Ron Locke is a Sales and Marketing Executive based out of our Maidstone, UK headquarters. His time with KEF is a time capsule snapshot of the history of KEF over the past three decades. In his words, here's Ron' story.
I joined KEF fresh from Secondary (High) School shortly after my final academic exams, primarily to earn some cash through the summer break before embarking on my further education in the autumn.
I was introduced to a lady called Jan Lockyer, the line supervisor for the magnet assembly plant based in a room that is now our main Home Cinema demonstration suite. The first task I was given was to apply a small locating ring to the top of the magnet assembly pole forging which was crucial to ensuring the exact placement of the ‘tweeter’ or HF driver, little did I know that I was actually working on the very frst UNI-Q array to feature in a Reference product – The Model 105/3.
I worked on the magnet line for approximately one month before the tedious nature of the task got the better of me and I needed to do something more interesting , so I approached the overall Production Supervisor - Joan Bottle – who had been with KEF and Raymond Cooke from almost the very beginning and was highly regarded within the ranks, though also feared for her no-nonsense work ethic and ability to get the very best out of her teams. She was clearly taken aback by my candid approach and suggested I venture across the site to ‘No4’ building to meet a chap called Adrian Hart who ran the final assembly plant and I was soon introduced to the system assemblers and I knew this is the department I was destined to be.
In the early days/weeks/months I was given the role of final assembler of the MF/HF Cavity section of the Model 105/3, this was a separate ‘sub’ assembly that was de-coupled to the front of the main carcass of the loudspeaker and was the section which provided all the critical listening frequency bands, the tower was solely designed to handle the bass/LF with twin ‘force-cancelled’ 8” drivers mounted internally using a unique inter-porting system to generate a more powerful yet smoother bass response. The cabinets were elegantly finished with real veneers in a variety of exotic finishes and the complete system was stunninng in stature and presence with exceptional sound quality. I knew from this point, that KEF were in the business of creating works of art for the home and I was hungry to learn and develop my position within the company - to be responsible for building speakers that you know someone out there will be enjoying for years and years really was my motivation.
Uni-Q was still very much in its infancy at this point, and I had no clue as to why or what its primary function as a device was for, that is, until I listened to a pair at the end of the build line (we would preiodically check with music throughout the batches). My initial thoughts as a fairly green teenager was WOW these things are amazing, they sound so lifelike and precise with acres of detail and dynamics and to know I built them filled me with nothing but pride and a sense of achievment.
As soon as I was established as a system assembler, I was handed a position on a very exclusive build line, this line was dedicated to building the Model 104/2, a formidable floorstander that had cemented itself firmly into the US Market and was selling faster than we could build them. There were six of us on the 104/2 line and I was the youngest, so I had to step up and show them how I could hold my own against them.
The Model 104/2 along with all Reference products at that time were pretty tricky to assemble, everything was done by hand with no power tools. The enlocures were tight for space and the components had to be placed precisely to ensure no damage or failures at the test station. Again, this model featured a coupled cavity design and the bass drivers were held in place using a force cancelling rod, all held internally. The prinicples of the system were similar to that of the 105/3 though the 104/2 didn’t use the new UNI-Q tech instead a huge HF driver was used flanked by twin 4” dedicated MF drivers physically set into the cavity enclosure and a poly resin used to dampen the assembly which was administered in the original Nissen Hut where it all began for KEF.
Between the six of us, we were targeted to build seven pairs of 104/2 per day which was hard work, but we were all committed to achieving this on a daily basis. The main criteria was to ensure no failures at the test station, so we had to be extra vigilant throughout the build process as none of us wanted to have to re-work any failures or it would have an impact on our quota. Thankfully, the only real issue we had was the test station operatives couldn’t keep up with us and we set ourselves a daily challenge to out-run the QC/testers (but only for fun) forcing them to work throughout breaks to keep up with us.
After almost a year on the 104/2 line, I was asked to move across to the speciality benches and learn to assemble the flagship products which included the 107/2 as-well-as the very last KM1 Monitor which I assisted our engineers in assembling. The KM1 was this truly a monster of a loudspeaker, which featured in some very exclusive venues including concert halls and studios, all over the globe.
Being part of a very exclusive team, assembling some of the world's best loudspeakers which were renowned the world over and adored by so many consumers and retailers really did fill us all with immense pride, our work was hard but the results were worth all the effort.
From time to time, we would all jump onto large build consignments, usually big orders from the US or Far East that included all models and ranges, so one day we’ll build C Series (the first product range to feature UNI-Q Technology) then Reference Series and even Ci Series. Yes, all KEF badged products were built in Maidstone at that time, all assembled in our ‘No4’ building (where we still manufacture Reference, Blade and Muon, today). The variety was welcome, as no two ranges or models were the same, though we’d all strive to ensure the same level of attention would be used in the process, whatever the price-point or position within the portfolio.