Vivid Kaya S12

Hardware Review

Vivid Kaya S12
Monday, April 26, 2021
standmount loudspeaker
Jason Kennedy

A couple of years back I moved into a larger listening room with timber framed walls, lots of insulation and cement panel and wooden cladding. It doesn’t have the tendency found in brick builds to bounce the bass back at you which means no bass boom and pretty even low end. The drawback is that you need to pump more bass in to get the low end power that more solid construction gives you. This generally means larger speakers, closer to the wall so when Laurence Dickie offered to bring over his new Kaya standmounts I was concerned that they wouldn’t have sufficient power to work in this space, happily I was wrong, the Kaya S12 is a stunning loudspeaker.

Press released last September I requested a pair at the time, previous experience with Vivid speakers has always been very positive, but was told that a stand was being developed and wasn’t quite there yet. In the end this part of the equation took six months to get right, almost as long as the speaker itself. It does work well with the S12’s baubly styling and I’ve not seen one like it but the £1,500 price might just mean that only the well healed aesthete will be tempted. The Kaya S12 is the smallest Vivid in production, there was a standmount in the Oval range back in the day but that whole range has effectively been replaced by Kaya. 

The cabinet is made in injection moulded polyurethane (also seen in the KEF Blade and Kii Three) which allows pretty well any shape you like but Vivid have gone for a relatively conventional if curvy look, sharp corners are not good for sound quality and only used because wooden boxes are a better compromise than the economical alternatives. But there’s a lot more to this speaker than the external shape. For a start there are Vivid’s drive units, these are designed and built in house using aluminium diaphragms that in the case of tweeters have a catenary rather than spherical shaped dome which pushes the break up mode significantly higher. Dickie worked on the original B&W Nautilus ‘snail’ and uses similar tapered tube loading to absorb rearward sound from the driver and this is used behind the tweeter in the S12.

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The absorber for the mid/bass driver is rather more revolutionary and formed by deep ribs within the cabinet that surround the rear of the driver. It’s totally unlike anything done in a cabinet before but is a logical extension of the tapered absorbers found in all of Vivid’s designs. Each of the radial slots formed by the ribs is filled with absorbent material and stops high frequency modes from striking the back of the cone and thus distorting the signal it’s trying to produce. The different length of the slots means that different frequencies are absorbed with the longest benefiting the lowest, bass frequencies

The S12’s 26mm tweeter is set into a shallow wave guide formed by the cabinet, this helps it to produce a similar wave shape to the main driver and thus improve integration of the two drivers. The C100DL woofer is a 100mm unit with an alloy cone, highly vented former and cast alloy basket. It’s a long throw type which means that despite its compact scale high SPLs are very much available. With sufficient power behind them a pair of S12s can be played at serious levels and remain calm under fire. Sensitivity is an average 87dB for the 8 Ohm impedance and the latter does not dip below 5.3 Ohms so this isn’t a difficult load. It is however a very revealing loudspeaker and would be wasted on half decent source and amplification.

Sound quality
I used the Moor Amps Angel 6 with its 150W power rating and got an absolutely fabulous result right from the off. Vivid speakers always sound good, they have vanishing levels of distortion by most standards and this was the case with the S12 which sounded spot on from the first note. They have a coherence and transparency that makes everything you play sound right, and reveals the big differences in performance and recording that should exist given the huge range of variables between musicians, studios and recording techniques. The more different one recording sounds from another the more revealing an audio component is, and this speaker’s presentation is, forgive the pun, vivid in its description of what’s coming out of the amplifier. The sound seems to totally escape from the cabinets with a degree of cohesion that one rarely encounters, in musical enjoyment terms that means Arve Henriksen’s trumpet sounds more beautiful and the lament he plays more plaintiff. It means that Olivia Trummer’s voice and piano on Sharing My Heart have a clear radiance effect from the studio and that her less than clear-cut lyrics are that much easier to understand. 

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One reason for the S12’s transparency is that it has very low noise, in other words the cabinet and the drivers do not resonate or ring in the manner which many are prone too. This means less blurring of the signal and a cleaner sound even at higher levels where many speakers introduce a loudness characteristic that distorts the sound. It also means that quieter sounds are not masked by louder ones and that there is an immediacy to the delivery that is thrilling. Vinyl sounds brilliant on these Vivids, I recall that Dickie wasn’t a fan of the format back in his days at B&W but hopefully he’s seen the light now. I played Home At Last from Steely Dan’s Aja and was blown away by how much better it was than both the DSD and PCM versions I had been playing on a pretty decent streaming system. Pharoah Sander’s saxophone pops out of the speakers on his Promises collaboration with Floating Points, it sounds almost magically real with room filling scale and very good dynamics for a speaker of this size. 

Bass is inevitably not what can be achieved with larger speakers, the very lowest notes don’t come through, but this only becomes clear on a few recordings, the rest of the time I was surprised at how much muscle the S12s could deliver. Laurie Anderson’s Gravity’s Angel has become a reference track ever since I tried it on the Vivids, it has some lovely muscular bass and a hang gong whose harmonics are clarified along with the player’s skill. Seeking more low end fun resulted in Amon Tobin’s Journeyman being selected, here was as much chewy bass as you could eat delivered in precisely defined, powerful style. Bert Jansch’s acoustic guitar on Jack Orion on the other hand is not too extended but what often sounds a bit forward and edgy seemed smoother and more even handed. Frank Zappa’s Advance Romance had me wondering how a speaker that’s so small and green could be so revealing, enjoyable and devoid of perceived distortion. In some ways it sounds better than when I had the Kaya 45s a couple of years ago. But that was in a lesser system and a different room and audio memory can be a fickle thing.

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I tried the S12s on Custom Design FS104 Signature stands to see whether these relatively inexpensive supports would change things, the only perceived effect was a slight damping of the speaker’s energy and probably due to the Blu-tack used to keep them in place, otherwise all was very groovy. The realism that they bring to instruments and voices of all varieties is stunning, there is a spaciousness, focus and precision to good recordings that gives them a 3D solidity that is rare. Combine this with a vinyl cut of Charles Mingus and band playing Mysterious Blues (Newport Rebels) and you have a reach out and touch it presence in the room that proves that A. tube powered recordings are still very hard to beat, and B. A transparent and neutral loudspeaker with low distortion is a desirable thing regardless of what you are playing.

I will be requesting a long term loan of the Vivid S12, it is easily the best compact floorstander I’ve heard in ages and competes with the best speakers at its price regardless of size. It proves that great things can be achieved with innovation and that such breakthroughs are not the sole preserve of the big brands.

Specifications: 

Type: Reflex loaded two-way standmount loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: 3kHz
Drive units:
Mid/bass – 100mm long throw alloy cone
Tweeter – 26mm alloy dome with tapered tube loading
Nominal frequency response: -6dB 45 – 25,000 Hz
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohms
Connectors: single wire binding posts
Sensitivity: 87dB 1w/1m
Dimensions HxWxD: 480 x 237 x 254mm
Weight: 6kg
Finishes: gloss piano black, gloss Pearl white, custom colours, matte Oyster grey
Warranty: 5 years

Price: 
from £6,000
stand £1,500
Manufacturer Details: 

Vivid Audio
www.vividaudio.com

Distributor Details: 

Vivid Audio UK LTD
T 07515 127049
www.vividaudio.com