Hegel and KEF – CES 2017

by Rafe Arnott

What can be said about the KEF Blade II that hasn’t already been written? More ink has been spilled about these speakers than the manufacturer’s countryman Yeats has written sonnets. So what could I possibly add to the pantheon of literature stacked a mile high in ode to this transducer technology? I’ll just say that they sounded pretty damn good paired with the Norwegian electronics, and source components built by Hegel.

The Blade IIs are one of those loudspeaker designs that just completely disappear from any additive sonic coloration or sonic signature to my ears. They plumb incredible bass depths, image incredibly well, and reproduce completely fatigue-free musical playback. They do this without drawing any attention to themselves in an aural manner, but they are extremely difficult to ignore visually, as they cut an absolutely unique silhouette, and are (to my jaded eyes) a beautiful rendition for a loudspeaker.

Hegel is one of those upstart Northern European companies that came about through brilliant young minds, in this case Bent Holter, and then went on to gain acclaim, and awards from the high-fidelity press for a number of their designs, mostly because Hegel goes to great lengths to banish distortion from their amplification circuits. So, when you mate the innately uncolored Blade IIs with incredibly low/non-existent distortion amplification you get a sound that defies most conventional descriptors because it does sound different. Not different bad, but different good. Very good, in fact. In this case I was able to spend some time with the Hegel dual-mono 32 bit/192 kHz HD30 DAC, the Mohican CD player, and the H360 250-watt integrated amplifier. I listened to a mix of computer files, and CDs, and either way the sound had an uncanny clarity, and incredibly low noise floor that set the Hegel sound apart from many other amps, and sources I was able to sample in my time at CES. Incredibly low noise-floor characteristics are what also seem to set MQA files apart from many others – well, that, and timing – so it’s no wonder that I found myself comparing the sound I was hearing to recent MQA demos. Whatever those clever Norse at Hegel are up to, I hope they just keep at it, and refine their circuit pathways even more.