Kii THREE Listening Tests
With Christmas approaching rapidly, things have been rather hectic this week, but on Friday night finally I managed to sit down in front of the Kii THREEs for a proper listen. The rest of the system was somewhat jury rigged from a MacBook running Audirvana, playing music from TIDAL and our Melco N1Z music server, and a variety of assorted cables and components. The Kii THREE has an XLR input on the back, which can be switched between analogue and digital operation. The MacBook does not have an S/PDIF or AES digital output, so I used our Exposure 2010S2 DSD DAC to convert from USB to BNC S/PDIF. The S/PDIF output from the DAC was connected via a passive Neutrik BNC to XLR adapter to the nearest of the Kii THREEs. This rather complex arrangement could easily be condensed down to a HiFace Two (or equivalent) USB to S/PDIF converter and a single S/PDIF RCA or BNC to XLR adapter cable. Kii Audio has its own solution in the pipeline in the form of the upcoming Kii Control. This adds RCA and optical S/PDIF inputs, a USB input, plus controls for volume and input selection.
This "master" speaker was connected to the "slave" using the supplied cable. This is a standard Cat 5e 8-core twisted pair cable of the type normally used in Ethernet networks. However Kii Audio uses a proprietary communication protocol between the speakers. They stress in the manual that the speakers should not be connected to an Ethernet network.
I used the larger of our two demo rooms for my listening tests. This room is quite challenging acoustically. It measures 6m long and 5m wide with a 3.5-4.5m high barrel-vaulted ceiling. The room is completely untreated, save for some heavy blinds which we sometimes use to cover the large windows at each side. In this case though, the blinds were raised. One of the key features of the Kii THREE is that they sidestep many of the most common problems caused by room acoustics, so I decided not to make things easy. Although we do move things around quite regularly, the most common configuration in this room is to have the speakers firing down the length of the room, and that is how I arranged the Kii THREEs here. The floor is carpeted. I am using the Kii stands, which are exceptionally heavy and sturdy even without filling with sand or some other ballast material. I left the spikes off the stands to make it easier to move the speakers around the room.
The Kii THREE uses DSP (digital signal processing) for driver integration and time alignment, to ensure an even frequency response from each driver and to adapt each speaker's low frequency output to their position in the room relative to walls and corners. DSP is also used to enable something called Active Wave Focusing. This clever technology uses the extra drivers inside each speaker to cancel out much of the unwanted sound which normally radiates out from the back and sides of conventional speakers. This unwanted excess sound might otherwise lead to troublesome early reflections, which upset imaging and muddy fine detail, or standing waves, which lead to an uneven frequency response at the listening position. The net result of all of this processing is that the sound is "beamed" out towards the listening position, instead of to other parts of the room where it might cause problems.
There are two rotary controls on the back of each speaker, labelled "boundary" and "contour". The boundary control is adjusted according to the position of each speaker in the room. There are three major steps for free space, wall and corner positioning with incremental steps in between each of these. The contour control is adjusted according to taste and allows owners to fine tune the frequency response to their liking (flat, warm, bright etc). As with the boundary control, there are multiple incremental steps to enable fine adjustment. I adjusted the boundary control each time the speaker was moved to a different position. I left the contour control at the default "flat" setting. Each speaker can be adjusted independently, to compensate for asymmetrical rooms or layouts.
I started off with the Kii THREEs pulled well out into the room with the boundary control in the default free space setting. Over the course of the evening I moved them closer to the front wall and then the side walls, making adjustments to the boundary control as I went. They are currently about 20cm from the front wall and roughly 1m from each side wall. Three things struck me during Friday night's listening session...
- They will play plenty loud enough for most people, even in free space.
- Soundstaging and imaging are first rate. They project a big wide soundstage with plenty of depth too. It is easy to locate individual instruments and voices.
- You get to hear everything. They are fast and detailed. They produce properly deep bass with remarkable clarity. In this room the very low stuff can sometimes sound a bit muddy, especially with the speakers close to the wall. With the THREEs there is still plenty of detail at the bottom end.
The more time I spend with the Kii THREEs, the more I am enjoying them. They seem to take everything in their stride. The drivers are superbly well integrated. It is quite a rare treat these days that I play a familiar track and get to hear something new. Added to that is their flexibility in positioning. Out of the box they seem to sidestep the most obvious acoustic problems with this room, and with a very simple adjustment I can get much closer to the wall than with any of our other speakers, without overcooking the bass. They are every bit as enjoyable as the reviews suggest. Book an appointment to hear them for yourself. More details here.