I had the VIVID Audio KAYA 45 speakers in for a detailed review for about 8 weeks or so. By the end of the first week, I knew I was going to buy a pair to make them my long-term reference speakers. They pretty much had no discernible weaknesses in their performance.
VIVID AUDIO KAYA 45 FLOOR-STANDING LOUDSPEAKERS
- Balanced response
- The most musical speaker I have ever reviewed
- Unfaltering imagery
- Works well in a home cinema
- Tight and clean bass
- Pretty cool looking too
I get a lot of press releases emailed to me. In high-end audio, these releases usually announce some new product release. I read most of them and pass over a few. Then one day, I got a notification that VIVID Audio had a new line of speakers coming out and review samples would be available soon.
I had heard some of VIVID’s earlier speaker designs at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. They always sounded pretty incredible in a large room on the mezzanine. Also, their team was full of great guys you could really enjoy your time visiting. So sure, I wanted to review the new KAYA 45’s. I really wanted to hear them in my own system for a long-term evaluation. There is no better way to evaluate high fidelity components than through a long-term living arrangement in your own home. How would these modest tower speakers stand up against all the competition out there? Well, read on!
4-Driver, 3-Way Floor-standing Speakers
37 Hz – 25 kHz (-6 dB)
1 ~ 1” (26 mm) Tapered Tube-Loaded Alloy Dome
1 ~ 4” (100 mm) Tapered Tube-Loaded Alloy Cone
2 ~ 5” (125 mm) Alloy Cone Exponentially-Tapered Tube Enhanced Bass Reflex
Crossover Frequencies (Hz):
300 and 3,000
Sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 m):
Recommended Amplifier Power:
25 – 250 watts
55 lbs. (25 kg) each
45-3/8” x 11-3/4” x 15-3/16” (1,153 mm x 298 mm x 385 mm)
Piano, Pearl, Oyster Matte (and custom colors too!)
$18,000 (USD) (custom colors extra)
VIVID, loudspeaker, floor-standing, tapered tube, soric core, KAYA, Loudspeaker Review 2020
There is a lot of technology in each and every VIVID Audio speaker. And there are consistent design threads that run through their family of products. There is no way I can go into great depth with a short review like this so I would like to focus on the main themes and concepts.
The KAYA 45’s are three-way, four-driver passive floor-standing speakers. The model numbers relate to the enclosed volume of the speaker in liters. So the 45’s are 45 liters in volume which is approximately twelve gallons. It was at times hard for me to envision 12 gallons in there and at other times, it was perfectly obvious.
An aside: VIVID Audio specifies their driver sizes based on the actual cone size and not on the diameter of the outer surround. Please take this into account when looking at the specifications offset box on this page.
All the drivers in the KAYA 45 have alloy diaphragms with proprietary motor structures. Also, they all feature exponential tapered-tube loading. This is the most obvious design feature of all the VIVID Audio speakers. The exponential tubes are designed to “tame and control” the drivers’ back waves. I am not sure what is the science behind this design method but in practice, it works quite well. (The image below is a cutaway of the larger KAYA 90’s that I wanted to post so you could see the internal shape which is similar to the KAYA 45s.)
VIVID Audio is the only speaker brand I am aware of that loads their woofers with a tapered tube. Being able to pull this off required VIVID to utilize some cutting-edge materials. The cabinets are thus constructed of a Soric-cored composite material. This is a vacuum process to make very stiff, high-strength, and lightweight products. As far as I know, the process was pioneered to make uber high-end bike frames and has now made it into aerospace, racecars, loudspeakers, etc.
This material works well for the KAYA 45’s because these speakers need to have a unique shape that would be wildly difficult to form out of wood and also the cabinets don’t need to serve as a vibration sink due to the dual bass driver loading: the speakers feature woofers that are opposed design and strapped together from behind. They operate in-phase so the stresses on the cabinet are reduced substantially and this means a lightweight and rigid enclosure will suffice and in fact has added advantages, one of which in that the cabinets’ enclosures have a very high natural frequency which moves their sympathetic vibrations outside the drivers’ response envelope.
I can say that these speakers were oddly stable. For example, when playing music with lots of bass energy, you could place your hand on top of the speaker and not feel any vibration. It was uncanny and reminiscent of some demos I have seen where the salesman balances a nickel on top of the speaker and the nickel never falls off of its own accord.
The speakers did not reveal any seams in the cabinet, even on very close inspection. Laurence Dickie indicated that they do a “lot of hand-work” at the factory to create that seamless appearance. It looks as though the crossover network and woofers are installed from underneath the cabinet through an accessible panel that also supports the six floor spikes that are provided per speaker.
The tweeter and midrange appear to be installed from the front and are secured by a single nut per driver that is countersunk into the back of the cabinet. I imagine that they are inserted from the front and affixed from behind. They must have gasketed flanges in front to create a proper seal.
The midrange and woofers have foam surrounds that appear to be a similar material to the foam surrounds from the ‘70s and ‘80s that decayed over time. I’m sure these are better than the ones of old, but the look of them made me worry a little bit.
Mr. Dickie told me how most ported speakers have a little bump in the bass region due to the cabinet loading. He claims that he has found a technique to reduce this non-linearity and in so doing, his speakers enjoy a clean and tight bass response like no others!
The KAYA 45’s are available in three standard finishes. They can also be custom-ordered in any color you might imagine with a slight bump in cost. A high number of audiophiles are big-time car enthusiasts and like to have their speakers match their cars so maybe a nice British racing green or a Ferrari red might catch your fancy!
The tweeters have fixed metal grilles. The other drivers have magnetic grilles that are also thick gauge metal. The magnets were a little polite, but the grilles fit into a countersunk area around the driver’s flange and never fell off unless I was moving the speaker or dusting it. I kept the grilles on except when bench testing. They are cool.
These speakers arrived at my office in a wooden crate that had nylon rope handles on one end of the crate and wheels on the other end. This made it reasonably easy to move the large package here and there. The internal padding made a very safe and secure cocoon for the precious contents. The biggest downside was having to unscrew a large number of lag bolts to get inside.
Each speaker is only 55 pounds in the flesh. Due to their shape, they were a little awkward to carry once freed from their sarcophagus. Thankfully, VIVID had the foresight to provide a pair of woven gloves with little rubber nibs on the grips. When wearing the gloves, I was able to grab the speaker by one of the bass ports and then lift while supporting the top back with the other hand. In this way, it was pretty easy for me to place them in the normal position where I typically place speakers in my listening room. The speakers in this position form the vertices of an isosceles triangle which is precisely the setup VIVID recommends.
The VIVID Kaya 45’s come with floor spikes as well as a set of feet for hard or delicate surfaces. As usual, I needed longer spikes than the ones that are provided so I will ask if VIVID has a longer set available when I place my order to purchase a pair of these speakers. There are six spikes per speaker.
These speakers had a single pair of binding posts down low by the ground. So, no bi-wiring or bi-amping this time around.
I auditioned these speakers with a D-Sonic 1,000 WPC Class D amplifier throughout the review. I didn’t try different amps because my tube amp was in the shop and, frankly, this combination gelled from the get-go and proved to be a magical combination!
I normally use a slight amount of toe-in with my speakers. In most cases, the toe-in converges about 5’ behind the prime listening position. This is always adjusted by ear. With the VIVID KAYA 45’s, I eventually wound up with both speakers aimed right at my cranium. I am not sure why these speakers responded to this degree of toe-in, but I imagined it may have been that I wanted to absorb every ounce of the luscious goodness these speakers were putting out.
I have developed a “pattern” or a “style” if you will whereby in most of my reviews, I focus on the music I listened to during the review. From that launch point, I then explore my listening impressions around each album or song. In this case, the VIVID KAYA 45’s proved themselves to be so different from other speakers that, in their honor, I will take a different approach in my review of the KAYA 45’s. I’m just going to tell you how great they are. How’s that?
The review samples I received were apparently a well-traveled pair of speakers. This meant that they were completely broken in and ready to rock. And rock they did. My immediate impression right out of the gate was of the most incredible musical reproduction I can remember hearing in my home.
Tool “Fear Inoculum”
I am a big-time audiophile and this means I have heard some ridiculously great systems at friends’ homes or in dealerships. The systems I am referring to in many cases cost more than my home. By comparison, the KAYA 45’s are downright affordable. Still, this was by far the best sound I have ever gotten in my home. Keep in mind, I have been a paid reviewer for over ten years which means I have had a continuous parade of speakers passing through my system over this time, many of which were much more expensive than the KAYA 45’s, but the KAYAs were nevertheless head and shoulders the best of the lot.
When I get a great product for review, the first thing I do is to invite friends and family over to give it a listen. We all know how the run-up to a gathering can be a big part of the fun. I got snacks and beverages lined up. I dialed in the system, tweaking what I could. Then I started a bunch of listening because I was trying to find the PERFECT song that would be the first song I would play for my friends. It would need to highlight the speakers at their best. Would it be rock, classical, jazz, Americana? Because we all know there are songs that sound good on our systems and songs that don’t sound good, irrespective of how much we may like that particular song.
Amber Rubarth “Sessions from the 17th Ward”
Well, the night wore on into the wee hours of the morning and it finally struck me that I wanted every song to be the first. It’s because they all sounded their best over the KAYA 45’s. I honestly couldn’t find anything in my repertoire or on-line for that matter that didn’t sound its best. Finally, I threw my hands in the air and decided I would let my guests pick all the music when they visited.
The next day, I had several seasoned audiophiles over for my initial demo. I gave a quick rundown on the technology behind the KAYA 45’s. Then I told them that they were free to choose whatever music they brought to enjoy over the system. They all chuckled. I guess this was a first for them.
Andrea Bocelli “Sì Forever”
Some of the remarks I remember from the crew went like this: “This is the tightest bass I have ever heard” “It just sounds ‘right’” “That’s what you are going for”. We all know the struggle that audiophiles endure in their quest to assemble a system that scratches their itch. I knew I had found it long before these boffins dropped by. The KAYA 45’s scratched my itch.
So, exactly what did they sound like, you ask? It’s complicated. I have some great headphones, but I don’t listen to them that much. I’ve never been a headphone guy. They are too confining and I like a more open presentation. There is something that headphones do that speakers normally can’t and that would be the fidelity in terms of flat frequency response and low distortion. The KAYA 45’s did this. They are like speakers for people who love headphones and can’t find speakers that sound like headphones, only less confining.
The KAYA 45’s did have tight bass. It was also very low distortion bass (see measurements below). I guess they could have more extension and sometimes I did blend in a sub where I let the KAYA 45’s roll-off naturally and had the sub kick in around 40 Hz. That was fun but not necessary. The Kaya’s could get down to around 38 Hz in-room and that is perfectly fine for most music. It was more about the balance and quality of the bass that stood out in my impressions.
Herbie Hancock “Head Hunters”
Another thing I really liked about the KAYAs was the dynamic presentation. We normally talk about speakers being laid-back or forward sounding. This is a big part of why people select one model over another when making a buying decision. I typically go for a more laid-back presentation with a stage that extends behind the speakers. The KAYA 45’s did that. But they were also forward sounding at the very same time. I am at a loss to explain this other than to say that the general presentation of the KAYAs was laid-back but then a guitar or a viola would come in and extend into the room. This was not haphazard mind you but worked in congress with how the material was mastered.
The KAYA 45’s also had excellent imaging in the side-to-side dimension. It is important that a proper speaker design must have a smooth frequency response and consistent horizontal sound power distribution. The KAYAs do and this was why instruments didn’t unduly wander about the stage. Each instrument or singer was locked-in regardless of the note they were playing or singing. It is one part of the KAYAs “secret sauce” that I enjoyed so immensely.
My last point is about the frequency response I mentioned above. I can almost always classify speakers as “bright”, “mellow”, “dark”, etc. This is because most speakers come across as being “voiced” or maybe poorly designed. Nobody who listened to the KAYA 45’s labeled them in this way. It’s because everything was in seemingly perfect balance. One of my friends pointed out that the KAYA 45’s cost ten times more than his speakers but he thought they sounded a thousand times better. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before! Usually, the scale works the other way around.
Alita: Battle Angel
I did hook them up with my surround system. My center and surround speakers are GoldenEar. They are widely regarded as accomplished speakers in their own right. The KAYA’s fit right in like a glove. The blend I got was maybe the best I have achieved with mixed brands. I worried a little that the KAYAs might struggle with the very loud, very dynamic sounds in a cinema environment. My fears soon washed away and the KAYAs hung in with all the cinematic wonders whether it be gunshots, explosions, earthquakes, and the like.
I am going to wind up ordering a pair of the KAYA 45’s for my personal use.
All my bench tests are done in-room with the speaker placed very far from the walls. I have the capability to test frequency response as well as harmonic distortion.
Let’s start by discussing the frequency response tests first. The plot immediately below is a pink noise test at 2 meters on-axis. The microphone element was precisely aligned on-axis with the midrange driver.
What you see here is a very smooth response above the room effect zone in the mid and low bass. There is a little bit of choppiness in the midrange but this was nothing that I remember hearing in the time I had these in for review. I also want you to note that these tweeters have actual response beyond 20 kHz. Most speakers are not able to pull this off.
This next plot is pink noise with the mic 30 degrees offset horizontally still at 2-meter spacing. This is a slightly smoother response envelope than the on-axis plot but with a darker palette. That’s why toeing in the speakers so they were aimed straight at your head brought about the more “VIVID” presentation that we all loved so much.
The remaining plots are distortion measurements with the mic tip precisely 1’ from the driver under test. I like to measure distortion this way so the room effects won’t have an undue impact on the results.
This first test was 100 dB at 1 kHz. The result was 0.55% THD which is a little higher than the manufacturer’s claim of 0.5% THD.
At 5 kHz, I got 0.38% THD at 100 dB.
The high treble was measured at 10 kHz and measured an amazingly low 0.19% at 100 dB!
Going down from 1 kHz, this next test was run at 500 Hz and 100 dB, the distortion measured 0.27%.
Then at 80 Hz and 100 dB, I measured 0.88%.
The KAYA 45 speakers are rated at 37 Hz bass extension (-6 dB) and this was more or less consistent with my measurements. So, as a “torture” test, I played a 40 Hz sine wave at 110 dB. The distortion measurement was only 4.57%. When it comes to bass distortion, we typically believe that 10% is when the distortion becomes audible. Also, for those who don’t have testing equipment, I can tell you that I get startled when running these tests because this is a much louder signal than you would be expected to hear during a normal listening session. It was very loud.
- At once laid back and forward-sounding
- Very smooth response
- Excellent imaging
- Tight and clean bass
- Superior musicality
- Bring out the best in every recording
- Longer floor spikes
As I mentioned in the main body of my review, I have been professionally reviewing and testing loudspeakers for more than 10 years now. Almost 12 years to be exact. In that time, I have reviewed dozens of speakers, many of which cost more than the VIVID KAYA 45’s. Each time I have a set coming in for review, I get pretty excited thinking that maybe these will be the ones that will become my long-term reference. Then I’d find myself boxing them up and sending them back at the end of the review. This has happened over and over: the speakers arrive with great anticipation and then after living with them for a while, I conclude they weren’t really any better than what I have already or at least not a big enough improvement to justify the price.
The VIVID KAYA 45s are the first pair of speakers to break that cycle. They came in here all full of their bad selves and then proceeded to just slay me and every guest I had over. It was the most uncanny thing I have ever experienced.
These speakers made me stay up late at night in rapt attention. I was listening to more music than I have in years and I just couldn’t get enough. I don’t have them now as VIVID wanted me to ship them back for a dealer demo. I have been having strange withdrawal symptoms ever since I shipped them back. I can assure you that I will be buying a pair, they will become my long-term reference speakers, and the sun will shine again!