KEF MUSIC LOUNGE THEATER: A THX CERTIFIED OASIS
Sound & Vision|August - September 2021
The speaker maker’s appointment-only New Jersey demonstration theater combines comfort with state-of-the-art gear and acoustic treatments
BOB ANKOSKO

AFTER ALMOST a year-and-a-half in lockdown, I was honored to be the first member of the press to experience the KEF Music Lounge Theater. In late May, I visited the company’s U.S. headquarters in Marlboro, NJ, and received a warm—and long overdue—Jersey welcome from KEF VP David Kroll and marketing director Stephanie Scola. Work on the theater was largely finished in February 2020 just weeks before the country went into lockdown so the magnificent space with its 9.10.6 Dolby Atmos speaker layout and 160-inch screen sat largely dormant for more than a year. As restrictions eased in the spring of this year, KEF was finally able to put the last piece of the puzzle in place when the theater received the official THX Certification.

The christening, as it turns out, couldn’t be more fitting as it aligns with the 60th anniversary of KEF’s founding. Raymond Cooke, an electrical engineer with a deep passion for music and an unwavering desire to design the perfect speaker, started the company near the country town of Maidstone, 32 miles southeast of London. Sixty years later, Cooke’s legacy lives on and is echoed in words he uttered decades ago:

“Of all art, music is the most indefinable and the most expressive, the most insubstantial and the most immediate, the most transitory and the most imperishable. Transformed to a dance of electrons along a wire, its ghost lives on. When KEF returns music to its rightful habituation, your ears and mind, they aim to do so in the most natural way they can ... without drama, without exaggeration, without artifice.”

If Cooke was here today, there’s little doubt that his dedication to reproducing music as it was meant to be heard would extend to movie soundtracks.

I met Kroll and Scola in the KEF Music Lounge, a homey space with a bar and living room setup just outside the theater and adjacent to a spacious warehouse. I sat at the bar and jokingly ordered a Manhattan and my gracious hosts were ready to oblige. If it was 5 o’clock instead of 10 in the morning, I would have hung out and let the spirits flow. Instead, I was treated to a powerful demo of “We Will Rock You” from the 2018 tribute to Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, displayed on a TV behind the bar and supported by an inconspicuous 5.2.2 system comprising seven in-wall speakers and a pair of subwoofers concealed at either end of the bar. If only the local sports bar had sound like this…

Kroll and Scola were quick to point out that the lounge is not a showroom. “It’s a space for music and movie lovers to enjoy audio as it was meant to be heard,” Kroll said. “This is the way we want people to experience our brand and our products, Scola added. “We want them to walk away feeling like they could live here.”

Cavernous Yet Cozy

As we walked into the theater I was immediately struck by how cozy the space felt, despite its 11-foot ceiling and 18-person seating capacity, and how warm and natural the room sounded while we were chatting. “Too many theaters dampen only the highest frequencies, which alters the tone of voices, making them sound nasally,” Kroll observed. Definitely not the case here. Seating is spread over three-tiered rows: a back row with bar-height seating and two rows of comfy chaise lounge-style seating.

“In 2018 I happened to visit Lagasse’s Stadium Sportsbook at The Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas,” Scola recalled. “The vibe of that space was a big inspiration for how I wanted the seating designed for our theater. Couples were nestled next to each other, drinking and snacking while watching the game and you could tell no one wanted to leave. That is exactly the feel I wanted to offer our dealers and their customers. The space had to be a comfortable, relaxing environment with KEF flair.”

KEF found the perfect design partner in Kingsley Knauss, owner of Westfield, NJ-based KBK Interior Design. “We created a warm and comfortable environment with oversized sectionals instead of theater chairs for a more informal and ‘curl-up and get comfortable’ feel,” she explained. “We specifically used loose seat and back cushions so that the guests could adjust the cushions as needed for comfort. A low-tech seating solution for such a high-tech space.”

And having a high ceiling just adds to the comfort, Kroll noted. “You walk into the room and it feels airy and spacious—you don’t feel like you’re in a cave.”

Though the 9,500-cubic-foot space is relatively unassuming, it’s brimming with hidden technology chosen to deliver, as Kroll put it, “a full sensory cinematic experience to showcase what KEF loudspeakers are capable of. What’s impressively apparent is that even at THX Reference level, the system is smooth and balanced so you can watch movie after movie in complete awe and comfort.”

He’s not kidding. I was treated to a series of extended clips starting with the delicate opera performance of “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman (2017) in which Rebecca Ferguson portrays “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind (the song is sung by Loren Allred) and ending with the terrifying depth charge scene from the 2000 World War II submarine film, U571. In-between, I buckled up for the exhilarating track scene from Ford v Ferrari, where Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) takes a skeptical Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) on the ride of his life and flinched my way through the calamitous VR race scene from 2018’s Ready Player One.

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