To describe the Kii Three as a pair of loudspeakers is to do then a gross disservice. Even calling them active loudspeakers, where DACs and bespoke-fit amplifiers sit inside each two-piece cabinet, sells them short.
The Kii Three stands alone with a unique proposition: loudspeakers that are as close to room agnostic as you’ll find anywhere and at any price. Guaranteeing consistent performance in almost ANY room – even small rooms – an internal DSP engine exploits noise cancellation to deliver a cardioid dispersion pattern for a large portion of the frequency spectrum with the end user customising low-bass output according to boundary proximity.
The Kii Three sell for US$15,495 (in graphite or white). Add a Kii Control ‘pre-amplifier’ (that sidesteps the loudspeakers’ XLR inputs) for US$2000. Custom loudspeaker stands will run you another US$1795.
Kii Audio CEO Chris Reichardt hand delivered my review pair in a custom colour (+US$1000) at the beginning of April 2018 — I shot an unboxing and setup video as well as an interview with the man himself. Six weeks later, I interviewed Kii Three designer Bruno Putzeys during the Munich launch of Kii’s BXT module.
Having lived with these 21st Century actives for several months, I have now committed my thoughts to camera to produce a short film about the Kii Three loudspeaker system and affix a DAR-KO Award sticker to possibly the most forward-thinking hi-fi hardware ever encountered by yours truly. The epitome of Future-Fi.
Camera: Olaf von Voss | Editor: Jana Dagdagan
Further information: Kii Audio
Additional thoughts (Part 1):
On the rear of each Kii Three loudspeaker, an XLR input accepts either digital (AES/EBU) or analogue (XLR) signals. Any incoming analogue signal is immediately encoded to digital, ready for the 40-bit floating point DSP engine – that calculates the cardioid output, low bass settings, applies volume control – that hands off its results to six DACs, each one firing its analogue output into an nCore amplifier that controls the driver.
This is how the Kii Three gives those preferring analogue sources the lower room interaction of a cardioid dispersion pattern.
The Kii Three’s job is to be transparent enough that tracks changes to its analogue input. If it didn’t, it would be useless to studio engineers.
Thankfully, the opposite is true: the Kii Three is one of the most transparent hifi systems I’ve ever heard. And no doubt the numerous studios putting the Kii Three behind the mixing desk agree.
When a mixing engineer makes a change on the mixing console, s/she hears that change in the Kii Three loudspeakers. Just as we would expect.
When a studio engineer makes a change to a microphone’s type or placement, s/she hears that change in the Kii Three loudspeakers. Just as we would expect.
This isn’t just other people’s assumed first-hand experience but my own.
When I switch from one phono pick-up to another, I hear that change in the Kii Three loudspeakers. Just as we would expect.
When I switch from one pre-amplifier to another, I hear that change in the Kii Three loudspeakers. Just as we would expect.
When I switch from one phono stage to another, I hear that change in the Kii Three loudspeakers. Just as we would expect.
Each Kii Three loudspeaker is (obviously!) not cognisant of the nature of the analogue output stage connected to its rear. Neither does it know (or care) about the power supply or circuitry – digital or analogue – preceding that output stage.
A DAC’s sound isn’t exclusively determined by its decoder silicon. If it were, all DACs using the same chip would sound identical. And yet we know that not to be true. Power supply, data buffering, upsampling (or not), clocking, output stage and component choices all play an audible role.
When I switch from one DAC to another, I hear that change in the Kii Three loudspeaker. Just as we would expect.
Additional thoughts (Part 2):
On the Kii Control sit three digital inputs: USB, coaxial and TOSLINK. These inputs are handed off to the master Kii speaker via Ethernet. Digital sources don’t have to cost mega money either. A Raspberry Pi can serve as a Roon/UPnP/Spotify/Squeezebox endpoint for as little as €35. The ALLO DigiOne can turn that same Raspberry Pi into a very good sounding S/PDIF streamer for another hundred. For similar money, ALLO’s USBridge deals ones and zeroes via low-noise USB. Peanuts next to the Kii Three’s asking price.
Unexpectedly, first-hand listening experience tells me different digital transports bring different audible results, even on the same input. Over coaxial, an AURALiC Aries G1 sounds different to a Wyred 4 Sound MS. These findings remain consistent with my previous report on this issue.