While we got a peek at KEF's new Reference and Blade Two speakers at CEDIA Expo earlier this month, the speakers were only on silent display. This past weekend, at the New York Audio Show in Brooklyn, we got to hear the loudspeakers' official sonic debut, and it was impressive.
The Reference Series and Blade Two feature similar (but not precisely the same) UniQ drivers. These coaxial drive units include both the tweeter and woofer/midrange unit in the same physical driver. This ensures ideal time and phase alignment by using a single point source for all of the critical midrange and treble frequencies.
Bass response is supplemented in both lines by 6.5-inch active bass drivers. On the Blade Two ($24,000/pr.), those woofers are side-mounted (two on each side) while on the Reference speakers, the drivers face forward. The number of bass drivers depends on the cabinet size of the speaker with one on the Reference 1 ($7500/pr.), two on the Reference 3 ($13,000/pr.) and four on the Reference 5 ($18,000/pr.).
The sonic characteristics of the Blade Two and the Reference 5 speakers are quite similar, however each has a unique signature. Each offers pinpoint. precise imaging, excellent distortion-free dynamic range and deep bass extension. To my ears, the Reference offers a slightly more "bass forward" mix, while the more expensive and more stylish Blade Two creates a truly three-dimensional soundstage that we normally only hear on smaller bookshelf speakers, yet with the deep bass extension of a full-sized tower speaker. I've never heard a tower speaker with such three-dimensional imaging, and certainly not in such an attractive package.
But you'll need to be prepared to pay for the privilege. While the the Blade Two is about 20% less expensive than its big brother, the Blade ($30,000/pr.) and nearly an order of magnitude less expensive than the Muon ($200,000/pr.), a pair of Blade Twos is still as expensive as a decent car at $24,000. If that's too rich for your blood, you may be only mildly encouraged to hear that the top-of-the-line Reference 5 sells for $18,000/pair and the bookshelf model (Reference 1) maintains much of the sonic character of the line (albeit without the lowest bass reproduction) for $7,500 a pair.
For those who want to deploy the Reference speakers in a home theater or surround sound system, the line includes matching center speakers, the Reference 4c ($7,500) and Reference 2c ($5,000) as well as the Reference 8b powered subwoofer ($8,000).
Johan Coorg, KEF's brand embassador told us that while the Blade Two and Reference series will begin shipping before the end of the year, the initial production runs of most models are already spoken for until early 2015. Even he is going to have to wait for his own pair of Blade Twos (customer orders come first).