KEF's The Blade in Action

As one of the Top Five KEF dealers in the United States, AudioVision San Francisco was chosen as the site for the country's first in-store demo of KEF's Blade ($30,000/pair) on January 19. Given that the Blade's previous three quasi-public demos were either at shows—CEDIA 2011, where the environment was reportedly too noisy for anyone to get a good listen, and RMAF 2011, where the room was too small—or KEF's 50th Anniversary Party in the British Embassy in New York City, this was actually the first time that anyone on the West Coast, or any bloke who happened to wander in off the street, had a chance to hear KEF's long-awaited speaker in more supportive surroundings.

Braving the long-awaited rains, which came as something of a shock after what seemed like almost a month of rainy season drought, was not the oft-lamented, homogenous group of lily white, aging audiophiles but a noticeably youthful and middle-aged crowd that included people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Demming the forthcoming Simaudio Moon 180 MIND Network Music Player ($1250) was Costa Koulisakis (left in photo), the company's VP of Sales & Marketing. In his sixth or seventh demo at AudioVisions, of which I have enjoyed at least four, Koulisakis paired the prototype wireless player with the Moon 650D DAC/CD Transport ($9000), flagship two-chassis 850P preamplifier ($28,000) and W-8 power amplifier ($16,000).

The Moon 180 MIND (Moon Intelligent Network Device) music streamer has been designed to play files up to 24/192 from any storage drive, library, or computer equipped with Simaudio's software. It is an open design that can work with iTunes, Amarra, PureMusic, or the music software of your choice.

It can also stream music to multiple locations simultaneously. (Note: hi-rez files are automatically downsampled to 16/44.1 to allow for wireless streaming). Due to be available in the second quarter of 2012, its playback software is still being completed. Hence, while we got a taste of what seemed to be excellent sound, the prototype's inability to search for specific tracks and genres until its software is complete led us to mainly rely on CD and vinyl sources for the dem of the KEF Blade.

Doing the honors for KEF was April Sanders, the company's Western Regional Manager (top photo). Sanders' 30 years experience in the speaker industry makes her one of the longest-surviving women in the high-end—a feat that, IMHO, deserves at the least a medal of honor and epaulettes covered with brass stars and other emblems of bravery on the front lines.

Completing the signal chain, and essential to the demo's impressive sound, were Shunyata Research's Hydra Triton ($5000), Python Z Tron ($2000) and King Cobra ($3500) power cables, Anaconda Z Tron speaker cables ($4450/3m pair) and Anaconda Z Tron signal cables ($2500/1m pair). Given that this was a major switch for AudioVision—all the other demos of Simaudio gear that I've attended there have included Nordost products—I was especially eager to hear Shunyata's Richard Rogers share details about Shunyata's achievement.

Unfortunately, Rogers was waylaid by the great Seattle snowstorm of 2012. With all airplanes grounded, and automobiles incapable of negotiating the city's many hills, Shunyata Research's ability to lift the music to a higher plane had to speak for itself.

Antonio Long (front in main photo), AudioVision's co-owner with Randy Johnson (right of center), began the proceedings by calling KEF's Blade extremely undervalued for its performance level. Johnson labeled the Shunyata Z Tron "beyond cutting edge," their new Signal cables "amazing," and praised the company's commitment to measuring their cables and posting the results online. (See Michael Fremer's column in the February issue of Stereophile.) As for Simaudio, one of the relatively few high-end companies that continues manufacturing all of its products in North America, it has become one of the store's major lines.

Enter the Blade
As much as you may want to know all the technical details about the fabulous-looking Blade, I expect, if you're at all like me, you'll be most eager to read how this speaker, based on KEF's prohibitively expensive, no-holds-barred Concept Blade, sounded with this particular equipment configuration in this particular room. (Note how I've written this sentence; no statement about the "absolute sound" of this or any speaker is possible, and no set of measurements tells the whole tale.) So let's cut to the chase.

The sound, in all area except one relatively narrow region in the bass, was extremely impressive and immaculately controlled. The low frequencies have always been difficult to control in AudioVision's main listening room, and the need to radically reconfigure it by bringing in rows of chairs does not help matters. I don't think I've ever heard a speaker successfully control bass in that room. Hence, regardless of the excellence ascribed to the Blade's four 9" LF drivers—two on either side of the speaker, with their vented voice-coils, decoupled diaphragms, discrete bass chambers, and the force-cancelling that is achieved by mounting them back-to-back—the room did not prove their friend.

It was not, on the other hand, their enemy. Except for that one frequency bump in the bass, the rest of the low end, as well as everything above and below was supremely under control. Nor did the room-invoked bass anomalies ever intrude on the clarity of midrange or top. I never had the sense that I was losing detail elsewhere because of the booming. As you may well know, this is not often the case.

I began the demo seated in the second row, directly in front of and in the line with the left speaker's single apparent source Uni-Q HF and MF driver combo. With the centers of both drivers coincident, and the four LF drivers symmetrically equidistant from them so that their acoustic centers occupy the same point in space, the sound was extraordinarily airy, yet of one piece.

This is not the first time I've sat directly in front of several speakers' tweeters (or, in this case, tweeter/midrange combo) at close range. In all cases but this, I've found myself tightening up, and breathing deeply as overly bright, digitally edged and tilted up sound has assailed my being. This time, I was able to relax fully. Even at high volume levels, this speaker transmitted music, not digital noise and distortion. That is no mean feat.

Playing the LP version of Ani DiFranco's "Knuckle Down," with the help of a VPI Classic III, Soundsmith Cicero cartridge, and Simaudio Moon 110LP phono preamplifier with optional power supply, I was seized by how beautifully the Blade handled electric guitar lines. I also grooved on the great spatial effects, and beautiful air and depth on Peter Gabriel's New Blood album. When the NewBlood Orchestra got going, I especially loved the impressive lateral dispersion of the huge soundstage.

I can't recall if it was on one of these tracks or another that, once I had moved just left of center in the second row at the start of the second demo, I realized just how impeccably this combo handled complex passages. Multiple, powerful lines in the lower midrange and upper bass were intersecting, converging, and going their separate ways all at once, yet everything was clearly delineated and perfectly controlled without in the least sounding clinical or etched.

There are a handful of loudspeakers I've encountered at the countless audio demos and shows I've covered for Stereophile—models from, in alphabetical order, Dynaudio, Hansen, Magico, Revel, TAD, and Wilson come immediately to mind—that I would welcome hearing again, and be thrilled to enjoy in my own listening room. To this list I would add KEF's Blade.

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COMMENTS
audiodoctornj's picture

As the East Coast KEF Blade dealer, we would like to congratulate Audio Visions for setting up a spectacular demo of the unique KEF Blade loudspeakers! Audio Visions is one of my favorite audio shops in the US, their range of superb products and passion, and just plain niceness, makes this review more than warranted.

We just received our Blades about two weeks ago, and they do require some care in placement, and feeding, however, if you get things just right with the Blade they reward you by doing some astonishing things:

The speed and clarity of the Blades is truly amazing, the Blades create an enormous, panoramic, soundstage that seems to wrap around and completely envelope the listener.  The size and depth of the Blade’s image is equally remarkable.

When you combine the Blades marvelous sound staging abilities with the speakers’ seemingly unlimited dynamic range, you can easily believe you are listening to a huge state of art reference speaker system from Magico or Wilson, at 2-3 times the Blades price!

We are using our Blades with either Chord or Electrocompaniet electronics with an Esoteric K03 or AMR CD 77.1 front ends.

We would love any interested East Coast residents to come to our shop to hear for themselves this new masterpiece from KEF.

Thank you Jason Serinus for acknowledging Kef’s accomplishments in creating the Blade.

Sincerely,

 

Dave Lalin, President, Audio Doctor, www.audiodoctor.com

Stephen Scharf's picture

Nice article, Jason! Great to see your writing here again. 

I bought my first pair of Dynaudios from Marlon (the gent at the far right) at Audio Visions SF. 

Ace Mineral's picture

The black finish shows some smears and drips. 

mrplankton2u's picture

But I was really looking forward to a bikini instead....

audiocaptain's picture

The Kef Blade will be on display at AXPONA 2012 March 9-11 in Jacksonville with The House OF Stereo. We also have the debut of several new Carver products, Symphony performances for half price directly across the street, A very upscale Art Show presented by a local Museum and a chance to get introduced to Transcendental Meditation and info on the David Lynch Foundation. Don't miss this exciting chance to see the Blade and all the other extras.

Metalhead's picture

April absolutely rocks that dress.

Wow, oh, and I guess the speakers are nice looking and sounding.

Does April set up and install them if you buy them?

MoarWotts's picture

I was right behind you... AVSF ruined the setup of these speakers... As you pointed out during the demo (and a number of people agreed), there was a noticable bias to the left channel because they set up the left channel directly firing into another enormous shiny sound-reflecting floorstanding speaker. Where was the right speaker? Directly firing into a 5x3 square of sound attenuating foam. You can see the speaker behind April in the first picture, and the foam behind the plaid employee in the second. Not "Single Apparent Source" speakers set up like this...

A fair number of people left during the demo. No wow factor and certainly no low end. I doubt this was the room's fault.

audiodoctornj's picture

As the East Coast Kef Blade dealer, Audio Doctor, with a pair of Blades currently on display, I think I can adequately reply to some of these comments. I did not get to hear AVSF setup but I know from my pair what the Blades can do  and how they have to be setup.

The Kef Blades do require meticulous setup, which is also warranted with other reference speakers, however, the design of the Blades woofers being so far off the ground creates a very tight, articulate bass response, with no floor boundary reinforcement, and this is a sound that most people are not used to hearing.

When you listen to a speaker without that extra round bass quality it makes the speakers seem a little lean.

My gut tells me that if you can couple a great subwoofer to add a certain degree of bass warmth and extension to the already fantastic accurate and articulate bass response that the Blades already produce, the combination is going to be killer, and I mean $70,000-$100,000.00 loudspeaker performance for $34,000.00!

When I first got my pair in I ran them for a few days and I kept waiting for the magic to kick in, it didn't. Then I tried different amplifiers, swapping power conditioners, and power cables, room tuning devices, and then finally cables before I started to get real magic out of the Blades.

The final ingredient came in the form of a new and exotic handmade cable my neighbor Clement Perry of Stereo times, brought back from CES and was raving about, which was a $9,000.00 speaker cable from a company I never heard of Klee Acoustics. I put this cable in my system and the change was startling, finally the Blades bass was there, the soundstage seemed to wrap around me, and the sound was finally coming alive.

I am not saying that the Blades are more or less finicky than anything else, but I looked at the room pictures from AVSF setup and I would think that this room would be not the best for the Blades or for any speakers. One having all of those racks right behind the speakers is going to create a diffusive surface and two you may not be coupling the room to the speakers optimally where the speakers had to be placed.

As a retailer with many, many, products on display, you can't always achieve retailing perfection, so sometimes you have to endure compromises, so with AVSF or any other dealer demo especially one done for a press event, you have to cut the dealer a wee bit of slack, as the conditions they might have had to create in order to present the speakers to a large group may have compromised their ideal setup.

I would encourage you to go back and listen  to them again, after AVSF has had more time to setup up the speakers optimally and then, you might have a different opinion of them.

All I know is after a few weeks’ worth of work my Blades are starting to sound extremely realistic and in some ways just startling. These are very impressive and unique loudspeakers.

 

mrhi-fi's picture

I would like to point out that even in terrible conditions like this past CEDIA (even the sound rooms weren't very consistent), the KEF Blade still showed amazing potential simply based on the high-volume demo they had. Driven by very high-output gear (Parasound HALO) it didn't seem to break a sweat at high levels. I was very impressed.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

...tall, slim, sleek and fabulously dawned in black, sophisticated and appearing most technically capable, Yes, April does rock that dress gentlemen! and on a second look it appears that the Kef blade is doing a somewhat reasonable job of trying to hold its own in the company of the pretty lady.

I have enjoyed Kef speakers since the early eighties and have two rooms equipped with them to this day.  I'll have to say that this showing peaks my interest.

Happy Listening!

JasonVSerinus's picture

I returned to AudioVision SF a few days ago to take another listen to the Blade. This time, it was set up on the room's long wall. Although it's impractical for the store to stage public demos with gear set up along that wall, it certainly produces a different sound.

Paired with Naim electronics and Nordost cabling, the system sounded superb from top to bottom. Heard nearfield, the soundstage was impressively large. The bottom may not go very deep - KEF's measurements claim the speaker is flat to 40 Hz, then drops off - but everything I heard was absolutely in control and beautifully focused. There was no trace of bass booming.

I look forward to hearing the Blade again at AXPONA in Jacksonville March 9-11, and to reading a review in the pages of Stereophile.

 

jason

impeth's picture

I can see twin blades at the first photo, one black & one blonde...

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