Get the Blades working well – and you’ll need to work at that because these speakers are so coherent that they are unforgiving of any inadequacies in system set-up or optimization – and they will reward you with an incredibly seamless, natural and contiguous presentation; a bit like a pair of Quad ESL 63s that suddenly grew a pair – and the bandwidth, dynamics and sheer musical impact that goes with them. There is a subtlety to their timing and tonal shadings that is quite beguiling, but it is the temporal integrity and the sense of performance and drama that goes with it that makes the Blades so special. How special? Special enough that I’ve chosen to use them for show seminars – partly to let people hear them sound the way they can, partly because of how clearly they tell you when they don’t. How special? Special enough to provoke a complete meltdown from one of those big name designers I mentioned earlier, incensed by the proposition that any speaker with sideways firing drivers could possibly compete with his masterful creations. Was he really upset by the KEF’s topology – or by its price? I guess it’s possible it was the former, but if his brain is as big as he thinks it is, it really should have been the latter! What the Blade does is totally rewrite the cost/performance equation, fronting up the established £50K speakers and saying, “Okay, so what have you got?” The answer in too many cases is not enough – not when confronted by this speaker at this price.
It’s not all plane sailing though. The Blades have a nasty kick in their crossover that will suck an amplifier dry quicker than a student downing free tequila shots. And while they are controlled enough to work in a small room, they really benefit from the sort of space that lets them breathe. Roll those two things together and you have a product that is demanding when it comes to partnering amplification – in terms of quality and quantity – and likes the room to stretch its legs. Which is pretty much a showstopper when it comes to show sound. I’ve not heard the Blades deliver even a fraction of what they are really capable of under ahow conditions, either because the space is too small (or way too big) and the driving amps either aren’t butch enough or aren’t good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard the Blades sound good at shows; just nowhere near as good as they can.
Line the KEF up beside its price competitors and it makes them look pretty silly, on grounds of fit, finish and material content; and that’s before you listen to them. Just don’t be tempted to cheapskate on the driving amps, or you’ll live to regret it. Tube amps at least have an output transformer to hide behind, but when the Blades suck out a solid-state design, they celebrate by spotlighting their tweeter something chronic. To give you some idea of the lengths required, the otherwise excellent Rowland 625 wasn’t up to the job, it taking a pair of the 725 monoblocs to restore order. But when this speaker sings, it really sings – as the procession of practiced listeners and industry notables who enjoyed their performance in my listening room attests. I lost count of the number of visitors who arrived, casting glances at the speakers that ranged between suspicion and downright hostility – only to be shocked, surprised, seduced and sent home, all with slightly wobbly legs and stupid, fixed grins. Several have been disappointed to return and find the KEFs absent, even when the current incumbents cost many times the price of the Blade. I’ve rarely met a product that has divided opinion so starkly – between those who think they’ve heard it and those who actually have.
So the KEF Blade isn’t a recipe for champagne sound on a beer budget. But it does represent a considerable saving when it comes to getting the sort of sonic and musical results that used to rely on a £50K loudspeaker. It still demands the very best and very particular partnering equipment, but it answers once and for all the question that’s hanging over the entire audio industry; what happens when the Chinese get serious? Here’s the news flash guys; they already did!