I received an excited phone call from a Toronto distributor asking me to be at the launch party for a new series of speakers. She had been giving well-placed hints about them for the last several months. The party was in 24 hours – she had forgotten to call at least a month in advance to accommodate this guy’s schedule! I was listening to her passionate invitation from the foyer of New York’s Philharmonic Hall. The speakers would have to wait – Anna Sophie Mutter was waiting to play Beethoven. Trumped!
My sojourn in Manhattan worked out well because upon my return, I received a solo audition of the brand spanking new Hansen Audio, The King Loudspeaker. I was asked what I wanted in the way of ancillary components (it would seem the speaker embraces all topologies). ‘Oh, the new Audio Research preamp and monoblocks…yeah, they’ll do. And throw in the dCS all-in-one SACD/CD player, too’. Cheeky! It turned out that these components were the essence of complimentary synergy. Gift wrapped together, please.
Not your run-of-the-mill review
Let me say at the starting blocks that this is not your run-of-the-mill Audiophilia review. I did not have these beauties in house for months on end (that will come in a much-anticipated follow up); I did not have umpteen hours to caress the finish, to listen to that one phrase in Beethoven’s Seventh many times over to ‘see’ the placement of the first and second flute, to listen and listen and listen. What I did have is two very extended sessions with warmed up components and well broken in speakers. As such, take my words for what you think they are worth. That said, let’s have at it!
Garage or shed?
As I was following the distributor to Hansen’s place, I was imagining the size of the garage, the house or the shed. Many of the missionaries of high-end begin this way. Sadly, lots end this way. Practical business models are not the norm. Much to my surprise, we drove into Allstate Parkway, a north Toronto business park hotspot and chock full of similar-looking, slick office monoliths. It looked like Hansen Audio was going to be doing things just a little differently.
The office was clean as a whistle, modern, spacious, with the Kings pride of place at the end of the large main space. A going concern. Yippee! I can report happily that the company is well vested, with an engineering focus. Everything concerning the speakers is done in house (or just off the premises).
Hello, these are my beautiful children
The distributor introduced me to a relaxed and charming, Lars Hansen. Hansen is the designer of the speakers and CEO of Hansen Audio. He could not have been more friendly and informative. He has been in the industry for many years, designing for, or presiding over, others — this time, he’s letting his pen flow for himself.
After the offer of drinks and sundries, Hansen set about explaining in great detail about the genesis, design topology, and the future of his speakers. It made for a very interesting hour. He showed me the drivers, the shape of the cabinets, the finish of the cabinets, and explained his driver placement, the material used inside the speaker, the reasoning behind each curve, etc. From his clear and passionate delivery, I can tell you that Hansen has thought through every aspect of the design and manufacture of The King in magnificent detail. As I said, the speaker is designed and manufactured in house, save for the German rubber surrounds of the gorgeous drivers (although Hansen owns the tooling), WBT Platinum Signature connectors, and the original manufacture of the tweeter.
From the photograph above, one can see the shape Hansen was after – the womanly curves help in the elimination of standing waves, the D’Appolito array of upper drivers helps in the time alignment; even the measurement waterfall of the tweeter is slightly different from one side to the other to aid in correct diffraction. The three-way, bass reflex topology has some bracing in concert with a unique inner ‘damping’ – was he hush hush about this? Of course!
The King’s large footprint will in no way overwhelm a decent sized room. The subtle lines of both front and back coupled with a to-die-for finish will pass the ‘significant other’ factor. Yet, at 300 pounds a side and just over 5 feet tall, The Kings do make a magisterial statement.
The enclosures are manufactured in ‘Hansen Composite Matrix’. More hush hush! Hansen was particularly proud of this achievement. The knock test elicited an inert thud. They are incredibly solid. The drivers’ cones are made of a multi layer sandwich of which the top layer is glass and resin with pearl white cosmetic finish. They look magnificent – a great addition to the cabinets. The speakers drop to 18 Hz and rise to 23 kHz. At 89 dB, 6 oHms they are a fairly simple load – all but the wimpiest single ended amplifiers may apply.
Up first were some English songs performed by the great Ian Bostridge, accompanied on the piano by the equally fine Julius Drake. The tenor voice, ringing and true in all the songs, hung beautifully, just left of stage center with piano giving a lot of center fill. This EMI compilation works because of the grouping of songs and because the understated emotion is in front of the notes at all times. The Hansens, in conjunction with the superb ancillary components, gave the recital a presence and a realism that was very compelling. I found myself immediately taken with the speakers’ way with the music. Bostridge’s voice was represented as the thoroughbred it is; vibrant and flexible. Tactile. So much so, that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end for what seemed like the whole seventy minute recital. The speakers allowed the intense emotion of the many pianissimos to shine as well as louder passages. And this emotional involvement continued with all the discs I played.
The highs, mids and lows were seamless in connection. The opening section of the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances was representative of this purity, especially the way the Kings represented specific and layered images and the soundfield. The staccato opening on the violins helped in very specific imaging, with the end of the notes reverberating around the Minneapolis hall beautifully — very accurate decay here. In short order, clarinets and bassoons complicate the issue with fluid, quick arpeggios that sounded like liquid gold, followed by a very quiet, sustained note on the bass clarinet. The connection of each instrument’s tessitura was effortless and a testament to the quality of the crossover. Just after the bass clarinet pedal note, the crushing string chords followed by the pounding timpani were eaten up easily by the fantastic Hansens. This justly famous Keith Johnson Reference CD was terrific, and the sound I experienced surpassed what I have heard on many a fine speaker.
I didn’t listen to any rock, but the distributor threw on some Aaron Neville. His surprisingly musical version of Schubert’s Ave Maria was recorded beautifully. Neville’s voice was so clear and his unique vibrato hung in the sound stage as beautifully as Bostridge’s less intense voice. Jazz was represented by Windjammers Swingphonic (pretty splendid in its immediacy and superb instrumental timbre) and the new John Pizzarelli Bossa Nova. This very subtle and musical CD was pure pleasure via The Kings. There was absolutely no compression of the soundstage — the Telarc recording was laid bare for examination. Really wonderful music, performed very well. The four alto flute tracks (four different players with different tones) on Waters of March were easily discerned by the Hansens – other speakers only hint at this. They are not so clinical that they spotlight every flaw, rather, they’ll give you whatever the engineer gives. No more.
The two afternoons of listening to the speakers had me totally captivated. The Kings image very specifically, lay out a huge soundstage (helped in no small part by the wonderful electronics), and offer super accurate instrumental and vocal timbre (probably its greatest attribute). They can also play incredibly loud without any type of soundstage implosion. Your ears or gear will give up the ghost well before the Kings. Yes, they set a very high mark for others to follow, including the so called ‘super speakers’. For my taste, they give what some other very expensive speakers do not – they offer the music first with the technology in service of that aim. Others reverse the equation, much to their peril.
The sound is open and crystal clear. I should mention that I did not listen to the speakers on anything less than very expensive, highly-regarded ancillary equipment. I’m wondering how they fair on lesser gear? Mind you, anybody that can afford the price of admission will be taking the greatest care with accompanying electronics. I know Lars Hansen or your dealer would be very helpful in suggesting equipment. Of course, your taste may lay on the cooler side of cool or hotter than hot. I know that Lars Hansen enjoys his speakers hooked up to both solid state and tubes; CD and vinyl, both. In fact, he tuned the speakers using vinyl as his primary source. Your best bet? Listen at length at a dealer with your favorite design topologies and let your ears (and wallet) be your guide.
As such, I recommend the Hansen Audio The King Loudspeaker most highly. They are artistic and technological marvels. If you are one of the audiophiles that can afford them [USD$70,000.00], by all means place them first among your audition list. You probably won’t have to shop anywhere else!
Anthony, thank you for your extremely positive comments regarding the performance, design and looks of the Hansen Audio model “THE KING”. It was a pleasant surprise to meet someone like yourself that has such a great insight into music. Your understanding of tonal timbre and spatial presentation of musical instruments and human voice can only come from long hours of live musical enjoyment.
Truly great achievements can only come about if the basis of the project is anchored in passion. It is in this great passion for music that Hansen Audio is founded. “THE KING” has many technological credits and advancements that allow it to stand above the norm in High End audio. “THE KING” is lovingly hand assembled with the most technologically advanced enclosures and components that science allows. However it is the dedication to the joy of listening to music that pushes this design.
It is clear that it is music and its natural reproduction that excites you. The positive experience you write about in listening to music on “THE KING” is exactly what Hansen Audio seeks to achieve with our designs. Thank you for the prodigious “The Audiophilia Star Component Award” and the “Most Highly Recommended” statement.
CEO Hansen Audio
Further information: Hansen Audio