August 16, 2014: San Francisco high-end retailer, AudioVision San Francisco, opened its new store with a launch party that featured some exciting North American product premiers. There were plenty of manufacturers and attendees from the California Audio Show in nearby Burlingame on hand, too, which made for a “standing room only” event, hosted by co-owners Antonio Long and Randy Johnson. How the AudioVision SF team managed to juggle demos in multiple rooms at the California Audio Show during the day and the store opening in the evening boggled my mind. They are certainly committed to their craft and quite knowledgeable, too.
Unfortunately, AV San Francisco lost its lease at its old store location, necessitating the move. The new store looks somewhat similar and is only a few blocks from the previous store’s location off Van Ness in San Francisco. In the 2000 square-foot space, I counted three sound rooms in addition to the lobby area. As before, the store stocks an incredible number of products in all price ranges, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a larger number of high-performance loudspeakers available for demonstration at any retail store. (Most are in the store’s aisles for easy transfer to the sound rooms.)
The KEF Reference Series made an impressive North and South American debut. The series includes the Reference 5 ($18k), which sports technology from the KEF Blade in a more traditional cabinet, the smaller floorstanding Reference 3 ($13k), and the stand-mount Reference 1 ($7500, or $8500 with stands). I heard the Reference 5 in Munich a few months ago and its performance was very impressive. In San Francisco, it was featured in demos in AVSF’s main sound room, driven by the sleek, powerful, and flexible Devialet 800 ($30,000) and cabled with Nordost’s new Valhalla 2 speaker, power, and digital cables, as well as Nordost’s Quantum power strips. The Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker Turntable and 12" Jelco tonearm fitted with Acoustical Systems’ innovative Arché headshell and the new Kiseki Blue N.S. cartridge ($10,200 complete) served as an outstanding analog source. The KEF Reference 5 includes two 6.5” aluminum bass drivers above KEF’s remarkable Uni-Q driver array, with two similar 6.5" bass drivers below it. As with all KEF speakers that use the latest generation of Uni-Q drivers, wide and deep soundstaging was a real strength. As in Munich, the sound was reminiscent of the highly-regarded KEF Blade, with very good transparency and soundstaging, fine detail retrieval, and articulate and extended bass. While it doesn’t have the exotic looks of the KEF Blade, the KEF Reference 5 doesn’t give up much to it sonically, and since it costs considerably less, the Ref 5 must be viewed as something of a bargain.
Speaking of bargains, although it was on silent demonstration while I was there, the KEF Reference 1 bookshelf speaker looks like it could be perhaps an even bigger bargain, as it uses some of the same remarkable drivers as the Reference 5, including a 6.5" alloy cone bass driver mated with KEF’s latest generation Uni-Q array. The latter is made up of coincident midbass and tweeter drive units mounted at the same point in space, creating an ideal point source that not only time-aligns the two drivers but also optimizes them in directivity. This approach enables the loudspeaker to create first-rate stereo imaging, with wide dispersion and an even balance of reverberant energy.
Proving to be a very capable companion to the KEF Reference 5 was the sleek Devialet D-800 monoblock amplifier. Like its sibling, the D-170 I heard earlier this year at AudioVision SF, the D-800 is a model of flexibility, with an advanced phonostage that allows it to be configured precisely to one’s cartridge via Devialet’s on-line configuration utility. It also offers Devialet’s new AIR Universal Streamer, as well as an advanced DAC, among other features. As the KEF speaker has relatively high efficiency (90dB sensitivity), the 800Wpc Devialet provided more than enough power and slam.