Kii THREE review — A Revolutionary Speaker
Caveat: I am not in the trade nor associated with Kii, I’m simply a subjective twinkle in the galaxy that is your own experience. The words I offer here are founded upon excitement and the love of music and engineering.
In the ‘World of Stuff’ (A.K.A. technology) newer doesn’t necessarily signify better. The opposite is too often true; component quality is sacrificed to lower production costs and increase profits. True revolutions are very rare. We’re perpetually bamboozled by the next big thing that will change our lives. So much so we’re conditioned to expect the opposite; disappointment, and in the worst cases, the dreaded buyer’s remorse.
Most of us are wise to the techniques marketing teams are paid to tantalise our G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) with and take such claims with not a pinch, but rather a metric shit-ton of salt to avoid said disappointment. Foo everywhere. £10K for audiophile ethernet cables? Audiophiles or audiophools?
Bruno Putzeys however, is different. He’s the genius behind the genuinely revolutionary Class D Ncore amplifiers and the highly regarded Grimm LS1 speakers. The man knows his ‘Stuff’, and just happens to be the CTO and brains behind the design of the Kii THREE. Spending thousands on marketing is unnecessary when you produce something of authentic calibre; it will navigate to the top by natural selection. A quick look at Kii Audio as a company and you’ll notice their web presence and marketing is in fact rather diminutive. Case in point; they invested in forward thinking and technology.
To say my interest was piqued by the hype would be a gross understatement. In truth, my G.A.S. was set ablaze to the degree it could be seen from outer space on a cloudy night. Keith from Purite Audio—a lovely chap—soon turned up with a set for a home demo.
There are other reviews that delve deeper into the technology behind the Kii THREE’s, so I’ll only touch upon such topics and instead focus on their capability.
- Active Wave Focusing
- Cardioid bass (above 50Hz)
- Phase equalised and time aligned
- Six custom 250w Ncore amps per speaker (one per driver)
- Six DACs per speaker (one per driver)
- Advanced DSP engine
- Something magic (I’m guessing joyful unicorn tears)
Along with producing, mixing and mastering, I’m using the Kii THREE for good old playback enjoyment (I’ve already clocked many hours of that). They’re positioned in the usual equilateral triangle formation, toed in as to point around 1’ behind my head. Due to my room—a converted lounge—one speaker sits directly in a corner and the other around 4’ from the opposing corner. Using Room EQ Wizard (REW) and the Kii Control (a remote of sorts that offers lossless volume control, speaker configuration, USB, Toslink and SPDIF inputs) I was able to set the ‘boundary’ settings from my listening position to ensure the bass (and entire frequency response) was dialled in.
The speakers themselves each have a single XLR connection that accepts either analogue or digital (AES) signals. Those with monitor controllers will employ this standard connectivity. If you feed the Kii THREE’s an analogue signal an AD conversion is necessary to prepare said signal for the digital processing; DA — AD — DA. Three conversions. Kii claim it’s a completely transparent process but I’ve yet to test it personally. Too busy using them!
Being a fan of less is more (and not owning a monitor controller; before buying the Kii’s I had my sights set on the Crane Song Avocet IIA), I’ve opted to digitally connect the speakers directly to the Kii Control over Cat5. This yields one single conversion handled within the 6 DACs of each speaker. The same single DA conversion is also applicable when connecting via AES.
In short: they are a masterpiece.
Slightly longer: A holographic, dynamic and crystal clear window to the music. The Kii THREE is an invisible speaker that grants you access to a true representation of the music with razor sharp resolving power across the entire frequency range.
Need more (is your G.A.S. stoked yet)? Some listening observations may perhaps help…
Countless hours were invested listening to Fleetwood Mac throughout my childhood, Tusk (2015 remaster nowadays) being a favourite; raw, rhythmic and unequivocally emotive. It’s been part of my reference listening collection for some time. Having heard it on many systems — both high end speaker and headphone — I assumed I knew the album inside out.
To my delight, I didn’t.
The Kii THREE’s offer a visceral experience of Tusk; you feel the earth, grit and organic tones, and find yourself mesmerised by the emotive gravity of the vocals (which are cradled in an exquisitely sculptured space). A masterclass of musical engineering by Richard Dashut and Ken Caillet. If you’re learning the art of engineering — albeit mixing or mastering — you owe it to yourself to hear this impeccable piece of work; the epitome of vocals with room to breathe and express.
The drums that kick in after a minute or so on the track Tusk hit you with such realism you cannot help but have your attention yanked from your body and catapulted into the song itself. The elements of the track are both effortlessly discrete and musically coherent across the soundstage (more on that later). Complexity strains lesser speakers and causes the sound to lose depth and focus. Even when submerged in the most demanding conditions the Kii THREE’s revelled in such tests with each instrument, effect and vocal locked in place with surgical precision.
Shpongle are well known for their ingenious complexity and environmental sound design in electronic music circles. Tales of The Inexpressible was simply a revelation to hear through the Kii THREE’s. I was left gobsmacked. Everything was supremely tight, controlled and energetic with not even a hint of blurring or phasing. As with Ken and Richard’s accomplishment of vocal space mastering, Simon Posford is the electronic equivalent. The sound space he creates at 7 minutes onwards during Head Feels Like A Frisbee has to be experienced rather than explained. If you’re not enchanted by the female vocals and oceanic ambient echoes of Once Upon A Sea Of Blissful Awareness then there is perhaps no hope for your soul. I jest of course, each to their own.
Hans Zimmer (Inception, Interstellar) followed. My body was electrified throughout the entire listening experience and often wrapped in goosebumps. The timbre and tonality of the various instruments are sublime. Immersive, emotional and tangible performances. The Kii THREE’s abilities are never stretched beyond their capability; even the most demanding of scenes requiring dynamic range from that of a tiptoe to a tremendous explosion were handled with both delicacy and power.
The resolving power is as good as I’ve heard, and I’ve witnessed some high end six figure setups. The DA competes with the best. Combine the organic and effortless insight with the speed of the drivers—each backed by a custom Ncore amplifier—and you’re gifted with an emphatically fluid, clear and powerful presentation that offers such physical realism and impact it threatens to slap you around the face. Only if that’s the intention of the producer, I may add. The Kii THREE’s can just as easily tickle you with a feather.
Phasing, again, is exceptional; the centre channel (and all other panned elements) are so distinct you cannot help but intuitively grasp and be pulled in by the structure of the music itself. A wonderful experience when mixing.
Vocals. Goodness me. Jeff Buckley — Hallelujah; I heard nanoscale inflections and degrees of emotion that were previously hidden. The insight the Kii’s produce — while never being analytical or dry — perfectly showcase the unique subtleties and nuances of human performance, albeit fragile vulnerability or soaring confidence. Other speakers produce a sound that feels like a simulacrum in comparison. The Kii’s show you the ultra high definition original.
This presentation of sound is wonderfully suited to live performances. An audiophile favourite — Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live, something I’ve heard so much I’d be happy to never hear it again, sorry audiophiles — is reproduced in such a manner you can effortlessly sense the distance and air between Nils and his captivated audience. The intricacies of his guitar playing are served deliciously thanks to the speed of the Kii’s drivers and insane transient response, dynamic range and tonality.
Dire Straits — Telegraph Road. All I’ll say here is that my wife and I had this playing while we enjoyed dinner and it brought us both to tears. We stopped eating and became totally lost in the music, enchanted by the beautiful songs of the guitar and piano. I could go into how good the decay is and whatnot, but it all seems unnecessary at this point. The sound was quite simply real.
The bass. Have you been waiting for this? Reference tracks:
- Lorde, Royals
- James Blake, Limit To Your Love
- Jay-Z, Holy Grail
- Brian Ferry, You Can Dance (Richard Den Sub Mix)
- Infected Mushroom, Noon
- Beyonce, Partition
- Anything with Geddy Lee in it (fans rejoice)
Here’s where the unicorn tears are most prevalent. The first time I loaded up You Can Dance my jaw was practically resting on the desk. It’s colossal. I still can’t figure out how Bruno and his team got such power and definition without a sub. It beggars belief. Big sound from relatively small speakers. They extend so low. The cumulative magic of the DSP engine, cardioid bass and Active Wave Focusing technology also circumvents most of the common bass bleed and room reverberation issues that mask surrounding frequencies and information.
You hear everything with absolute clarity through the Kii THREE’s. A revelation for full spectrum mixing. I don’t enjoy mixing without the bottom end, it feels like painting a forest scene with only a few shades of green. Countless hits have been produced with limited range speakers of course (hello, NS10s); ‘all’ one needs to do is learn to work around the compromises to understand how they translate in the real world. There’s another option; a clear window.
The Kii Control is—for my needs—worth the cost. Not only does it give you lossless volume control with a one-press customisable dim/mute function and access to the speaker settings, it has presets. Perfect phase, called ‘exact’ mode on the Kii Control, requires extra DSP power which yields around 90ms latency. While that’s negligible for playback, mixing and mastering, it’s a potential show stopper for tracking and production. Kii Audio had planned for this and included an ultra low latency mode — a mere 1ms — for such tasks in which the only compromise is the exact phase. All other DSP functions including the active wave tech still apply. Incredible.
You can toggle between perfect phase or (essentially) zero latency mode in a single button press by using presets. It’s worth mentioning that even with exact phase disabled the Kii THREE’s perform in the same league as well phased passive speakers.
They are exceptional performers at low volumes. The soundstage, dynamic range and resolution remain completely intact. Late night ‘draft’ mixing sessions are certainly achievable if you work from a home studio and don’t enjoy doing so on headphones. Thanks to the clever current/voltage Ncore wizardry, the same applies to loud volumes.
To offer such capability from a single pair of speakers — without the need of a perfectly matched sub, a perfectly matched external amplifier, a perfectly matched DAC, a perfectly matched word clock and a tangle of perfectly matched cables—is undoubtedly a new frontier in audio*. That doesn’t even take into account the next generation DSP; perfect phase equalisation, active wave focusing, cardioid bass, time alignment and +/- 0.5dB across the full spectrum. The £10K price tag seems a relative bargain.
*Beolab have similar tech, but they’re £86,000. You could buy the Kii’s and a new Aston Martin for the equivalent price. Or an analogue hardware studio.
World class audio direct from your Mac/PC, laptop or even mobile phone via a single USB cable? It’s the ultimate merging of technology, design and fidelity.
Baart van der Laan (COO of Kii Audio) deserves the upmost respect and recognition for his accomplishments with the internal DSP. It’s a truly exceptional integrated system.
Engineers — when the sound you hear is a crystal clear NASA Vision© (I made that up before you Google it) window to the music, you need not work around the strengths and weaknesses of various speakers. You don’t need a speaker to showcase the mids and highs and another system to work with the low end, or employ headphones for micro-details. You hear it all; macro and micro resolution across the full frequency range with eye watering insight. It feels like you’re making EQ, saturation and compression adjustments with an electron microscope.
If you still like to hear your mix without extended lows you can employ presets for this task. The ‘contour’ option allows you to set your own high and low shelves for both frequency and dB adjust (non-engineers: you can tweak the bass and treble to your taste).
I have a preset that disables exact phase, removes the bass and over brightens the high end. Handy for a quick alternative view of the track and also useful when testing summed mono.
Transparency: The Kii’s don’t colour. If a track has bass, they have bass. If the track is hollow and sibilant, so are the Kii’s. If a track has warm, honey mojo, so do the Kii’s. You get my point, they can do it all, from soft and delicate touches to aggressive and impactful punches. You’ll also hear how badly some albums are engineered, especially those that have been punished for the sake of loudness maximisation.
Transients & Speed: These babies are fast, responsive and accurate. They handle even the most complex transient rich, layered and dynamic songs with ease.
Decay and reverb: Deep, lush and visceral. Listening to Moonlight Sonata I genuinely felt like the piano was in the room. You can feel the weight of the keys and hear their harmonic resonances. Reverb tails — thanks to their insane resolving power — are so clear you can hear effects at seemingly atomic levels. You won’t need to wear headphones anymore to hear the minutiae of detail. The Kii’s can reproduce it.
Tonality and timbre: They quite simply sound real. Nothing more needs to be said. I’m listening to David Gilmour’s singing guitar (A Great Day For Freedom, Pink Floyd — Division Bell (96/24)) as ‘we speak’ and have had to stop writing to absorb it.
Bass: Deep and articulate. How on earth do they do this without a sub?
Dynamics: You can hear whispered details even within a scene of explosive sounds. It’s incredible.
Soundstage: Holographic. Enormous, enveloping and engaging.
TL;DR: A masterpiece for both the audiophile and engineer.
Recommend to: Everyone. Obviously.
1) Audiophile engineers who are inspired by music fidelity as they work (enjoyment fuels the passion for some, myself included).
2) Engineers looking to upgrade who have not already invested years in a particular monitor sound.
3) Engineers wanting (or perhaps needing) a single piece of equipment that can do it all. Accurately track, mix and monitor while also delighting the audiophile.
4) Engineers used to monitors who would benefit from—and enjoy—an unequivocally capable monitoring solution.
5) Audiophiles who want world class sound. From speakers fed directly by USB! No world class matched system with separate clock, DAC and amplifier (and cables) necessary. What an achievement!
6) Those with a non-optimal room for audio.
So yes, in short, everyone.
Reminder: This is a subjective review. I am not stating empirical facts, rather proffering my own opinion. I am not saying they are the best in the world, I’m saying they are the best for me.
They may be for you too.