homes has become quite common, and for this article we will take a look at KEF's Ci (Custom Installation) Series in-ceiling speakers. Our project home consists of a dining room, kitchen/breakfast room, great room, dining room, master bedroom, master bathroom and back porch. After a few discussions with one of KEF's product line reps, we decided on several different models for each room or "zone" of the house. 

The home we installed the speakers in had very easy access to the attic above each room, making installation a pretty straightforward process for this project. The back porch does not have ceiling access, so we opted for a pair of bracket-mounted Ventura 6 weatherproof speakers.

The speakers were all home-run wired using 16 gauge speaker cable back to a gear closet containing a SONOS multi-zone system for power and source material.  Our listening tests were conducted using both an iTunes library and Internet-sourced music from Pandora, Last.fm and Wolfgang's Vault.  It is important to note that this installation focuses on whole-house audio applications, which is to say that it is not a critical listening setup.  In-ceiling speakers in an installation such as this are intended to provide ambient sound for an active home.  While we did put the speakers through their paces with a variety of music genres and volume levels, it is important to remember that this is a different style of listening that is less critical.

KEF Ci Series In-ceiling Speakers

All of the speakers we installed from the Ci series are round, and share several KEF technologies.  The "tangerine" waveguide on the aluminum dome tweeters provides not only protection for the driver itself, but also a wide and even dispersion of high frequencies throughout the room.  This is part of the patented Uni-Q (coaxial) driver array that KEF is known for, which places the tweeter in the acoustic center of the woofer.  The idea is that the woofer and tweeter are paired, allowing a single, focused source of sound that disperses evenly throughout the room.  This is particularly important for this type of application where the goal is to fill rooms with ambient sound. Contrast this with a directional setup, such as what you would have in your home theater or two-channel dedicated listening room.

The Ci Series in-ceiling speakers also all have an ultra-thin bezel in an attempt to provide the slimmest possible visible rim around the speakers when they are mounted flush in your ceiling. The grilles can be painted if your application calls for it and are manufactured with a powder coating that contains a proprietary plasticized additive to resist corrosion in humid conditions. 

KEF speaker grills

Most of the speakers we tested are 8-ohm, and all have spring-loaded, push button connectors (which we actually prefer for in-ceiling models).  KEF provides a round template with each pair of speakers that makes it easy to trace the perfect sized hole in the ceiling. The speakers also came with a clear plastic paint shield which covers the drivers and allows you to protect the speaker if you choose to paint the bezel or grille once it is installed. The grilles are incredibly thin, and are magnetized, making installation very simple.

pattern trace install

With the exception of the Ci100QR's, none of the speakers we installed came with a sealed enclosure, which left the back of the speakers open.  In an attic with blown insulation, we were concerned that the loose insulation would fill in and around the rear of the driver, creating potential issues once the insulation covers the speaker after installation. 

KEF insulation baffle

Since KEF did not supply a rear cover for these speakers, we asked them to clarify this choice for us.

KEF response:

"The KEF speakers are designed to maximize both audio performance and value for the consumer. In any loudspeaker design, physics dictates that there is a relationship or balance between cabinet volume, sensitivity, and low frequency response. Reduce cabinet volume and sensitivity and/or LF response will drop. By taking full advantage of the volume of air in the ceiling, wall or attic space we are able to maximize both LF response and maintain high sensitivity. This is why we do not, on most models, have an integrated rear enclosure. Because of the small woofer diameter on the Ci100QR, the impact of a rear enclosure is minimized, but in point of fact, you will have slightly deeper bass extension on the Ci100QR if it is used with its rear can removed. To make this easy for the installer, we even supply the Allen wrench needed to remove the can. There are several other advantages to not having an integrated rear enclosure. First the smaller footprint of the speaker and shallower depth greatly increase installation flexibility, and secondly money otherwise spent on the enclosure can be better spent to create a significantly better driver, again helping to yield superior audio performance.

In this retrofit project, there must have been access to the attic if the blown insulation is “the loose type", otherwise it would have poured out of the ceiling when the speaker holes were cut. So it should be possible to access the attic to push back the loose insulation over the speaker location, and use [a piece of] fiberglass insulation over the speaker. The fiberglass insulation is very good acoustically and will hold back the loose insulation."

KEF Ci160QR Speakers - Great Room

Ci160QR in-ceilingWe began in the largest room of the house, the great room.  This room has 14 foot ceilings and is approximately 20 x 15.  We decided that four KEF Ci160QR speakers would provide the best possible coverage for the room.  This speaker is comprised of a 6.5 inch woofer and a .75 inch aluminum dome tweeter with KEF's "tangerine" waveguide for high frequency dispersement. 

We were able to measure out the spaces between the ceiling joists to choose a symmetrical array for the four speaker locations in the room - basically near what would be the four corners of the room.  Using the guideline from the round template we had traced on the ceiling, we used a small, hand-held drywall saw to cut the holes.  We dropped the speaker cable from the attic through each hole, then climbed a ladder in the room and terminated the ends of the cable and attached them to the Ci160QR's.  Each speaker has 3 recessed screws around the perimeter of the woofer, and after placing it into the hole, all you have to do is turn the screws counter-clockwise to tighten the built-in clamps, and that's it!  It was a very smooth and simple process, and we never had any issues getting the speakers locked in flush with the ceiling. 

Once in place, the metal grille easily snaps in place via hidden magnets.  Each grille comes with a small KEF logo pin that can be removed, if so desired.  Since the grilles are held in place with magnets, it is very easy to rotate and position the grille with the logo exactly as you please.

Listening Tests

The great room often found us listening to the entire Beatles catalog on shuffle from our iTunes library.  Having four Ci160QR's (installed as 2 stereo pairs) proved to blanket the room with sound, and provided excellent coverage at moderate listening levels.  The highs were excellent, while the mids and lows left a little to be desired.  For ceiling-mounted speakers, the bottom end was adequate, although the audioholic in me wanted a subwoofer when we turned it up.  Delicate songs like "Blackbird" really shone on the 160's, while more rockin' tunes such as "Revolution" made me crave my full-bodied tower speakers.  But to be fair, at normal (background or ambient) listening levels, the 160's performed well.

KEF Ci160QR Speakers - Kitchen

Since part of the kitchen and breakfast area opens into the great room, we decided to use the same speakers to cover this area for continuity of sound.  One pair of Ci160's was enough to cover the area, and we lined them up with the existing pairs in the adjacent great room.  The high ceilings and noise associated with the kitchen (a major living space in the home) made the large Ci160's the right choice for optimal coverage.  Installation was identical to the great room speakers.

kitchen installation

Listening Tests

Because of the open layout of the home, we always grouped the kitchen zone with the great room, or either played only one or the other so as not to have competing (different) music playing in the same section of the house.  As expected, the 160's performed well (as they had in the great room) and were able to fill the smaller space of the kitchen with ease.  The smaller and more enclosed space revealed more bass from the speakers, and during meals it was very enjoyable to have quiet yet fidelity filled music playing overhead while we dined.  This is a real-world example of why having a custom-installed whole-house audio system is such a great thing - previously we used a small iPod dock speaker system that sat on the counter.  The iPod dock speaker, while having good fidelity, was very directional, and it was hard to talk over the music.  Even at lower volumes it seemed to compete with our conversation.  Having the KEF Ci160QR's mounted in the ceiling provided a much more appealing and musical environment for our meals.  The sonic character of the speakers just blends into the room and conversation.

KEF Ci130QR Speakers - Dining Room

The dining room connects to the great room and shares the high ceilings without any walls separating the spaces.  Since this room is not used as much and is a much smaller space, we opted for the smaller Ci130QR, which shares the design and features of its big brother 160's.  It shares the same .75 inch aluminum dome tweeter with KEF's "tangerine" waveguide, but has a smaller  5.25" woofer.

dining room

The enclosure and mounting process was identical to the 160's, which is to say remarkably quick and easy.  The most time-consuming part of installing these speakers was finding a tall enough ladder to reach the 14' ceiling, then measuring, marking, and cutting the holes!   We opted to use a small battery-powered driver to tighten the screws, but made sure to put the clutch on a low setting so as not to risk over-tightening and cracking the speaker or the ceiling drywall.  The 130's use the same style grille with the optional KEF logo pin, and are very easy to orient to your liking.   

Listening Tests

We chose the Ci130QR's for the dining room, knowing that, because this room is completely open and connected to the great room, we would have good coverage and blending with the 160's.  The smaller woofer in the 130's is definitely better suited to smaller, enclosed rooms than a large open space.  The highs and mids just overwhelm the bottom end in most music in a large room such as ours.  That being said, the speakers sound good and are acceptable for the ambient listening we used them for in the dining room, and bolstered the sound of the huge open space that makes up the entry foyer, great room and dining room in the front of the house.

KEF Ci160CRds Speaker - Master Bathroom

For the rather small master bathroom, KEF suggested we try their stereo speaker - the Ci160CRds.  It is a close cousin to the Ci160CR's we used in the kitchen and great room, and shares the same dimensions.  With the grille on, you cannot tell the difference, but underneath you will find what makes this speaker unique.  Common for use whole-house audio applications, this speaker is comprised of a dual voice coil 6.5" woofer and a pair of .75 inch aluminum dome tweeters on a special asymmetrical tweeter island for a wider off-axis response, with KEF's "tangerine" waveguides.  For a smaller room, such as this bathroom, this unit gives you "stereo" from one speaker.

master bath

As you would expect, installation was identical to that of the Ci130's & 160's.  It was very quick and easy, especially since this ceiling was a bit lower than the other rooms.  We centered the speaker on the ceiling of the room, which gives ideal coverage to the bath tub, shower and sink.  The 160CRds has also been constructed with moisture-resistant fixings so that it can be installed in environments such as bathrooms or under eaves.

Listening Tests

Tom Petty - Mojo
Having music in the bathroom is a great way to get going in the mornings.  Since I am not a morning person, I need something rocking' to start day.  Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers does the trick, and even while showering, the 160CRds filled the room with tunes.  Bass was remarkably good for a single speaker handling the job for the entire room.  I did not expect this single speaker to perform as strongly as it did, but it turned out to be a perfect solution for a smaller room such as the master bath.  In the larger rooms of the home, the bass seemed to be lacking, but the Ci160 CRds felt just right for this smaller space.

KEF Ci100QR Speakers - Master Bedroom

For the master bedroom, we decided to use a smaller, more designer-friendly speaker.  This square room has a tray ceiling, and we felt that the smaller Ci100QR's would be adequate for coverage in the room, while providing a clean aesthetic to match the decor.  KEF Designed these speakers to smoothly integrate and architecturally match existing downlighting sharing the same size bezel.

master bedroom

The Ci100QR's also differ from the 130's & 160's in that they come equipped with a 15cm deep detachable rear-can, which provides a sealed enclosure of 0.7 liters volume for optimum low frequency reproduction.  Spring-loaded fixing clips allow installation in ceilings and walls varying in thickness.    These speakers proved to be the easiest in-ceiling speakers we have ever installed.  You hold the three clips up as you insert the enclosure into the ceiling, and as it pushes flush, the clips lock it snugly into place.  It's literally a snap to install!

Ci100QR backbox

As for the speaker itself, the Ci100QR consists of a 4" polypropylene woofer with a .75" tweeter mounted at the acoustic center of the driver.  KEF recommends amplifier power between 10 - 20 watts.  With the can enclosure, the frequency range is 110 - 27kHz; without it is rated at 80 - 27kHz.  These are 4-ohm speakers.

Listening Tests

There is certainly a trade-off when going for aesthetics over size in a speaker such as the Ci100QR.  But for our master bedroom, this proved to be the perfect speaker.  The two pairs allowed us to have a speaker near each corner of the tray ceiling, and made for plenty of coverage in the room.  Most listening occurs at night when winding down, so our playlist usually consists of mellower music such as The Civil Wars.  Their new release, Barton Hollow is almost all vocal and acoustic guitar, with piano and light percussion on some songs.  Joy Williams' vocal on songs such as "20 Years" and "Poison & Wine" filled the room and as long as we didn't crank it up too loud, sounded nice.  All of the speakers in KEF's Ci line displayed excellent high end that really shone when listening to singer-songwriter material.

KEF Ventura 6 Outdoor Speakers and Conclusion

For the back porch, in-ceiling speakers would not work.  The space has an A-framed ceiling and is a screened porch.  We decided to go with the top end of KEF's outdoor line, the Ventura 6.  The included bracket mount has 180 degrees of lateral adjustment for this speaker.  Both the bracket and the grille are constructed from a robust corrosion-resistant aluminum.  The cabinets also have brass threaded inserts to give you additional mounting options.  The high-impact ABS cabinet is UV resistant and was designed to withstand the elements.

Ventura 6 bracket

The sealed box cabinets measure 11.73 x 8.9 x 7.19 in. and feature a fluid cooled anodized aluminum dome tweeter which and a 6.5" injection molded, low-distortion long throw woofer with rubber surround.  Each speaker weighs in at 8.4 lbs, and is available in black or white.  The speakers boast a frequency range of 54Hz - 20kHz and are rated for amps from 10-125 watts.

For our installation, we used the included brackets to mount the speakers horizontally to opposite walls of the porch.  Although installation was very easy, we noted that the included screws (large plastic, made to be hand-tightened) used to lock the speaker into place on the bracket would not prevent theft if you have these speakers mounted outdoors.  It would take a would-be thief all of about 10 seconds to remove the speaker from it's mount. In KEF's defense, we have yet to see many outdoor speakers that are very theft-proof.

Ventura 6 on-wall

Listening Tests

The Ventura 6 is a rockin' outdoor speaker that was begging to be cranked up on the back porch, so we went for some classic rock.  Boston provided everything we needed to put this pair of speakers through the paces.  Unlike the in-ceiling speakers in the house, the Ventura 6's put out plenty of deep, rich bass.  They were capable of plenty of volume, too.  The driving bass line in "Long Time" felt great, as did the soaring guitars on "Don't Look Back."  When we really pushed the volume, the speakers didn't blink and the backyard was filled with tunes.

We often eat dinner on the back porch in the spring, summer & fall, and having music outside was a welcome addition to this great spot at our house.  The Ventura 6's performed like a high quality, large bookshelf speaker with added bonus of being weatherproof.  They exhibited excellent bass and balanced mid and high frequency detail whether listening at low or high volumes.  These were easily the audiophile favorites of all of the speakers tested.


Adding a whole-house audio system to our home is something that I wish I had done years ago.  While I love critical listening in my theater room, it seems that I rarely take the time to go into the room for the sole purpose of firing up the rig and listening to music.  With speakers in every room, I can now enjoy music all day long.  The entire family loves having music playing - it's like a constant soundtrack for everyday life. 

I'd encourage you to consider adding a similar setup to your home.  Wireless solutions such as SONOS make retro-fitting simple, and if you are building a home, the choices are endless.  As for speakers, KEF's wide range of speakers available in the Ci Series are a great choice for solid sound.  They are simple to install, come in several sizes for any application, and the grilles can be painted to match your decor.  They are also very unobtrusive, with very thin bezels and a subtle, contemporary look. 

The speakers we tested in the Ci Series share KEF's patented Uni-Q technology, which results in excellent upper-mid and high frequency performance.  The bass was a bit lacking in our larger rooms, but keep in mind that these speakers were installed to be used for background and ambient music throughout the house, not critical listening.  They are meant to fill the rooms with less directional sound, and we were pleased with the results.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Over the years J. has constantly found himself to be an "early-adopter," spending way too much money on "new" technologies such as Compact Disc, LaserDisc, and DVD. He is one of the few people who actually purchased (and still owns) a CORE programmable remote control (bonus points if you remember this product).

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