Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO with DHT module, COS Engineering D1, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage 2
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; S.A.Lab Blackbird SE; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; ; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE UP NC500MB; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Sounddeco Sigma 2; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence, Rethm Bhaava [on loan]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan], Black Cat Cable Lupo
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15m open floor plan with two-storey gabled ceiling, wood-sleeved steel trusses and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail: €9'990/pr

Sauce hollandaise.
Eindhoven is called Holland's hi-tech mile; Europe's Silicon Valley. It's here where the vast corporate empire of Philips once ruled. When applied to loudspeakers, this general vicinity has already given us Æquo Audio, Crystal Cable, Dutch & Dutch, Grimm Audio and Kharma. For electronics we've had Hypex/nCore and Mola Mola. Looking closer, Æquo Audio's partially active Ensis speaker runs on nCore modules. So does Grimm Audio's LS1be. Behind nCore of course is Bruno Putzeys. His early days segue back to Philips. And with the now German Kii Audio Three speaker from Bergisch Gladbach, he's involved once again; and not just with six 250-watt nCore channels per box. Keeping tabs, between Dutch & Dutch, Grimm and Kii, our tally is up to three advanced active loudspeakers, all of them from Holland, with two carrying Putzeys' influence well beyond amplifier design into acoustic wave shaping tech. No rest for the wicked. That old proverb definitely speaks Dutch.

Wave shaping tech is key to Kii. This fully DSP-controlled active 6-driver compact breaks the rules. Its bass is actually directional. Cardioid aka heart-shaped dispersion is the technical term for its propagation shape. The upshot? Unlike conventional speakers, the Kii Three wants to be more blasé about room interference. It directs most of its sound at the listener, eliminating or at least attenuating side and especially rear radiation with strategic phase-canceling chicanery. This downplays usual room dependencies. It performs superior in far more real-world situations including very close to the wall. For a perfect step response of what is a three-way—reference this for the actual graph—its designers use minor time delay on their frontal drivers. This lets the side and rear woofers catch up.

That trick plus claimed 20Hz response can only do the work because filtering and compensation occur in the digital domain. Analog inputs must convert. By the same token, LF headroom must be lower than mid and high freqs because, to keep its box small, the Kii Three gooses bass gain on its built-in amps to offset natural roll-off. In payment for this, it abolishes your own amplification and D/A conversion. Its functional very high IQ relies on the designers controlling all the parameters, not letting us techno peasants piecemeal it. This eliminates the lego and puzzle crowd who insist on arbitrary system assemblage. Au revoir, amigos. Those who—gasp!—are still with us have notions:

• that Putzeys & Partners also exploit DSP to improve their matching tolerances between drivers
• that they use DSP to enable their 15-click 'contour' knob with its preset EQ curves
• that they use DSP for their 16-click 'boundary' trim pot which adjusts bass compensation for free field, wall and corner placements (the latter two require consecutively less compensation due to boundary gain)
• that their current and voltage 'motion-control' loops are somehow connected to the far earlier motional feedback as mentioned in the 40-year old Philips ad at right.
• that home-theatre users might have latency issues of syncing dialogue to on-screen action given the speaker's digital delay and intensive processing1
• wonder about out-of-standby delays2

Part of Eindhoven's gravitational pull is team spirit. Putzeys' connections to Philips as well as Grimm mean that once again, Kii Audio is not a lone-wolf enterprise. It's a group effort between five principals. On the tech side, it's primarily Bart van der Laan's embedded software and DSP expertise which dovetails with Bruno's class D prowess to apply nCore-style innovation to speaker design. It's how they claim an A/D stage so pure and non-lossy that redundancy fears or contrarious claims become a sign of outdated beliefs. Hence like the Grimm LS1 before it, the Kii Three can't help ruffle audiophile feathers and their old geese. Whenever a product decimates options like here selecting your own electronics3; whenever it opposes established lore by digitizing analogue... hardcore audiophiles see bloody red. Anyone who even considers the Kii Three must get over it. You can't expect the benefits of hi-tech solutions, then insist to go on with your luck-of-the-draw games. Let the true engineers do their job; all of it. This applies to dealers too. The Kii Three is a purpose-engineered turnkey solution. Add PC or Mac to feed it an up to 24-bit/192kHz digital signal via any USB to AES/EBU or S/PDIF bridge (24/192 acceptance doesn't imply that subsequent processing occurs at the same rate; Genelec for example use 24/48 for LF, 24/96 for HF). Tell the receiving speaker whether it is left or right. Connect the other to said master via CAT5. Set it to the opposing channel. Done. Now volume control4 is in the digital domain. Best execute it with a PureMusic-style player which does it in properly dithered 64-bit fashion.

1: A 2016 firmware update added low latency mode for a 860-1'540 micro-second figure hinging on analog vs. digital input and sample rate to allow lip-sync lock as set in a TV. "Playback delay mostly stems from filter corrections which take time to calculate especially in the low frequencies. Low-latency mode bypasses the most time-consuming phase correction filters and you might hear reduced detail, punch and definition in the lower frequencies. Yet our cardioid radiation pattern down to 40Hz remains fully intact. For best performance of regular music playback, always set the Three to its normal 90 millisecond latency mode."
2: The Kii Three goes into auto standby after 15 minutes of no signal. Once it senses signal, it boots up automatically after a few seconds. There is no on/off switch.
3: You could obviously keep your current DAC and preamp. This speaker's analog input simply converts to digital. You'll always hear/use Kii's own D/A converter. That makes their digital input a far shorter cleaner signal path.
4: The initial lack of built-in remote volume and USB input was arguably the concept's weakest point but then addressed with a digital controller by the time our review loaners shipped.

For what it promises, the Kii Three is an impossibly compact 8" x 16" x 16" box of just 15kg. Yet it claims 20-25'000Hz bandwidth of ±0.5dB! It's kitted out with a 1" waveguided tweeter and one 5" midrange on the front baffle; and four 6.5" woofers (one per cheek, two on the back) all on a composite clamshell cab sourced from KEF's supplier of the famous Blade chassis. For the final kicker, consider how a single pair contains a very clean dozen of 250-watt nCore monaural amps; advanced multi-channel A/D and D/A converters; 12 drivers plus proprietary DSP code. The €10'000/pr ask seems a stone-cold bargain. Just one pair of nCore monos in ritzy audiophile threads command that or more from various brands; including Bruno's own Mola Mola. What's more, if its room invariability works as claimed, the price—once you think on it—really includes an ideal listening room. That's virtually priceless. Even moving house rarely predicts how whatever ends up as listening space will sound like. It could be a dog. Then what? A forest of tube traps? The dedicated Kii stands are €998/pr incl. 19% VAT. Since I had quality Track Audio stands, I asked them not to ship their own. We'll focus on the box. You pick the colour.