KEF Reference One Speakers Review

I think by now most of you who have been reading my reviews know a bit of my background, but for those who do not, I will give you a short rundown of what I have been involved in over the last few years regarding HiFi and AV and what has taken me back to this passion of music and what a wonderful experience it has been.

Well I have always been involved in Music and HiFi in one way or another and moderated on a few forums in my time and finally opened up my own in 2013 which concentrated on KEN KREISEL Speakers and Subwoofers which was and will always be a favorite of mine when it comes to AV and Home Theater reproduction but only recently my real passion which was HiFi got reignited when I visited a HiFi show and was Wowed by Wilson Audio and came away wanting to get back to my roots in Music only systems, and this is what led me on to this review of the KEF Reference One Speakers as they just fitted the bill perfectly, if any of you have been lucky enough to hear them at any of the shows then you know how good these speakers can sound and my room could not accommodate the BIG Wilson Audio's that I wanted but instead I needed a Speaker that could accurately play loud and go low without taking up that much space and the KEF Reference One fitted perfectly into this category, but they are not just any run of the mill speaker, they are exceptional speakers which are hand built in the UK and look and sound sublime but more of that later.

So, you know a little bit of background of me now and what I have been involved in and have been listening and owned many a good HiFi system over the years which included Wilson Benesch, B&W 800, ProAc to name a few so to get back to a Reference system again was a challenge but one that I been working on, and I finally think that I have achieved that with what I have now.

Description & Setting Up

The KEF Reference One Speakers are hand built in the UK and inspected and tested fully and come with a certificate which shows the speakers linearity when measured, which gives you some good satisfaction that these speakers are built to the highest of qualities and it shows in their finish, I went for the gloss black and it looks stunning, it really does, the best finish I have seen on a KEF Speaker and the front baffle is quite different and stylish in the way it is done, but also fits a purpose as the baffle is made up of composite and aluminium resin, which is then secured to the cabinet with high tensile bolts which run all the way through the speaker which increases the speakers rigidity, all of this is to reduce driver induced cabinet resonances, and it seems to work extremely well.

The speakers dimension are 17.2”H x 8”W x 15.25”D while not large they are not exactly the smallest stand-mounted speaker around and you certainly know that when lifting one of them as they feel BIG and while I did not go for the KEF stands, seeing as they cost another £1000 on top I made do with my Atacama stands and have been told by a little birdie that Atacama will eventually be releasing plates that fit the KEF Reference One's which I think a lot of people will be pleased about. 

Once mounted on the stands and toed in enough it was time to play around with the port configuration which is offered on the Reference One Speakers, you have a long tube and a short tube, the longer tube will make the roll off less so for larger rooms this port config I would expect most people would choose but for my fairly small room it was the short tube option that I went for as it offers a steeper roll off and is suited to smaller rooms, it is a brilliant way of tuning the speakers and makes the KEF's a lot easier to set up because of these options.

You also have a nice and easy way of configuring the speakers for Bi-wiring or just plain straight single wiring by the means of Platinum plated knobs that twist left or right rather than links that can fall off and lose, or the messier option of using wire to join the two sections, KEF seems to have thought of everything with the Reference range and these little tweaks make it all that more enjoyable to use. 

Sound and Performance

For listening purposes I have built up a nice little system which consists of the KEF Reference One Speakers driven by a Krell KAV-400Xi Integrated Amplifier and this is all tied in with a Chord Electronics QuteHD DAC which is the hub for all my connections and I feed into it from my PC running J River Music Server with High Resolution Music including DSD files, and then I use my Oppo player as a Transport with its optical out into the DAC for Redbook CD replay, this is one nice sounding system and the Krell Amplifier has more than enough power to drive the KEF's well, it pumps out 200 watts into 8 ohms and that doubles when dropping to 4 ohms, so plenty of power on tap.

After running these speakers for many hours to just get them run in I was already starting to hear how special indeed these Monitors were turning out to be, the bass that was coming from them was immense and quite staggering for their size, tbh, they were sounding more like floor standers than stand-mounts, and it was not booming or loose bass but nice tight and taught bass, with a richness to it that was being harnessed by the Krell amplifier.

It was not just the bass that was impressing but the whole spectrum which was so clean across the whole of the frequency range, sweet highs and the mid-range was sounding glorious, you could not tell where any of the drivers crossed over it was just so cohesive and they all blended in perfectly.

I began with some High Resolution music from Roger Waters and his brilliant album Amused to Death in 24bit 192Khz bit rate, this album is more like a rock concert which takes you on a journey narrated by the man himself, I found the KEF's gave an incredible sound stage which was huge with great imaging and detail retrieval and the bass was solid with no decay just slam and impact that you expect from larger floor standers, with massive transients that start and stop on a dime, quite incredible really when you think these are stand-mount speakers.

On Late Tonight part II there is a section where a jet flies over head and you genuinely feel that it came from above you that is the 3D Stereo Imaging that these speakers create, stunning that it is only a 2 channel amplifier and 2 speakers creating this imaging but the best was yet to come when the explosion lets rip, the bass impact just hits hard and solid with no distortion and the KEF One's go deep with no decay at all so it left me grinning from ear to ear, I am just stunned at how good these monitors are they just seem to do everything right.

What God Wants track is just a mesmerizing experience with Roger Waters electric Guitar playing which is simply amazing and takes center stage, then you the have the vocal clarity of the KEF's which is just pure reference and a class above from what I have had in my rooms over the years and sounds simply sublime, the sonic picture the KEF's paint is massive and when I close my eyes the speakers just disappear and the room feels cavernous with sounds coming from all around, it is one of the best albums I have heard apart from The Wall from Roger Waters and it is recorded so well and the Higher resolution just makes it even better as the KEF's will show warts and all but this is a fine recording, In the track Three Wishes there is the Voice of God type of bass that comes in and the KEF Reference One speakers just handle this part so well that it really does take an excellent speaker to pull this one off and make it sound realistic which is exactly what the KEF's managed to do, simply stunned by there performance.

 thought I would try some red book CD replay so I chose George Michael's Symphonica Album which I liked because of the brilliant vocals and some of the Orchestral parts which I wanted to hear through the KEF Reference One's as I have heard this album on other systems which had floor standers as there main speakers, so was expecting to hear a less grand scale to Symphonica but it turned out to be quite the opposite as I know my room is quite small so it helps reinforce the bass but I cannot steal the honors from this speaker as the track Cowboys and Angels has a tremendous orchestral intro which sounds stunning and the bass goes deep and continues on into the song with the vocals from George Michael but this track sounded awesome with amazing scale and great dynamics which the KEF's handled superbly and they showed me that they can easily compete with a lot of floor standers out there for sheer depth and clarity that they portray.

The KEF's are just at home playing subtlety as they are when playing grand scale orchestral pieces and a Different Corner track clearly picks this out as George Michael's vocals with the Acoustic guitar are just exquisite and sound sublime with the guitar strings being plucked and you can pick it all up from the KEF's in such a melodic way that is sounds so right. 

Next up I thought I would try some DSD music so I put on the brilliant album Potions from Lyn Stanley which is recorded in DSD128 and I play this through my J River Music Media Player and then into my Chord QuteHD DAC.

The sound stage that the KEF's offer here is quite staggering and the imaging is spot on with Lyn Stanley out in front singing and then you have the layers of musicians behind her and to the sides, this is how you place it when you close your eyes and listen to the music, that is how the KEF's present or paint the sonic picture in your mind and how you hear it, with timing spot on this is a lot to do with it and a good speaker needs to be able to get a lot of mechanical attributes right to be able to be this good and Lyn Stanley's album sounds sublime through the KEF's with her voice sounding absolutely gorgeous and the best I have heard it sound.

At first I was a bit skeptical about these higher resolution music offerings and if they were worth it but you most certainly notice the difference in quality, it is not night and day but more subtle and when you have a superb monitor like the KEF Reference One it shows up these differences and the quality of what you hear steps up a notch and the KEF's reward you with what has to be one of the most accurate sounding monitors available today.


Conclusion and final thoughts

OK, I like these speakers, No let me rephrase that I love these speakers, they sound simply sublime with everything I play through them, they have bass which usually befits a floor standing speaker but it comes as a stand-mount speaker so it is smaller, KEF really have designed pure reference speakers with this new range and my expectations have been far exceeded than I ever imagined, over the last few years KEF have really seemed to get it together with the introduction of the Blade which was a groundbreaking design and then the Blade 2 and now the new Reference line, KEF are back at the top as far as I am concerned in speaker design and have some very clever people working for them, as they have built some gorgeous speakers which will certainly appeal to a lot of people and are not at extravagant prices but reasonable prices that people can actually afford.

The only gripe I may have with the Reference One's is that I would not be paying out £1000 for speaker stands as that to me seems far too much and was pleased to hear that Atacama will be releasing top plates to fit the Reference One's which will save people a lot of money, other than that, these speakers are exceptional and some of the best I have had the pleasure of having in my home, music sounds so good that I have my Reference HiFi back again 

No comments