Authorized reprint of:
 The Inner Ear
 Volume 17, #1/2005
 85 Moorehouse Drive, Toronto, ON,
 Canada M1V 2E2 
For subscriptions call Tel: (416) 297-7968

Source: Hansen Audio Inc.

Now these are loudspeakers that were built to make a statement—a musical impression not easily forgotten by anyone who has seen and heard them in operation. 

Headed by Canadian Lars Hansen, the company began research and development of the “King” about two years ago. The design goal was to create a no-hold-barred transducer that eliminates the most troublesome elements in the loudspeaker manufacturing business — cabinet resonance, driver complement and crossover problems. Hansen decided to do it right, beginning with the enclosures. However, before we get to the nitty gritty, a little about Hansen’s interesting background. 

He became an audio enthusiast in the late 1960’s, while still in his teens. As did many young folks at the time, he bought a Dynaco PAT- 4 preamp with a Dynaco Stereo 120 power amp, Dynaco speakers and a top of the line Dual turntable with a Shure V15 cartridge. Hansen states that he was hooked and began upgrading and spending a lot of money on audio gear (while his friends were buying cars). One of those upgrades was to the Dahlquist DQ10 speaker in the mid 1970’s. He loved the speaker and realized that he had become an audiophile. As he became more aware of reproduced sound, he realized the many problems that plagued loudspeaker designers and began thinking about building the perfect loudspeaker. 

After graduating from university, Hansen formally studied electronics and acoustics, which prompted the design of the first line of loudspeakers in the late 1970s. The product line was called Legacy (no relationship to the current company or products now being produced) and it became the foundation for understanding, designing and manufacturing.

Later he became involved in the business end of the industry and began to drift away from design work. In the early nineties Hansen returned to the speaker industry and eventually became President of the Dahlquist Corporation—the company that started his passion for loudspeaker design many years before (Dahlquist himself had long since sold his company). He headed the project to design the new DQ10, which was shown at CES in Las Vegas. However, it soon became evident that the corporation was not going to fund the transition to high-end audio, the direction taken with the new DQ10. Hansen left and founded Hansen Audio, a new company that aims to produce only the finest products. Hanson assembled an “incredible” team and, with solid financial backing from "well heeled" partners, launched “an all-out assault on building the very best speaker in the world— no compromise”.

Now on to the Hansen Audio the Kings… 

Lars Hansen wanted resonance free enclosures that would appeal to folks with an eye for art. He consulted with an accomplished graphic designer who presented a graceful, elegant design, different from the traditional panel construction. The enclosures had to be a free-flowing design to prevent any diffraction distortion, as well as dispersion coherent and acoustically and electrically phase correct. The Kings’ shape meets both technical and aesthetic standards. Five feet four inches tall, the enclosures can not be disregarded in any set-up. However, the finish is far superior even to the finishes one may find in fine furniture. The shape of the loudspeakers, their smoothness, size and “feel” is almost sensuous, in terms of satisfying the audio beast in ‘philes. They are completely finished and look amazingly regal from all angles. Finishes are customized for the end-user, although we only saw the silver finish, which reminded us of the high-end colour and finishes used by Mercedes Benz. We understand that each enclosure is what the company calls a "Hansen Audio Class A"—a multi-step “fine wet sanding” technique used after each preliminary step and a final clear coat finish that can’t be forgotten. Only two solid binding post on the Kings’ bottom rear remind us that this is a loudspeaker, not a statue. 

This is where it gets really interesting. Hansen began with the cone material for the woofers and midband drivers. These cones are made from multi-layered esoteric materials that result in the best prevention of sound wave deformity. The cones are suspended with precision-made, real rubber surrounds in specially designed (Hansen Architecture) frames. The cones are perfectly placed and attached to a powerful motor assembly to ensuring the fastest possible attack and the quickest recovery time while operating in an accurate, piston-like environment.

The in-house designed and built drivers are optimized to suit their applications, but also matched to the 25mm high performance tweeter—a precision unit made for Hansen. Along with the tweeter, two 269mm woofers and two 182mm mid band drivers are used in each enclosure (each driver is easily capable of operating two octaves beyond its crossover points, both high and low). This eliminates potential problems with "off the shelf" or "modified" drivers that, as a rule, do not match perfectly. The King uses a simple first order crossover design, as it doesn’t have to function as a "fix" within the system components. High grade components and silver conductors are used throughout the point-to-point wired and hand soldered crossover. Hansen states that the resulting sound quality is as uncorrupted as possible. Crossover points are 250Hz and 2,500Hz. 

In our opinion the real feat was accomplished with the enclosure design. Hansen has incorporated all his own ideas with what he learned over the years to produce what we see as the perfect enclosure which we believe to be the most important factor to attain a neutral, none-inhibiting environment for the drivers. The enclosure material is stronger and more durable than conventional wood products, but the most important element is solidity and inertness. Hansen approached this by practically inventing and developing a new material—the Hansen Composite Matrix material. It took many months of R&D to find the “right stuff”—a secret compound, known only to the Hansen folks. The Kings enclosures use multiple layers with each layer consisting of up to six different components. Each layer is hand applied into the dedicated mould until the optimal thickness of each layer is achieved. This is obviously one expensive procedure and at least partially responsible for the overall cost. 

The Sound: 
Allow us to tell you first what the Kings don’t do: They don’t scream at you, even when blasting at 105dBs with a large brass band; they don’t hesitate when used with a good single-ended vacuum tube amp; they don’t shilly-shally when connected with a powerful solid state amplifier; they don’t seem to have a sonic signature of their own and they don’t limit the frequency reach up or down. Now to a more in-depth analysis. 

These loudspeakers bear virtually no resemblance to other three-way designs we have seen, though there are three drivers— woofer, tweeter and midrange—as in so many other loudspeaker models. The difference here is how they behave and perform in their oddly-shaped, funky enclosures. 

It’s tough to explain the sound of a component or loudspeaker at any time, but it is especially difficult to describe sonic neutrality. We run across these predicaments continually, especially when we attempt to describe a cable’s sonic personality. Neutrality can be defined as having no definitive or distinctive character. The words “bland”, “colourless” and “undistinguished” appear in the thesaurus, but only “colourless”—as in free of colouration —applies here. The Hansens’ “personality” is arbitrarily neutral which, in the audio industry, is somewhat rare. This said, here are some of the King’s sonic elements that are the marks of excellence: harmonics are faithfully reconstructed which results in a pleasant radiance that completes the overall listening experience with an integrity and sonic unity that synthesizes not only with the highs, but also with the frequencies below. The all-round listening experience is also enhanced by the lack of midrange colouration which renders a balanced flow of music without enhancing the midband between about 160Hz and 1300Hz. Therefore the midrange is well tempered, yet very controlled in the transitions to the mid high stage (from 2,600Hz to about 5,000Hz). As well, there is sufficient crispness to allow sharply focused imagery and “inner detail”.

Bass deserves a bit of explanation, not because it is conspicuous, but because it is totally organic. When bass is demanded by the program material, the Kings will deliver and reproduce the lowest note of an organ’s pedal with resolution and authority, but without impairing the activities of the midrange drivers and the tweeter. In other words, bass frequencies from about 160Hz down to the lowest note—somewhere in the 27Hz region—is very well balanced and appears to come from an instrument, rather than loudspeakers.

Imaging in audio lingo describes the ability of loudspeakers (and electronics) to recreate a sound stage. While this is often attainable in good loudspeakers, the Kings take it up a notch by recreating the original size and location of instruments placed across and to the front and back of its sound stage. This is done with such realism that listeners can pinpoint horizontal, vertical and front-to-back dimensions.

The above (hopefully) describes what we heard using two sets of amplifiers, one solid state the other tube; and both designs rendered perfect synergy. For some auditions we used the Cary 500 monoblocks (reviewed in this issue), followed by the Audio Aero Prestige monoblocks (reviewed in the last issue). This established the Hansen’s reaction to fine vacuum tube and solid state amplifiers and their compatibility with these components. Our in-house Wyetech Labs Opal preamplifier (reviewed in Vol. 10 #2) and Audio Aero Capitole CD player (reviewed in Vol. 15 #2) all wired with Nordost Valhalla cables made up the balance of the systems.

Synopsis & Commentary:
Regular readers will know that, in an effort to discover synergy, we look at components as part of a string within a system. It seems that Hansen has proceeded in the same manner seeking a synergistic system whereby each component contributes to the whole. Hansen looked around and listened to many loudspeaker components and found that almost none of them can be matched for maximum performance within an assembled enclosure. So he designed his own components to achieve his goal. The result is state of the art performance.

When listening to the Kings, the sensation of effortlessly flowing music is so profound that interruptions are annoying. It’s hard to turn the music off or do anything else but listen. The loudspeakers are simply great, but it is of the utmost importance that back-up components are of top quality AND a synergistic match. Any good amplifier will work, of course, but with the “right” amplifier(s)— those that qualify as a synergistic complement—the Hansens will sound superlative. We fully understand that great sound is in the ear of the beholder, and it is quite possible to achieve the kind of sound that suits personal preferences, as these loudspeakers quickly adopt the “attributes” of the auxiliary electronics. The amplifiers used for our listening tests didn’t work merely well with the Kings, they worked to perfection. While the solid state Cary amps provided kinetic energy with correctly balanced highs, mids and bass, the Audio Aero amplifiers offered additional harmonics and that special musical glow usually found with high-end vacuum tube designs. However, both brand amplifiers offer synergy and provide high-resolution audio.

We didn’t “like” the Hansen Kings—we loved them—and so will you as long as money is no object. However, those fortunate enough to afford these not-so-little babies will have state-of-the-art audio combined with visually pleasing design, resulting in what can only be called musical art. Go get a pair.

For more information contact:
Hansen Audio Inc.
100 Leek Cres.
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3E6
Tel: (905) 731-8434 Fax: (905) 731-8420