Let me make one thing abundantly clear: I love the concept of powered loudspeakers. I absolutely support their adoption. Over the years, I’ve owned as many powered loudspeakers as I have passive ones, though admittedly I’ve had to resort to purchasing either Bang & Olufsen products or professional monitoring/mastering loudspeakers, since using the word “powered” in audiophile and home theater circles is sacrilege.
But why!? Why is the concept of powered loudspeakers so taboo, when they offer up so much by way of performance, features, and convenience? My hunch is that by taking some of the equipment out of the equation, enthusiasts believe they’re somehow missing out on an opportunity to tune or better their setups through mixing components. This honestly has to be the only reason, for all other arguments to the contrary fall apart, and quickly.
Think about for a moment: A lot of powered speakers are bi-amped (or even tri-amped), meaning there is an internal amp for each driver within the cabinet. This ensures that each driver has the requisite juice to perform its level best. Can’t say that about a lot of passive speakers using simple stereo or even monaural amplifiers. Next, they often have built-in DSP and even EQ capabilities; not to mention multiple inputs, DACs, and often wireless connectivity options. I can go on, but I can feel die-hard enthusiasts sharpening their pitchforks with each keystroke. Make no mistake, the future of audio and video is wireless, and powered speakers are but a stepping stone towards that inevitable future. And this is a good thing–something to be embraced and not feared.
As such, I jumped on the opportunity to review Kanto’s YU6 powered monitor with its matching subwoofer, the SUB8. Admittedly, I wasn’t at all familiar with Kanto prior to their arrival, though I had seen them in a few record shops here in Austin. For $399 retail and sold online as well as in stores, the YU6 is nothing if not a phenomenal hi-fi value straight away. Throw in the SUB8, which is sold separately for $289.99, and you have yourself one hell of a 2.1 setup that requires little more than a flat panel display or turntable (or both) to be considered a complete audiophile or 2.1 channel home theater system.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The YU6 is a two-way bookshelf design that comes in a variety of stylish colors, ranging from matte white to bamboo. In total there are seven finishes from which to choose, and all go a long way in helping the YU6 stand out from other bookshelf speakers (passive or powered) in its class. My review pair was clad in matte white, which when coupled with the speaker’s rounded corners and exposed black drivers, looked positively modern. The front of the “main” YU6 differs from its sibling, but only just. For starters, both speakers feature the same one-inch silk dome tweeter and 5.25-inch Kevlar bass/midrange driver. The main speaker has a small circular display window in the lower left corner, and in the right a small flat black knob, which controls the system’s volume (unless you include the remote). The main speaker houses all of the amplifiers and electronics, effectively making the other a passive bystander. This is evident when you turn both speakers around and find one packed with connection options whereas the other possesses but a single pair of binding posts.
For those unfamiliar with powered loudspeakers, the back of the master YU6 looks a lot like the back of a powered subwoofer. The entire back looks more or less like a subwoofer amplifier plate–albeit with a lot more connection options. The back of both speakers is dominated by the large, centered bass reflex port, which no doubt helps the YU6 achieve its stated low frequency extension to 50Hz. To the left of the port there is a pair of analog audio inputs (RCA), as well as an auxiliary audio input (stereo mini jack). Below that is a single subwoofer out, followed by a phono ground. To the right of the phono ground you’ll find a simple selector switch that toggles the aforementioned analog audio input from line input to phono. Yes, the YU6 has a built-in MM phono stage, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
To the right of the switch is a small pair of five-way binding posts that are not standard in their appearance or size when compared to the posts you’ll find on the back of an AV Receiver or pair of passive speakers. That being said, they do accept bare wire, spade lugs, and banana-terminated speaker cable. The binding posts are there so that you can use the included speaker cable to connect the main powered YU6 speaker to its passive sibling, thus cutting down on cable clutter.
To the right of the bass reflex port there are two optical inputs. A five-volt USB input (for power only) and IEC power receptacle round out the YU6’s physical connection options. As for its wireless input option, the YU6 features Bluetooth with aptX. All the necessary cables, including power, speaker, and auxiliary analog, are included.
All of this is housed within a speaker that measures nearly seven inches wide by eight inches deep and 10.5 inches tall. The active main speaker tips the scales at 11 and a half pounds, whereas the passive speaker comes in at just under nine. The entire system has a reported frequency response of 50Hz to 20kHz thanks to its internal 200 Watts (peak) of Class D amplification. Standby power consumption is listed at less than half a Watt.
As for the SUB8, which I’ll only go over briefly: It features the same visual styling as the YU6 monitor, although at present its finishes are limited to matte white and matte black. The SUB8 measures roughly 11 inches cubed and tips the scales at a hair over 17 pounds. It features an eight-inch driver mated to a 250-Watt Class D amplifier. It’s reported frequency response is 35Hz to 175Hz, so it’s not going to rattle your house off its foundation, but it dips low enough to round out the YU6’s bottom end. As for inputs, there is a single line level (RCA) input. Controls include a phase switch (0/180 degrees), variable low-pass filter (40Hz to 120Hz), and variable level dial.
Which brings me to the remote. Yes, the YU6 has a remote and it’s substantial in both its construction and its capability–though the latter does require a bit of deciphering. First, the input buttons are ungodly small and not easy to read in anything but bright light. Volume controls are clear as day, but bass and treble adjustments aren’t the most intuitive. Yes, there are bass/treble up and down, but you don’t ever really know how far you’ve gone past center unless you yourself keep count. Each has its own reset button, though it isn’t labeled as such. Yes, the remote is functional, and yes, it’s well-built, but it’s not the most fun to use.
There are more than a few ways to integrate the YU6 into your home and/or existing system; as a standalone setup, meaning a pair of YU6 speakers and a sub connected to either your turntable or source component (or both); as a replacement for your TV’s internal speakers, or as part of a multi-channel surround sound setup.
To incorporate them into a 2.1 home theater you either need to connect them to your TV via analog or TosLink, and set the TV’s internal speakers to off, which will make the YU6 operate the same as you would expect a soundbar or the TV speakers themselves.
To use the YU6 in a multi-channel setup, you need to make sure your AV receiver’s preamp outs, or just use a dedicated preamp/processor (preferred). Note that you’ll be connecting the left and right channels to one YU6 and using speaker cable to extended the signal to the to the other speaker. This is true for the rear channels as well, should you choose to connect another YU6 pair.
I utilized the YU6 and SUB8 in each of the aforementioned configurations and found the system’s sound to be, more or less, the same regardless of how I chose to enjoy the speakers, so what follows will be a summation of the YU6 and SUB8’s sound overall, unless otherwise specified. Also, while the YU6 may be versatile and stylish, proper speaker and subwoofer placement is still important to extract the most performance from them, or any speaker–powered or passive.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion…
I began my evaluation of the YU6 by testing its built-in phono stage on a few records. First up, a brand-new copy of Matchbox 20’s debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You (Lava Records). Right off the bat I can say that the YU6’s sound is slightly to the lean side of neutral, favoring clarity and speed over warmth and romanticism. That isn’t to say that the YU6’s sound is uninvolving or analytical, it’s just very clean, with a sort of pristine presence. There isn’t a lot of coloration, which may or may not be a good thing. For starters, nothing about this album screamed analog or vinyl, but that could be the pressing or mastering. Moving on, the soundstage was nicely appointed, with a rock-solid center image, though everything was (largely) contained between the speakers themselves, or in line with the speakers’ front baffles.
Concerned that I may have picked the wrong source material, I switched albums to Dave Matthews Band’s second album, Under the Table and Dreaming (RCA Records) also on vinyl. This record I know is well mixed and sounds great, and through the YU6’s internal phono stage and drivers, it didn’t disappoint. The opening track, “The Best of What’s Around,” bordered on explosive, with gobs of dynamic impact and snap that you’d expect from a digital format, only I was listening to an analog one. The soundstage grew considerably in all directions except for behind. For whatever the reason (maybe the speakers’ construction), the YU6 simply doesn’t have much of a deep soundstage. Its lateral and vertical soundstage is quite impressive, bordering on best in class, but just don’t expect the “venue” to extend backwards–or forward. Vocals, again, remained locked in center space, with good weight and texture throughout. Again, I would describe the YU6’s sonic signature as ever so slightly lean, due in no small part to its speed and clarity. With the SUB8 properly dialed, in the YU6’s sound gains some needed weight without sacrificing any its speed. At higher volumes (95dB plus) the tweeters do begin to thin a little, and complex passages at higher volumes can cause the sound to bunch ever so slightly towards the drivers, but I’m nitpicking here.
Also, the YU6’s internal phono stage may lack adequate gain for some tastes and cartridges. I definitely wanted a bit more SPL at times and just didn’t get it. I don’t think it’s the speakers’ fault, for they can play loud, excessively so, it’s just that the internal phono stage does seem to have a limit. Now, it’s still very good–on par with the internal phono stage inside my Marantz–but if you are looking for a “tweak,” a separate phono stage between your table and the YU6 might be a worthwhile one.
Moving on to some digital music, I cued up Ariana Grande’s hit single “Side to Side” on Google Music, streamed to the YU6s via Bluetooth. Straight away, the YU6 dished out a big, bold, energetic performance. The sound was articulate and dynamic, easily capable of filling the main room of my home with copious amounts of sound; free of any sort of coloration and distortion even at extreme volumes.
The soundstage was equal parts width and height, but again lacked real extension behind the speaker cabinets themselves. Ariana’s vocals were forward without being aggressive, and were firmly planted in space. There was plenty of natural inflection audible in her voice, despite “Side to Side” being a modern pop anthem.
The addition of the SUB8 was welcomed, and brought an extra bit of depth to the performance on a whole. As a potential whole home or party speaker, the YU6/SUB8 combination is very compelling and may be among the best options available today as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of streaming music services and don’t require them to be built-in to every product in your home, the YU6 is tailor made for you.
Moving on to movies, utilizing the YU6/SUB8 as a replacement for my LG OLED’s internal speakers, I cued up the Michael Bay action flick 13 Hours (Paramount) on Vudu. Chaptering ahead to the initial fire-fight in the streets of Benghazi, the YU6’s speed was on full display. The sounds of whizzing bullets and their subsequent impact into cars, brick walls, and foliage was not only easily discernible but also visceral. The YU6’s ability to resolve fine detail and present it so cleanly is quite something considering many might consider this to be little more than a glorified Bluetooth speaker. Toss in the SUB8 and I have no qualms about recommending the combo to anyone looking to create a modest 2.1 channel home theater that will positively trounce most soundbars.
Plus, what the 2.1 combo lacks in actual surround sound, it more than makes up with sheer scale. The YU6 speakers sound positively big, and as a result it makes for a very compelling and satisfying movie going experience. Moreover, because the YU6 is a true, two-way monitor speaker with real drivers and amps behind them, it possesses a much richer, more nuanced and natural sound when compared to most soundbars. The YU6’s physical size means everything just has that little bit of extra weight and grounding, especially vocals and dialogue.
Simply put, the YU6 is fun. It’s a tidy little monitor that has a crisp sound, well suited for a lot of modern recordings, which likely is why it’s been popular with younger audio enthusiasts. That, and its price tag of course. Notice I didn’t mention its popularity with audiophiles, for while I believe the YU6 could be enjoyed by audiophiles, it likely won’t because they won’t give it a chance. But that’s okay. I don’t think the YU6 is a speaker you listen to critically, I think it’s a speaker, or a speaker system, that is more about the experience. It’s not quite a distributed audio speaker la Sonos, but it’s not an appointment listening speaker either. It’s a speaker system that begs to be a part of your everyday life rather than the focus of a small portion of it. And based on my evaluation of it, I think that last point is its greatest strength.
One of the common misconceptions about powered loudspeakers is that they cut down on cable clutter, or use fewer cables than passive speakers. This is not (entirely) true, and for some, finding nearby power outlets may prove tricky. Also, if you’re relying on the YU6 to serve as a receiver or preamp of sorts, you’ll find there to be a lot of cables in need of proper routing. Still, powered speakers like the YU6 do cut down on the number of devices necessary to enjoy your favorite music and/or movies. I suppose it’s easier to route cables than it is to find homes for multiple black boxes that would be required otherwise.
I kind of wish the main YU6 didn’t have the small LED input window or the manual volume knob. My OCD kicks in to a degree over the fact that the two speakers are not visually identical. The source input window could easily be put on the remote, and the volume controlled via touch versus a physical knob. Sure, the speakers are still stylish enough, but I do dislike that they look different when viewed from the front. If the speakers had grills this would likely be a non-issue, but since they don’t, I have to point it out. Plus, the volume knob doesn’t have hard stops, it just spins and spins and spins, which I don’t care for. If you’re going to put a physical knob on the speaker I at least want to know where I am in terms of level.
The YU6 lacks any sort of Google Home/Assistant or Alexa functionality built-in, but I’m not sure I really count that as a flaw. You can easily make the YU6 (or any powered speaker) Google Home or Amazon Alexa compatible for under $100 by buying any of their dongles. I had the YU6 setup connected to my Google Home ecosystem in no time using a single $30 Chromecast Audio dongle, which I connected to the YU6’s auxiliary audio input and USB power port.
Competition and Comparisons
Powered loudspeakers are not new, though in the coming months and years you should expect to see a flood of speakers similar to the YU6 offered by other brands. The latest model that comes to mind, and one that I also have in-house for review, is SVS’s Prime Wireless Speaker System. At $599, the Prime Wireless System is more expensive than the YU6, though smaller, and not quite as feature-rich. The Prime Wireless System is far more aimed at an exclusively digital consumer of music (especially streaming), whereas the YU6 does have a foot in the old-school way of doing things. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; they’re just different. The YU6 does play louder and is more suited for medium to large rooms, whereas I’ve found the best location for the Prime to be in my office or bedroom.
Another speaker that I compared the YU6 to was JBL Pro’s 3 Series, specifically the LSR305, which retails for around $250 a pair if you know where to look. Admittedly, the 305s aren’t as stylish as the YU6, nor do they have the same connectivity options. But they are cheaper, a tad more neutral, and play as loudly or louder, with a bit more gusto. The LSR305’s connectivity is a bit more traditional, in that you’ll need to run power and a signal cable to each speaker individually, which I like. But again, the JBL isn’t as feature-rich as the YU6.
Then, of course, there are speakers like Apple’s HomePod and Google Home Max. The Google Home Max does have an auxiliary input, which is good, but it is so stupidly utilized that I don’t even consider it functional. Both the HomePod and the Home Max can wirelessly be turned into a stereo pair, but this is only when used via Bluetooth. While the Apple HomePod, despite its limitations, is still one of the best looking and sounding powered speakers on the market today, with the Google Home Max not that far behind, I consider the YU6 to be a far more well-rounded and versatile product overall that is capable of feats either Apple or Google’s speakers cannot begin to touch.
There is a wealth of sub-$500 powered loudspeakers on the market today and I only see the category growing in size in the coming years. While I will concede that many speakers in this category are utter crap, there are many that are not. The Kanto YU6 is not one of those crappy Bluetooth speakers plaguing the market. No, the YU6 is forward-thinking product, one aimed squarely at younger music and movie enthusiasts that this hobby so desperately needs. The YU6 is truly modern speaker with a toe or two still dipped in the old-school, which is why I believe it is so compelling and a mainstay in virtually every record store I visit in Austin.
Is it the most critical or accurate loudspeaker on the market today? No, not by a long shot. Is it going to beat the likes of Sonos when comes to being the centerpiece of a DIY distributed audio setup? No. The YU6 is for enthusiasts, not ‘philes. It’s for someone that wants quality sound without all the fuss. The YU6 is a true lifestyle product in every sense of the word. You don’t have to approach this setup with any reverence or magic pixie dust; you just need to put on a record or cue up a movie and enjoy. As far as I’m concerned, the YU6/Sub 8 combo is one of the best gateway audio systems I have ever seen or heard.