Tangerine Time: KEF's Reference 1 has Arrived

One of the highlights of High End 2014, which was held in Munich in May, was KEF's introduction of its new Reference-series speakers, comprising two floorstanders (5 and 3), two center-channels (4c and 2b), a subwoofer (8b), and the model that caught my eye, the stand-mounted 1. Why was the Reference 1 so appealing to me? Because it's the kind of speaker I'd been hoping manufacturers would build for a long, long time -- a cost-no-object stand-mounted design that's not a two-way like most are, but a true three-way, for all the advantages that kind of topology provides. I've been calling such a beast a "muscular monitor." The Reference 1 sells in the United States for $7499 per pair.

KEF Reference 1

After Munich I was on KEF's backside almost weekly to get a pair here for review, which wasn't as quick as I would have liked because it took several months for the company to get them into production. But after I knew that I'd be receiving a pair, I got in touch with Jack Oclee-Brown, the big brain at KEF who I learned was largely responsible for the acoustic design of all the Reference-series models. Suffice it to say that once I was able to speak to Jack, he proved quite quickly that he knows his stuff inside and out. None of what he told me smacked of marketing nonsense or the kind of magic and mysticism that many other designers try to pass off. Instead, he's a pure design-and-research guy, which is typical at KEF, a company that has built its reputation on technical prowess, not marketing hoopla.


Jack told me many things about Reference, but the most interesting part for me revolved around what the company calls the "tangerine waveguide," which is the funky fin-shaped part that is nestled deep into the Uni-Q driver array and sits directly in front of the tweeter. I've seen it on their speakers for a few years now, and I've long suspected that it controls the dispersion of the tweeter, which he confirmed when we spoke, but I also learned a few new details about it. First, it provides acoustical gain for the tweeter above 7kHz (to the tune of about 3.5dB at 15kHz, which is not insignificant!). Second, it helps control the breakup of the tweeter's metal dome that occurs around 40kHz. And finally, I learned that Jack developed it as part his doctoral work, and he wrote his thesis around it. (I suspect that Jack is one of those guys who, if he had studied computer sciences back when I did, would've constantly pissed me off by walking away with straight As and accolades while I struggled to consistently land Bs just to remain in the program.)

KEF Reference 1 at NRC

Given my enthusiasm for the Reference 1 in May, it should be no surprise that the moment the pair arrived, I got down to business with the two things I needed to do in order to complete a review: measuring and listening. The measurements, which were done in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council, are finished, but the listening is still ongoing, though nearing completion. If all goes well, which seems to be the case so far, the review will be published in SoundStage! Hi-Fi on December 15 -- my final review this year!

Doug Schneider
Publisher, SoundStage!