Editor’s Note: Ducktoller finally received a pair of the Kanto TUK speakers at his home in the Loire Valley region of France. Part Two, below, was slated to be published along with the original review comparing the TUK with the Airpulse A100, but do to issues noted in Part One, this wasn’t possible. Here is the rest of his promised review.
The Kanto TUK active speakers have shared my music with me now for several weeks. I wholeheartedly like them a lot for all the reasons I had taken into account before having them in front of me, namely their versatility, their designs and the hyper nice remote control. All these factors count in real life, but for audiophiles, in my personal experience, these functions are nice to have but sometimes not of greatest importance.
Sound wise the TUK are in a different class than the Airpulse A100, which were tested and described in part one of this article. They appeared to be more zealous on our first rendezvous, although I couldn't find the clarity and the pleasant deep & wide soundstage I've attributed to the A100's AMT tweeter design.
I conducted several comparable listening sessions with my critical review playlist, which were in clear support of my measurements that I conducted early June.
I used the SPL measurement of Room EQ Wizard, conducted through a UMIK 1 with 90deg calibration, top axis in line with the tweeters, 80cm distance, 1m between the speakers. The speakers had a minimum toe-in. Their setup was in the middle of the room, 1,05m away from the sidewalls and 1,50m from the rear wall. Measuring using 4 256k log sweeps 20Hz to 22khz at -12db. Exactly the same configuration was used to measure the Airpulse A100. Using the exact SPL as before (67,8dB) was achieved but proved to be difficult for reasons you may interpret from the graph.
As usual, I do not feel that my expertise on measurements are anyway close to the professionalism my dear colleagues here at Audiophile Style have shown in the past, however, I feel confident to have set up a proper test scenario which would see any flaws (if present) adjusted to both speakers in exactly the same way. Results appeared to be consistent for several sessions.
The results, in my interpretation, shown by the measurement at 67,8dB:
The TUK shows an amplified frequency range above between 800Hz and 6500Hz peaking at almost 75dB around 4kHz. From there they dig as deep as 53dB around 9,5kHz returning back to 67dB around 16kHz. I'd assign that result to what I have heard as a strong pushing low end & mids with perceived lack of clarity in the upper mids and the high end.
I personally feel that the characteristics of the A100 may be described as a mix of studio monitor qualities with added soundstage and depth of presentation by virtue of their AMT implementation. Whereas the Kanto audibly and visibly present a heavy boom from the deep end to mids, although they lack a comparable quality like their competitor in the upper mids up to the high end. As long as I am capable of hearing beyond 12 KHz, I would always prefer the straight A100 to the fervent TUK. When the time comes that I can no longer hear above 12 kHz, I can imagine that the TUK may win the game due to added comfort vs. audible superiority of the A100 (in my recent perception).
Please don't get me wrong, I do regard the Kanto TUK as an exciting product, from which I've received a pair of B-stock models in excellent condition. These are just not down my personal audiophile route. I had mentioned earlier in the review my son loving the A100s, however, as long as he doesn't long for the extra mile in sq, I'd give him the TUK without hesitation, if they would cost less than half a grand. These TUK ticks so many boxes for daily life, they are just short of the audiophile extra quality which in my opinion would vindicate their list price.
Upon reflection, I need to admit that the conclusion suits well with my personal experience that, with some minor exceptions, a certain quality, especially in audio, usually comes at a particular price level, and even less often with a hat full of life style surprises and a sweet design. Obviously the AMT technology used with the TUK can't match the A100 trickled down studio wisdom. I do not blame them for that, because the Kanto TUK are just a perfect companion outside the "audiophile" world. In reference to part one of this review, I need to point out the thought, that with any additional feature for your active speaker you may increase the chances reducing the level of what we call audiophile experience: exciting extras like the Phono (MM) connection, SUB out with active X-over the and headphone socket are a way of increasing the risk of not performing fully up to the speaker’s maximum level. Using AMT technology, in my view, demands quite a bit from the upstream components, which is usually recognizable through the high price levels we have seen in the market.
Imho, it needs world class designers combined with experiences from the industry's top performers like the team from PuRiFi - to achieve industry leading performance with added benefits at some reasonable pricing. I honestly can't see exactly that happening at Kanto. Neither by measurements nor by critical listening. This is not aimed as a bad mouthed critic of the company: brilliance is very difficult to achieve and the Kanto TUK does offer some extremely well assembled features in an accomplished product for a given market. I awarded the product a special kind of early morning photo shoot to give them my kudos.
- When I pushed in the connector of the Focal Elegia into the headphone socket I was not up for too much excitement, however I felt that this HP amp isn't a slouch, and it presented the music clearer and more accentuated than the Kanto TUK themselves, thus using headphones at the price of the speaker itself.
- The phono input in my opinion is "gadget only" when using an upgraded REGA PLANAR P3 with REGA Super Bias cartridge. Imho a reason to stay with digital content for that output. If you use a 99$ AT turntable, you may have different expectations and find a better fit in the use case.
- An interesting point had been the active X-over solution at 80hz, which gives you about 10 db less in the first audible 100 hz, declining then from 80 to 200 hz to the initial sound curve. While I liked it in the near field for reducing the direct punch, in the mid field it unexpectedly did not add, neither to clarity nor to soundstage. My ears, YMMV
- The cabling isn’t quite TRANSPARENT but at an excitingly high standard, I put a compare pic in the sliders to show that even the banana plugs are the same quality as my Dynavox speaker cables. Everything else is spotless.
- Overall, my subjective examination is clearly in favor of the A100, as the audible attributes I related to them can't be matched by the TUK. These have, as already indicated, a lot to offer apart from their just better than mediocre sq. People that have different taste in sound reproduction than I do, may find them satisfying due to their brisk low and mid range, I did personally feel they were too unbalanced and lacking transparency for AMT driven tweeters.
Here is a run through the major part of my critical playlist.
THE LISTENING SPACE II
Listening impressions from the KANTO TUK
1. Mid-Field - MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
Narciso Yepes - Irish March - Arr. For Guitar By Narciso Yepes (Guitar Music - Grammophon (DG) - Qobuz - 16/44)
The Yepes guitar does have an energizing push in the low mids though lacking the resonating moments that define the quality of the track.
2. MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
Deep Purple - When A Blind Man Cries (Machine Head - Non Album B-Side - Remaster - Parlophone 2012 - Qobuz - 16/44)
Listened in the nearfield. The overexposed organ of Jon Lord is killing the song presented by the Kanto TUK.
3. Nearfield - Khadas - Roon
Youn Sun Nah - Hurt (Lento , ACT - 2013 - Qobuz, 24/96)
The guitar plucking sounds way too forward and the voice, which carries that track usually, remains unexpectedly unclear
4. Nearfield - Bluetooth - USB direct from PC
Dan Auerbach - Street Walkin' (Keep it Hid - V2 2009 - Qobuz - 16/44)
Too much muscle on steroid (low DR a possible reason) via USB direct from the source PC compared to the A100.
5. Mid-Field - MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
TOOL - Invincible (Fear Inoculum - RCA Records 2019 - Qobuz - 24/96 )
A special encounter was had with Tool's "Invincible" on midfield: Their music in general acknowledges an extra punch, however I got the impression that their careful balanced arrangements lost their magic with the TUK, lacking transparency and cleanliness in sound and space.
6. Nearfield / Midfield - iFi micro iDSD BL
Shudder to Think - X-French Tee Shirt (Pony Express Record - EPIC 1994 - Qobuz - 16/44)
7. Nearfield / Midfield - USB - Roon
Jacques Brel - Le Moribond (Infinitement - DRG Records 2004 - Qobuz - 16/44)
The nearfield exercise did not went to well at all for the TUK, but there were 3 songs that had profited from their sound (design) and were doing better in midfield: Jacques Brel and Shudder to Think, whose overexposed timbre in the near field did not matter that much in the midfield.
8. Nearfield / Midfield
Bob Dylan - Murder Most Foul (Columbia 2020, Qobuz DL - FLAC 24/96)
While voices sounding from more forward up to be overboard, especially with Monsieur Brel and Jack Wedren as noted, Bob Dylan's track "Murder Most Foul" - to the contrary - harmonized well with the TUK's sound design in my opinion. So did the somehow hidden arrangements within that track which were distinctively more present than with the A100, while at the same moment they occurred to me not as balanced into the tune. The arrangement of "Murder Most Foul" shows its very forgiving side here.
My personal verdict:
Predominantly the TUK sounds way more attacking than the A100, however the clear defined upper mids and highs of the A100 are missing at large with the TUK. The speakers sound less detailed and unbalanced than the A100 and the there is an evident lack of brilliance from the notes produced by them. If higher resolutions about +12 kHz are not any longer the center of your interest, the Kanto may serve you well with their punch, and you could save money on the extra bits 😉
To sum it up, listening to that playlist which made me enjoy the A100 a lot, the TUK did not match the quality reproduction I got used to. Neither in soundstage nor in balanced & transparent sound. They are definitely more vigorous than the Airpulse A100, although I'd rather let them support the thin TV sound than use them for critical listening due to their more upbeat personality.