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It seems as esoterically Japanese as a Kondo Ongaku, 47lab PitRacer or any of the Feastrex drivers. None of them are reasonable. All are driven by extreme visions and an artisanal spirit that insists on doing things in a particular fashion without regard for compromise or pricing conventions. Interesting with Kiso is the deliberate focus on restricted bandwidth, likely to allow for a very compact enclosure with small drivers. Just how much bass could this make to feel complete enough on music that wasn't deliberately cued up to embarrass it?

The operating principle underlying the enclosure has precedents in thin-walled designs by Harbeth, Ocellia and Micropure (the latter's Kotaro comes closest in size). Like the body of a guitar or violin, the side panels are free to resonate to release rather than store energy. They also become secondary radiators themselves which potentially allows them to sound far larger than their drivers' radiating surface would suggest. Before Bösendorfer Piano was acquired by Yamaha, the loudspeakers carrying their name used resonant sound boards borrowed from piano manufacture. Designer Hans Deutsch has since licensed this solution to Brodmann Acoustics, a subsidiary of the Viennese piano maker of the same name. The concept of loudspeakers as musical instruments thus is far from new.

Where audiophiles protest is that contrary to a musical instrument which is supposed to sound uniquely like itself, a speaker must deliver a complex recorded message that contains a multitude of such uniquely timbred instruments. Rather than contributing its own sound to confuse matters, the speaker should be a perfectly neutral delivery medium. Let the music speak for itself. Don't add to it.

This overlooks that a Stradivarius violin sounds decidedly different when a Joshua Bell or a Nedim Nalbantoglu plays it. And that the instrument adds no confusion when those artists play J.S. Bach, Charlie Parker or a Bulgarian Gypsy tune. You can tell what's played and by whom. A speaker as instrument will likewise sound different when played by a Bon Jovi or the Boston Philharmonic over a Bryston or Kondo amp. Even more to the point, does such a speaker make an audible sound if you removed its drive units and fed the signal via an accelerometer directly into the enclosure?

The main idea behind the thin-walled speaker cabinet is not that the cabinet itself makes any sound. Rather, it sheds input energies quickly. It doesn't attempt to damp them. Believers insist that damping kills something essential in the direct emanations of the drive units. As we saw, the Kiso avoids the usual internal damping altogether. Instead it glues small staves in strategic sidewall locations to break up certain panel modes and tune them for the intended effect. Were it a big floorstander with large panels, we'd suspect higher levels of cabinet action. Very likely there are size limits with this approach to work invisibly as intended and not cross the line into what audiophiles call box talk.

One also suspects that the absence of a big woofer with its greater impact on the enclosure is another ingredient necessary for this recipe. On Onkyo's site one finds a bit of R&D history with many admissions of failed prototypes. To come off clearly required a lot more than just a casual sympathy for the overall concept.

As Thomas Fast had promised in Zürich, could this little speaker really sound huge and sufficiently dynamic to do large-scale symphonic works justice at high levels? It seemed absolutely counterintuitive to say the least. But having one's beliefs shaken is part of the fun in this racket. That's especially so after time in the trenches can have you approach the occasional cynicism or feeling green with jaded. The Kiso speakers promised fun on multiple levels.