It looks absolutely gorgeous, not sure how KEF does it, but they really know how to design elegant and classy-looking speakers. The KEF Reference 1 is a high-end bookshelf speaker made with the latest drivers so to deliver exceptional sonic performance. A stand-mounter as exquisite as the Reference 1 will definitely need some of the finest amps to power them and allowing them to sound their absolute best.
Before we start sharing with you the list of the best amps which you can get and pair them with your KEF Reference 1 speakers. We should find out more about these premium bookshelf speakers first, such as their sonic characteristics and strengths. With this knowledge, we will be able to get the right amplifier to match with the Reference 1 loudspeaker.
Sonic Characteristics and Strengths of KEF Reference 1
The KEF Reference 1 will look amazing in any home and you can even treat it as a lovely house decoration. The color choices are flawless and these high-end speakers will match well aesthetically with most modern amplifiers, likely overshadowing them with their good looks. At the front of the speaker cabinet, you will see the iconic KEF’s 5″ (125mm) Uni-Q driver array with the 1″ (25mm) vented aluminum dome tweeter. Right below them, you will see a new 6.5″ (165mm) alloy cone bass driver. The KEF Reference 1 is a 3-way bass-reflex speaker design and at the back of the cabinet, you will find a rear-firing bass port.
KEF Reference 1 is quite a large bookshelf speaker and will require ample breathing space around it, about a 2.5ft (75cm) distance away from walls. You should experiment with the distance, trial, and error till you find the best position which provides you with the sound quality that you like. This should be done after the speakers have break-in though. The frequency response of the KEF Reference 1 is really impressive, it is 45Hz-35kHz (+/-3dB) and able to reach further down about 26Hz (-6dB). The nominal impedance is 8 Ohms and the minimal is 3.2 Ohms. Still, the KEF Reference 1 is not easy to drive, as the speaker sensitivity is only 85dB and the recommended amplifier power starts from 50W all the way to 200W. They definitely will need high-powered amps to drive them.
The scale of the soundstage that the KEF Reference 1 can deliver is large and spacious, really incredible for a pair of stand-mounters. With their surgically precise stereo imaging, the soundstage comes to life with highly defined musicians vividly playing their instruments with realism. The lifelike musical performance simply engages you and you just sit there focus on listening to your favorite tunes. The cohesion of the Uni-Q driver array produces natural timbre and beautiful sounding vocals, not to mention, the instruments are accurately reproduced with plenty of intricate details. The midrange sound quality is clean and well-balanced, the midbass blends in seamlessly, providing body and weight.
The low-end performance is equally impressive, there is slam and punch but all are tightly controlled. The agility of the bass performance is accurate and precise, never overstaying their welcome. The level of low-end power that the KEF Reference 1 possess can even put some small floor-standing speakers to shame. These bookshelf speakers have insights, where subtle musical nuances are produced clearly and details are been produced in spades. They never once sounded overly harsh and they can be analytical but never sounded clinical. The drivers work seamlessly together, producing a powerful and beautiful music presentation that you will enjoy no matter the music genre.
KEF Reference 1 has class-leading control in music delivery, it does not strain or muddle when the music passage gets busy. It probably doesn’t need a subwoofer to supplement the bass performance but if you want more prominent deep bass reproduction (>40Hz), you should get a high-quality subwoofer to pair with the Reference 1 speakers. They are transparent, revealing and incredibly precise stand-mounters, they will definitely do better with high-quality amplifiers and HiFi components. We have the necessary information we need and it is time for us to share with you the best amps to match with the KEF Reference 1.
KEF Reference 1 Specifications
- Speaker Type: 3-way bass-reflex (rear-firing bass port)
- Drive Units:
- Uni-Q Driver Array: 1″ (25mm) vented aluminum dome tweeter at the center of a 5″ (125mm) aluminium MF unit
- Low Frequency: 6.5″ (165mm) alloy cone bass driver
- Frequency Response (+/-3dB): 45Hz- 35kHz
- Typical In-Room Bass Response: 26Hz (-6dB)
- Amplifier Requirements: 50-200 Watts
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms (does go down to 3.2 Ohms)
- Sensitivity (2.83V/1m): 85dB
- Dimensions (H x W x D): 440mm x 205mm x 430mm | 17.3″ x 8.1″ x 16.9″
- Weight: 18.2kg (40.1lbs)
Best Amps to match with KEF Reference 1
The Hegel H390 is one of the best amps to match with your KEF Reference 1, it is a very powerful integrated amplifier and these high-quality muscles can really drive the KEF bookshelf speakers with absolute ease. The Dual Mono amplification provides a lower total distortion and a higher dynamic range, further enhancing the sound quality. The musicality and rhythm of the H390 are class-leading, providing amazing agility and impactful crescendos. The low-end performance of the integrated amp truly complements the KEF Reference 1 speakers. The Hegel H390 is an excellent all-rounder just like Reference 1 which makes them very well-match with one another.
The Parasound has some of the best performing amps in their price range especially their Halo series which is the cream of the crop. For the preamplifier section, you should go with Halo P 6, a 2.1 channel preamp that is packed to the brim with features. It has a dedicated subwoofer output with crossover selection which is pretty rare for a stereo preamp. Coupled with a matching power amplifier, the Parasound Halo A 23+, a high-quality and powerful amp that uses high bias Class A/AB operation. Together, they are able to drive your KEF Reference 1, delivering brilliant dynamics, high resolution, and musical sound quality. There is also plenty of sonic depth and details which the Parasound amps can muster.
If your budget is limited, then the Kinki EX-M1+ will be an ideal choice as the sonic performance you’ll get for the price is outstanding. Firstly, it is powerful and can easily drive the KEF Reference 1 stand-mounters, the overall sound reproduction does display the ease the speakers are been driven, a bold music presentation, and crystal-clear sound. The Kinki EX-M1+ delivers details in spade and is musically transparent, impeccable sonic imagery that recreates a holographic performance. The neutrality of the EX-M1+ is a suitable match with the KEF Reference 1 and you should give this amp a shot by auditioning them.
When it comes to musicality and sound quality, the Naim Audio amps are some of the very finest, and matching your KEF Reference 1 with their preamp/power amp combo will be a fantastic choice. For the preamp section, you can choose the Naim NAC 282, its superb stereo imaging is well-match with the KEF Reference 1 and the vivid sonic performance simply delivers an engaging music presentation. With the matching Naim NAP 250 DR power amplifier, you got a complete musical amp that produces beautiful music with impeccable timing and sonic purity. We will recommend having an audition with them first.
You can also go with other brands of power amps to pair with the Naim NAC 282 if you find the Naim Audio power amplifiers’ price points on the high side. For instance, you can either stick with Parasound Halo A 23+ or going higher to their Halo A 21+. Wyred 4 Sound power amplifiers are great too, as they use the latest generation of ICEpower technology and are sanely priced. You can check out their mAMP mono-block amplifier, each one of them have more than enough power to make the KEF Reference 1 sing. Using a mono-block amp to drive each of your speakers is highly recommended as professional studio monitors use mono-block amps to drive each of their speaker drivers for higher sonic purity and quality.
The Naim Supernait 3 is another high-end integrated amplifier that you can go with and it has the talents to complement your KEF Reference 1 speakers. The powerful low-end performance and the capability to handle most music genres with snappy timings, not to mention, the high-resolution sound quality makes the Supernait 3 one of the very best amps to pair with the KEF Reference 1. The Parasound Halo Hint 6 is another powerful integrated amp that you should check out and it has the muscles to make your speakers sing. For listeners who have tight budgets, you might want to take a look at Peachtree Audio Nova300, a powerful integrated amp with 300 Watts per channel (8Ω) is definitely worth your time.
To Sum It Up
The KEF Reference 1 speakers can handle all sorts of music as long there is enough power been drive to them so integrating a subwoofer into the mix is entirely optional and if you want it, we will suggest the KEF Reference 8b. The amps listed here are some of the best on the market and you should really hear them out, see if you like what you hear. You can also use the auditioned amps as a reference when comparing with other amplifiers that are not been listed here, do a side-by-side comparison if possible.