Innersound Kaya Reference loudspeaker Page 2
The Kaya played big, bold music, such as Hans Zimmer's score for the film Gladiator (CD, Decca 467-094-2), in big, bold, superbly defined spaces. Their resolution of the hall depth on the Vaughan Williams Fantasia was breathtaking, the antiphonally placed players beautifully focused in a space defined with electrifyingly lifelike expansiveness. The depth of the soundstage on "Journey to the Line," from Zimmer's score for The Thin Red Line, was extremely impressive, the big drums booming into the picture from a precisely defined point far away, albeit with less force than is available from the Focal-JMlab Nova Utopia Be's. The Stan Kenton Band's Standards in Silhouette (rainbow-label LP, Capitol ST 1934) was recorded in a cavernous space that the Kayas wrapped lovingly around my room.
Timbral colors benefited from the same serene microresolution as did spatial characteristics. The multitude of fretted instruments used by Ry Cooder in "The Pearls/Tia Juana," from Jazz (LP, Warner Bros. BSK 3197), were superbly individualized. Through the Kaya, sounds that seemed piled atop one another even through excellent speakers were neatly separated. The way the Kaya handled vocal sibilants was a textbook lesson in how to do it right. There was never any additional heat unless it had been recorded in the source material. The inimitable Frank Sinatra was as subtle as life, the wear and tear in his voice just beginning to become apparent, but the command still there in "Follow Me," from Francis A. Meets Edward K. (LP, Reprise FS 1024). If you don't have this wonderful album, you're missing one of life's great treats.
The distinctive quality of the cellos and basses digging in at the beginning of the third movement of Vaughan Williams' Symphony 3, as performed by André Previn and the LSO (UK LP, RCA SER 4659-55), was exceptional—in fact, stringed instruments of all kinds had a uniquely alive quality. The acoustic guitar that introduces Armin van Buuren's "Never Wanted This," from 76 (CD, Ultra L 1168-2), was delightfully delicate and sensitively rendered. The array of acoustic and electric guitars and bouzoukis on Moving Hearts' "Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette," from Moving Hearts (UK LP, WEA K 58387), rang clear and true.
Transient response was, as should be obvious from the foregoing, phenomenal. The stray-dog bark of Keith Richards' guitar introduction to "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'," from Sticky Fingers (LP, Rolling Stones FC 40488), had the presence and snap of an amplifier sitting in the room with me. Oscar Peterson and Count Basie's The Timekeepers (LP, Pablo 2310-896) presents a different and even more challenging contrast and test. Basie's sparse, wry statements and Peterson's dizzying arabesques demand very different types of articulation for each man's style to be fully realized. The Kaya loved this music, capturing every nuance, foot tap, and hum, and every last bit of the masters' idiosyncrasies and nuances. The leading edge of the acoustic guitar on "Never Wanted This" sounded completely natural. And even with all hell breaking loose around them, Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp's unthinkably complex counterpoint in the first section of the title track of King Crimson's The ConstruKction of Light (CD, Virgin 49361 2) had the calm, centered precision of a Japanese rock garden.
Even given the Kayas' strengths, their imaging stood out as something special. With Francis A. Meets Edward K., Sinatra hung in the air, a vividly life-sized, three-dimensional presence, the Duke Ellington orchestra's sumptuous tones and swinging rhythms surrounding him with equally lush palpability. Anything recorded with any sense of what music actually sounds like came through the Kayas with touchable solidity. Placement precision and boundary definition were the equals of, and on some recordings superior to, the Nova Utopias'.
The panel's dynamics were exceptionally good over all of its range. Its high power-handling capacity and lightning-strike speed allowed it to be driven hard. As panel speakers usually require a little more oomph than their sensitivity specifications suggest, this is a good thing. I could play the Kayas at completely unreasonable loudness levels, and they never started to sound in any way forced or overstressed on anything I hit them with. Your mileage may vary, but I can guarantee that they'll play loud enough to damage your hearing, should you so desire.
I did need to listen on axis or pretty darn close to it—there was a considerable venetian-blind effect off-axis, and way off axis the Kayas sounded just plain weird. Which is why Innersound tells you to set them up the way it does. So there.
With the woofer and panel wired in the same polarity—see later—the Kaya's bass was at first a bit disappointing, given the stellar quality of the electrostatic panel. I often found that I had to readjust the bass and midrange levels from recording to recording. Most often, the bass level was set at 9 or 10 (the range is 0-12), the midrange level between 85 and 87 (the range is 0-99). Even changes of a single increment made a substantial difference in bass balance and the clarity of the crossover range. I never felt that there was an ideal balance between the woofer and the panel—the sound always seeming to be a jot too lean or a dash too full.
The woofer itself did go down low, though without every bit of the panel's wideband dynamic ease. When a lot of large bass instruments were all firing away at once, as in the Gladiator soundtrack, things got a little muddled. Really big bass transients, such as the synth detonation that opens "Sweetest," from Sugar's Double Rainbow (Japanese CD, Toys Factory TFCC-81650), didn't have the impact I would have expected. A 10" woofer is being asked to do a lot of heavy lifting when it's the only bass driver in a system touted as a broadband, reference-quality speaker. It seemed as though the Kaya's bass driver had been voiced to sound just a bit polite and "electrostatic" in character at the "starter" settings suggested by Innersound for the crossover amplifier. Nudging the controls up too far only thickened the sound, though never to an unpleasant level—unless I stood on the gas pedal too hard.
Experiments in polarity
JA suggested, based on his measurements of the Innersound Eros Mk.III, that I try reversing the polarity of the Kayas' electrostatic panels. The result was more than slightly surprising. Previously, for optimum balance, the midrange and bass controls had demanded to be tweaked for each recording. Now, with the polarity flipped, a midbass anomaly that was likely room-related instantly vanished, and the Kayas' performance through the upper midbass and lower midrange dramatically stabilized. I was now able to leave the bass set at 8 and the midrange control at 84, and things always sounded right. More unusual was that the deep bass was now substantially extended and clarified on such powerful synthesizer parts as that on Sugar's "Sweetest" and "Heart and Soul."
I'm stumped as to why this should be the case. Whatever—what had been a bit iffy was now solid and powerful. The longer I think about it, the more probable it seems that the integration between the Kaya panel and woofer outputs and the interaction between both outputs and the room acoustics mean that the optimal polarity will be different in different rooms.
I will report further on these differences in the near future.
Kaya con dios
The Innersound Kaya Reference does many things well, some spectacularly so. The electrostatic panel's transparency, offhand ability to retrieve the tiniest bits of spatial and tonal information, and astoundingly holographic imaging are all extraordinary, as is its way with voices. The Ultra Stat panel is a classic of its kind, and a sterling performer. For 20 thou, I'd still like to hear a bit more clarity in the deepest bass, especially when the going gets heavy; but then, I'm a devoted fan of bass-heavy music.
For those who prefer less difficult material, the Kayas' musicality and versatility in adapting to a variety of system and room configurations will likely outweigh their inability to pressurize a room with quite the same authority as such monsters as the Focal-JMlab Nova Utopia Be. That at long last there's an electrostat hybrid that can be played at house-party volumes without compromising its greatest strengths is something to celebrate.