Posted on Thu, 22 Sep, 2016
Posted by Mark


The Reference range from KEF needs no introduction since its launch over 40 years ago. Over the years, KEF has made many major advancements which have improved the standard of the Reference range to create the ultimate high-end acoustical loudspeaker which today is seen as one of the very greatest accurate loudspeaker range there is out currently. In order to achieve such a high quality, the Reference range along with the Blade series and Muon is hand made in KEFs own headquarters by skilled engineers based in Kent.

New Technologies.

The Reference range has many new iterations of technologies used by the different series of loudspeakers produced by KEF in order to increase the level of quality and accuracy produced by the Reference series. The Reference series is a class apart from many others because they combine high-fidelity performance with complete multi-channel versatility.

The first of technologies is the new Uni-Q driver array which has been created just for the Reference range. The Uni-Q for the Reference range was based off the Blade and Blades 2’s own Uni-Q driver with the only differences being in the magnet motor system. The two-part aluminium cone which KEF uses is so rigid that it operates as a piston over its entire frequency range. The Uni-Q also features many other KEF technologies such as the Tangerine wave guide, Z-Flex surround and the Shadow Flare.

KEF Reference Uni-Q

The next of these technologies is the 6.5” bass drivers which are designed to compliment the Uni-Q Driver array perfectly. They feature a massive vented magnet assembly coupled with a large aluminium wound voice coil all of which is coupled to a large 165mm aluminium diaphragm as opposed to a more traditional cone. The dynamics and power handling of these bass drivers is sublime however KEF still managed to keep distortion at an absolute minimum.

KEF Reference Bass Driver

Next up is the composite front baffle of which all of the drivers in the Reference range are sat in. it’s a strong laminate aluminium and resin composite which is formed in a press under immense temperature and pressure. This adds a tremendous rigidity to the cabinets structure, the baffle also has an added bonus of being able to dampen the loudspeaker cabinet by using high-loss pads and high tensile bolts to attach the baffle to the cabinet.

KEF Reference Composite Baffle

Last of the major technologies used in the Reference range was first introduced in the LS50, the flexible port technology. This technology allows the bass to be extended along with being able to fine tune the low frequency output to suit the personal taste of the listener. These ports were designed using computational fluid dynamics software which modelled the way the turbulence reacts with the different ports. All Reference products feature the 2 port lengths apart from the Reference 8b and 2c.

KEF Reference Flexible Ports - BackKEF Reference Flexible Ports

KEF Reference Loudspeaker Range.

The Reference range has six models, which includes two elegant three-way floor standers an amazing three-way bookshelf speaker (the main focus of this review), two three-way centre channels and an awesome 1000-watt subwoofer. All of these models are available in the following colour’s;  Satin American Walnut, Piano Black High Gloss and Luxury Gloss Rosewood (at an added cost of £450 (Reference 1), £750 (Reference 3) and £1000 (Reference 5)). The Reference 3 and 5 are also available in a Kent Engineering and Foundry edition which are Blue Ice White (Gloss White with a Blue Uni-Q Driver) and Copper Black Aluminium (Gloss black with an Orange Uni-Q) both of these finishes like the Gloss Rosewood are at an added cost of £800 (Reference 3) and £1000 (Reference 5).

First we have the smallest of the Reference range, the Reference 1 which are the main focus of this review. They feature KEFs latest 125mm (5”) Aluminium HF/MF Uni-Q driver array along with the brand new 165mm (6.5”) aluminium alloy diaphragm bass driver. It incorporates all of the latest technologies as discussed above with a 85dB sensitivity and up to 200w power handling. They also have an impressive frequency response extending down to 37Hz with the long port.

KEF Reference 1

Next up we have the 2nd largest speaker in the Reference range, The Reference 3. It features the same 125mm (5”) Aluminium HF/MF Uni-Q driver array as all the Reference range along with two of the brand new 165mm (6.5”) aluminium alloy diaphragm bass driver. These speakers are essentially arranged in the D’Appolito configuration which allows for impressive bass and perfect transitions between the Uni-Q and the bass drivers. They (like the Reference 1) incorporates the technologies above with a higher sensitivity of 87dB with an extended frequency response of 35Hz with the long port. They also have a 300w power handling.

KEF Reference 3

Finally, we have the largest speaker in the Reference range, The Reference 5. It features the same 125mm (5”) Aluminium HF/MF Uni-Q driver array as all the Reference range along with four of the brand new 165mm (6.5”) aluminium alloy diaphragm bass driver. The four 165mm bass drivers allow the Reference 5s to hit the lowest of low notes along with impressive speed and agility. They (like the Reference 1 & 3) incorporates the technologies above with a higher sensitivity of 90dB with an extended frequency response of 32Hz with the long port. They also have a 400w power handling.

KEF Reference 5

There are also 3 other models not discussed fully which are the Reference 4c which is a cinema centre speaker which is designed to be used along with the Reference 5. Also there is the Reference 2c which is also a cinema centre speaker which is designed to be used along with the Reference 3 and 1. Finally there is the Reference 8b which is the subwoofer designed to be used with the entire Reference range.

So how does The Reference 1 sound?

The KEF Reference 1 is an outstanding bookshelf speaker and it’s the best bookshelf speaker I’ve ever herd. As I was getting prepared for the listening tests I kept saying to myself ‘expect no bass compared to floor standers’ I was glad I was surprised, my god their bass is outstanding for such a small compact speaker. This is probably because of their 3-way design which allows KEF to put in an extra drive unit to handle just the bass. The entire Reference range are very very accurate loudspeakers, they will produce everything that goes into them with no colouration and virtually no distortion.

With the Reference 1’s it’s the Uni-Q driver that really does it for me, it’s the engagement and soundstage that comes from it, its truly amazing and tracks like Disclosures Hourglass shows just how wide that soundstage is along with allowing for great spatiality of the vocals and impressive bass. Another track that does this Gregory Porter’s Holding On it really hits the mark in the details of the vocals while still holding on to the subtle reverb that you can hear in the background, the soundstage on this track with the Reference 1’s makes it sound like you are in the room with Gregory.

Moving on to heavier tracks which really show up how well the Reference 1’s deal with bass compared to other bookshelves. Songs like Night by Benga & Coki really show just how deep and powerful the Reference 1’s can go, the bass drivers are also speedy and impactful which is thanks to the new 165mm bass driver KEF developed just for this range. This track was also not fatiguing on high sound levels unlike the Focal Sopra No.2s. Massive Attacks Protection also shows how well the Reference 1’s does wonderful deep bass but manage to do it with great detail and subtlety.

On to subtler songs like Michael Jacksons Human Nature (DSD) which really shows up the huge spatial sound created by the Reference 1’s along with crisp highs, amazing separation and huge amounts of detail. Dead Can Dance’s Cantara (DSD) also is another track which really shows what the Reference 1’s can do, the vocals sit perfectly in the background with no colouration at all, the bass is also very present and powerful. Glass Animals Black Mambo has a lovely life like kick drum sound coming from the Reference 1 along with having great separation of the vocals which makes listening to it a much better experience compared to the Sopra No.2s

Lastly songs like Drakes Grammy’s sounds great but at louder volumes the Reference 1’s begin to struggle with the intensity of the bass, which id expect from a speaker their size turning them down a few notches makes up for this though.

Conclusion.

In conclusion, The KEF Reference 1’s are an amazing bookshelf speaker. They live up to what KEF say in them being “formidable” they really are an amazing sounding accurate loudspeaker with crisp highs, silky smooth mid-range and a powerful & impactful bass which is usually only found on floor standers! So if you are in the market for some compact but stunning sounding speakers, or don’t have room for floor standers id seriously take a long listening session with the Reference 1’s. The Uni-Q will draw you in like it does for so many people.

Equipment List.

  • Primare PRE32.
  • Primare A34.2.
  • Chord Mojo DAC.
  • MacBook Pro with JRiver Media Centre 22.
  • Chord Signature Reference Speaker Cables.
  • Chord Sarum RCA Interconnects.
  • Partington Broadside Speaker Stands.