It has one again been extremely busy here at Enjoy the Music.com headquarters as this month marks our annual Blue Note Awards. Add to that, am preparing to move and as such had to make some hard choices. Our annual Blue Note Awards are precious in that unlike elsewhere, we give out so few awards each year that it it that much more important to make the choices extremely carefully. While it is obvious that giving out few awards in counterproductive to the marketing-minded, it makes no sense to paint a broad brush and award everyone with some accolades. As such, the truly outstanding products in our opinion are therefore brought into a more tuned spotlight as it were. The list of well over 100 products was whittled down to a mere 17. Whilst many who did not receive an award indeed deserve high praise on their own merits, somehow they may have slightly missed the mark in achieving the very best the Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed in 2010. Of course no single magazine can review every product that was released within the past year, so there may indeed be some products we somehow missed. As such, our continued focus on offering World Premiere reviews helps to ensure you are reading about the latest and greatest gear available in the industry.
The Death Of A Good Friend
Upon first hearing the 104 way back in 1985 or thereabouts at Sound Advice in South Florida i knew these were amazing speakers. Sadly, all i could afford back then was the Boston Acoustic A40 small monitors. Over the years various Infinity and lower line KEF speakers filled my music room. When finances permitted the then new 104/2 came into my home with a warm welcome. AT first i fed them via an Adcom 535, then 545 amplifier. This eventually gave way to the very last pair ever made by VTL's David Manley of the 225 triode monoblocks with KT90 tubes, as the KT90 tube was at that time becoming rare due to civil unrest/war within the country of manufacture.
Perhaps i should discus the technical details of the KEF 104/2 to give you a better idea as to why these speakers are truly amazing. According to KEF's own website, "Model 104/2 is a classic high output, high sensitivity loudspeaker system with exceptional dynamic capability. Since its launch, this elegant Reference Series loudspeaker has won awards worldwide for technical innovation and acoustic performance - and no wonder. Model 104/2 incorporates KEF Reference Series dual coupled cavity bass loading, an innovative arrangement which improves low frequency performance and reduces distortion while delivering tremendous bass output. Twin chassis-less midrange units effectively eliminate chassis resonance. The very embodiment of all that makes Reference Series so special, Model 104/2 has a performance level way above its size." The D'Appolito design of the incredibly hefty midrange/tweeter/midrange panel arrangement meant that phasing was kept in check while the sound of the lower midrange on up appeared to come from a single point. The dual midrange drivers per cabinet also allowed them to operate at an overall lower level per driver, thus ensuring clarity due to not needing to be driver at higher output (read: reaching distortion) per driver. The pair of B110 100mm (5") doped Bextrene cones surrounded KEF's T33 25mm (1") impregnated silk fabric dome tweeter. The tweeter could achieve plenty of output yet has amazing smoothness and lifelike sound production.
That is all well and good, yet what about the bass? Ahhh, here is where the technical achievement continues! A pair of B200 200mm (8") paper cone drivers with conjugally-loaded inside the main cabinet, joined also by a center metal rod, and these were loaded via a bandpass design that allowed the sound to escape out of the front. What many people do not realize is part of the brilliance of this design is that the size of the port is also the same as the midrange driver, thus 'throwing' sound out at about the same wave formation as the midrange drivers.
While overall frequency response was from 55 Hz to 20 kHz (+/- 2dB), KEF offered a Kube that would modify the signal to produce more lower frequency support. The problem with it was, it tended to cloud the sound of the speaker, thus reducing transparency. JPS Labs, this was very early on in the company's history, offered what was called a 'Golden Flute'. Joe, a really great guy who is the owner and head designer of JPS Labs, was kind enough to send me a pair of Golden Flutes to try out. This was back in the early 1990's as we were both members of CompuServer's CEaudio board. While the Golden Flutes were better than the KEF Kube, it also clouded the overall sound. At the same time i was toying around with my live-end dead-end sound room (just felt i'd mention that).
Looking at the KEF 104/2's very steady impedance of 4 Ohms and 92dB/W/m sensitivity, i felt it was worth giving the Audio Note Ongaku a try, back then there were very few high sensitivity speakers in the marketplace. Sure you had Klipsch and a very small handful of others, yet at 92dB/4 Ohm it was worth a shot. The Audio Note Ongaku single-ended triode integrated amplifier entered my home at this stage of life...
The 104/2 did things no other speaker did, including the Infinity IRS Beta that graced my home as possible replacement for the KEFs and the KEF speaker still won for overall accuracy and soundscaping. Speaking of soundscaping, the 104/2 was a monster in this regard. Not just width or depth or the way an image solidly floated out in the room, it was height information as well. Within my room albums like Roger Waters' Amused To Death or Chesky's test album that features height 'tricks', images were very solidly placed far outside the physical cabinet's location. Not just to the right or left, but i am referring to a completely seamless portrayal of a hall's sound (when properly captured with all phase information in tact). Many people do not realize that on Amused To Death there is an abundance of height and even soundscape angling effects via the Roland Q-Sound processing. Same goes for Madonna's Immaculate Collection to some degree, yet it is far more synthetic versus the very natural unfolding Roger Waters' album produces.
Due to preparing to move, it was time to clean out my home. The KEF 104/2 having lived a long life did need new surrounds for the woofers (both inner and outer surrounds). Also, one of the crossovers needed a capacitor replaced. The capacitor is easy yet repairing the woofers is quite a task. Add to that, the original boxes have long since been thrown out and thus making it nearly impossible to have them come with me. Sure i placed an advertisement to sell them, as-is, on a few websites yet even at a few hundred dollars there were no takers. As i type this right now, they are sitting in my backyard ready to be thrown out. It literally brings tears to my eyes, as these speakers have provided me so many wonderful, happy years... and dare i add aural ecstasy. How is it that such an inanimate object can bring about such deep sadness when they finally 'die'?
i tried to save the midrange cones yet they are glued to the M/T/M panels. The tweeters are easy to remove, yet i can see challenging to ship with the dome protruding outward. In some ways i felt like a neural surgeon in finding some way to save the patient, yet coming to the conclusion that even the best audio CPR would not suffice. So there she sits, in my backyard ready to be thrown in the dump. Her guts are just hanging out, a victim of time as it were as virtually nothing lasts forever. Will readily admit writing this editorial is a kind of therapy for me. At some point we all may have had to say goodbye to a good friend. For automobile enthusiasts or audiophiles, this could be a simple object made of metal, fabric and wires, yet deep in our soul they are living, breathing objects of desire. These are items where the sum is far greater than just individual parts. So with my eyes now welling up with tears i say goodbye to my good friend. Thank you for many years of aural pleasures. You will indeed be missed.
Of course in the end what really matters is that you...