First Listen: A Review of Kii Audio Three Active Studio Monitors
Over this past week, I was lucky enough to get to spend some quality time with the newest, flagship speaker from Kii Audio. The Kii Three is truly remarkable in design, frequency response and customization to fit ANY room you are tracking or mixing in.
When I was first asked to demo the Kii Three, I must admit I was a little skeptical. I typically don't prefer a speaker that has any "trickery" to achieving an accurate monitoring environment. Often times, any speaker that has modeling or noise cancellation technology, tends to leave you guessing on how accurately the mix will transfer to another listening environment. This was not the case with the Kii Three.
I started my demo by listening to some material I was familiar with. A little Fleetwood Mac, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Dr. Dre, Radiohead, Louie Armstrong, The Beatles, Blink-182, Marvin Gaye and Steely Dan. Right away I noticed a great clarity in the low-end, it was very tight, but also had a nice sub frequency thump. I could sense a very distinct instrument placement in the stereo field and a crystal clear top end often not heard on competing monitors.
At first, I was listening on the "Flat" EQ setting, which in my opinion, is the best place to start when referencing a new monitor, and typically where I would leave it when mixing. Although I didn't feel the need to mess around with the EQ settings, the Kii Three offers 14 different EQ positions, so I had to hear them for myself. This was easily achievable by the cleverly designed Contour Switch.
Here's a brief description from Kii on how it all works. "The Contour Switch provides an easy method to slightly tailor the speaker's linear frequency response to your personal taste."
The Kii Three uses a single 16 position rotary dial that provides 14 different presets. Three different filters are implemented. There is a low shelf at 300Hz, a high shelf at 3kHz, and another high shelf at 10kHz. You can either use a single one, or a combination of low and high shelf. Choosing a preset was very easy, as each of the EQ settings is marked with two letters. B/F/C mark the settings on the bass shelf. b/a/f/s/c marks the choice and setting of one of the two different high shelves. Simply choose a combination of upper and lower case letters to find the preset you prefer.
As I mentioned before, I was a big fan of the flat setting, but once I started tinkering with the different presets, I started to get a real feel of what the speaker is capable of. I like to call these presets "Client Keepers," meaning when you're finished with a mix, you pop one of these on when they hear the final mix, and watch the amazement come over them with how full the low end is, with a silky, smooth, airy top end.
My personal favorite was the "Smiley Face" setting, which is a boosted low shelf at 300Hz, and a boosted high shelf at 10kHz. This is comparable to the "Hi-Fi" setting on Barefoots, or an Enhanced EQ curve in GLM/SAM Genelecs, or Adam S Series Monitors. I was also very impressed with the ability to cut frequency, this allowed me to make the Kii Three sound like a classic pair of Yamaha NS10s or an Auratone 5C.
For the NS10 sound, I did a cut on the low shelf at 300Hz, and a cut at 10kHz. It wasn't exactly like the Yamahas, but had a similar punch and focus in the mid-range that we all love about NS10s. For the Auratone sound, I ended doing a more drastic cut of the high frequencies, pulling the shelf down from 3kHz.
The Kii Three has state of the art construction and design. Each speaker is a mere 8”x16”x16" (WxHxD). The enclosure includes a six driver array (4 x 6.5” woofers, 1 x 5” midrange and 1 x 1” waveguides tweeter). Each driver is driven by a custom designed, 250w Ncore, Class D amp that delivers 1,500 watts/cabinet. Each speaker has (6) channels of DSP/AD/DA.
What really sets the Kii Three apart from other monitors, is the cardioid radiation pattern. While other monitors have a similar feature, I feel Kii has mastered the art by introducing Active Wave Focusing technology. Active Wave focuses the complete frequency spectrum from 40Hz and above directly to the listener, this eliminates the muddy build up that happens in an average listening room in the low to mid frequencies. Only the very low end from 40Hz and below is omnidirectional around the speaker.
They also added extra features such as the Boundary Switch. There are three Boundary Switch settings, Free/Corner/Wall. The default of the Boundary Switch is set to "Free", which means the speaker will distribute the entire frequency range at equal level, making even energy response at the listening position. This setting would be ideal for a proper mixing environment.
For someone using the Kii Three in a project studio, or even in their home entertainment center, you can adjust the Boundary Switch to compensate for the design of your room. "Corner" will start to cut the output level below 40Hz, this makes up for the extra reflections you end up hearing when a speaker is in a small room or tucked in the corner. "Wall" will compensate for the speaker being backed up a wall, and like corner will cut the output level of the low/mid frequencies. So depending on the construction of your listening environment, a few clicks either way can give you a balanced low frequency response in the listening position.
Also available are the Kii Three HiFi Stands. The stands are perfectly designed to go with the Kii Three. The Kii Three takes up a smaller footprint than most monitors as far as height and width, but they are much deeper than most studio monitors, measuring in at about 40cm. The stands are made out of high-quality steel, and the tubes can be filled with sand to prevent any unwanted vibrations from the low frequency. They are 27.5 inches tall, which makes them perfect for a sitting listening environment. The top plate perfectly matches the bottom plate of the Kii Three, making them extremely stable.
The rear panel construction is also very well designed. Unlike most monitors, the Kii Three does not have a power switch. Instead, they will sleep in standby mode until input signal is detected. If no signal is detected for 15 minutes, the speaker will automatically go back into standby mode. There is a single XLR input which can be set to accept digital or analog signal depending on how you set the selector switch. In analog mode, the signal will take a standard balanced input from whatever channel you are sending out of your DAW or Receiver (Left or Right). In digital mode, you are connected by AES, and choose either the right or left channel will be played by this speaker. We also have a P/R button, which will turn on and off Low Latency Mode. Low Latency mode is the ideal mode for tracking. Pressing the button again makes it go back to normal mode, which is best for mixing and mastering applications. Lastly, is the KiiLink. Which is another digital connection, using a CAT5 cable. This allows one speaker to work as the "Master" and the other to work as the "Slave" Simply connect the CAT5 cable to "IN" on the closest speaker to your receiver (this will be the master speaker), then go out "THRU" and connect to the "IN" of the slave speaker. CAT5 cables are included with the purchase of Kii Three.
Lastly, I want to mention the Kii Control. Although I didn't have this when I was demoing, I think it deserves a worthy mention. The Kii Control offers a user interface for your speakers, and works as a digital preamp. It also offers three additional inputs for the Kii Three, Coax SPDIF, Optical TOSLINK and USB. It is connected with a CAT6 cable (included), and is also powered through the connection. Kii Control offers Lossless volume control inside the DSP of Kii Three, which allows for the highest possible transparency. It offers a mute and dim function, and a dedicated button that will allow you to switch between 6 user presets! The LED screen allows you to edit the Contour and Boundary settings, also control deeper features such as LED brightness, Dim Control, and limiter indication.
I must admit, I'm a huge fan of the Kii Three. The only downfall is they are priced at $11,495 a pair, with the option to add the Kii Control for $1,595. So for most consumers or smaller project studios, that is a pretty hefty chunk of change to spend on monitors.
Although the craftsmanship, sound quality, and vibe of the speaker is exceptional, I think Kii Three would have a much bigger impact on the industry at a slightly lower price point. But what you are paying for is a dedication to superior craftsmanship, and state of the art, innovative DSP technology.
The sweet sound of Kii Three will be on my mind for a while, and I surely recommend them to anyone who is serious about a true monitoring environment. I cant wait to see what they come up with next.