Vivid Kaya 45 loudspeaker

For a decade, the sound of the Vivid Giya loudspeakers, which I had heard only at CES in private demonstration suites, beguiled me. My positive impressions were completely consistent from one show to the next—but then, so were the host and the surroundings. I had to wonder how much those factors contributed to my impressions.

I had a similarly positive reaction to the sound of the new Vivid Kaya speakers in a tiny demo room on the show floor at the 2018 High End Show in Munich. Smaller and simpler in appearance than Vivid's flagship Giyas, the Kayas are also significantly less expensive, even though they incorporate the same major design features. When Art Dudley and I sat down to talk about the Kayas with Vivid's Laurence Dickie and Philip Guttentag, I pushed to get a pair for review.

After dallying, as a young man, with KEF B139 bass drivers in transmission lines, Dickie went to work at Bowers & Wilkins and developed a means of loading drivers with exponential tapered tubes. This culminated, in 1991, with the prototype of the B&W Nautilus loudspeaker system, which saw its commercial release in 1993, and which remains an iconic product for B&W. Dickie left B&W in 1997, and, in 2004, after a few years working overseas, cofounded Vivid Audio. There he combined his commitment to the use of exponential tapered tube loading with the use of synthetic materials for cabinet construction and in-house driver design and assembly. Vivid introduced the Giya G1 in 2008.

The Vivid Kaya is available in three different floorstanding models: the two-way Kaya 25 and the three-way Kaya 45 and Kaya 90. For me, choosing to review the Kaya 45 ($18,000/pair) over the 90 was somewhat arbitrary. They share the same midrange and treble drivers and the same overall design, construction, and appearance. The 45 is smaller, with only a pair of 5" woofers per speaker rather than the quartet of same in each Kaya 90. I thought these must be some special 5" drivers and wondered how just a pair could work in this line of high-concept floorstanders.

I felt an immediate affinity with the size and shape of the 45 because it conjured up visions of Al Capp's legendary cartoon character the Shmoo. Capp depicted this sympathetic and benign friend of humankind as a mustachioed, armless biped shaped like a bowling pin. Shmoos were said to be more entertaining than TV or movies, and they were excellent playmates for children. That's probably too much to expect of a loudspeaker, even one that looks like a Shmoo in a piano-black tuxedo, but the Kaya 45s were welcome guests in my living room.

Delivery and setup
The two Kaya 45s arrived in a single wooden crate with a pair of wheels and a pair of handgrips on opposite ends: The crate can be moved by a single person without the need for a handtruck or dolly. Inside, each Kaya is cradled face-up and attached to a small plywood panel with handgrips at its base. It was actually pretty easy to lift the speaker out of the box and into position. Very Shmoo-like so far.


Pictures of the Kaya 45 convey more information than I could possibly put into words, but I can say that this 45"-tall speaker is quite sleek and will blend in with a wide range of furnishing styles—although it will attract the attention of new visitors. That said, with or without the removable grilles for their midrange and bass drivers, the Kayas look graceful: They don't scream audio! or tech!

A single pair of multiway speaker posts, placed close together at the extreme bottom of the rear surface—sort of under the Kaya's "derriere"—are inconspicuous. The enclosure itself is constructed of a glass-reinforced sandwich composite described by Vivid as "soric-cored." The material's thickness varies to minimize mass where it is not needed but to endow other portions exposed to higher pressures with more mass, to prevent panel movement. The finish quality of this seamless skin was superb.


As one would expect from Vivid, every driver is loaded with an exponentially tapered tube; while those for the tweeter and midrange are closed, the bass tube travels up and down internally, terminating in a pair of reflex ports. These ports are positioned symmetrically, slightly above and behind each of the woofers. Symmetrical side-mounted woofers are not unusual, but the drivers are physically braced to each other to further cancel extraneous vibrations due to their motion. Furthermore, the symmetrical placement of the ports ensures that internal pressures are balanced to minimize re-radiation of signals from the cabinet. While playing a bass-heavy recording, I ran my hands over the Kaya and could not discern any vibrations. When I put my hands close to the two ports, there was the weirdest perception of the Kaya blowing out of both sides in perfect synchrony.


Once in position, the user has the option of employing the six floor spikes for carpet placement or the six polyamide feet for delicate hard floors. On my carpet, I used the spikes and followed Vivid's simple but detailed instructions for setting them up. The Kayas ended up about 7' from the wall behind them, about 7' apart, and 4' and 3.5' from the left and right walls, respectively. I aimed the Kayas straight ahead—ie, without any toe-in—and the distance between each speaker and my main listening position was 8.5'. Each Kaya was connected to its own Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier, operated in monoblock mode.


My initial impression was of a clear midrange and treble—and, at the bottom end, a notable degree of richness that didn't so much affect the sounds of the instruments as convey the ambiance of the recording studio: an effect I find to be more common with much larger speakers than these. However, as I played an assortment of recordings, the delightful sparkle of the treble began to seem persistently highlighted and I readjusted the toe-in so that the speaker axis aimed directly at my listening seat. Snap! The midrange came up in perfect balance with the treble. (Vivid's setup suggestions do recommend that orientation, expressly in order to reduce reflections off the side walls.)

Listening impressions
The Kayas were marvelous in their rendering of voices, individual and massed. I did a historical survey of recordings by Dame Emma Kirkby, whose career spans decades. Beginning with her early recordings of Mozart's Exsultate, Jubilate in 1984 (CD, L'Oiseau-Lyre 168055) and Hildegard von Bingen's O Jerusalem in 1982 (CD, Hyperion CDA66039) through Dowland's "Flow, My Tears" in 2005 (SACD, BIS BIS-1475) and 2017 (SACD, BIS BIS-2283), her unique sound has changed less over the years than have the recordists who work with her and the technologies at their disposal. The clarity of the Kaya 45s made the technical differences so explicit and allowed me to hear through them to that same wonderful and unique voice. Even the Mozart from '84 sounded neither too bright nor too close, as it is on some speakers: It was well balanced if a bit distant compared to the recordings made in this century.

Vivid Audio
US distributor: Vivid Audio LLC
1815 SE 40th Street
Portland, OR 97214
(650) 996-2295

Ortofan's picture

... the similarly priced Revel Ultima2 Studios?
Do the Kayas capture the "flag" that the Revel Performa F228Bes "planted in the ground at the $10,000/pair meridian?"
Are the Kayas more of a "pure delight" than the Dutch & Dutch 8cs?
If the GoldenEar Triton One.R "does it all, and at a fair price", then what, if anything, does it lack?
To paraphrase the amp review, if one of these speakers is right, then the others must be wrong.

If the "the Kayas sounded good from the moment they hit the carpet" and "never failed to please, with any musical source at any reasonable listening level", then why is KR not buying them (instead of returning them and missing them)?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Upon re-reading this comment, I feel the need to say that I do not change my equipment willy-nilly even when greatly impressed with a new product. One must admit that there are a lot of great speakers in the same general price range, some already mentioned in this discussion, and one can make a good case for any one of them.

I rely a great deal on my intimate familiarity with a product, especially a loudspeaker, as it works in my system and my room and that takes a lot of time and effort. To change, one must begin again and that's after surmounting the necessary physical and financial costs. OTOH, it is always on my mind....................

Ortofan's picture

On this site, and elsewhere, it's not uncommon to read reviews that conclude with words to the effect that the reviewer especially enjoyed the sound quality of a product, hated to see it go and will really miss it.

The reader is often left wondering if the product was truly that good then why didn't the reviewer buy it?

Perhaps such reviews should conclude with some rationale for the reviewer's decision not to buy that particular product.

As you suggested, below, the outcome might conceivably have been different with the Kaya 90.

Kal Rubinson's picture

The reader is often left wondering if the product was truly that good then why didn't the reviewer buy it?

There are so many factors in such a decision, many of which are quite personal and not relevant to others. For example, color and style. Readers can judge these for themselves and, unless I can say something quite positive about the product in this regard, why introduce it? (Quality of finish and construction is a different issue.)
Another is spouse acceptance.

So what I try to do is compare and contrast the performance of the DUT with similar ones that I know and let the reader consider that in the context of his/her own personal preferences.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be KR could also review the new Polk Audio Legend L800 floor-standing speakers with SDA-PRO technology, $6,000/pair ........ L800 were favorably mentioned by RS in a recent dealer demo ...... L800 were also favorably reviewed by S&V magazine :-) ........

Kal Rubinson's picture

I prefer the overall performance of the Studio2s and, in particular, their bass weight and extension. It has bigger woofers. Perhaps the bigger Kayas would suit me more.

Anton's picture

Thanks for the added consideration!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The top of the Kaya line Kaya 90 are priced at $26,000/pair ........ May be worth reviewing by Stereophile :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The Revel Performa F328Be ($15,000/pair) may equal the bass extension and performance of Kaya 90, for less cost ...... F328Be are even less expensive than Kaya 45 :-) .........

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am well aware of that. :-)

AJ's picture

I find non normalized off axis data far easier to read/interpret, thanks.
Hopefully this is the new "norm" ;-)

Oilman's picture

A non-normalized off-axis view gets us closer to “spin-o-rama” information, which is well established to predict speaker audio quality. JA’s normalization of off-axis measurements are oft-criticized by Dr Floyd Toole. JA, please ditch the normalized curves once and for all and give us non-normalized!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You may already know this ....... KR wrote an article about 'blind listening tests' at Harman facilities and about 'Spinorama' graphs :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you see Figures 4-6 in measurements section of Kaya 45, you can see a little bit of 'Fletcher-Munson' type of 'bowl' in the upper midrange and treble region (although, it is not that much pronounced) :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wanna see some 'ripples' this same region? ........ Take a look at any Wilson speaker measurements (reviewed by Stereophile) in similar section of measurements :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Lot of B&W speakers also show 'bowls and ripples' in their measurements in this area :-) .......

John Atkinson's picture
Oilman wrote:
JA, please ditch the normalized curves once and for all and give us non-normalized!

Space in the print magazine is limited, so I decided many years ago that the primary dispersion measurements I would publish would be normalized to the tweeter (or other recommended axis) response. It was the changes in the response off-axis that I felt more revealing. Only occasionally, as the case of the Vivid Kaya 45, have I also published the actual responses.

Perhaps for the website reprints of the magazine's loudspeaker reviews I could publish both normalized and actual dispersion graphs.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

AJ's picture

It was the changes in the response off-axis that I felt more revealing.

This is generally true, since spectrally *dissimilar* reflections are perceptually harder to ignore, which normalized will emphasize.
But in the case of the subsequent Magico review, the normalized makes the >10k response look very wide, which in fact it is not, since it is actually correspondingly down in level with the on axis. I can see it this way being used to viewing normalized, but the casual reader eye might mistake it for otherwise.
I'm with Dr Toole on this one. The "raw" response impinging the surroundings is more informative, IMHO.

Soundfield Audio

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If, you look at the Audio Physic Virgo III Stereophile measurements, the JA1's listening room FR measurements (Fig.7) look very much similar to Magico M2 :-) .........

AJ's picture

The active Dutch & Dutch 8cs must be placed close to the front wall

Hmmm, a cardioid/controlled directivity type speaker *can* be placed closer to the front wall, less detrimentally than a non-cardioid, due to the rear output nulling and controlled off axis.
However, that shouldn't be mandatory, especially with an adjustable (such as an active) speaker.
With proper adjustment, should function just fine away from wall. Subsequent spatial rendering should be commensurate.


Soundfield Audio

Kal Rubinson's picture

True but then their appearance would offend my wife even more. I told Martijn Mensink that when he last visited me.

AJ's picture

Aha, acoustics puzzle solved. Occams razor.

Anton's picture

They look like the Shmoo from L'il Abner.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yeah. I did say that, didn't I?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Kaya 25 kinda looks like Jar Jar Binks :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Kaya 25 pair could work well with a couple of powered subwoofers :-) ........

MikeP's picture

They just come out with the much smaller and even better $6K Vivid Audio Kaya S12's !