Sound Tasting With Kef Blade 2
We recently had the pleasure of a KEF 'sound tasting' evening with engineer and producer, Sean Hargreaves at North Seven Studios, based in the Tileyard complex in Kings Cross.
Let's get the first bit out of the way; we all know what a wine tasting is, right? Well, the sound tasting evening organised by KEF kind of follows a similar path in so much we had a sound sommelier in the expert producer, Sean Hargreaves.
Where wines comprise of grape varieties, terroir, and so on, Sean was to be sent a list of tracks by the small band of journalists present. He would then studiously listen to the selected songs through the lovely KEF Blade 2, the slightly smaller £18,000 loudspeaker sibling to the Blade. The result would be musical tasting notes.
Tileyard Studios is the base for a variety of artists, producers and engineers. The rollcall of musicians includes Liam Howlett (The Prodigy), Shy FX, Lily Allen, Sigala, Benji B, Chase & Status, Charlie Sloth, and many, many more.
This creative hub not only serves as a place for people to create and work but to also collaborate. Handily, it is also the home to Two Tribes brewery, which is a great focal point to wind down or have a quick chat.
KEF Sound Tasting Session
Each of us was asked to send in five tracks that we'd like Sean to listen to and make observations (tasting notes) of what he thought that the KEF Blade 2 might uncover for us.
KEF Blade 2
The KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers sat in the studio control room were a rather cool matte blue finish. The three-way bass-reflex design features a Li-Mg-Al/ LCP hybrid cone with a 25mm (1-inch) vented aluminium dome in KEF's natty Uni-Q array. Bolstering that mid/tweeter arrangement are four 165mm (6.5-inch) bass units aligned for force cancelling.
Those drivers sit in the distinctive Blade shaped enclosures that measure 1461 x 338 x 475mm (HxWxD). Frequency response is quoted at 40Hz-35kHz (±3dB) with the crossovers at 320Hz and 2.4kHz.
The Blade 2 speakers were pushed along admirably by a pair of Chord Electronics' Ultima amplifiers.
KEF's Dr Jack Oclee-Brown
Also present was Dr Jack Oclee-Brown (left in pic above), KEF's Head of Acoustics. Dr Oclee-Brown has been with KEF Audio since 2004 and is currently working on loudspeaker modelling, the development of software tools to aid loudspeaker design, and transducer design.
As we gathered in the control room with a beverage of our choosing from the brewery next door, Sean introduced himself and the KEF Blade 2.
Sean (right in above pic) is a musician, composer and producer. He studied in New York with Barry Harris and at Berklee College of Music. Sean has appeared on national TV with Michael Buble and has also worked with Natalie Imbruglia and Alison Moyet. Additionally, he has recorded sessions at Tileyard with artists such as Sam Smith, Duke Dumont, Ella Eyre and Sigala.
It's safe to say that he knows his way around a studio, and knows how to construct a tune.
Playlist and Tasting Notes
Here is the list of songs that the combination of journalists came up with and Sean's notes. It is worth noting here that Sean is hugely passionate about music and his enthusiasm is addictive. We are pretty sure that he could have spoken about the 21 tracks long into the night and out the other side. Unfortunately, we had a curfew and work to do the following day.
If you want to listen along here is the Tidal playlist.
Bruno Mars, 24k magic
Listen out for the clarity and width of the vocals, the secret “woop woop” and the synth imaging and bass depth.
Paul is Alive, El Vy (Return to the Moon)
There is a beautiful vocal that you can hear is well recorded. You can hear the differences between the real guitar vs. the synth elements. You can also clearly hear the tail of the processed snare.
Sandro Perri, Wrong About the Rain
You can hear the clav clearly, and at the beginning, the drums get slightly out of sync. Look out for the delay, it was probably due to a tape, and there is a spring reverb on the vocal.
Little Simz, Wounds
Listening to this track on the Blade 2 allows you to hear the fret noise on the guitars. Look out for the beautifully recorded electric guitar at the beginning because you can clearly hear the amp. The beat when it comes in is programmed, and there is a slight delay on the backing vocals.
Mahalia Jackson, Trouble of the World
You can tell that they made a decision in production to make this sound vintage as it has less treble, less deep sound and a less glossy vocal. The snare is also very noticeable.
Bebe, Amimales hambrientos
You can very clearly hear the digital reverbs, higher bass extension and treble response in this recording. Look out for the dulcimer.
Capuleti e I Montecci, Act 2: “Tu sola, o mia Giulietta… Deh! tu, bell'anima” (Romeo) – Joyce DiDonato [Stella di Napoli]
This is one is brilliant at 1’26 it sounds like there is an audience noise which hasn’t been removed - watch out for it. You can also hear the reverb of the concert hall in which it was recorded and the clarinet.
This track is very filmic; you can really hear all of the ambiences on each element of the track. The vocal has great clarity; you can hear how it has been tracked and the delay.
The Package, A Perfect Circle
A lot of care has been taken with the trashy, roomy backbeat at the beginning of this track. You can also hear a sharp contrast with the close-miked snare once the track picks up.
Nick Cave, Red Right Hand
This has a very close vocal; it almost sounds ‘furry’.
With this track you can hear that they used a chamber on the lead vocal, the imaging on the backing vocals is crips, and there is a really great bass extension.
NIN with David Bowie, I'm Afraid of Americans
With this track the constituent synths are very clear, you can also hear how the panning on the ‘uh uh uh’ backing vocal.
Soundgarden, Let me Drown
There is a slapback delay on the local that is very cool; you can also tell that this is a deliberately lo-fi recording.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Jubilee Street
This has a great vocal, and the drum sounds roomy. What’s really exciting is that you can hear that the tambourine player drops the tambourine during the recording.
BB King and Eric Clapton, Riding with the King
There's a lot of reverb on this track on everything and listen to how the vocal sits relatively at the back of the mix.
Cave In, Shake my Blood
Listen out for how clear the compression on the snare is. The producer took a lot of care with the guitar; it sounds almost furry and roomy at the same time.
Azelia Banks, Fierce
There is an excellent bass extension on this track, and you can also hear how they tried to give the vocal a ‘telephone’ quality.
Marilyn Manson, Deep Six
Listen to this one at full volume. The mix is brilliant, and the speakers really capture how balanced each of the elements in the speaker is.
Motley Crüe - Kickstart My Heart
Can hear chugging low guitars v clearly. Really well recorded How far back in mix LVs are (as you'd expect)
Azealia Banks, Heavy Metal and Reflective
You can really hear that this is a digital recording; it has reverbs on everything.
Mabel, Mad Love
The male backing vocal on this is heavily distorted, look out for it. Also, the lead vocal is very delayed, and you won’t have noticed this previously.
We enjoyed our time in the studio and to be able to discuss the creative process, not only of the songs we listened to but also the Blade 2 speakers.
No doubt this will have been the first time in a professional recording studio for many. It is undoubtedly one of the nicest ones we've been in.
The Blade 2 loudspeakers really do the job, especially if you don't have the space for their larger siblings. The low-end was potent as well as musical, particularly on the more electronic tracks played.
Furthermore, and a point underlined by Dr Oclee-Brown, is that the Blade 2 are remarkably neutral and transparent. Those characteristics also made Sean's job less arduous as he was able to pick out sounds or techniques such as layered reverb and echo that some other speakers may have failed to reveal.
For more information, go to KEF.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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