REVIEW: KII AUDIO KIITHREE ACTIVE LOUDSPEAKERS
Active loudspeakers dominated this year's High End Show in Munich, Germany. The next generation of Hi-Fi products has arrived and Germany's Kii Audio is off to a flying start with their KiiTHREE Active Loudspeaker.
Click below to open the StereoNET Digital Magazine review, otherwise read on.
True. My regard for servers and music streaming isn’t overwhelming.
And equally true: if I give servers any thought at all, it’s merely to relegate these devices as specs of dust swirling needlessly in the audio cosmos.
Ditto for active speakers.
But this flat-earth attitude has now morphed into a grudging respect for these components. Especially so after a thoroughly illuminating stint with as minimalist an audio system as it’s possible to assemble.
Heading the gear was an Antipodes EDGE server running Roon as a signal source, connected to a KiiCONTROL working into a pair of oh, so elegant KiiTHREE active speakers.
By the end of the review period I noted a new-found respect for the capabilities of servers designed as well as the Antipodes.
The highlight of this ensemble was the superb ergonomics of the control unit and its matching active speakers from this relative new-comer to the HiFi market.
Speakers I’d own in a heartbeat if I ever get the chance. An amazing admission on my behalf because I’ve always thought active speakers had a huge upside, but one blown away by an even bigger downside.
The gains in dynamic response, detail and transparency accrued by having amps built right up the clackers of speaker drivers is a worthwhile virtue of the best active speakers.
So is the elegant solution of having no speaker cables and fewer components cluttering a nice room, visually and physically.
So why haven’t hordes of audio buffs taken the active route to audio bliss?
Because individually and as a collective we don’t like the idea of being locked into the same amplifiers for all eternity.
For those not bound by audiophile ideology, this system scores big time by delivering oodles of ergonomic simplicity and musical enjoyment. Moreover, it’s eye pleasing styling, footprint and abundant user friendliness makes it a system more likely to allay that audiophile curse called PAF, (Partner Acceptance Factor).
Serving my time
The Antipodes Edge
Whilst I can’t say I’ve had a Saul to Paul conversion on the road to streaming Damascus, I’m now prepared to admit servers and streaming can hover between acceptable and enjoyable if the gear used to tease out those pesky digits is impeccable.
As for active loudspeakers, the KiiTHREE’s stunning styling and comprehensive audio qualities have forced a complete rethink about the active route to audio Nirvana.
No, I wouldn’t part with my traditional, passive loudspeakers. Not for a second.
But if I had a spare room and a spare $19,000 I’d own the Kii THREEs ($16,950) and the KiiCONTROL ($2000) in a heartbeat. And yes, I’d also want the dedicated KiiTHREE speaker stands. They’re a class act and $1600 is a fair price for their level of fit and finish, and certainly a contributing factor to the excellent sound the KiiTHREEs provided.
The Antipodes is high-end. My Mac isn’t. It has more grunt, more detail, greater levels of transparency and is overall more refined musically.
It’s a great product, works flawlessly, is beautifully built and as far as servers go, it sounds pleasing track after track.
It also kills my Mac Pro computer solution that usually does duty as the family music and movie server.
I’m undeniably an analogue enthusiast though, so the Antipodes EDGE Music Server doesn’t quite grab me in the same compelling way. But I would have one if I needed a new server.
I wouldn’t describe any streamer heard to date as musically compelling. I can take or leave these devices without a jot of regret because I have superior high-end alternatives.
The Antipodes Edge comes without any internal storage, but our version came with a 2TB SSD in its user serviceable hard drive bay that’s accessible in the rear of the chassis.
This configuration sells for $4,180 RRP.
This ultra-useful controller is a joy to use. A turn of the master knob allows you to adjust volume, while the buttons allow you to switch between sources, effortlessly.
Along with my MacBook Pro serving merely as a remote control for the Antipodes and Roon, I dipped into CD and Vinyl at the proverbial flick of a wrist. Nice. Enjoyable. And sooo easy.
An exercise that provided a deep insight into the relationship between the audiophile and the music lover to their audio equipment.
I can now say unequivocally that all things being equal, servers and streaming and active speakers give the music lover instant access to music in a way denied the audiophile.
If we define the music lover as someone who buys and keeps their equipment for the long haul, and the audiophile as a geezer who lives to swap and shop audio geared ad infinitum, this system makes it a no contest win for the music lover.
Warwick Freemantle and Rom Beyerle, from Pure Music Group, the gear’s national distributor, spent a little time tweaking the placement of the speakers in my listening room before giving the thumbs up. They assured me though that the KiiTHREE are designed for easy setup by the end-user.
For its part the KiiCONTROL is so easy to install, anyone can do it within minutes. This wee device is a piece of audio jewellery, so good are its styling and finish.
Clever too. It’s the ideal minimalist interface for the Kii speakers but it functions just like a digital preamplifier. Not once hearing familiar tracks was there any hint of colouration. Think of a straight wire with gain and you have the Kii control’s character.
Sources that connect to this control are anything you may desire. CD player, server, streamer, TV or set top box are all accommodated. The KiiCONTROL has three additional digital inputs for its companion speakers and these comprise Coax SPDIF, Optical TOSLINK and USB (up to PCM 24/384kHz and DSD64/DSD128 on USB.
All the inputs are on the rear of the control and they’re called to duty using touch buttons located around the volume knob on top of the control facia.
A single CAT6 cable carries the digital audio signal from the KiiCONTROL to one of the speakers. A second CAT6 cable then connects one speaker to the other. Traditional power connections are made to each speaker. A separate button gives users a choice of up to six user-selected pre-sets.
Menu navigation is via an OLED display that can be used to fine tune the speakers Boundary and Contour settings and these in turn ensure the KiiTHREEs are fine tuned for any room, regardless of shape or size.
Stunning also is the fact that the control’s functions such as source selection, volume and mute can be remotely accessed by an IR remote that conforms to the RC5 spec, or an Apple remote.
If you’re budget won’t stretch for the KiiCONTROL, don’t dispair. KiiTHREE can still be operated without the additional control, however its inclusion does offer more input options, more optimisation choices and infinitely adjustable equaliser settings.
The KiiTHREE speakers are the brainchild of a talented team of designers headed by Bruno Putzeys. These included DSP specialist, Bart van der Laan.
It would be an understatement to describe the KiiTHREE as loaded with a mountain load of the best of everything. Peer closely at their Swiss watch finish and you’ll be engaged by four 6.6-inch woofers, one 5-inch midrange and a single waveguided tweeter, per speaker.
All are driven by six 250 watt full-custom Ncore amplifiers. Frequency response is stated at 25kHz to f3-20Hz +/- 0.5dB.
The KiiTHREE has a compact footprint and measures 20cms wide, 40cms high and 50cms deep. Each speaker weighs 17kg. Inputs include analogue XLR, AES/EBU and KiiLink.
Users also get the option of 14 selectable corrections for various room positions.
The KiiTHREE’s enclosures are made from a pair of identical halves of moulded high-density polyurethane that fit together via an ingenious and laborious method entailing heaps of grooves and notches.
Pure Music Group explained that the Boundary Control setting adusts the directivity of the low frequencies, according to room placement. The Contour Control allows equalisation adjustment to the users listening preferences.
Alongside the XLR input is a tiny button used to control the onboard DSPs latency for those using KiiTHREE in conjunction with video sources. This ensure perfect audio sync with video, and is not used for general music listening.
Whilst the bulk of the listening was done using the Antipodes server hard-wired into the KiiCONTROL, vinyl was initially installed to get a point of sonic reference.
This source was an SME 20/2 turntable with SME V tonearm carrying a recently Garrott retipped early long bodied Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge.
Let’s dispense with the vinyl/server/streaming differences quickly and easily. Armed with both vinyl and Tidal versions of the new Patty Griffin Album, ‘Servant of Love’, vinyl’s superiority was ridiculously obvious.
Scale, tonal palette, detail, transparency, working dynamic response and timing were all on vinyl’s side in what was clearly not much of a contest.
Both server and MacBook digital versions sounded clean, almost clinical. But the scale of the performance was pared back and where the LP had spades of depth, the digital versions had two dimensions: width and some height.
None of this is surprising to analogue users. But since the object of the review was to assuage a digital active speaker fed by a digital signal source, the SME turntable was powered down for most of the review save for a couple of tracks to provide points of reference.
So, how do the KiiTHREE active speakers fare fed with the Antipodes digital signal?
Quite nicely, thank you.
Better than a similarly priced traditional system comprising a server/streamer, passive speakers and outboard amplification.
Playing the Springsteen Anthem, ‘Born To Run’ revealed the Kii Three’s speed, macro and micro agility, detailing, bottom end wallop and walk in mid-range.
Born To Run is a great recording, but on vinyl or digital, has an excitement factor that gets the head swinging and the feet tapping.
The KiiTHREEs kept things together but didn’t hide the track’s rather brittle treble. Which is a way of saying they take you to the track’s production values because they are so revealing.
But here’s the thing: play the vinyl version of Born To run and you can forget about production values. The KiiTHREEs are so high-end, they conjure the kind of aural magic that takes you to the venue and the performance.
While I was in Springsteen mode, I selected the Boss’s anti-war paean called ‘The Wall’. Low-key lyrics and arrangements made uniquely Springsteenesque by the force of an emotion-laden vocal unravelling the life and death of a mate:
On the ground all tags and reeves of flowers, with ribbons red as the blood, red as the blood you spilled in the central highland’s mud.
Limousines rush down Pennsylvania avenue rustling the leaves as they fall, and apologies and forgiveness got no place here at all at the wall…
As the acerbic vocal floated on gentle lead acoustic guitar notes flanked by majestic piano chords, the Kii Threes and the Antipodes Edge conspired to elicit powerful emotions laced with sadness and a deal of reflection.
Purple prose? No just a gentle reminder that whether up or downbeat, music travels to the human heart from live or recorded source on a stream of emotions.
The KiiTHREE and Antipodes continued to provide hours of listening pleasure with some highlights worth mentioning.
Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hejira’ moves on the timing of guitars left and right of the vocals, whilst in the centre the bass guitar gives all the other instruments their cue.
The Kii Three system took me straight to a recording where Mitchell’s subtle vocal inflections weaved through accompanying lead, rhythm and bass guitars. To be sure the vinyl version provided a mid-tier seat vista to the live performance, but the digital version was delightfully satisfying despite a lack of detail and soundstage scale compared to vinyl.
After dozens and dozens of familiar tracks, the Kii AUDIO speakers and the matching controller emerged as the system’s centre of excellence.
I’m convinced the Antipodes Edge is a very special server and my traditional MacBook source should be retired. But not enough to make me abandon my vinyl or CD signal sources.
And bolstering my genuine enthusiasm for the Kii Audio components, I allowed myself the pleasure of playing Springsteen’s towering version of ‘Shenandoah’.
As the digital rendition revealed the imperiously paced bass drum in the centre of the soundstage reinforced by the fiddle on the right, and melodious accordion on the left, I made another coffee.
But dear lord, the vinyl version of the same track had me reaching for another tipple of my twenty-year-old port and after several glasses, for the repeat button. But sadly, the SME 20 isn’t equipped with one.
This just about sums up my experience with the KiiTHREE system and the Antipodes Edge server.
Gear that left me coveting the convenience of digital, but the ultimate sound quality provided by vinyl.
The links between both formats are the KiiTHREE speakers and KiiCONTROL unit.
And here’s the thing. I’m smitten by both.
Even though I can’t give up my Wilson Audio Sashas and Elektra pre and power amplifiers for professional and personal reasons, the KiiTHREE’s high end magic and elegant one-box solution ensure they’ll remain perched at the top of my audio wish list as must-have high-end components.
For more information visit the Kii Audio brand page.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.