A few years ago, the global audio manufacturer KEF put its money where its mouth is by not only emphasizing the importance of system demonstrations but investing into a facility in N.J. where integrators can bring their clients to host system demos and education.
Back when the KEF Music Lounge first opened, David Kroll, vice president KEF America & KEF global CI product manager, explained there is far more going on in the space than simply a collection of home AV products.
“We built it with a couple of purposes in mind. First is to showcase our products and to show the level of performance that can be achieved with a properly designed, installed system,” he explained to CE Pro back in 2021.
“We have a wide range of systems from more entry level, up to ultimate, and each was done in a lifestyle. This is not looking like a retail showroom or a sound room. This looks like what you would install in your home should you have a really nice penthouse somewhere in New York or London.”
Today, Stephanie Scola, vice president of marketing, KEF America and Ben Hagens, senior product manager, KEF America, are, excusing the pun, driving home the company’s efforts to showcase how KEF’s products fit into the environments of modern homes, and providing a complete home AV education while doing it.
Scola recalls that when the company was developing the space to demonstrate its products, the KEF team wanted to convey the ability of its speakers to blend into home spaces.
“It’s supposed to feel like a home and function like a home,” she says. “You can sit in a home environment and have a nice dialog and learn about KEF products and technologies.”
Continuing her explanation of how the space is used, Scola goes on to say the facility also facilitates other learning opportunities beyond the experience of sitting through music and home theater demonstrations. She notes the goal with the expanded educational curriculum is designed to support dealers in areas such as sales, marketing, and the overall landscape of today’s AV industry.
“We are here to help,” emphasizes Scola. “We are here to guide and help not only educate dealers but help them with their projects.”
It’s important to note the Music Lounge is open to all KEF dealers and even non-KEF dealers. When integrators schedule a visit—KEF visits are by appointment only—Scola says that visiting integrators usually fly into Newark (New Jersey), which is about 35 to 40 minutes from the company’s facilities. As part of the visit, KEF will hire a car for pickup and the visit will be catered. Scola stresses the KEF team’s goal is to make integrators’ visits to the KEF lounge as comfortable and inviting as possible to make dealers feel at ease.
Looking back on how the visits have evolved since KEF first introduced these learning opportunities, she admits that initially the company offered morning and afternoon sessions. Eventually however, the audio manufacturer found that visitors preferred to spend the entire day with the KEF team.
Further helping dealers, Scola adds that dealers can also schedule visits with their clientele to allow their clients to experience KEF products and systems.
KEF Music Lounge Goes Deeper than Typical Audiophile System Demos
As the visits have grown in popularity Hagens says the company now hosts 600 people a year.
“During peak season we are looking at three- to four-groups per week. Maybe 80 or so end users [per year] … we have dealers or installers coming in with end users, so it is busy.”
According to Hagens, the groups are limited to approximately 10 to 12 people per group to allow for an exchange of information between the visiting group and KEF team members. The visits he continues, include brief presentations, which are held at the facility’s bar to help ensure the presentations are held in a relaxed atmosphere.
Moreover, another type of visit KEF hosts is what Hagens calls, “Experience trainings” in which dealers bring their staffs so entire teams can train together on the KEF product line. The mentality of KEF’s hosted visits is to raise dealers’ knowledge of not only the KEF product line, but the entire home audio market.
Underscoring one of the visits’ highlights are the Music Lounge system demos. Hagens says KEF America’s state-of-the-art facility includes 2,000-square feet of the space occupied by the company’s demo systems.
“We want people to listen in here in such a way that is achievable in their own homes and projects in their [the demo spaces] homes,” notes Hagens.
Hagens explains that KEF understands that very few installations are going into home environments that are conducive to high levels of audio playback. Because of that he says KEF’s engineering team have continually refined the company’s proprietary Uni-Q driver array technologies to ensure homeowners get the best possible audio experience from their audio systems.
Further complementing the speakers’ integration into a variety of interior spaces, Hagens points out the speakers employ industrial designs that match modern homes. Hagens says that aesthetically, the speakers need to not only complement a system’s electronics, but they need to complement a home’s furniture, lighting fixtures and a home’s color patterns.
As part of the system demos, KEF says it demonstrates the performance differences between its product lines, and the company will also show how integrators can mix-and-match between its in-room and custom installation products.
Those product differences he points out, along with the timbral capabilities of its in-room and architectural products highlight the company’s design approach of, “more of it.” What Hagens means by that is rather than sacrificing sound quality to hit a price point, KEF develops products that integrate into home spaces and as someone moves up the product line homeowners simply gain more performance attributes.
“The system should almost disappear [referring to the architectural products], and the box products [in-room speakers], should stand out [in a complementary way],” he says. “We do everything to do nothing. It is not our job to say this is how we think something should sound. Our job is to say how it sounds.”
KEF does this through engineering concepts in which the products are engineered to perform as linear or as flat as possible, but with the knowledge that the products aren’t always going to reside in pristine playback environments.
In the case of the KEF Music Lounge demo spaces, the company can demonstrate a range of stereo configurations, as well as immersive audio with 5.2.2 and 9.10.6 system options.
The 5.2.2 system is in a room that Hagens describes as a multimedia type of space. The idea of this system is to show how good of an AV experience homeowners can expect in a typical home that plays host any number of family activities.
“This is shocking [he jokes] … not everyone wants to rearrange their living spaces around their speakers. Crazy, I know,” comments Hagens. “We wanted to show a surround system in a situation that is far from ideal, but it just works because of Uni-Q.”
The larger space encompasses more than THX’s Dominus specification of 6,500-cubic feet with its nearly 8,500-cubic foot room.
Hagens says the nearly 8,500-cubic foot room represents the custom electronics industry’s symbolic dedicated home theater type of space. Designed with the company Acoustic Innovations, the room delivers acoustical design elements such as an RT60 (reverberation time) of approximately .29 seconds in the frequency range well beyond 8kHz Hagens stresses these performance levels help the room to support a consistent listening experience over a wide frequency range.
As for the room’s low frequency capabilities, the space is designed to provide a flat, consistent listening experience through design elements that minimize standing waves.
“This is a very big room,” he states. “We are not going for overblown bass. We are going for natural bass. We want things to sound right.”
Another component of the room, that isn’t really a design element, but more of a philosophical approach, Hagens says the KEF team will perform system demos about 8dB down from reference level to maintain visitors’ comfort levels by not fatiguing their ears. The point of these types of system demos he says is that even without pushing the system, the KEF products in the Music Lounge space can deliver high levels of impact and immersion.
“How many times have you gone to a trade show and your ears are ringing to high hell … more often than not,” he comments.
Accentuating his point, Hagens stresses these systems are going into homes with kids and no one wants to damage kids’ hearing and that is why KEF plays demos below reference level.
Summarizing the value of the Music Lounge and the KEF facilities, Hagen asserts that visitors get more than just sitting through loud music and movie demos, the visits provide education that fosters excitement about the KEF product line and access to the KEF team that provides invaluable dealer support.
“The benefits someone gets coming here is they get the direct experience,” articulates Hagens. “The other benefit they have is being face-to-face with the people at KEF.”
If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our digital newsletters!