In the middle of the 1970s, KEF was producing three-dimensional graphs that showed how loudspeakers behaved under “real-world” conditions—not simply with test tones—and the result of this endeavor was loudspeakers like the Model 104. This high-efficiency, high-output small loudspeaker used three innovative synthetic laminated drivers and proved extremely popular. So popular, in fact, that it sparked KEFs Reference Series, which continues to this day, undergoing a process of constant development.
In 1977 KEF introduced its famous Reference Model 105, which was the result of what was arguably one of the most advanced loudspeaker development projects ever undertaken. The speaker featured separate enclosures for the bass and mid/treble sections to allow time-alignment and even sound dispersion over the entire audio range, and featured fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley crossovers. The Reference Model 105 came to represent the highest of loudspeaker high technology and is still one of the best-known high-end loudspeakers in the UK. Little wonder then that KEF received two Queen’s Awards for Export Achievement in the 1970s, and Cooke himself received the Order of the British Empire medal in 1979.
The computer-modeling systems created by KEF in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to highly advanced Reference Series designs in the late 1970s.
Once again KEF and the BBC linked up in a fascinating experiment in 1980, with Abbado conducting the Berlioz Te Deum in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, even though the piece used the organ of St Mary’s Cathedral a mile away. The organ’s recording was transmitted by FM radio link to the Usher Hall, where it was replayed successfully using 36 KEF Reference 105/2 loudspeakers.
KEF’s constant drive for technological innovation soon extended across Europe. In partnership with Bang & Olufsen and the Acoustics Laboratory of the Technical University of Denmark, KEF began work on the EUREKA Archimedes project. A very advanced computer-modeling-and-mapping concept, the idea behind EUREKA Archimedes was to develop a “smart” loudspeaker that compensated for its surroundings. This project ultimately helped develop pioneering digital-signal processing that would prove vital for delivering more accurate and deep bass from smaller loudspeakers. And, in the process, KEF developed its distinctive two-way Uni-Q driver array that features a tweeter positioned in the acoustic center of the mid/bass unit. This driver creates a virtual point source, and therefore delivers satisfying three-dimensional sound over a broad listening area—not just from one narrowly defined “sweet spot” between the speakers. During the 1980s, KEF’s popular Reference range helped the company make deeper inroads in the U.S. market and the company diversified into car audio and in-wall loudspeaker systems, long before the trend in multi-room audio emerged.
Raymond Cooke was elected President of the Audio Engineering Society in 1983/84, as well as receiving the Bronze and Silver medals from the society in 1980 and 1993 respectively. He retired in 1988, but was made Life President of KEF and played an active role in the company until his death in 1995, age 70.
The company was acquired in 1992 by Gold Peak Industries, an Asian multinational. This led to speculation about the future of KEF, in part because it was one of the first traditional audio brand names to be bought by Asian interests. But KEF would certainly not be the last British hi-fi manufacturer acquired by offshore owners, and in any event it soon became clear that the firm was in good hands. The company swiftly and deftly moved into home-theater markets, at first with the Model 100 center loudspeaker and subsequent development of THX-approved designs. (KEF was one of the first UK companies to seek THX approval, and Laurie Fincham, who joined KEF in 1968 and replaced Cooke as chief engineer at the company, is now Chief Scientist at THX.). At the same time, KEF recognized impending changes in the audio market, especially the European audio market, and designed the small low-cost Coda 7 loudspeaker for a new audience. It also continued to develop and improve its other ranges, including a major improvement in the Uni-Q line toward the end of the 1990s.