Review: Vivid Audio Kaya 45 – The whole, musical truth

Vivid Audio has a reputation for fearless innovation, both technically and aesthetically, linked to beguilingly honest musicality. The new Kaya range is Vivid’s third loudspeaker line, and pushes the sonic boundaries while introducing an all-new design language

By Deon Schoeman

It’s easy to forget that one of the world’s most admired audiophile loudspeaker brands has its origins in South Africa. Vivid Audio’s range of no-compromise, high-end speakers are still produced in KwaZulu-Natal to world-class standards, and global acclaim.

Much of the New Germany-based factory’s output is exported to the Far East, the USA and Europe, where the brand’s Oval and Giya Series speakers have earned a reputation for musical honestly linked to innovative design – and unusual aesthetics.

Not everyone has been complimentary about their exterior styling. They’re certainly different by conventional standards: the Oval Series draws its cosmetic inspiration from the traditional Zulu shield, while the even more outlandish Giya’s shape is boldly informed by the technology that underpins it.

Enter the Kaya – a speaker range that’s meant to be visually less polarising than the Oval or the Giya, while still expressing the form-follows-function approach at the core of all Vivid Audio’s designs.

The Kaya range consist of three models – the Kaya 25, Kaya 45 and Kaya 95 – with the number indicating the volume of the enclosure in litres. The enclosure shapes are organic and curvaceous, but there’s an inherent elegance that adds strong visual appeal.

It’s certainly a design that will be easier to incorporate into existing decors, while the relatively compact footprint of both the entry-level Kaya 25, and the mid-range Kaya 45 tested here, will also allow easier installation.

AT FACE VALUE

The Kaya 45 stands just over 1,15 metres tall, with no hard edges or angles in sight. The 100 mm midrange and 26 mm tweeter are arranged high up on the integrated baffle, with the tweeter markedly recessed in the interests of time alignment.

Viewed in profile, the shape of the Kaya takes on a different, almost bulbous dimension, providing the enclosure real estate for a pair of side-firing 125 mm bass drivers, mounted directly opposite each other, and each accompanied by a reflex port.

The enclosure itself is surprisingly lightweight but very strong, stiff and acoustically inert, thanks to a vacuum-formed, glass-reinforced sandwich composite construction with a honeycombed Soric core.

That organic shape also means the Kaya enclosures don’t offer any scope for nasty internal reflections or standing waves, while their inherent rigidity and strength provides a perfect mounting platform for the drive units.

The review pair was finished in what Vivid calls Oyster Matte – a slightly textured, non-reflective grey that highlights the organic shape of the speaker to great effect. It can also be ordered in pearl white and gloss piano black as standard – and in almost any other colour your heart desires, at extra cost.

The enclosure rests on no less than six intricately machined and beautifully executed decoupling spikes which also allow for height adjustment. The five-way binding posts are at the base of the speaker and a little fiddly to access, but like the rest of the Kaya, they are properly engineered.

UNDER THE COVERS

What is not at all apparent from the Kaya 45’s shape is that it continues Vivid Audio’s tradition of tapered-tube loading for the drivers.

Designer Laurence Dickie, a co-founder of Vivid, created the original concept for B&W’s now iconic Nautilus, and has consistently developed and refined the technology since. In the Kaya 45, all the drivers are tube-loaded.

The tweeter and midrange feature comparatively short, progressively damped tubes that are easily incorporated inside the enclosure. However, the reflex loading of the dual woofers is more complex.

It involves an exponential horn that is folded into the confines of the enclosure, with two ports exiting on either side, just above each of the woofers. The horn is filled with carefully specified damping material that becomes more dense as the horn tube narrows.

In reality, tapered tube loading allows the drivers to operate outside the constraints usually placed on them by the enclosure they are mounted in, essentially freeing them from cabinet-induced colouration and benefiting both accuracy and transparency.

To optimise the advantages of tube loading, Vivid Audio uses in-house developed and constructed drive units. The woofers feature a perforated voice coil former and a ring magnet, ensuring that soundwaves emanating from the rear of the woofer can move unrestricted into the horn.

It’s one of the reason why Vivid Audio’s drive units employ radially polarised magnet systems. They also achieve high flux through the voice coil and minimum magnetic field stray.

Another common feature are the anodised aluminium diaphragms – a catenary dome with a very high break-up point in the case of the tweeter, and alloy domes for the midrange and woofers.

SETTING UP

The review pair came crated and were gingerly unpacked. The driver diaphragms are fragile and the supplied, magnetically located grilles (designed specifically to be acoustically unobtrusive) are a must to protect them.

Once I’d screwed in and secured the six spikes on the base of each Kaya, I positioned them in a freestanding configuration in the AVSA listening room, about a third into the room, and toed in towards the listening position.
The one downside of that organic shape is that it makes it difficult to accurately measure the distances from the Kayas to the rear and side walls to verify positioning, especially when using a laser-based measuring device.

I ran the Kayas in conjunction with my Parasound Halo A21 power amp, which drove the slim floorstanders effortlessly. Source honours belonged to a Lumin D1/L1 network player combo, with a Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD player acting as an alternative source. Pre-amp duties were performed by our Primare PRE32.

SOUNDS LIKE

Once the final positioning had been verified, and the speakers had been allowed to settle in for a day or so, first impressions were of a sleek, agile and detailed performance, with a wide open, immersive soundstage that sounded engaging and just right.

However, it was the absolute transparency of the Kaya 45 that was its most telling and impressive attribute. It allowed the music to ebb and flow unencumbered, easily slipping the shackles of all things electronic, and letting the emotive content of the music become the main, riveting focus point.

In that sense, it’s hard to describe the sound of these speakers: they act as an unwaveringly honest conduit for the music, without stamping any specific sonic signature on the performance.

In fact, they effectively disappear from the soundstage, leaving only the music to take centre stage, and filtering out potential sonic distractions. As a result, it’s a sound that envelops the listener with an unobtrusive but no less effective intensity that demands rapt attention.

Despite their relatively compact size, the Kaya 45s never constrain the music, or limit the bandwidth of the delivery: this is a loudspeaker that’s both tonally and dimensionally generous.

The bass and even sub-bass were projected with deep authority, while also maintaining a tautness that ensured a punchy and agile approach. And yes, the bass was exceptionally well controlled, setting a solid foundation for the music. It was never allowed to become overbearing: regardless of recording or genre, the delivery remained succinct and impactful.

The Kayas presided over a midrange that was smooth and silky, if somewhat on the lean side of neutral, while the trebles were clean and revealing. The Kaya is not a speaker that will cosy up to you: it tells the musical story like it is, and will expose shortcomings in the recording with unwavering honesty.

That’s not to say that the Kaya is cold or clinical, but rather that its delivery is always an accurate and believable reflection of the material it is asked to reproduce. Of course, it also means that the Vivids do full justice to well produced music, allowing the listener complete access to every element of the recording.

The same goes for staging: the Kayas unfailingly recreated the ambience of the recorded performance, affording the music loads of air and space, but remaining true to the original. And because of their inherent transparency, there was a real sense of being immersed in the music.

The staging was three-dimensional, casting a sound picture that was wide and deep, with little regard for the actual dimensions of the listening room, while imaging showed a propensity for crisply focussed, perfectly contextualised and delicately drawn detail.

British heavy metal outfit Thunder aren’t exactly top of mind when I’m looking for auditioning material, but their latest release, Please Remain Seated, revisits some their previous material in an altogether more accessible fashion that’s actually entertaining – and produced with slick precision.

The big, powerful bass on ‘Just Another Suicide’ was presented with real impact and taut control, juxtaposed against the lyrical intricacy of the finger-picked acoustic lead guitar, but without allowing one to dominate the other.

The Kayas weren’t at all intimidated by the percussion’s slam and urge, but their inherent lucidity allowed each individual drum in the kit to be identified, while making the most of every rim shot and cymbal smash.

Indeed, the Kayas resolved every element of the performance with authority and a pervasive sense of realism. They allowed me to not only hear and experience the music, but also the space and the dimension of the recording.

The boisterous bass on Van Morrison’s ‘Worried Blues/Rollin And Tumblin’ (from his recent The Prophet Speaks set) provides a rambling foundation for the conversational organ and splashy percussion, while Morrison’s vocals rise above the accompaniment with incisive clarity.

Again, I had a sense of the Kayas opening a generous window to the music, both sonically and emotively. The presented an harmonica solo had plenty of bite, while the guitar sounded both mellow and incisive, followed by the fluid, intricate clarinet solo.

The Vivids unequivocally reflected the sheer pace and enthusiasm of the performance, to the extent that I found myself involuntarily tapping my feet to the beat.

The Vivids easily coped with the substantial dynamic swings and the sheer grandeur of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. They presented the third movement ‘s vivacious strings with verve, while also doing full, glorious justice to the melodic woodwinds, the stern kettle drums and the bright brass.

While this recording can sound aggressive on some systems, here it was the clarity and the resolution of the Kayas, and the way they allowed access to the full scope of the music, that impressed, together with that overriding sense of transparency and dimension.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Vivid Audio Kaya 45 takes the marque’s resolve to create loudspeakers that don’t get in the way of the music to new heights. For its size, this floorstander delivers a lot of music, both tonally and dimensionally.

But it does so without imposing any specific sonic signature on the material it’s translating. Instead, it acts as a crystal-clear conduit for the music, adding nothing and taking nothing away, but making sure that the full picture Is presented: honestly and convincingly.

Yes, it deserves to be paired with the best ancillaries possible to show off its true potential. And yes, it will show up shortcomings less revealing speakers will gloss over.

Ultimately, though, the Kaya 45 is musically compelling – and that is what sets great loudspeakers apart from merely good ones.

VITAL STATS
Speaker type: Three-way, four-driver bass reflex, tapered tube-enhanced
Drive units:
– 1x D26 26 mm alloy dome tweeter
– 1x C100se 100 mm alloy cone midrange
– 2x C125L 125 mm alloy cone woofers
Bi-wiring: No
Impedance: 6 ohms nominal (2,8 ohms minimum)
Sensitivity: 87 dB (2,83Vrms/1 m)
Frequency range: 37 Hz – 25 kHz (-6 dB)
Power handling: 25 – 250 watts
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1 153 x 298 x 385 mm
Weight: 25 kg
PRICE
R220 000 (pair)
SUPPLIED BY
Fundipoint

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Lumin D1/L1 network player
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD player
Bryston BDA-3 DAC
Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
XLO Reference interlinks
StraightWire Virtuoso speaker cable

SOFTWARE
Thunder – Please Remain Seated (BMG 96/24 MQA FLAC)
Van Morrison – The Prophet Speaks (Exile 96/24 MQA FLAC)
Beethoven – Symphony No.2 – Philippe Herreweghe/Royal Flemish Philharmonic (Pentatone SACD)
Pat Metheny Group – Live In Concert (Jazzdoor 44/16 AIFF)
Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances – Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings 176/24 WAV)