CES Update: The Best Loudspeaker Money Can’t Buy
Concept cars are a staple of automobile shows, but concept audio components are a rarity at hi-fi expos. The concept car is meant as a design and engineering exercise that points the way toward future styling and technology. It’s an enormously expensive method, but can be justified given the size of the automobile industry. That’s why we don’t see concept audio components; when a hi-fi company develops advanced technologies, it simply incorporates those technologies into an expensive flagship product that is offered for sale. Later, some of that technology trickles down into less expensive products.
Which brings us to the KEF Concept Blade shown on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show. The Concept Blade is a true concept in that it is not intended for sale. It’s also an extremely ambitious loudspeaker. The Blade is an extremely narrow floor standing loudspeaker whose blade-like shape was dictated by the requirements of introducing the least possible diffraction from the enclosure. The entire enclosure is made from carbon fiber for stiffness. The enclosure features all kinds of odd angles and compound curvatures that must be difficult to achieve.
The front baffle holds just a single driver, a tenth-generation Uni-Q unit. KEF has long history of making the concentric Uni-Q driver in which a tweeter is mounted inside a midrange cone. This arrangement produces perfect phase coherence no matter what the listening distance of listen height. The Uni-Q used in the Blade was a cost-no-object implementation of the technology. Bass is reproduced by four 8” flat-diaphragm woofers, two on each side of the enclosure. The flat diaphragms are made from carbon fiber. The woofers on either side of the enclosure of positioned opposite from each other so that the unwanted motion of each driver’s mechanical assembly cancels the movement of its opposing twin. The crossovers are located in cylinders outside the enclosures.
I heard the Concept Blade (in the sweet spot) for about 15 minutes with a variety of music. The system driving it was an Audio Research integrated amplifier and CD player. The sound was simply stunning. The Concept Blade had a harmonic richness, coherence, and continuousness that made it sound like a single transducer rather than a less-than-seamless amalgam of disparate drivers. It also disappeared as a sound source, not just spatially but in the extremely low levels of coloration. The music just existed in space with an ease and grace that was remarkable. Moreover, the Blade’s dynamics were exemplary---fast, effortless, and clean with no trace of etch. Finally, the bass had outstanding resolution of texture and pitch, along with a tremendous rendering of macro and micro dynamics.
One can’t fully judge a loudspeaker under such conditions and brief auditioning, but from what I heard, the KEF Concept Blade appears to be The Best Loudspeaker Money Can’t Buy.