Vivid Kaya S12 loudspeaker

Back when Steve Urkel (in the sitcom Family Matters, portrayed by Jaleel White) was showing everybody the best way to dress (and do property damage), my friend Ken Kessler, the high-level audio scribe at Hi-Fi News & Record Review, explained to me the secret of how to write a proper audio review: "Herb, the secret of writing an effective review is not to lose the reader in the middle." I took that to mean, put all the technological meat—and some tawdry stories—in the product description. Then sneak some spicy double entendre into the setup part.

Unfortunately, that strategy hasn't worked for me.

What I try for now in my product descriptions is to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of my reviewing process, introducing them to the personalities of the people who create and support audiophile brands.

The reason I do this—aside from trying to keep the reader reading—is because it's necessary. Today, the websites of most audio companies are long on fancy photos and hyperbolic sales pitches and short on facts, relevant specifications, reasonable viewpoints, and prices (the real spicy bits).

To collect necessary data for my heart-of-the-review descriptions, I resort to what my friends call "Herb questions" via email. Sometimes, as in this article, I show the exact questions and responses. For me, the most interesting part of audiophile audio is the people, the ones who make it and sell it and the ones who listen and wonder.

Some spicy bits
When I began this review of Vivid Audio's new Kaya S12 standmount speaker ($6500/pair in standard finishes, stands $2000 extra), I knew very little about Vivid's renowned chief engineer, Laurence Dickie, or his industrial designer cohorts Matt Longbottom and Christoph Hermann. The main thing I knew about Dickie was that he was the guy who put tapered pipes behind the B&W Nautilus drivers. Then I remembered he designed the Vivid Audio G1 Giya speaker, which was introduced in 2008 and reviewed by Stereophile in July 2010. In a subsequent Q&A with John Atkinson, Dickie said that the G1's unusual shape started off as a form-follows-function extrapolation of the transmission-line loading of the G1, not just for the woofer but for all the drivers. Dickie calls his tapered transmission lines "exponential absorbers."


The Kaya S12, and all other Vivid speakers, feature a 1" catenary-shaped aluminum tweeter with a powerful, cylinder-shaped ring magnet that "gives the tweeter's back-wave energy free passage into its own exponential absorber." The open-backed tweeter in the little Kaya S12 is the same one found in Vivid's top-range Giya speakers. The S12's 100mm aluminum-cone mid/bass driver was also designed by Dickie.

In a series of emails, I asked Jim Noyd (Noyd Communications), Vivid's knowledgeable and communicative PR associate, the following questions about how the new S12 was conceived and executed. His answers have been edited for brevity.

Herb Reichert: Who designed the Vivid Audio Kaya S12?

Jim Noyd: Laurence Dickie designed the acoustically significant parts such as disposition of the drivers and the shape of the shallow waveguide around the tweeter. The rest of the form was handled by industrial designers Matt Longbottom and Christoph Hermann. The stand was the result of cooperation between Laurence Dickie and industrial designer Matt Longbottom. Matt wanted straight lines; Dickie wanted to add curvature.

Reichert: Where are Kaya's drivers manufactured, and by whom?

Noyd: The D26 tweeters are built in Durban, South Africa, using locally sourced parts in conjunction with Chinese magnets, UK-made domes, and Far Eastern voice-coils. The C100L mid/bass driver is entirely made in the UK with just the magnets imported from China, and Far Eastern voice-coils.

Reichert: What type of magnets are used?

Noyd: The magnets are high-energy, rare-earth neodymium-iron-boron. They are disposed as a cylindrical shell about the voice-coil to reduce local induction and linearize the gap flux.

Reichert: Can you explain what the "tapered tube port" is engineered to accomplish?


Noyd: There are tapered tube absorbers wrapped around the inside of the cabinet walls. These are an extension of the technology originally developed for the Vivid Giya, which was fine for the bass-only enclosure of the Giya. In the S12, the frequency range of the main chamber extends all the way up to the midrange, so the absorption needs to be effective against resonant modes in all dimensions. Sandwiching the array of tapered tubes between an inner and outer shell offers the additional benefit of creating an intrinsically stiff sandwich structure while remaining lightweight.

Reichert: Is there anything special about the S12's crossover?

Noyd: Actually, no. Because of the well-behaved acoustics of the two drivers and the resonance-free behavior of the enclosure, the crossover is not required to do anything more than divide the spectrum between the drivers. It does not have to equalize response peculiarities from either cone breakup or ringing in the cabinet. Of course, in common with all Vivid speakers, we use air-core inductors and, for the S12, we use locally sourced high-quality polypropylene film capacitors from ClarityCap.

Reichert: What is the optimum distance from the wall that the S12 should be placed?

Noyd: We have used them to great effect about 0.5m from a drywall and up to 1m from a solid wall, but I should always add the proviso that the sidewall placement also comes into play. So, for example, if a solid front wall is 0.5m behind the speaker, then the sidewall should be about 0.9m for an even response, assuming the speaker to be on a 0.6m high stand.


One afternoon at the beginning of my Kaya S12 auditions, I was trying out the newly installed, top-of-the-line Linn Sondek Klimax LP12 record-playing system (review forthcoming). The Kaya S12s were being powered by the super-transparent Pass Labs INT-25 integrated amplifier, and everything sounded so newfangled clean, superdynamic, and extra-vivid—and so completely unfamiliar—that I kept asking myself "Is this my system?" My brain would follow that with, "How fantastic is this Linn Ekstatik cartridge?," and "Has this system ever sounded this resolving?" And, "Is this the speaker I always wished for but never found?"

The Linn LP12 and the Kaya S12s were making my sound system sound too "new and unusual" for any kind of comparative listening, but I sure had fun playing Moondog's The Viking of 6th Avenue (Honest Jon's Records LP HJRLP18).

I'm very familiar with this record, but—wildly—it sounded like I'd never heard it before. I experienced several long moments where the whole of a familiar track would sound so different, I didn't recognize it.

Hypnotized and inspired, I listened to all four Viking of 6th Avenue sides, and at some point, it hit me: What was so different with the Linn and S12s playing Moondog was how intensely resolved and minutely detailed the reproduction was. I had never before peered this microscopically into the mechanics of the album's construction. Tiny sounds I'd never heard before sounded precisely rendered and meticulously presented. I could easily identify every strange instrument and background Foley noise. I could see how the mix was laid out and marvel at every little paint stroke of Moondog's surrealistic circus show.

Vivid Audio BV
Vivid Audio U.S.
201 West High St., Unit B10
East Hampton, CT 06424
(650) 996-2295

PeterG's picture

A great review, as always, and I would look forward to a listen.

But as a person who enjoys stand-mounts, it always puzzles me when they are reviewed without a sub and then evaluated on bass. OK, that's a very relevant issue for a person who will not have a subwoofer--maybe they live in an apartment building or love monitor-style sound? But for a person stepping up with $8K or so for speakers, I would expect they are typically committed enough to great sound that they "need" a sub.

MZKM's picture

Many audiophiles who can afford this speaker are also usually the ones who disdain subwoofers, they are 2ch purists.

Also, the price tag for a 4” woofer is very steep. Even if crossing to a sub, the speaker has to be able to go down to at least 80Hz not just at 1W but also at peak SPL, which a 4” woofer is unlikely to do. But yes, other than bass, the measured performance on & off axis is very good.

PeterG's picture

I am a 2 channel audiophile with stand mounts that are a bit higher in price than these, and a subwoofer is essential. (So I'm not complaining about the price and I'm skeptical of your "purists" point wrt stand mount buyers) Without the sub, the stand mounts may sound beautiful, but they do not sound complete--it's kind of like you're listening to only a portion of the song.

Jack L's picture


Bingo !

How can a 4" mid-bass driver (3KHz X-over) reproduce decent bass, let alone cathedral pipe organ music & synethetic rock bass notes !!! This is physics.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Really ???

So yours truly might be one-of-a-kind "2-ch purist" as I hate multi-channel surround sound since day one. Yet I've installed 3 active subs to my pure stereo system (L,R, L+R channels).

I demand music performances covering FULL frequency spectrum from my stereo system. NOTHING less ! Why compromise music enjoyment because of the main loudspeaskers not doing their job right ?

Listening is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

She took one look at the pic of the back of that speaker and asked, "What in the hell is that supposed to look like?"



That stand/speaker difference is interesting.

Thank you for the fine review, the speakers are reminiscent of the new Genelec line. Were those reviewed here, or was it The Audiophiliac?

MontyM's picture

I thought they looked like lima beans. My partner thought they looked like a character from the Barbapapas, a somewhat obscure cartoon from the early 70's. Either way, not a conventional shape or color.

I do like designs with a point of view, both acoustically and aesthetically, though. Thanks for the review HR.

Jack L's picture


Personally, I don't worry too much about the look of any audio components as long as they combinedly sound good.

The look does not tell you how good or bad it may sound, right ? The music is for our ears. Not a fine dine which should look, smell & taste good.

Listening is believing'

Jack L

RH's picture

Nice review!

I have listened to several Vivid speakers, and auditioned the Oval speakers, and listened to the Kaya45 speakers a number of times at a friend's place. "Vivid" is certainly an apt name; that's certainly the impression of that brand, no matter where I heard them! Just super open, airy, ridiculously detailed.

The thing is, to my ears, while the speakers conjured up super "vivid" sonic images of singers, they never really sounded human. More like a fabulous holograph of a recorded voice. The artifice of the recording process was made just as "vivid."

I was using Harbeth SuperHL5plus speakers at the time and after listening to the Vivid speakers, voices on the Harbeths just sounded more like real people - dense and soft in a palpable and recognizably "fleshy" manner. (Frankly, the same was also true to an extent with my Thiel speakers powered by my Conrad Johnson tube amps).

I find the Vivid speakers a neato experience, but they aren't for me. I get why others would love them, though. And I have a hunch which way Herb's tastes go on that...:-)

thethanimal's picture

You start off referencing Family Matters and then give the gems of Nik Bärsch’s Mobile and “Hirundo Maris - Chants du Sud et du Nord”, further cementing your status as my favorite audio writer/reviewer. Thanks.

remlab's picture 5.8 khz is most likely a breakup in the 4" metal cone raising it's ugly head. I have a feeling that the crossover uses relatively shallow slopes compared to other Vivid models. The vertical response family is also indicative of that.

Axiom05's picture

I was surprised to see such an obvious resonance peak in a Laurence Dickie design.

remlab's picture

I wonder if it's due to the cabinet being too small and crowded for a higher element crossover.

pbarach's picture

That is the ugliest finish I have ever seen on a speaker. I had to check the manufacturer's website to see if it came in other colors: Yes, but that website only shows the same gangrenous green.

Glotz's picture

Is 'grass-fed and tactile'. LOVE it.

Glotz's picture


tonykaz's picture

Audiophile Transducers typically make our music sound better, isn't that the goal we strive for ???

I like and appreciate the Active Genelec Monitors that look pretty much like this Vivid design but also offer matching Sub-Woofers and other Room Matching capability for significantly lower investment costs. ( and long lived re-sale -- residual values ) .

Maybe I'm prejudiced because the Vivid somehow reminds me of TellaTubies , hmm.

Still , if this transducer can live up to Mr.HR's discovery of 'shape-shifting', it just might be a neurotic / psychotic's ultimate satisfaction system. When a person changes interconnects, will this loudspeaker notice ?, care ?, throw a fit ???

These Vivid people certainly do a nice job of designing and building unique products, but will they ever disappear in any Room they're in, even if the lights are fully off : Vivids are loudest when they're silent.

Tony in Florida

Herb Reichert's picture

The Genelec G3s are up next


remlab's picture

Now we’re talkin’. That’ll be fun

remlab's picture

MontyM's picture

Hi Jack,

I agree that the top selection criterion has to be how well a component sounds in your room. But I think it also has to be something you enjoy looking at. Even then, while I might be willing to work a pair of very modern looking Kaya loudspeakers into our traditionally decorated home, it's not all up to me. Fortunately, there are lots of excellent sounding beautifully crafted components out there, so major sacrifices are rarely, if ever, necessary.

Best, Monty

Jack L's picture


Fully appreciated yr home situation now ! You are not alone, for sure.

That's one of the reasons why I installed my audio den down the basement of my house day one I moved in 30 years back.

My wife is very indifferent to HiFi music which is deemed 'noisy' to her. That said, she somehow pushed my elder son into learning piano while he was only 5. She wanted him to complete his classical piano training before entering university. Thanks goodnes, he did after graduated from our city's Royal Conservatory of Music on classical piano with honour.

So home sweet home upstairs & music sweet music downstairs in my basement. Everybody is happy now.

Jack L

Danny-s's picture

Definitely on my wish list for a bedroom speaker.
Still addicted to my other Vivid’s v1.5 (Powered by Audionet WATT) which are just Incredible! :-)

tnargs's picture

Does it look like an EBS alignment to you, John? I know it has this complex “tube loaded reflex” internal arrangement, but the net effect resembles EBS at first glance?

MikeP's picture

I would take some new KMD Orchestalls speakers at $7K plus shipping any day over these Vivid speakers! Made in South Korea
"The World's First Speakers that Sounds Like LIVE MUSIC"
More info on You Tube !