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It was forty-five years ago that four hi-fi enthusiasts set themselves up in a former village school in the Weil valley of Hesse in Germany, with the bold goal of producing “the best loudspeaker for every taste and every budget”. Back in the 1970s, that plan might have envisioned ranges of stereo speakers that climbed from entry-level up to a reference range. But then, as time passed, along came surround sound, and TV audio soundbars, the development of architectural speakers, then wireless transmission and the growth of multiroom products. The remarkable achievement of Canton has been that through all this the company has continued in its aim to produce speakers for every taste, adapting to and sometimes leading each new development, delivering solidly-engineered solutions for every possibility.
Today Canton’s ranges start with Bluetooth speakers and move up through soundbar and soundbase solutions to stereo speakers and subwoofers, surround sound packages, and in-wall/in-ceiling speakers. And right at the top of them all, after 45 years of accumulated company engineering and expertise, sits the Canton Reference series, which in its latest incarnation is called the Reference K.
It’s no easy task to develop a new Reference loudspeaker. Canton’s designer Frank Göbl likens it to “living in a monastery... strict asceticism and a focus on essentials lead to a steady improvement in virtues.” Those virtues in the new Reference K include, he says, greater composure and more thrilling vivacity than delivered by any of the company’s speakers before — “one more step towards inner maturity, outer perfection and complete sound”.
Hi-fi has always been such a journey, with forward steps made by harnessing greater efficiencies, developing new materials, and often adding something special to the mix that comes from the mind of that closeted designer.
The materials science side of things is well represented here, most visibly in the ceramic-tungsten membranes that are used on the drivers, and the innovative triple-wave support that surrounds them. Canton developed ceramic-tungsten and titanium membranes around 2015, finding that applying these to aluminium cones not only enhanced their outward appearance but also moved the cones’ natural resonance usefully outside their performance range.
The membranes are not simply affixed to the aluminium cones; up to 20% of the actual molecular structure of the cone is transformed by the process into a ceramic structure refined with tungsten particles. The resulting structure has rigidity and low weight along with an improvement in internal damping — all the ideal characteristics for a loudspeaker to move quickly and with high sensitivity to the input signal.
“The perfection that this brings in terms of music reproduction is fascinating,” says Canton.
The membrane technology is used on both bass and midrange drivers, with the cone shape of the midrange incorporating three different radius sizes to produce an optimum shape for linear frequency response. The central dust caps cover the drive system and dissipate heat generated by the coil.
A new wave surround supports the drive systems, with a triple-folded roll to allow maximum excursion while offering a more precisely controlled swing-in and swing-out behaviour across the whole transmission range, while the light but rigid fibreglass baskets and die-cast aluminium front ring increase the mechanical stability of the whole drive system — especially when being used at the higher performance levels to which these speakers can rise. These loudspeaker systems are developed and manufactured in Canton’s own workshops — “the only way “, it says, “we can satisfy the quality standards required, eliminate fault tolerances and achieve the high sound perfection of our premium products.”
Reference 1 K
The flagship model is the Reference 1 K, which stands 127cm tall and weighs 135kg a piece (more than double the weight of the next model down, the Reference 3 K). The flagship 1 K uses four drivers in a three-way design, with twin 310mm (12-inch) ceramic-tungsten woofers, married with that triple-radiused 180mm midrange at the top of the cabinet, and between them the tweeter which is used throughout the Reference K family, a 25mm one-piece aluminium oxide ceramic that Canton has long favoured for its Reference speaker, its hardness approaching that of diamond, while being able to be moulded to a tighter curvature said to improve off-axis response while lowering distortion over the previously favoured aluminium-manganese tweeters.
The crossover splitting the signal between these drivers is also unusual in the 1K and 3K models in offering a midrange and tweeter adjustments to suit room acoustics — the focus, says Canton, is on the optimal transmission of the bass tone range in the appropriate voices, saying the crossover “is not just a matter of separating an audio signal but also of creating sounds”.
Another notable innovation is hidden away in the bases of the floorstanding Reference models — a new Bass-Guide bass reflex system. This is effectively a downfiring bass port, with internal energy exiting both front and back through moulded port channels in the base, so that Canton says positioning is far less critical, with the distances from walls or corners no longer having much impact. This port design also reduces flow noise and keeps the usable inner volume of the loudspeaker to a maximum. Indeed the internal volume of the new Reference series has been increased over its predecessor by keeping height and width the same while increasing depth and utilising the cabinet curves to maximum effect — even the front baffle has a subtle organic curve which both increases cabinet volume and improves forward sound dispersion.
The internals of the cabinet are computer-optimised to control internal energy with multiple chambers in which each driver is acoustically isolated, and layers of cross-bracing plus precision damping made of special fleece.
The external surfaces, meanwhile, bear the high-end hallmarks that anyone who has seen a Canton flagship before will appreciate — up to 12 layers of ‘piano’ gloss to a choice of white, black or cherry veneer. Acoustically-optimised two-part fabric grilles are available, fastening to the speakers magnetically, but really, why would you!
Through the range
Below the flagship Reference 1 K are three smaller floorstanders, in descending order of height the Reference 3 K, 5 K and 7 K models. All maintain the three-way design, with the 3K carrying the same tweeters and midrange as the 1K but with twin 220mm (8.7-inch) bass drivers in a 115cm cabinet. The 5K is just 7.5cm less tall with twin 200mm bass drivers, while the 7 K is the smallest floorstander at precisely one metre in height, with twin 180mm drivers handling bass, and a third 180mm up top for midrange.
But there’s more — the Reference K series has a standmount Reference 9 K model, 40cm high with the same tweeter and a single 180mm driver for mid-bass. Canton’s Reference standmounts have been praised in the past for their stereo performance, and there’s a Reference Sub 50 K to support the low-end if that’s your preferred solution — the subwoofer has one active and one passive 12-inch driver, supported by 500W of internal amplification.
But the standmount 9 K and the subwoofer could also be used for a home cinema system, since the range is rounded off by the Reference 50 K centre speaker.
Designed in monastic audio isolation perhaps, but the luxurious Reference K designs would be a credit to any modern home. And given they launched around the same time as the latest ‘S’ model to its MusicBox series of Bluetooth wireless speakers, Canton is clearly continuing its promise of aiming to deliver “the best loudspeakers for every taste and every budget”.
Canton Reference K:
Reference 1 K: $38,999
Reference 3 K: $19,999
Reference 5 K: $12,999
Reference 7 K: $9999
Reference 9 K: $5999
Reference 50 K: $3499
Reference SUB 50 K: $4499
Contact: Indi Imports on 03 9416 7037, www.indimports.com