Steve Halsall heads up KEF in the UK. Hifi Pig gets Behind the Brands with him, find out about his past and current systems and what he makes of the state of the Hifi industry.
How did you get into/what was your first job in the industry?
I was working for Wharfedale on the Pro Audio side after 10 years working in design of sound and lighting systems in the leisure industry when I got a phone call from GP. I assumed it was Celestion Pro but it was actually for the job as KEF marketing manager.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
Probably the loyalty to stay where I am as long as I am challenged. Otherwise I would be somewhere else after 20 years.
Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
Several successes but probably the KHT2005 ‘egg’ of 2000 which was developed very quickly by a small team but which became a massive success
You and your system
What was your very first system?
Garrard GT20 deck, Amstrad amp, Celestion Hadleigh speakers at university. It was poor but all I could afford. Summer jobs changed it quickly to Rega Planar 2 (6 months waiting list) and NAD 3020 plus AR18s. This was 1979.
Tell us about your system history.
Rega replaced by Linn, many pre-amps including home made, many power amps, many speakers. Notable items AE1s and stands.
What component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?
NAD 3020 (still have the AE1s). Still have the 4020 NAD tuner also. Wish I had owned/could have afforded at the time the A&R Cambridge A60.
Best system (or single component) you have ever heard (no brands you represent please…!).
Ben Duncan’s Hi-Fi News preamp (I own one). Op amps can work well.
Tell us about your current system(s).
The state of the industry
What’s your view on the valve renaissance of the past 20 years or so?
Like all technology, good and bad examples exist of all types. I hear good and bad valve amps, good and bad bipolar class A amps, good and bad FET amps, good and bad class D amps. All can be made to work well with a designer who knows what he is doing.
What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?
What are the industry’s biggest con(s)?
Certain cables where the tech story is incredulous and so called high end speakers where the MF cone breaks up at 1kHz meaning that the 1-3kHz region where the ear is most sensitive is really just distortion yet some magazines review products well even when they are just distorting in this region.
The way you work
Presuming the measurements are fine, what do you listen for when assessing products?
The fact that a piano and a drum kit sound like the real thing.
Your sound preference -‘Smooth, listenable musicality’, ‘forward, driving, ‘foot-tapping’, involving sound’ or ‘detailed neutrality and transparency’?
The last one as long as a piano and a drum sound real.
Your preference – Full-range floorstanders or freestanding mini monitors with a sub?
Sadly mini monitors no sub (my room).
It’s all about the music, man…
What is your favourite recording?
Tell us about your 3 most trusted test recordings.
Lyle Lovett , North Dakota (male vocal, piano, guitar) , Keiko Lee, Beautiful Love (female vocal, sax) , Brian Bromberg, 3 views of a secret (bass timing and even level of the notes from the double bass)
What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures?
Anything by Slade or Smokie from the ’70s.
Having safely ushered your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?
Free – Fire and Water on the Island label.
Thanks for speaking with with Hifi Pig, Steve.