Kii Audio, manufacturer of the Kii Three/BXT monitors that I reviewed in Sound On Sound here and here, has recently moved from its original home in Apeldoorn, Netherlands to a new base just over the border in rural western Germany. I was lucky enough to be invited to an open house event at the new premises and given the freedom to wander around, ask questions, take pictures, listen to some music and enjoy some Kii Audio hospitality.
If you’re not aware of Kii Audio and its monitoring (and consumer hi-fi) products, the Kii Three arrived in 2016 offering a unique set of features and a remarkable level of performance. For a start, despite its relatively compact dimensions, the Kii Three offers low frequency bandwidth down to 20Hz (-6dB) and maximum short-term volume capability of 110dB – specifications both more typical of much larger speakers. However, the much more significant feature that the Kii Three introduced to speaker design was DSP based wide-band dispersion control.
It’s an unavoidable fact of all conventional moving-coil loudspeakers that their acoustic radiation below around 700Hz tends towards omnidirectional – they radiate just as much acoustic energy backwards, sideways, upwards and downwards as they do forwards towards the listener. The energy radiated away from the listening position will of course hit and reflect from walls, floor and ceilings – smearing the timing information and tonally distorting the music. However, through the use of multiple drivers, each controlled by complex DSP algorithms, the Kii Three generates a cardioid radiation pattern that significantly reduces rear and side radiation, right down to around 50Hz. As a result, the effect of the listening environment is significantly reduced and has far less influence than usual on the subjective audio performance.
A second significant technique that the Kii Three employs is one that, while not entirely new, is still seen surprisingly rarely in active speakers. The technique goes by the name, ‘current drive’ and it involves inserting a low value resistor in series with a speaker driver and using the voltage measured across it (which will be proportional to the current flowing through the driver voice-coil) as a feedback signal. In a conventional arrangement, an amplifier will deliver any amount of current required to make its output voltage follow its input voltage. A current drive system, however, will compare the input voltage with the measured output current and adjust the output voltage to make sure they track. So, now, the output current, which effectively defines the acoustic output of the driver, depends only on the input voltage and not the vagaries of the speaker driver load. The amplifier dynamically adjusts the output voltage as required to make the output current track the input voltage. The great benefit of current drive is significantly reduced distortion, especially that caused by non-linearities in a driver’s motor system. Dispersion control together with current drive results in an extraordinary performance from the Kii Three. I described it in my Sound On Sound review as, “one of the finest speakers I’ve ever heard and undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had the privilege and pleasure of using in my own home”.
A few years following the launch of the Kii Three, Kii Audio followed-up with the BXT system and the Kii Control. The BXT module adds very significant extra low frequency volume level capability to the Kii three, but perhaps as significantly, through the vertical multi-source arrangement of its eight additional bass drivers, it enables enhanced low frequency vertical directivity control. As a result, a Kii Three/BXT system is able more effectively to suppress floor and ceiling reflections than is a Kii Three alone.
The Kii Control provides volume control, input selection and a full range of setup menus. It also offers three additional digital audio inputs, S/PDIF, TOSLINK and USB, for the downstream Kii system. A small colour OLED display beneath the volume knob provides visual indication of volume and, in setup mode, the necessary configuration menus. Around the back of the Kii Control, the three audio input sockets are accompanied by an RJ45 socket that enables connection to one of the Kii monitors, from where the other monitors, be they stand-alone Kii Threes or a Three plus BXT system, are daisy-chained.
On entering Kii Audio’s new premises I was struck immediately by its relaxed, calm atmosphere and surgical cleanliness. The sense of organisation, with everything in its place, is also impossible to miss. A new factory of course provides the opportunity to start from scratch and have things arranged exactly as needed for efficient and high quality manufacture, but it’s obvious that Kii Audio has fully grasped that opportunity. Kii Audio makes a range of finish options available for the Kii Three, BXT and Kii Control and the sight of racks of beautifully painted moulded cabinets in various colours is genuinely striking. And it was clear also from the numbers of Kii Three and BXT speakers at various stages of manufacture and test that, despite their not insignificant price, Kii Audio has no shortage of customers.
In the Kii Audio listening room, a Kii Three/BXT system was set up and ready to go, and along with hearing some fascinating new music, I had the chance to listen for a while to some of my regular favourites. The results was as expected, because I’d spent a good while listening to a Three/BXT system previously, but no less extraordinary for that. The sense of transparency that the Kii Three/BXT system creates, the feeling of listening though, rather than to, a pair of speakers is remarkable and utterly seductive. It’s also extraordinarily informative of the mechanics of the recording and production process. All the tricks are laid-bare – the edits, the overdubs, the mic techniques, the room atmosphere, the comping, the miscellaneous processing and treatments, you hear it all. But you also hear the melodies, rhythms and dynamics, the passion and emotion, reproduced so explicitly and with such power. So even while the Kii Three/BXT system is a hugely powerful analytical tool, and in its element in audio production environments, it’s also a massively entertaining listen.
It’s clear from conversations with members of the Kii Audio team during my visit that the move to the new base was driven not only by a need for more manufacturing space but also by ambition and aspiration. Ambition to grow the business, and aspiration to do things differently – just as the Kii Three and BXT do.
Many thanks to Chris Reichardt, Jed Allen and the team for the hospitality and for making my visit possible.