Kii Audio Three loudspeaker

At the risk of offending nearly every designer and manufacturer of loudspeakers, I think we have not seen anything really new in a long time. Casting a gimlet eye at Stereophile's "Recommended Components" reveals some electrostatic and planar-magnetic models, a few horns, and lots and lots of cones and domes in boxes. Those cones and domes have voice-coils inductively driven by permanent magnets, and overwhelmingly use passive crossovers. Innovation in speakers mostly takes the form of advancements in materials science and, to a much lesser degree, cabinet shape. All helpful, but not revolutionary.

In contrast, almost everything about Kii Audio's Three loudspeaker ($11,500/pair) is a refreshing splash of cool water. Sure, it's a box with round diaphragms driven by voice-coils in magnetic fields, but beyond that, it embodies a design philosophy that originated in pro audio and uses modern digital signal processing (DSP). Its unusual design is immediately revealed by the presence of drivers on its front, rear, and both side panels, and of controls to adjust Boundary compensation and Contour (tone control). More fundamentally, the Kii Three's crossover functions are performed entirely in DSP, as are its time alignment and phase equalization, to shape the radiation in space of its six drivers' outputs. Kii calls this its Active Wave Focusing crossover filter. It's similar, in some basic ways, to Bang & Olufsen's massive BeoLab 90, which I reviewed in January 2017.

The Kii controls the relative phase and timing between its rear and front drivers and between its side and front drivers to create a cardioid dispersion pattern from 1kHz down to below 80Hz. Above 1kHz, the directivity of the front-firing drivers, due to their size and location, dominates. Below 80Hz, as boundary gain dominates, the Kii becomes increasingly omnidirectional, but that can be dealt with by a relatively simple adjustment of output level in that passband. By controlling and restricting directivity, these speakers are claimed to greatly minimize short-latency interactions with room boundaries, and dimensional modes that interfere with the direct sound that reaches the listener.

917kii.2.jpg

Setup
When the Kii Threes arrived, I was impressed by their small size and great solidity. The sealed boxes comprise two extremely rigid clamshell halves, injection-molded from a low-density and reportedly low-resonance polymer. Bill Parish of GTT Audio, Kii's US distributor, also brought along a pair of steel stands made specially for the Three ($1450/pair), the top plates of which are shaped to fit securely into a depression in the bottom surface of a Kii Three. He also provided a Kii Control ($1600), which proved more than useful (see below).

The Three's small size (16" high by 8" wide by 16" deep) belies its weight of 33 lbs, and there's a lot packed into the box: six class-D Ncore power amps of 250W each, six drive-units, a digital processing engine with A/D and multiple D/A processors, and a power supply. On the front panel are a 5" midrange driver with an aluminum cone and, in a depression designed to act as a dispersion-controlling waveguide, a seemingly conventional 1" dome tweeter. On the rear panel are two 6" aluminum-diaphragm woofers, and one on each side panel. They, like the tweeter and midrange, are fully exposed—no grilles are provided. It takes great care to get a good, safe grip on a Kii Three.

At the bottom of the rear panel, recessed to provide cable clearance, is an array of connectors and controls. Beginning at left: an XLR input, which, with the adjacent toggle switch, can be set to play the left or right channel of an AES/EBU digital signal, or one channel from a balanced analog input. Under the toggle is a pushbutton for system reset and to select the latency mode (see below). In the middle of the rear panel, across the top, are the KiiLink input and output connectors. Though not Ethernet-compatible, these RJ45 connectors can serve as input jacks for a Kii Control, and to output the signal to another Three when the speaker is assigned the role of Master in a stereo pair. Below these are two tiny rotary switches for selecting the low-frequency Boundary compensation (14 steps) and Contour (16 presets). The AC inlet is at the right.

We connected my preamp's left and right front outputs to the Kii Threes via XLR cables. The input selector was set to analog, the Boundary and Contour controls were left at their factory defaults, and, with AC connected, the Kii Threes were up and running. As with ordinary speakers, I began by trying to optimize the Threes' placement for imaging by moving them around. They ended up as far apart as possible in my room, toed in so that their tweeter axes converged just behind my head. In this arrangement, volume control is in the preamp, and the Kii reconverts analog signals to digital for processing and playing. I played a few tracks and was pleased with the general cleanness of the sound, but not greatly impressed.

The Boundary control adjusts the level of very low frequencies to accommodate for the nearness of the speaker to corners and walls. The "0" setting is flat for freestanding positions, while "–6" (for close to walls) "–12" (corner) attenuate the bass output to compensate for the gain provided by those boundaries. Intermediate positions are available. I initially set the Boundary control at –6 for both speakers, as they were only 22" from the sidewalls, and 6" of that space was occupied by a Super Bass Trap. The Contour control was left flat.

The sound of the Three was immediately appealing, but there were problems that kept me from reaching firm conclusions about them right away. I was concerned that the speaker's small size was biasing me into misgivings about its midbass, low bass, and dynamics. I worried that my digital source files were being subjected to redundant D/A/D conversions. I wasn't comfortable using the teeny-tiny dials for Contour and Boundary, nor was I happy that JRiver Media Center's volume control precluded playback of DSD files without first converting them to PCM. Enter the Kii Control.

917kii.control.jpg

Kii Control
This add-on provides the physical and user interface that turns two Kii speakers into a system. The Kii Control has S/PDIF, TosLink, and USB inputs. The output is via a KiiLink, which uses RJ45 cables but is not Ethernet-compatible—a single cable is run to the Three that is designated the Master and the speaker provides power to the Kii Control. The Kii Control has a large knob for volume control, surrounded by touch buttons for operations and setting, with a crisp digital display below. The inputs on the Kii Control, along with the XLR inputs (digital or analog) on the speaker, are directly selectable by pressing one of these buttons. The display shows volume level, calibrated in 0.5dB increments over a range of 0–100. The hardwired Kii Control also supports wireless remote control from RC5 and Apple handsets; I used my Apple Remote for convenient volume control from the listening position.

Additional buttons for Preset, Enter, and Esc support the configuration options, which include easy and more granular adjustment of Boundary and Contour. For example, the Contour settings on each speaker are Baxandall shelf filters with fixed inflection points of 300Hz (low pass) and 3kHz or 10kHz (high pass), with fixed increments of boost and cut. With the Kii Control, both the inflection frequencies and the amplitude of boost/cut are finely adjustable. There are controls for Latency, Set Reading (for calibration of the volume scale), Polarity (true, L+R, L–R, swapped L–R), Limit Indicator (Yes, No), and storing Presets of any/all settings.

Of these, only Latency and Limit Indicator are likely to be of use to most listeners. In its default Exact setting, the Three's DSP manages crossover, full-frequency phase coherence, dispersion shaping, boundary, and contour control as well as monitoring power levels. All of this DSP takes time—from input to output, there's a latency of about 90 milliseconds. Under certain conditions, such as when this latency makes it impossible for the user to synchronize sound with picture, the Minimum Latency setting employs a less exact phase correction in the low frequencies to reduce processing time to about 1ms, but retains Active Wave Focusing and dispersion control. Two other settings, Frame Delay (in milliseconds) and Fine Adjust (in microseconds), make possible for the cineaste even finer adjustments of latency.

COMPANY INFO
Kii Audio GmbH
US distributor: GTT Audio & Video
356 Naughright Road
Long Valley, NJ 07853
(908) 850-3092
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

It is, isn't it?

$15,000 +/-

Not a good fit for tweekie Audiophiles ( like many of us )

But, I could easily live with this solution, I think, I know my Wife could!

Deep power down to 30 Hz, phew

Where do we send it when it needs repair ?

Will it survive the humid environment of Florida ?

Tony in Michigan

ps. I loved the Meridian M-2 Active Loudspeakers when I owned them ( back in 1985 )

Kal Rubinson's picture

Why is Tony from Michigan concerned about the humid environment of Florida? Just curious.

tonykaz's picture

I'm moving South

Can't handle the Ice

Considering the Alum. Generic with DSP

and

Now these lovely Kii speakers that my wife could operate.

Thanks for writing and asking,

I like your reviewing.

Tony in Michigan

Kal Rubinson's picture

Thanks. On the serious side, I don't think they would be any more affected by the humidity than any other system. On the other hand, such a level of integration means that, if any part is affected, you cannot just swap in a spare while that part is repaired.

tonykaz's picture

Well, thanks again for writing

Seems like much of our technology stuff (including Cars ) are dependent on Manufacturers supporting their products.

Typically, the Germans are best at this category of customer support.

Here in the States, we manufacturers abandon Service after about 5 years of product life.

Thank you for taking the time to evaluate this device, Kii's CEO claims it to be compatible with 5.1 ! , which would've made an even more revealing review.

Tony in Michigan

Kal Rubinson's picture

Well, I did ask about multichannel, I searched all the documentation for it and the manufacturer did not offer to dispute my statement, so it must have been a secret. Where did you find this out?

Oh well, perhaps it is an opportunity.

tonykaz's picture

Their CEO spoke about the Speaker's design at the Introductory Showing. It's in a Video that I found on Google while looking for Bruno videos that the Kii people recommended I search for.

Anyway, the individual loudspeakers are designed to daisy chain together for multi-channel. ( even two speakers are multi-channel )

Tony in Michigan

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

You can indeed daisy chain more Kii THREEs with the included CAT5 cables and control volume from one Kii CONTROL. We have tested seven so far.

Kii AUDIO

Kal Rubinson's picture

Details? Does one feed the CONTROL with multichannel via USB?

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi Kal,
In a multichannel setup you feed the signals to the speakers directly via a multichannel processor as the TRINNOV or alike. This can be done analog or digital - the Kii CONTROL then functions as the volume control for all speakers.

Thank you for the "refreshing" and very precise review of the Kii THREEs.

Kii Audio

c1ferrari's picture

"While I was struck by the transparency of the Kii Threes' soundstaging and transparency,...the result was somewhat surreal."

Indeed...interesting loudspeakers -- a worthwhile audition. Thanks for the review.

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hello all,

there is a service centre in the USA - Grace Design in Lyons CO handles repairs for the Americas.

All the best and thanks a lot for reading and taking the time to listen to the Kii THREE.

Kii Audio

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for responding.

The theme of this month's Stereophile is a worrisome philosophy concerning the lack of serviceability, see the Lead Storyline "As We See It" by the Editor, a Mr.Art Dudley.

We all should be concerned with this aspect, shouldn't we?

As an Industrialist myself and having some knowledge of Germanic traits of Best Build Quality and Endless Serviceability, I might suggest that some mention of the Kii Company's 'long-view' intentions are in order. This is the primary reason we Yanks buy and love our Festool, BMW, Leica, etc.

I'd love to see a Factory Tour and a detailed Video of how these Three are made and perhaps read a story about how this Company got started and venture financed. I think you have a darn good story that needs telling, bashfulness is not a valuable trait.

Thanks again,

Tony in Michigan

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi Tony,

If you are on Facebook please have a look inside our production facilities here:
https://www.facebook.com/pg/KiiAudioHiFi/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1429...

Also you might want to google our CTO Bruno Putzeys who is kind of famous in the audio industry.

Have fun

tonykaz's picture

Hello Kii people, again,

I did just have a closer look at your new factory plant and a I watched a few of the videos featuring Bruno Putzeys & your CEO doing introductions to this fascinating technology you are starting to deliver to the Audio Industry.

Which doesn't seem like anything new to the Engineering World.

I'm impressed with your application of Phased Arrays for the Home Audio folks & the incredibly small dimensions of your transducer system.

Audiophiles here in the 'States' have focused on keeping Vinyl alive while refining Digital Playback.

You intelligent lads in Europe are making applause worthy advancements in music reproduction.

I'm becoming rather excited to audition your designs.

You seem to be a legitimate group of capable industrialists & designers.

Looks like we now have a better 'Mouse Trap'.

Tony in Michigan

Scott R's picture

I'm curious how this system compares with the Devialet Phantom, which could be purchased for $4k for their entry-level Silver system.

intouch1's picture

cant be compared....difference is night and day.
I have both....Phantoms are mid-fi while the Kii`s really are great sounding monitors. I own Maxx3's, Sasha's, Focal Stella Utopias, Scala Utopias and Diablo Utopias....The Kii's combine traits of the best of them...and up them in sheer resolution and imaging. Surely cant have the scale of the Maxx3 but these require larger rooms.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am curious about this, too. However, I have never(!) been able to hear the Devialets under anything but awful acoustical conditions. Needless to say, they sounded awful. Until I get a decent demo somewhere, I am unconvinced that it would be worth my time and effort to review them.

Is that fair? (I hope that someone from Devialet sees this.)

sasami's picture

There was talk of Kii two and four from Bruno Putzeys. Especially Kii four supposed to be half the size of three still able to dive down 30Hz!! While two is floor stand Kii. Also I heard about a full size "Kii control" with even more digital input via module base inputs and DSP base phono stage similar to Mola Mola Makua. I would also like to see steamer build for Kii for complete solution.

DH's picture

I bought these based on an extensive in store audition.
Kal R. wrote a thorough review that accurately reflects the capabilities of these speakers.

I'd simply stress the amazing clarity of reproduction these bring to the table. It is unlike other systems you've heard - and makes you realize that everything you heard before had a sort of fuzz added to the sound.
In my room I'm getting bass extension down to 20 hz with about a 1.5 db roll off, and very significant, but more rolled off output at 10hz.

BTW, Kal, good to know that adding DRC with these is pretty pointless. Thanks for saving me the cost and time involved to to try it.

avanti1960's picture

nice unique design and appears to be of extremely high build quality. with 750 active watts per channel no chance they will have a "small" sound!
i am surprised that the tweeters see 250 watts- usually active systems supply the tweeters wattage in proportion to the demands of their bandwidth.
no surprise that clarity and transparency are in big supply- this is one area where the class D Ncore amplifier modules truly shine when compared to other amplifier topologies.
well done, i am looking forward to hearing them!

-tony, chicago area

sasami's picture

Actually it is 1500w per channel. 250w ncore amplifier per driver. There is also 40 bit DAC per dirver, i.e. 6 DAC per channel.

Just image having DSP to process EQ and cross over send to 12 40bit DACs to 12 ncore 250w mono block to 12 drivers. That is what Kii three is.

I remember in Munich show a Vivid Giya G1 driven by Trinnov's digital active crossover system. Kii is just that in a small box.

Onwatershipdown's picture

I heard them last November at my third annual attendance of NYAS. Before hearing them, my ear-brain was always most pleasantly stimulated by Harbeth MK40.x and SHL5. Volti Audio Showings also really pleased me... and Vinnie Rossi units when paired with any of these were pure magic.

But the Kiis made me forget everything else while I was in room with them. Listened to Waits and Krall (shoot me for being basic) and I forgot about soundstaging, micro, macro, frequency response... nothing stood out except what I was listening to. Honestly the most seductive part of the Kiis is their austerity. As I take steps to simplify and declutter my own surroundings, I'm looking at my Hifi rack with a bit of a side eye these days... do I really need an endless insatiable wish list of rotating boxes that only fulfill part of the equation each? ( Another reason I am considering the Lio to pair with my Druids) I would boldly say that these are THE speakers for anyone like-minded where you're looking for great sound and are ready to drop the nervosa from the audiophilia. It's the next step from the one-box solution, but sounds better than any one-box, I've yet to hear... or seperates for that matter. And for value... to get close to these in performance with anything else I've mentioned, you're going to spend more.

tonykaz's picture

Taking typical Loudspeakers outdoors, performance falls flat.

The Directed low frequencies of these Kii Threes just might make an ideal Patio System.

Any comments Kii ? , or anyone else ?

They certainly aren't too heavy or awkward, are they?

Tony in Michigan

Kal Rubinson's picture

It depends on you. I had some trouble moving them around on the stands within my room only because of the spikes and carpet. OTOH, moving them over a greater distance, I would separate stands from speakers since they are not bolted to each other and I would be quite careful since the drivers are not protected by grilles and are on many sides.

tonykaz's picture

I'm thinking about this design and how versatile it could be.

I could put them on little roller carts and have some protective coverings to keep em safe.

I suppose it depends on how good they actually prove to be. I never would've brought one of my Big Sound Systems out on the Patio to play a Piano Concerto, they all would've been part of a Room Tuned & very Fixed arrangement. ( 'Live' End / 'Dead' End , and of course a very limited Ambient Sound Level of about 25 db. and weighing in like your B&W 802s or like the B&W 801's I was so fond of; heavy stuff.

The descriptions I read about the Three is that it can project low frequencies without the assist of 6 or 9 db. boost from walls and/or corners, almost like a Parabolic Reflector with 8 db. of forward gain. Hmm. I like what I'm reading.

I'll re-read your report to see if I get the same understanding; the second time thru. I'll also have a look-see at the 6-Moons report ( again ).

You lads might be onto something pretty good. Fingers crossed.

Are you aware that Kii people are referring to the Three as performing with the capabilities of a 2 Meter Square Inclosure?

Tony in Michigan

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi Tony,

we are indeed using the Kii THREEs for our outdoor barbeque parties and it works great...crossing over ultra high-end reproduction with PA directivity...

Mathematical dispersion model: 2m x 2m in wall soffit mounted. So if you ever wanted to own a huge system here it is - without the physical size that is...
Just listen and you will "see"

Kii Audio

HammerSandwich's picture
Quote:

2m x 2m in wall soffit mounted

How do the 2m x 2m dimensions apply here? Wouldn't the same drivers in, for example, a 1m x 1m baffle work the same once mounted in the wall?

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi,

thats not quite how it works...one needs to part ways with the size/dispersion ratio thinking of passive speakers or active non-DSP ones. The Kii THREEs produces a so called "virtual baffle" of 2m - 2m size...Some Physics: All frequencies down from 200 Hz (and thats where all fundamental information of music takes place) are dispersed omni directionally around a loudspeaker. This is the oldest problem everyone is having in consumer HiFi because it causes all sorts of reflections in you room...resulting in boomy undefinded fundamentals and exciting the rooms nodes aso. Now Bruno has designed the Kii THREEs to also get rid of that problem by creating a socalled Cardioid System that only fires to the front...Back and side walls dont come into play at all, resulting in the cleanness and precision Kal is writing about so correctly. The Kii THREEs can be put up to three (3) Inches to a wall or in a corner without them acoustically "seeing" these boundary surfaces...

HammerSandwich's picture

Thank you for the clarification; that makes more sense to me: the Kii has the bass dispersion of a 2m x 2m baffle, not flush in an infinite baffle. This matches other things I've read about the K3 - namely that it becomes omnidirectional below ~80Hz (& behaves as a DXT mini-monitor above ~700Hz).

Cardioid behavior over the middle 3 octaves (exactly where you want it) is a great accomplishment! I look forward to hearing these speakers one day.

Les's picture

This does seem to be a genuine advancement. (How refreshingly rare!) And the price seems more than reasonable (in the realm of high-end audio), considering all that it entails. Quite impressed! BUT, I find the design a bit lacking... It's a personal call, but I think they would look much better without the metal facia. Just a pure look of the drivers on high-gloss body would look far more elegant, in my opinion. The metal plate with its screws gives it a rather chintzy look, I think.

Tommy Antonsen's picture

Hi Kal, just a few quick questions;

In the review you mention that Dirac Live with Kii was "inconsequential". What do you mean by that? I'm asking because I have Kii myself but are struggling with some strong modes- the strongest one at around 40hz, and was contemplating buying Dirac to attack those issues.

And since nobody has asked yet, would you deem the likes of Dynaudio C20, C1, Sonus Faber Olympica 1, Extrema, Focal Sopra No1 and the likes of this world to be in the same league of the Three's - disregarding the all-in-one solution and focusing only on the quality of the sound?
Or would you say this, finally, represents a solid step forward?

Greetings from Norway.

Kal Rubinson's picture

1. If your room has a particular characteristic problem, I would guess that Dirac Live would be very useful. I have two large diaphragm corner traps that handle an annoying mode.

2. I have not had any of those speakers in my room, so I can only speculate that, unless one had a proper top-shelf EQ, I would prefer the Kii.

MacProCT's picture

I heard these at the NY audio show 2016 and they were the most amazing compact speaker I've ever heard. Yes the Devialet Phantom is impressive sounding but it's a dazzling sound, not an audiophile sound. The Kii Three is a true audiophile speaker.... but with the kind of lively dynamics that I love and find essential for convincing reproduction.

Richard D. George's picture

RMAF 2017?

Particularly being based in Colorado?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

At this moment, neither GTT Audio nor any of its brands is listed as exhibiting at RMAF 2017. I would contact Bill Parish at GTT Audio to confirm. 1-908-850-3092
av@gttaudio.com

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi - we did the show in 2015 but it got crazy in 2016 when they wanted to put exhibitions in a tent on the parking lot outside the hotel...so decision was made to not join this Year. For Colorado residents we would suggest getting in contact with Bill PArish at GTT for a personal home demo.

All the best
Kii AUDIO

tnargs's picture

Where is the (usually infamous on most audio sites) white paper showing measurements of how the principles work and how they correlate with delivering what research tells us listeners prefer?

Kii Audio GmbH's picture

Hi, please go to the news section on our website and download the AUDIO Review from August 2015 in the english version - it contains a lot of technical insights and measurement plots.
http://www.kiiaudio.com/en/press.html

All the best
Kii AUDIO

Carl4130's picture

I'm one of those lucky people that owns a pair.
For years (25) I spent buying/upgrading/swapping to the point where I had a tower of Class A with Transports, Dac, Cables coming out of my ears and a very large hifi footprint,

As the years pass by and life changes, I was finding myself listening to less and less to music since it was like powering up mission control - I recognised that Houston had a problem at the beginning of 2017.

I do remember that I visited the Premier London Devialet store in January, which was an indication of my intent to go digital and simple.
The Devialet's, and I only listened to their Top End pair, The Golds ? or something like that were terrible, just terrible. Was this the end of the road ? ... was this as good as it was going to get for what I wanted ?

I can't remember how I happened upon the Kii's, really can't, the Google search term or anything but I must have certainly caught one of the You Tube videos and one thing led to another.

I've been living with them for almost 2 months now, streaming Tidal with a Lumin U1 server. I have the Kii control (for room correction only) and they are sat on a pair of Townshend podiums.
Send them music from Tidal and they switch on, perfect.

For anybody thinking about them, absolutely trial a pair.

Iansr's picture

Kal, you mention that the Kii 3 is easier to live with, but I'm curious, setting aside the admittedly huge difference in price, how do you think the 3 compares sonically to the 90? Is the 90 significantly better?

petewilson's picture

Just a quick note to say that for reasons of domestic rearrangement, I needed to move my original B&W 800D's into a much smaller space. Hooked 'em up (with a pair of bi-amped PSA Stellar 300's) and Dirac'd them and lo! it all sounded pretty good.

But the damn things were much too big (visually) for the room. And so I looked around for a while, and decided that the Kii Three's looked a pretty damn perfect fit (I have a pair of Celestial SL6i's, and these things are the same size, except being twice as deep). So I contacted Bill Parish of GTT, and we came to a deal, and I installed the Kii Three's and - well, gosh.

The major first impact is o my goodness the bass sounds right (play Mino Cinelu - Moun Madinia, on his album entitled Mine Cinelu). ooo lovely.

They sounded a bit bright/harsh to begin with, but were behaving as Kal says after a week or two. And I concur - Dirac Live makes a difference technically, as does a DSPeaker (which I bought for the country cottage), but I can't say it sounds any better with Dirac Live.

System is Linn LP12 (hardly altered) into a PS Audio Nuwave Phono Converter (recommended!) which feeds 24/96 into a discontinued Nuforce AVP 18 digital preamp (because the MiniDSP doesn't have enough inputs and because the AVP 18 handles HDMI), which feeds the MiniDSP Dirac Live box, which directly drives the Kii's. Oppo 103 hooks into Nuforce, as does the evil satellite box for TV etc, as does a Mac mini holding the music library using BitPerfect, hooked up by SPDIF. The MiniDSP box happily provides a volume control, else I'd have needed a Kii Control, too.

Just my two cents. Very pleased with the product, and the service from GTT

-- P

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