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January 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Hansen Audio THE KING Loudspeakers
To quote Mel Brooks, "It's Good To Be King."
Review By Phil Gold

 Hansen Audio THE KING

  While the list of good small and mid-sized speakers is extensive, it's tough to make a good big speaker. The drivers are often widely spaced, making it difficult to achieve good imaging, and it's hard to make a large structure sufficiently rigid. But some have succeeded, most notably in my experience the TAD Model 1, which will run you a cool $45,000 a pair. Is it time to welcome another outstanding performer to the ranks? When I heard that a local (Ontario) company was making a challenge to the state of the art, I felt obliged to investigate. Follow me to the HQ of Hansen Audio and I'll introduce you to the aptly named THE KING speakers.

What does Hansen Audio bring to the table? First, CEO Lars Hansen is a well-established speaker designer whose credits include designing the Legacy line of speakers (no relation to any current company or product) in the 1970s while more recently he served as President of Dahlquist.

Lars set out to design the best speaker possible, price be damned. Starting with the drive units, Lars developed midrange and woofer drivers hand-built almost entirely in house. I've held these drivers in my hands — they are the heaviest I have ever lifted. The cones are made from multi-layered esoteric materials attached with precision-made real rubber surrounds, imported from Europe, to Hansen Architecture frames to mate with a very powerful motor assembly, designed for optimal attack and recovery and the most accurate tracking. Lars is a strong fellow. He can carry the 10.5-inch woofer under one arm, while I can do the same trick for the 7-inch midrange, maybe. Lars is convinced you won't find better drivers anywhere. He also set out to build the world's best tweeter. After much effort, he conceded defeat. He could not beat the product he could order from a well-known Scandinavian supplier, also the supplier of tweeters for my own Wilson Benesch Act 1s and several other top speakers. Lars told me this is one of the most expensive dome tweeters in the world, costing many times those used by some other high-end manufacturers.

Lars holds there is only so far you can go with conventional panel based speakers, and he admires just how far Wilson Audio, B&W and others have taken the concept. He looked instead for an inert material that could be formed into free flowing shapes to avoid diffraction distortion and to eliminate the resonances that limit the performance of conventional speakers. Hansen invented a new material "Hansen Composite Matrix" that meets all the sonic requirements. This material has multiple layers, while each layer has up to 6 different components. Hansen then developed the elegant mould to which each layer of the "Hansen Composite Matrix" material is hand applied until the optimized thickness of each layer is achieved.


The System
THE KING is the top of a range of three large Hansen speakers: THE KING, THE QUEEN and THE PRINCE, with THE WIZARD center channel and THE DRAGONSLAYER powered subwoofer completing the line. All of these speakers are based on the same architecture, and all but THE QUEEN are now shipping. THE DRAGONSLAYER boasts a 15-inch driver and a 1,000-watt amplifier and weighs 130 lbs. Canadian distribution is in place and US distribution is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

These are exquisitely revealing speakers. Just changing a power cord on the CD source leads to a major change in sonics. So I spent a good deal of time trying different cables and CD players before the serious listening. Lars provided top-flight amplification for the occasion. On my first get-acquainted visit a Sony XA9000ES SACD player feeding Krell electronics left a cool uninvolving impression. For the actual listening sessions a dCS Elgar / Verdi combination replaced the Sony, preamp was the fine Audio Research Reference 2 and power amplification came courtesy of the Jeff Rowland 302, chosen not for its brute force, since THE KING is quite easy to drive, but for its refinement and rich tonal palette. I brought along my own cables, both Nordost Valhalla and Soundstring, plus my Meridian G08 CD Player.

After much experimentation, I found the dCS combination sounded warmer and more dynamic when using the Soundstring power cables rather than the Valhalla, and that the Meridian easily outclassed the dCS no matter which power cable I used. I would never have guessed this in advance, and it goes to show both the importance of synergy in a system and to confirm performance is not necessarily correlated with price. For the testing I used the G08, alternating between the Valhalla and Soundstring power cords. For interconnects I also switched between Nordost Valhalla and Cardas Golden Cross, which provided a warmer sound than the Valhalla at the expense of a little focus.

Finally, the speaker cables were Kimber 3033s and Valhallas, with the Kimber giving the warmer and more musical sound, with the Valhalla majoring in imaging and tonal purity. If you are serious about speakers of this caliber, it pays to spend time experimenting with all the different cables you can get your hands on, much more so than with lesser speakers. The watchword for feeding these speakers is quality, not quantity, since they are 6 Ohm speakers presenting an easy load to the amplifier and they are reasonably efficient at 89dB/W/m. Since they are phase coherent from 18Hz to 23kHz, you'll want to partner them with wide bandwidth hardware.


The Music
THE KING speakers do not impose their world-view upon the music. The sound quality changed from CD to CD, even from track to track, just as when changing the components or the cables feeding them. So I can't tell you how they do sound, but I will tell you how they can sound. They can convey the full weight of an orchestra as very few others can. Evidence Klemperer's superb Bruckner Symphony No 6 [EMI CDM 7 63351 2], which I have never heard to such advantage. THE KING shows absolutely no strain at realistic volume levels while capturing the vibrant instrumental colors and painting a deep, spacious sound picture. The level of detail is amazing, the spaces between the notes whisper quiet while the full frequency bandwidth is preserved. Together this makes for great realism, the you are there sound we all look for. Turning down the volume level tends to diminish the effect. These speakers come alive at realistic volume levels and the quality of sound stays the same from then on as you turn up the wick. In fact I heard no distortion even at ear splitting levels.

This then is the raison d'ętre of large speakers — to be able to reproduce music at concert hall volume without distortion, strain or emphasis. A bull's eye on the Bruckner. The next recording up is Peter Schreir's Mozart Requiem [Philips 411 420-2]. This CD sounds OK, not great, on my home setup, but THE KING reveals without mercy the inadequacies of the recording. The wind instruments open with their mysterious progressions, gentle and colorful but then the choir emerges lacking focus and clarity, highlighting an aggravating sibilance. My desire to listen further is gone. Garbage in, garbage out.

For a change of pace, Tango Piazzolla [Music Club MCCD 165] provides great soundstage and presence, with rich vocals and no digital edge. If you sit less than 15 feet from the speakers you will suffer from a narrow vertical dispersion from the D'Appolito arrangement of tweeter and midrange drivers, placed well above ear height. For the best sound, you need to sit well back from these speakers. I found the optimum position some 20 feet from the line joining the speaker baffles with the speakers set some 12 feet apart. Despite this vertical beaming, the smooth horizontal off-axis response provides a very wide sweet spot and you can in fact walk around the room within a large arc and maintain good image focus. Clearly these speakers are designed for large rooms where you can sit well back and enjoy their full sound.

Lilison Di Kinara's Bambatulu [MUS2-1119] is a disc that sounds quite different on each system, but this is the first time the slight vocal over-mic'ing on "Ansa Djallo" has not distorted at high volume levels. This shows THE KING has a very smooth high frequency response, and enormous dynamic range. This album of African music is always a delight but here the layers and textures are revealed in full glory, with the instruments simply floating in front of you in full Technicolor. Top notch.

Up to this point, with the exception of the Bruckner, there's nothing these speakers can in terms of imaging, purity, definition and color do that my own Wilson Benesch Act 1s cannot. In fact the Act 1s are more forward and dynamic at times. They work really well in my smaller room (25' x 12'), while THE KING brings a similar sound quality to a much larger space. But the next CD, Pierre Fournier's performance of the Bach Cello Suites [Archiv 449 711-2] shows another aspect of THE KING's artistry that the Act 1s cannot match. The more aggressive Act 1s reveal a monumental performance, wiry and brutal at times, passionate throughout, but THE KING puts flesh on the bones and reveals a beauty of tone that takes you aback. Perhaps it is smoothing over a few rough edges, romanticizing the music, but hell, I like it this way. The power and insight of the great cellist is still there, in communion with Bach's spirit, but that power is no longer at the expense of string tone. If this isn't actually the way it was played, perhaps it is how it should have been played. I suspect the Pre-2 preamp may also be a contributing factor, adding some tube warmth to the mix and softening the hard edges.

Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section [Contemporary OJCCD-338] again breaks new ground. Red Garland's piano sounds better than ever, Pepper's sax precise and detailed, Paul Chambers' bass swings like the devil – such a joy to hear a bass line so pitch perfect and clean - but the real revelation is the percussion work of Philly Joe Jones. Hard-hitting cymbal strikes, digitally reproduced, can often make you cringe and yearn for those black wax Frisbees that used to be so popular (don't worry — I‘m a big vinyl fan), but not this time. The superb tweeter wins again, revealing well-defined high frequency information with lightening reflexes and a long decay. Turn the volume up and the music just gets more exciting without any coarsening in tone. It's a joy to hear these fine players bouncing ideas off each other in such clear natural sound. "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" is the killer track, alone worth the price of admission. Besides the obvious excitement and rich color of the music, the very best equipment gives music its ease, its life. You know it when you hear it, and I hear it here.

Another hallmark of the best reproduction is how simple it is to follow each musical line, no matter how softly played, and how easy you can make out the words. The Well [Cisco SCD 2034] illustrates this beautifully. Jennifer Warnes' vocals and an abundance of low-level musical detail come across with exceptional clarity and control. Leonard Cohen's The Future [Columbia CK53226] is also clear and well balanced but it loses some of its edge and power on these speakers. Just as the Bach becomes more beautiful, so does Cohen's voice. But when he's singing "Give me crack and anal sex / take the only tree that's left / and stuff it in the hole in your culture," maybe we don't need beautiful.

I played many other discs to take the full measure of these speakers. Hat's off then to Dr Ray Kimber and his IsoMike Test recordings for the best sound of the day. These discs exemplify all that's good in recording techniques. The level of realism is shocking, and it shows just how far the rest of the industry still has to go. The speakers just disappear leaving a full deep bass, an enormous dynamic range, no evidence of phasiness, with plenty of air and realistic tonal colors from all the instruments, including those pesky cymbals. THE KING speakers will not be the weak link then in any stereo system.

So on the minus side, these speakers will burn a large hole in your pocket, they demand a large room and they will reveal the limitations of the rest of your system. They don't do menace, they expose poor recordings and they don't come alive at low volume settings. On the plus side, imaging is first rate and the better the signal you feed them, the sweeter the sound. High frequencies are butter-smooth, the level of detail extraordinarily high, bandwidth is extended at both ends of the spectrum and they play very loud effortlessly. In short they are musically alive and faithful to the input signal.


The Result
Do you need large speakers? Do you like the smooth curves and silver-grey color of THE KING? Can you afford $55,000? If the answer to all these questions is yes, give THE KING a spin before you make your final decision. We can all welcome THE KING to the select band of high-performance large-scale speakers. Long live THE KING!


Type: Full range floorstanding loudspeaker

Design: Time coherent, Dispersion coherent

Tweeter: 25mm designed & manufactured for Hansen

Tweeter Mounting: 6mm dispersion optimized aluminum plate.

Midrange Drivers: two 182mm Hansen designed and built

Bass Drivers: two 269mm Hansen designed and built

Nominal impedance: 6 Ohms

Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m

Frequency Response: 18Hz to 23kHz  (±2dB)

Input Connectors: WBT Signature Platinum - no biwire

Crossover: Frequency and phase optimized, point to point silver solder connections

Finish: Hansen Audio Class A Finish

Enclosure Material: Hansen Composite Matrix

Dimensions: 19 x 63 x 20.5 (WxHxD in inches)

Weight: 300 lbs each (with crate)

Price: $55,000 ($70,000 Cdn)


Company Information
Hansen Audio Inc
100 Leek Crescent, Unit 9
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3E6

Voice: (905) 731-8434
Fax: (905)731-8420
E-mail: info@hansenaudio.com 
Website: www.hansenaudio.com













































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