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).
I know I will take some flak for this first choice, but it is an audiophile standard that shows off much of what the Kayas do so well. Jennifer Warnes' "Bird on a Wire" from her album Famous Blue Raincoat (CD, Private Music) features instruments and vocals with layers of detail and great imaging when played back on a good system. The Kaya 90s reproduced every detail I have ever heard on this track, and I have heard it plenty of times. While there was loads of detail, there was no harshness and the details were reproduced with a sense of ease. Each instrument and vocal had its own distinct position on the soundstage, which started just behind the plane of the speakers. The voices and strings sounded natural, bass notes were solid and detailed, the triangle sparkled, and so forth.
What impressed me the most was what I did not hear: the speakers themselves. Yes, I heard the sound from the speakers, but the speakers completely disappeared from the soundstage and each note appeared to emanate from the space of its respective source within. The voices and strings were rendered as accurately as I have ever heard. The bass notes sounded solid, deep, and well defined right out of the gate.
Bringing my listening of female vocals into modern times, I also cued up "Soothing" by Laura Marling from her album Semper Femina (More Alarming Records, Tidal). This is a well-recorded track featuring drums, guitar, bass, drums, and female vocals. The drums were clear, solid, and well positioned. The guitar and bass notes were weighty and full without any loss of detail. The decay of the strummed notes was smooth. Marling's voice was solidly positioned but ethereal in nature. This reminded me a bit of Astrud Gilberto's voice on Stan Getz & João Gilberto's "The Girl from Ipanema" (Verve Records, 24-bit/96kHz), which I immediately played next. You have to love how easy Roon makes it to access your music or stream selections from Tidal. Listening to these female vocals through the Kaya 90s, they both sounded ethereal, delicate, and detailed, while lacking nothing in terms of forcefulness or dynamics.
Submotion Orchestra's "Variations" from the Kites album (SMO Recordings, Tidal) adds deep, synthesized bass to the solid female vocal imaging I had come to expect from the Vivids by now. The depth of the bass notes makes the published frequency range of 36 Hz to 25 kHz seem perhaps a bit conservative to the naked ear.
Now that we have gone through the Kaya 90s' ability to delicately reproduce nuanced details, you may be wondering how these speakers do with other, more mainstream types of music. Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" (Warner Brothers, DSD64) came up on my Roon playlist and I cranked the volume, as this track demands that you do.
The famous opening riff was alive with quick, dynamic notes. The electric guitar stood out, with fast leading edges to the notes giving them the appropriate amount of bite and realism. I am also happy to say that the Kaya 90s did as good of a job on male vocals as female and made for one hell of a demo in my listening room.
Lastly, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Erich Kunzel (Telarc, CD) provides a good workout for any speaker system. This orchestral piece is gigantic in scale, with many layers and, of course, the infamous canons, which can test a system's dynamic capabilities. The Kaya 90s revealed many layers of detail; the various string and wind instruments were rendered with clarity and distinctly placed on the soundstage. I noted that the soundstage still started just behind the plane of the speakers, and while it extended further back than most of the other tracks I had been listening to, it did not extend as deep as you might hear with something like MartinLogan ESL13A or Revel's 228Be. I played this piece back a few times at differing volume levels, though, and noted that the Kaya 90's ability to resolve details is similar to electrostatics regardless of volume. They were able to resolve very delicate details at lower volumes yet remained consistent in character throughout the volume range, and did not choke or compress at loud volume.
There is a lot to like about the Kaya 90s. They get out of the way of the music and are easy on the ears through lengthy listening sessions. They do have a slightly "polite" sonic character, though, which is worth noting. The higher frequencies never lost detail or sounded thin, but some may prefer more energy in this region. The soundstage was extremely good in most regards; however, I could not achieve the same image depth I have been able to obtain with some other speakers.
One other thing that may be worth considering for readers who employ their stereo systems as the foundation pf a multi-channel system: While the Kaya brochure lists center channel and surround models, they are not yet in production. I suspect the smaller, stand-mount models from Vivid may be a viable option, but it would be nice to have the full Kaya line available for those who want to build a multi-channel system.
Lastly, the aesthetics of the Vivid Audio Kaya line are appealing to my eye, but perhaps not for everyone, especially someone with more traditional design tastes. The Kaya line is understated for Vivid Audio, but these speakers are hardly ordinary looking, with their somewhat unusual, organic shapes.
Competition and Comparison
There is a large selection of floorstanding speakers in the $30,000 range. There are a few that come to mind as being particularly relevant. The first should come as no surprise, the Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 ($30,000). The B&W's unique diamond tweeter is in a tapered tube enclosure that is a descendant of the Nautilus designed by Laurence Dickie. The well-engineered enclosure has rounded baffles like the Kaya but uses extensive reinforcement and mass to reduce vibrations.
The Magico S3 Mk II ($28,000) features a diamond-coated beryllium tweeter and an extruded aluminum enclosure with special damping and vibration control materials. There's also the Raidho X3 ($30,000), a floorstanding speaker that features a planar magnetic panel and weighs in at 88 pounds, very close to the Kaya. My brief listening session with the Raidho's left me with the impression of speed and detail.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to describe the Kaya 90. In my discussions with other reviewers, I compared their speed and detail to the MartinLogan ESL13A I recently reviewed, but with the impact and dynamics of Revels F228Be, all wrapped up in a package that has a hint of "British polite" high-end flavor.
Kudos to Mr. Dickie, as his latest line of speakers is an unqualified success. I found the cabinets to have surprisingly little vibration even at high listening levels, and the internal loading characteristics let the Kayas play with very little distortion or shift in character regardless of volume level. I know of dealers who have replaced Wilson Audio with Vivid Audio and that is no small compliment. I've been doing high-end audio reviews for the last 20 years, and the Vivid Audio Kaya 90 is one of the most impressive products I have had the pleasure of reviewing. I will be very sad to see this pair go.
• Visit the Vivid Audio website for more information.
• Check out the Floorstanding Speaker Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
•Bowers & Wilkins Introduces Flagship 800 D3 Diamond Speaker at HomeTheaterReview.com.