Thursday night brought another interesting proposition with it. The well-established Chicago hifi retailer Saturday Audio Exchange hosted an event with the british speaker manufacture KEF. I’ve always been a fan of KEFs flagship Blade ($30k) from hearing it at various audio shows across the country. It’s one of the few $30k loudspeakers out there that actually sounds a step above the rest of the $10k-$20k pack, which is really saying something as there are far too many expensive loudspeakers that don’t really differentiate themselves all that well.
Upon arrival owner Andy Zimmerman promptly greets you with a smile and a warm welcome. After a stop by the adult beverage station that featured an unusually agreeable selection of wines, the first real stop on the tour houses the grand Blade attached to an assembly of McIntosh gear with either a digital server or vinyl source for your acoustic amusement. The Blade was exactly as I remembered it. Even within the somewhat small confines of the alcove it was placed in, tremendous resolution, focused imaging and an appealing overall tone seem to follow this audio giant wherever it goes. Bass was a little bit unpredictable depending on where you sat, but nothing that couldn’t be fine tuned with acoustic room adjustments and a little more space to breathe.
The next listening room featured a very nice home theater setup with extremely tight bass explosions. The room was dark and surprisingly filled to capacity for most of the evening so I didn’t venture too far into its warm belly. A third room further down the narrow aisle way stacked nearly full with an extensive collection of floor standers and bookshelves (both new and used) revealed itself to be the answer to the source of said agreeable wines. A tasting room set up by a fine gentleman by the name of Timothy Clark featured even more wines to sample from Terlato Wine International. Even though I’m more of a bourbon guy, I found the ’08 Piemonte Barbra to pair quite nicely with a mix of classic Beatles tunes in mono.
The final stop on this Saturday Audio Tour housed KEFs newest mover and shaker for the company. The 50th anniversary LS50 bookshelf loudspeaker is an “anniversary” edition no longer. But don’t worry if you are looking to snag one up in the near future, a local KEF Sales Manager let me know that the company will continue to manufacture the loudspeaker in it current form, but it will no longer carry the 50th anniversary moniker with it. Lets just say it goes by simply “LS50” now. In any case, at $1,500 it is still a budget force to be reckoned with. Rave reviews, slick design and unique rose-colored Uni-Q driver array has paved the way for a big hit for KEF.
As with many bookshelves, once clarity and imaging are established the questions quickly turn to bass presentation. The response from the LS50 was quite pleasing to my ears. Perhaps not as dominating as some of the larger, more expensive bookshelves (like the multiple driver Joseph Audio Pulsar), the single array that houses both the 1 inch vented aluminum dome tweeter and mid/low frequency driver sounded both full and delightfully textured connected to a McIntosh 275 tube amplifier. I can definitely see why it appeals to so many.
Even though it was only a Thursday night, it was still an extremely pleasant audio exchange. My thanks to Andy, Timothy and the KEF team for the tasty drinks and good vibes. I’m looking forward to the rooms at the Chicago AXPONA audio show this year.