This is going to be a difficult review for me to write. It isn’t because I find serious flaws with Lars Hansen’s The KING speaker system; no, it’s just the opposite—the speaker is so coherent that it is a thing unto itself.
It is a five-driver three-way design, said to extend from the low 20s in Hertz, up to and past the point of good hearing. Its sensitivity is rated at 89dB (referred to the usual specs) and all of its drivers, save the mystery tweeter, are designed, formulated, and manufactured inhouse, at Hansen’s Ontario facility. As you may see, if you stop now and read my interview with Hansen, the aim here was to reduce conventional moving-coil speaker/enclosure colorations to an unprecedented degree, thus allowing more of the sense of music, its timbre, to shine through.
The $55,000 KING is intended to be used in a larger room than I installed it in, since I didn’t wish to surrender my reference speakers in Room 3, at least not for the moment. And, anyway, speakers as large as Infinity’s Reference Standard, the IRS, had coupled more than nicely (and to their designer’s approval) in Music Room 2, where even the largest Maggies of Audio Research vintage found a happy home.
It took considerable care in placement to couple the system to the room in a way that maximized its strengths. We were able to achieve a significantly wide soundstage, with a considerable illusion of soundfield depth, as well as robust response flat down to at least 32Hz. When I say robust response, I mean highly articulated definition of instruments located in the bottom octave (which I define as 20 to 40Hz). And thanks to its twin 289mm woofers, The KING can move air, which lends a sense of bigness when a symphony orchestra plumbs the depths. We could have squeezed out a few more cycles, I suppose, if we had positioned the speaker a bit farther back in the room, where a resonance would have lifted the bass, but also introduced unacceptable boom in the midbass, at about 60Hz or so. As it was, the position we found best was close to what I call the Pearson Rule of Thirds (my rediscovery—folks knew about this in the Thirties), i.e., positioned a third of the way into the room, with each speaker a third of the way from the sidewalls.
Once we wound our way through the set-up blues, we began more than a few rounds of listening, using some of our most cherished compact discs. (We did not use analog in this round of evaluations, which, I might add, is not our last.) We relied quite heavily on the Mercury recording The Composer and his Orchestra, now available from Philips on a four- CD set of Howard Hanson’s music— and specifically the first 15 minutes or so, in which we get a tour of orchestral instruments, placed on the stage as they might be in the hall, with their dynamics faithfully rendered. Then, on to the wondrous JVC XRCD transfer of Zubin Mehta’s recording of Holst’s The Planets, with heavy emphasis on “Mercury” for delicacy of string tone and a fortissimo midway through that can challenge the best electronics, “Saturn” for its ethereal woodwinds, high bells and chimes, and low organ pedal notes, and “Uranus” for a sonic blast, including a sensational upward glissando by the organ that could curl your toes. Also in heavy rotation was the RCA/BMG transfer of Leinsdorf ’s reading of Mahler’s Third (the first movement), a recording that sounds far superior to the two-disc Dynagroove LP version (is that a misspelling for “grove,” the wooden sound?). Here you’ll find subtle and eerie pianissimos, punctuated with rear-stage taps on the big bass drum, and climatic fortissimos like thunder over the mountains.
There were others, as well, including the two Carmina Burana cuts from the Telarc/SACD sampler I produced. In this case, I not only know the sound of Atlanta’s Woodruff Hall but more than a few members of its chorus, so I have a firm reference (and the recording, even in the two-channel layer, is just gorgeous).
Just a brief interruption to let you know what was doing what. We found the resolution of the system so high that we decided to use the Lab 47/Pi tracer CD playback unit, the 04 Burmester linestage, and an all-Nordost cable, interconnect, and power-distribution system.
The first thing that struck me about these speakers was their coherency, which, in this case, made the system sound as if it were a singularity— that is, one thing. Note, I am not saying it is perfect in this regard, nor does it have the seamlessness of, say, a full-range electrostatic, but it is, for a cone/dome hybrid design, an accomplishment. It is also frighteningly revealing.