Vivid Audio may not be one of the better-known audiophile speaker brands, at least not yet, but when you speak to someone familiar with the company, the first thing out of their mouth is inevitably something about "stunning cabinet designs." The first Vivid Audio speakers I recall seeing at a local audiophile show were large, brightly colored, with tapered and curved tubes that reminded me of the opera singer's head from The Fifth Element or the iconic B&W Nautilus speaker. The Vivid Audio speakers have nothing to do with The Fifth Element opera singer, of course, but in a strange twist of fate they are in fact related to the classic Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus speakers. Laurence Dickie, the sole engineer and designer of the Nautilus at B&W, co-founded and became the engineering director of Vivid Audio in 2001.
The Kaya series will replace the original Oval series, taking the entry level position below the Giya series. The exotic curves of the top-of-the-line Giya series are toned down somewhat in the Kaya series, but they remain full of curves, making them look very organic and modern. The Kaya 90 speakers that Vivid Audio sent to us for review are the largest of the Kaya series, with the "90" referring to the speaker's internal volume measured in liters. It's a six-driver, three-way, floorstanding speaker with lots of nifty engineering hidden within its simple-looking chassis. The Kaya series also includes the three-way Kaya 45 and two-way Kaya 25 floorstanding speakers. Center and surround speakers are planned, but not yet in production.
The Kaya 90 embodies much of the same engineering philosophy as the Nautilus and the rest of the Vivid Audio line. While the simplified cabinet design of the Kaya range reduces the cost of production, it maintains much of the Giya's acoustical benefits. While the Giya series can approach $100,000, the top of the Kaya line is priced significantly less at $26,000. The Kaya series cabinets are constructed out of a glass-reinforced, Soric-cored sandwich composite. Soric is a honeycomb shell fabric that is designed for use in laminates. The three layers of fabric are placed into an airtight mold, the air is vacuumed out, and the bonding agent is pumped in. The result is a light and rigid panel. The Kaya cabinets are made from three separate panels: left, right, and front baffle, although I could not locate the seams in my review pair. In addition to its rigidity, the composite construction also has another significant benefit: despite the Kaya 90 measuring roughly 47.3 inches tall by 14.6 inches wide and 22.3 inches deep, it only weighs 84 pounds.
My review sample came in a very attractive but understated matte Oyster finish. The other standard colors are Piano Black and Pearl, but just about any color request can be accommodated. Before we get into the drivers and their configuration, I want to discuss the design of the Kayas. I spoke with designer Laurence Dickie, who made it very clear that form very much follows function in his designs. During our conversation, there was much discussion of controlling the back wave of the drivers and minimizing cabinet noise. Perusing the Vivid Audio website, you will see much discussion about bass reflex loading, tapered tube loading, and curved bass absorber horns, all of which are related to controlling the back wave of the drivers and minimize disturbances within the cabinet that could be transmitted through the driver diaphragm.
The driver units themselves are all custom-made by Vivid, which you don't see from many high-end loudspeaker companies at this level not named Revel or Focal. The 26 mm (approximately one inch) tweeter features an aluminum catenary dome with carbon stiffening. The single 100 mm (equivalent to approximately 5.25-inch) midrange and quartet of 125 mm (equivalent to approximately 6.25-inch) bass drivers use aluminum cones, which in and of itself is not unusual, but a close inspection of the basket and magnet assembly shows the great care that went into minimizing any disturbances and carefully guiding the sound waves to maximize performance. It's also worth noting that while the majority of manufacturers include the driver chassis flange when they quote driver sizes, Vivid only states its cone sizes in millimeters.
The woofers and their ports are "reaction cancelling" in design. In layman's parlance, this means opposing drivers and ports so that the forces on one side will cancel the forces on the other, minimizing stress on the cabinet. One last item I want to mention about the interaction between the driver and cabinet is that the drivers are soft mounted via a compliant bushing to minimize vibration transmission between the driver assembly and cabinet. There is much more technology to discuss, but if I don't move on, I'm going to end up with a 10,000-word speaker review here. If you are interested in learning more about the custom driver and cabinet designs, I recommend spending some time on the Vivid Audio website, which provides further information.
The Kaya 90s were delivered in large wooden crates, which my son had fun helping me open with power tools. The speakers were securely attached at their bases to a wooden plinth with handles, which made them easy to remove from the padded crates. Vivid supplied non-slip work gloves, which made it easy for me to get a good grip on the speakers without causing any damage to their finish as I moved them into position.
After moving the speakers around a bit, I ended up with the speakers 44 inches from the front walls and 78 inches apart. This placement establishes a 60-degree angle between the speakers from my listening position, per Vivid Audio's recommendation. It is important to get the listening angle right with any speaker: place them too close together and the soundstage collapses; too far apart and there is a hole in the middle. This placement is especially important when the speakers are more directional. The Kaya 90s become fairly directional about 2 kHz, just below the 3 kHz crossover point between the midrange and tweeter. Vivid uses a waveguide on the tweeter to help match the wave propagation of these drivers. I played with toe in for a while and ended up with the Kayas pointed just behind my head.
Once I had the speakers in position, I installed the magnetically attached speaker grilles and the included spikes, as my listening room is carpeted. Vivid also provides a set of Polyamide feet if the Kayas will be placed on more delicate flooring. Installing the spikes made a huge difference in the quality of bass reproduction. Notes that were bloated and indistinct before the spikes became defined. I suspect the great difference between no-spikes and spikes has to do with the relatively light weight of the speakers. Heavier speakers sink into the carpet and form a firm connection with the floor, whereas lighter speakers such as the Kayas are more likely to sit on top of the carpet without making a firm, stable connection.
The rest of the review system components included a PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network player; an Oppo BDP-95; McIntosh C-500 preamplifier; Halcro DM-38 amplifier; and Kimber Select cabling. After a week or so of listening with this preamplifier and amplifier, I switched to the D'Agostino Progression preamplifier and stereo amplifier (reviews forthcoming).
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...