Vivid Kaya S12 loudspeaker Page 2

The next day, I listened to "Buenas noches" performed by singer, composer, and harpist Arianna Savall and her group Hirundo Maris on Chants du Sud et du Nord (24/44.1 MQA ECM/Tidal). Once again, a familiar recording sounded unfamiliar. Even though it was coming through my reference dCS Bartók DAC, Arianna Savall's voice sounded strangely smaller and farther back in the soundstage than it had through Falcon Gold Badge and EJ Jordan Marlow speakers. (See Gramophone Dreams elsewhere in this issue.)


The more records I played, the more I saw that the S12s were creating these enormous floating soundspaces and that Arianna's voice seemed smaller because the Vivid's supersized spatial constructions were pushing the images of all performers farther back. The S12's soundstage was considerably deeper than that of the Falcons, and it started about 2' farther behind the speakers. The impressions above came from the early part of my Kaya auditions, when I had the S12s sitting loosely (with no sticky Blu-Tack) on my spiked, fireplug-solid 24" Sound Anchor Reference speaker stands. During this time, I perceived the S12s as above average in apparent speed, transparency, and resolution, but also a little lean in the bass and noisy through their upper octaves. I imagined rogue energy circulating the perimeters of the S12's thin-but-stiff polyurethane cabinet.

After several days of resting loosely on the dense, wide columns of the Sound Anchor stands, I snugly cap-screwed the S12 bubbles to Vivid's lightweight, tree-branch-thin, 24" stands.


On the Vivid stands, the Kaya S12s looked sensible and complete. As I returned to critical listening, I raised my glass to the sentient beings (Matt Longbottom and Jim Noyd) that put pencils to paper and drew the elegant organic shapes of these steel and polyurethane stick-stands. In my eyes, the lines of the black sticks merged gracefully with the S12's curves, complimenting the speaker's gummy-bear form by striking an assured balance between geometric and biomorphic.

Final setup
With the S12s on the Vivid stands, I began moving them about, listening, and taking casual measurements (which consistently showed more bass energy than I thought I was hearing). I ended up with the little Kayas only 6' apart, 3' from their front faces to the wall behind them, and approximately 3' to the nearest objects on either side. My preferred listening position turned out to be in the extreme nearfield, less than 5' from my face to the S12's toed-in faces.


In that position, I streamed "Modul 29" and "Modul 16" from Nik Bärtsch and Mobile's album AER (16/44.1, Ronin Rhythm/Tidal). To my wonderment, Vivid's stands had transformed the S12's sound in several easily recognizable ways: The bass became fuller, solider, and deeper. Focus and clarity increased. Vivid's lightweight but fastened-tightly-with-bolts stands appeared to substantially damp the S12's thin enclosure and suck that upper-octave noise right out. (JA take note.) Besides denser bass and less noise, the spindly stands added a measure of sheen and a richer, more polished tone that made the speakers sound less like a racecar and more like a luxury car.

What I enjoyed most about the Kaya S12s was not its precision imaging or how completely it disappeared (the S12's two most dominant traits), but—and this intrigued and charmed me—the extreme depth and high-luster beauty of the Kaya's projected soundspace.

Just like the Jordan Marlow speaker, the Kaya S12 relies on a sophisticated 4" aluminum-cone driver in a small, thin-walled, carefully tuned, ported box. The transparency and incredibly precise soundspace projections I attribute to both speakers are, most probably, a result of that singular engineering model.

In dramatic contrast, the 10" pulp-cone drivers in DeVore Fidelity's ported, floorstanding Orangutan O/93 speakers deliver an abundance of richly toned, natural-feeling energy—especially in the bass and vocal range. The relaxed expression of that voice-range energy defines the O/93's unfatiguing character. The O/93s rarely feel stressed or unnaturally detailed. The Vivids sometimes do. The tradeoff: The soundspace generated by the broad-baffled, big-coned O/93 is not as canyon-deep or opera-stage wide—or as Leica-focused—as the Kaya S12's.

Seeking another familiar comparison, I listened to the Nik Bärtsch (and other recordings) with the Pass Labs INT-25 powering KEF's much-less-expensive LS50 standmounts. The Kaya S12's quick, nuanced microdynamics and extreme transparency made the KEFs sound thick and restrained. But, fortunately, the LS50s exploited their thickness by surpassing the S12s when it came to lower-octave density, midrange presence, and musical drive.

With Halo A 21+
I was curious to see how the S12's almost feminine delicacy would partner with Parasound's alpha-male Halo A 21+. The A 21+ did what it always does: add bass force and 20% more area to the back of the projected soundspace. With the S12s playing Chants du Sud et du Nord, this added depth and bass power was eye-openingly dramatic.

Folks, there is no such thing as a universal amplifier, or as two amplifiers that sound the same. Each amplifier's circuitry, and what that circuitry is constructed from, will always color the sound. To my ears, the Kaya S12 sounded like a completely different speaker with the A 21+. It was bolder, brighter, harder, and more forward but still nuanced and engaging. Occasionally, a deeper-than-expected bass note would slip out of hiding and halo Arianna Savall's sublime voice. This amp-speaker pairing added new forms of audio excitement to the Vivid's repertoire.

With the dCS Bartók DAC driving the Parasound amp directly, the Vivids never sounded lush, reverb-drenched, or seductively sensuous. There were no LSD color enhancements. With the A 21+ driving the Kaya S12s, singers had less blood in their flesh than they had with the class-A Pass Labs amp. In lieu of those pleasures, I experienced immense galaxies of precisely mapped space, explicitly tangible cathedral walls, high levels of nuanced dynamic energy, and crisply focused images.

The Line Magnetic solution
Foot tapping and head bobbing became the dominant aspect of my listening experience when I connected the Kaya S12s to Line Magnetic's LM-518 IA single-ended triode amplifier. The cheeks of soprano singers blushed red again. Blues singers got more devilish and desperate-sounding. Wood instruments showed more wood more often. Early music sounded more ancient and more modern.

Once again, the Vivid Audio speakers sounded quite different. Now, besides sounding faster and even more transparent, they sounded fleshy, fragrant, and streetwise, more French and less English—less hi-fi-delic than they did with the Parasound amplifier. The Line Magnetic's bright-emitting 845 transmitter triodes brought the S12s' tones and textures down to earth and showed me how smooth and ribbonlike the S12s' metal tweeters could sound.

The LM-518 IA is not a warm or soft or euphonic tube amplifier. It is a full-force quick and clear-spoken transmitter-tube amp. If anything, it is a breath on the cool side of neutral. The LM-518 IA's most outstanding virtue is the character of its upper-octave output, which is so refined and crystalline. It flatters speakers like my O/93s and Falcon LS3/5a's, and, as I discovered, enhanced the S12's already fine treble response.


One of the high points of conducting this review was listening to folk songs by Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935), performed by the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble on the album Komitas (24/96, ECM/Qobuz). I listened on a Friday morning at 6am, looking at a fresh 6" of snow falling silently outside my window. The sweet, rich tones of the Gurdjieff Ensemble's blul, oud, tar, and dap came through in Cinemascope and sharp-focused Ektachrome color. I felt like I was dreaming in a floating world.

With the Line Magnetic, the S12s sounded more grass-fed and tactile. The LM-518 IA made ECM's signature reverb sound extra-focused and harmonically correct. Clearly, the Kaya S12s were benefiting from a dose of triode-tube intangibles.

I could go on, but...
I think you get the picture. Vivid Audio's Kaya S12 is a uniquely amazing loudspeaker, one I imagine will impress most audiophiles. But it is a bit of a shapeshifter. It sounded exciting, incredibly well-sorted, and refined—but surprisingly different—with every amplifier I tried. Overall, the S12s are shy on bass but easy to drive; lightning fast, uber-transparent, micro-detailed, and extremely three-dimensional. Their defining trait is the beauty and intricacy of their projected soundspace, which exceeded that of my Falcon Gold Badges. An absolute must-audition.

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?