In the parlance of physicists, a muon is an elementary atomic particle beamed to Earth from deep space. Ask any serious audiophile, though, and they'll tell you it's a 7-foot-tall, 253-pound speaker that only looks as if it were beamed to Earth from deep space. The unearthly Muon, a limited-edition luxury loudspeaker from British-based KEF, is unlike any piece of hi-fi equipment you've seen before: undulating, shiny, man-size.
KEF partnered with brainy Brit designer Ross Lovegrove to build just 100 sets. The team plans to sell them in 10 cities worldwide, including New York and Los Angeles, for $145,000 a pair. For most of us, that's an insane amount of money to pay for speakers, but the price tag reflects some painstaking craftsmanship: The shells alone take a week to make, each one computer-carved from a hulking block of heated aluminum and precision-molded into a Munch-like sculpture that's as much a work of physics as it is an artistic showstopper. "The aesthetics are alive, but the mass is technically dead to promote perfect acoustic performance," Lovegrove says.
In other words, the loudspeakers sound as good as they look. The shell's curvy geometry serves a higher scientific purpose, dissipating the sound waves that can bounce around inside a speaker cabinet and create tune-spoiling vibrations. (Sound waves inside a traditional boxy speaker tend to ricochet off the back wall and strike the speaker cone to produce an irritating humming noise.)
While KEF is known for its stylish and powerful egg-shape speaker cabinets, the company had been trying for years to create more sonic-friendly curves. Lovegrove hit upon the solution within a few months using a powerful industrial molding technique similar to vacuum forming to perfectly shape the aluminum. "I instinctively found a geometry that let them solve a problem they had worked on for 12 years," he says. Muon's guts feature the company's patented Uni-Q technology, which mounts a tiny tweeter at the center of the mid/bass driver. Combined with the cabinet's sleek aerodynamics, this innovation lets sound uniformly disperse once it leaves the speaker, turning your entire living room, even its corners, into one big sonic sweet spot.
Muon also employs something called Acoustic Compliance Enhancement, which enables the eight 400-watt speakers to output louder sound with richer bass. Activated carbon granules are poured between the speakers" double-layered 6-millimeter aluminum walls, where they act like little slingshots, absorbing air as the speaker cones pulse backward and then catapulting it outward as the cones move forward. The material has the added bonus of dampening resonance, which is critical considering aluminum isn't exactly known for its absorptive qualities. (When was the last time you saw an aluminum speaker cabinet?) In short, Muon is an unusually egalitarian marriage between design and technology. We only wish that more of us could hear it. " nicole dyer