Kii Audio factory tour
When we reviewed the Kii Audio Three BXT active DSP loudspeaker system the sheer complexity of the design wasn’t easy to fully comprehend. What was clear is that this loudspeaker system with onboard processing, DAC and power amplification is one of the most dynamic and revealing on the market today. Given the fact that you need little more than a streamer and the Kii Controller to deliver some of the most transparent sounds we have ever heard, make it remarkable value in the context of high end audio.
Visiting the Kii Audio factory in Hamminkeln near Dusseldorf, Germany revealed that not only is the product radical but the way it is built is very unusual too. For example, this is how CEO Chris Reichardt explains why Kii Audio uses PU cabinets “We decided not to go down the conventional cabinet construction route from the start because the cost entailed in finishing wooden cabinets for a European manufacturer is extremely high. Instead Kii made a substantial investment into a mould for a PU cabinet.” The cabinet was designed by Kii co-founder Bruno Putzeys in such a way that a single mould is used to make the symmetrical halves of the cabinet, this is why there are openings above and below the main driver opening on the front. The tweeter sits in one and the badge and LEDs are over the other.
Tom Jansen and Chris Reichardt of Kii Audio
The supplier ships them in a raw finish and the fine touch dark grey and white standard colours, the premium colours and any custom paintwork is done by a local paintshop as and when they are required. This means that the speakers are already 70% finished prior to the installation of the drivers and electronics on the Kii assembly lines. Chris says “That’s why we don’t charge double price, which is what the system would cost in wood if it were possible to make this cabinet out of wood. The scalability is great, we can get any amount of cabinets. If you want to grow you need scalability, most high end manufacturers don’t have this. That’s why we started with a relatively cost effective design.”
While 70-80% of the price of a typical passive speaker is the cabinet and finishing, in Kii speakers the cabinet accounts for “about 20% and the rest is for the electronics, software, the smartness and not furniture.” The Kii Three was designed to appeal to both the pro studio market as well as to hi-fi enthusiasts and their market is split equally between these worlds.
Kii Three calibration in free space
Kii Audio sound
In the dem room Wim Weijers and Tom Jansen explained a bit about the way that the Kii speakers use DSP to produce a cardioid dispersion pattern. This works from 50Hz upwards, so with everything except the lowest bass frequencies, and is done to minimise the impact that the room has on the sound. In a typical loudspeaker everything below 200Hz is omnidirectional, this is why the sound is affected by changes in placement and why reflective rooms sound so different to damped ones. The room typically accounts for 50% of the sound heard with normal loudspeakers because of the omnidirectional nature of lower frequencies meaning that only about half of what you hear comes directly from the drivers, the rest is reflections and room modes. Kii says that around 90% of what you hear with their speakers is direct because of the cardioid dispersion and active wave focussing.
Kii produced the graphic below that shows which frequencies different acoustic instruments, and voices for that matter, produce. You can see that the area between 200Hz and 700Hz is where the majority of the energy is, it explains why the relatively narrow bandwidth of ‘full range’ single driver speakers can work as well as they do. Kii’s angle is that only by removing the reflections that cause time smear and ensuring phase coherence and linear timing across the full bandwidth, can you ensure that the detail, texture, harmonic structure etc of sound in this densely packed part of the spectrum can be reproduced accurately. This all helps to explain why we were able to hear so much detail and recording character when reviewing the Kii Three BXT system.
The flip side of this is that it reveals shortcomings with recordings and can make some sound forward and aggressive, which we also discovered. It’s a full disclosure, no holds barred degree of resolution that is more typical of studio monitoring than domestic listening. Fortunately the Kii system offers comprehensive EQ adjustments which can be used to deliver a more conventional and forgiving balance. One way to do this is to reduce output below 80Hz and above 200Hz by 2dB using the tone controls which have a shelving effect to reduce or increase output above or below a chosen frequency. This effectively increases the output of frequencies between 80 and 200 Hz by 2dB, and when we tried these settings in the dem room the result was less analytical and more musically compelling, it remained tonally linear and phase correct but was clearly sweeter.
Kii Three BXT with Thorens TD 124 DD turntable
Under these circumstances we enjoyed a variety of tracks from an Innuos Statement server as well as Qobuz, and the sound was better than I have heard in a factory dem room before albeit the flatscreen started to rattle with the low end on Hey Now (London Grammar), which was fun. It’s possible to play at high levels with little or no sense of loudness with this system but apparently there is a limiter system built in that stops you breaking them if you go too far. How your ears will fare is another matter.
I have to say that I am as impressed with the way that Kii Audio build their products as with the products themselves, few audio companies have come up with such an efficient and cleverly conceived design and build process. Kii build smart products in a very smart way.