Publisher Profile

YG Acoustics Kipod Studio Floorstanding Speaker Review

Ed Momkus examines the extent of the state-of-the-art

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YG Acoustics Kipod Studio loudspeaker

There are plenty of ultra-expensive upper echelon speakers that I have not heard. When I refer to “ultra-expensive”, I mean seriously expensive – not just very expensive. I’m talking about (in descending order) the Genesis 1.1 ($165,000, though this includes amplification), the Rockport Technologies Hyperion ($92,000), the Avantgarde Trio with Basshorn ($72,000), the MBL 101E ($47,000), the Wilson MAXX and the Kharma Mini Exquisite (both $45,000), and I’m not even mentioning speakers in the $30,000 to $40,000 range! In fact, I thought my B&W Nautilus 800D’s were insanely expensive at $20,000. It’s not that I am not just dying to hear any one of these in my own system – I just don’t seek them out because I’m afraid I’ll want them once I listen to them.

So how was I going to evaluate a $38,000 pair of speakers that are the lower end of a speaker manufacturer’s full-range lineup, especially when I was warned that they wouldn’t play extremely loudly in my main listening room without a special add-on filter?

Take Me To Your (Audio) Leader

What planet are you from? Accuratopia or Romanticopolis? On Accuratopia, the people like their music “lean and clean”, while on Romanticopolis they like their music “lush and romantic”. Of course, these planets are at opposite ends of the galaxy, which means that most planets in the galaxy reside somewhere between them.

The people on Accuratopia would love my Esoteric P-70/D-70 front-end for its detail and accuracy, and they would like, but not necessarily love, my B&W Nautilus 800D speakers and would likely wish I had YG Acoustics speakers.

The people on Romanticopolis would adore my Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks as an example of solid-state amps that sound a lot like tube amps. Similarly, they would seriously respect, but not necessarily adore, my MBL 5010 preamp, which is a solid-state design with more body than most other solid-state preamps – they would prefer that I had one of ARC’s top-of-the-line offerings.

The folks on Romanticopolis would also ask me to substitute a Luxman CD player for my Esoteric DAC/transport, while those on Accuratopia would rather I used the Classe M-400 amps, or at least prefer that I substituted the Pass X-600.5’s, in place of the Nemos.

I reside on one of the other planets – one that’s pretty close to the middle of the galaxy. That’s why I have accuracy-biased (but not extremely analytical) speakers and front-end, and lushly-biased (but not overly-forgiving) preamplification and amplification. This reflects my opinion that system-building works best this way: start with accuracy at the front- and back-ends, and if necessary, tame it with the middle components and cabling.

Of course, those on Planet RealWorld would simply state that arguing over high-end $10,000 preamps, $15,000 front-ends and $20,000 amps is splitting hairs and restricted to planets located in the RichIdiot solar system.

The point of this is to highlight the fact that anything you purchase needs to be ultimately integrated into your overall system. Furthermore, the importance of your listening environment cannot be overstated. I regularly move several of my ASC tube traps to a friend’s house if the friend complains that his bass is mushy. When I do this I can quickly figure out if the problem is the speakers or the room. More than 50% of the time it’s the room, and sometimes you can’t do much about it without radical surgery. The room may be too small or too big, wrongly-configured for good listening (e.g., a cube), have tons of glass and no curtains, or be acoustically dead from too much material that absorbs frequencies from 1500 to 10,000Hz. As you will see below, the room may matter a lot when evaluating the Kipod Studio.

The Kipod System

The Kipod Studio is unlike any speaker I’ve ever auditioned. First, it’s a 2-piece system, and places a two-way monitor atop of an optional powered subwoofer. The monitor is referred to as the “Kipod Main Module” and the addition of the subwoofer makes it the Kipod Studio. The two parts are held together with machine screws. I’ve run systems with separate subwoofers, but always as separate speakers, where positioning was a major headache. The Kipod Studio’s divisibility allows you to buy the Main Module and put it on stands, then upgrade later by adding the subwoofer.

Second, the enclosures are made of precision-machined brushed aluminum panels. All of the aluminum panels are fastened together by machine screws. I had never listened to high-end speakers which did not use wood or some type of composite substance and always assumed that metallic resonances would produce a very hard “steely” sound. I was wrong.

Another difference between the Kipod Studio and other speakers that I’ve auditioned is the stated difference between the manufacturer’s “entry level” and “top” offerings. Every speaker line I’ve previously encountered has floorstanding speakers that, as you go up the product range, extend the bass response, expand the soundstage, or provide some type of improvement in midrange sound. To some extent, this also happens with the YG Acoustics line. After all, adding the subwoofer extends the bass. The same happens with the company’s latest Anat Reference II, where you can purchase the Anat Main Module for $33,000 the pair, and upgrade it to the $70,000/pair Anat Reference II Studio with one subwoofer per channel – one of two available types of subwoofer – the same way you do with the Kipod.

However, when comparing the $107,000, twin-subwoofer Anat Reference II Professional (sporting the larger, 800 watts RMS-driven subwoofer) with the $38,000 Kipod Studio, YG states that you will be able to get more volume out of the Anat Reference, but you will get the same sound quality from the Kipod Studio, just less volume.

This is an interesting concept. It’s telling a customer that he will get the same performance from the entry-level model as the top-of-the-line model, just that he can’t play it as loudly. In describing the Kipod Studio, the YG website states that:

“…it offers true full-range performance down to 20Hz…the only limitation – it is intended for ‘reasonable’ listening volume levels and dynamics, and/or for small-to-medium-sized rooms.”

Indeed, Yoav Geva, YG Acoustic proprietor, was very concerned about this when Constantine was arranging for my review of the Kipod Studio, since he was told that my room is fairly large and that I often listen at high volume levels (ask my family). He originally wanted to wait until he could provide me with the Main Module Subsonic Filter, which would enable me to operate the Kipod Studio at higher volume levels. I convinced him that I could be objective if the Kipod could not attain satisfactory volumes in my main listening room.

I later became very curious about the Main Module Subsonic Filter. When I asked Yoav about the filter, he told me that it raises the maximum output of Kipod Studio. He recommends it for customers who purchased the Kipod for use in a smaller room, but later moved it to a larger room where it could not produce concert-level volume. He indicated that the Subsonic Filter basically removes the deepest bass from Kipod Main Module’s input, thus reducing the amount of excursion and current that the mid-woofer has to deal with, but without any loss in transparency.

However, the downside is that, in order to do this, YG had to use very expensive components, and thus the cost of producing the filter is “rather high”. For this reason, and for the fact that most customers with average rooms will never have a volume problem, YG did not include the filter as a standard part of the speaker, but chose to only offer it as an option to those who need it.

Action

The Kipod Main Module incorporates a 1-inch Vifa ring-radiator tweeter and a 5.25-inch Scan-Speak midrange-woofer. The subwoofer section consists of an 8-inch Scan-Speak woofer powered by an internal Hypex amplifier that YGA rates at 200 watts. The specifications are extremely impressive: a frequency-response deviation of less than 0.7dB from 20Hz to 20kHz; a vanishing phase difference between the mid-woofer and the tweeter; and less than 0.2dB difference from the left channel to the right.

I made a point of playing test tones to generally verify YG’s claim that the Kipod Studio goes down to 20Hz, partly because I couldn’t believe that the Subwoofer could accomplish this with only a single 8-inch woofer. My B&W 800D’s, which dwarf the Kipod studio in size, employ twin 10-inch woofers each side that are further supplemented by a down-firing port. B&W’s specs state that the 800D frequency response is -6dB at 25Hz and 33kHz. My actually functional bass response with the B&Ws starts to drop off (in my room) at about 27Hz. The Kipod Studio’s manual states that “usable output extends from 20Hz to above 40KHz” with “less than +/- 0.7 in the audible band”! I did not go so far as to take test measurements, but in my main listening room I could clearly discern a 25Hz test tone without any subjectively large drop in volume compared to 32.5 or 40Hz tones (the next higher test tones on my test disc). The 20Hz test tone sounded rolled off, but it was still clearly audible. I suspect that much of the perceived rolloff is attributable to my room and my ears. Because when I ran the 20Hz test tone in a much smaller room, it was virtually inaudible, though the woofers were clearly vibrating. This is quite impressive, especially from such a relatively small package. I did not have test tones between 20 and 25Hz, so I can’t tell you what 22 or 23Hz sounded like. The main point here is that usable bass is excellent without having to use huge woofers.

I broke the Kipod Studio in by connecting the subwoofer module to a Marantz universal player and Pass X0.2 preamp and played bass-heavy tunes through it for 4 straight days. Separately, I connected the Kipod Main Module to a Denon AVR 1705 receiver and a Pioneer Elite DV-39A and let it play 5 straight days.

The use of separately powered subwoofers allows you to do several things.

First, it allows you greater flexibility in choosing amplification for the Kipod Main Module. You are freed to try solid-state, tubes, hybrids or any other variation. Second, the powered subs allow you to make adjustments to compensate for the listening environment and your personal taste. The modifiable parameters are the UPPER CROSSOVER FREQUENCY, the BASS EQUALIZER UPPER FREQUENCY, and the GAIN below it, the OVERALL SUBWOOFER GAIN, and its ACOUSTIC PHASE.

The Kipod Studio comes with a default setup that YG recommends you start with. I found that I preferred a slightly higher crossover point and moderately higher gain below the bass equalizer upper frequency than the default settings, and a slightly higher overall gain. (I’m a bass lover – what can I say?) A third, more subtle advantage arises from the fact that you are operating two subwoofers. You understand what I mean if you’ve ever seriously tried to fully integrate two bookshelf speakers with a single subwoofer. You get much smoother bass response and fewer anomalies by positioning two subwoofers in the room. This is part of what you get with the Kipod because, size notwithstanding, these are real subwoofers, not just bass cones.

It is noteworthy that the manual does not give you much instruction about how to adjust these settings on the subwoofers. I have set up several subwoofers in the house, so I have experience with how the settings affect the sound. If I did not have that experience I would probably have found the lack of explanation frustrating. It may be that YG addresses this by dealer installation and tweaking or by phone support, but I think most user will need more guidance in the manual.

Positioning was pretty simple, and the speakers are light enough so they won’t strain your back. Yoav Geva recommends an equilateral triangular setup, which proved to be the best arrangement. Even though the speakers were 15 feet apart, they had no trouble filling in the middle of the soundstage. Yoav also recommends significant toe-in, with the insides of the speakers barely visible from the listening position. Finally, he stresses the importance of having the tweeters at ear level to get the absolute best out of the Kipod Studio.

This setup was virtually identical to how my B&W Nautilus 800D’s are set up, except that the 800D’s are slightly further apart (16 feet), and the listening seat must be elevated to get my ears to line up with the 800D’s tweeters. The Kipod Studio’s tweeters are lower than the 800D’s tweeters, and my ears actually lined up perfectly with the Kipod’s tweeters. Even though YG emphasizes that you need to be exactly on-axis to get the absolute best imaging from the Kipod’s, they image as well or better than most other speakers when your ears are above or below the horizontal axis. It’s just that positioning yourself exactly on-axis will take everything to the next level.

One thing to keep in mind is that powered subwoofers need… well… power. The Kipod Studio’s subs come with power cables that are 7 feet long, which is a reasonable length for a midsize room. However, if you’re room allows you to position the Kipod six or more feet from the front wall, you will probably need longer cables. (I actually had to use a heavy-duty extension cord with one of the subs in my main listening room configuration.) If you are like me and tweak with aftermarket power cables, you will potentially need to spend some significant dollars on an extra-long, high-end power cable.

A final thing to keep in mind is that the subwoofer needs to either be connected to your preamp or the amp that drives the Kipod Main Module. The subwoofer module allows you to transmit the music signal via either method. However, like any powered subwoofer, either connection will likely require some extra speaker cables or extra-long interconnects. The Kipod Studio’s interconnect inputs/speaker binding posts are several feet away from the Main Module’s speaker binding posts, so you are not likely to be able to use bi-wired cables. It just so happens that I used two entirely separate speaker cables to bi-wire my 800D’s, so I had two pairs of very high quality speaker cables on hand. I used this method when connecting the Kipod Studios to the Pass X600.5 monoblocks.

I used an alternate method when driving the Kipod Studio’s with my Electrcompaniet Nemo’s. The Nemos actually have an interconnect output which is intended to facilitate easy biamping, so I was able to connect the Kipod’s subwoofer directly to the Nemo’s via relatively short interconnects. However, most people will likely need to budget for either a second pair of speaker cables or an extra set of long interconnects.

XRCD Through Kipod

Despite my discussions with Yoav which indicated that the Kipod Studio was meant for smaller rooms and/or at less than ear-splitting volumes, I immediately put the Kipod into my main listening room and cranked up the volume playing average CD’s of rock n’ roll. Big mistake. As Yoav had warned me, the Kipod without the Subsonic Filter could not hit ear-splitting levels in my large room without sounding strained and harsh. I had clearly heard what he said about volume, but not truly appreciated what he meant.

I backed down the volume and changed the music to Dave Grusin – Discovered Again! Plus (First Impression Music, LIM XR 002 XRCD24). I won’t say that I was “taken aback” or “my jaw dropped” or similar over-the top statements, because I have been lucky to have heard some very, very good systems. But several near “jaw-dropping” things became immediately evident.

First, the soundstage was substantially deeper – deeper than any I have had in my system by a very noticeable margin, and I have been consciously searching for components that have this effect in my system. Second, I have never experienced performer placement like this before. This includes my limited experience with music surround sound. The performers weren’t just more clearly placed from left to right. They were also clearly placed front to back and floor to ceiling. The location of each instrument was precise and the spaces between performers contained nothing except the music radiating from each performer.

On the Dave Grusin XRCD, it was akin to sitting in the recording studio with the four musicians and clearly seeing (yes, seeing) where each is located. My 800D’s image very well, but not like this.

With that, I went on an XRCD rampage for the next few days, concentrating on all the small combo jazz and small group classical XRCD’s in my collection. This included Jazz At The Pawnshop, Super Analog Sound of Three blind Mice, Bennie Wallace – The Old Songs, Vivaldi – The Four Seasons and James Newton Howard and Friends. Each of these produced similar results, with the best soundstaging I’ve heard in terms of depth and performer placement, and equal to the best in terms of stage width. One of the consequences of this superb soundstaging and performer placement was a “live” feeling in most performances.

Two additional consequences also presented themselves before long. They emerged in the form of an enhanced ability to: (1) appreciate the virtuosity of each performer; (2) hear the tonality of each instrument.

The Kipod’s superb separation made it much easy to hear exactly what each performer was doing. Consequently, voices and instruments from these speakers were especially good in terms of dimensionality, airiness, size, and focus, and all sized correctly. The voices would hang in the air with lots of air and space around them. As for the tonality itself, cymbals were clear and silky with a shimmering sound that accurately represents how cymbals sound live and close up – which is something I rarely hear reproduced correctly on digital recordings. Pianos were real, with (when appropriate) biting treble notes that allowed you to hear the hammer strike the strings and bass notes that were very well separated but yet allowed you to hear each note’s decay. Violins were sweet, yet extended. In short – what instruments sound like live in good acoustics.

There was another characteristic that asserted itself with the Kipod, but I’m almost afraid to take it on, because, (1) I don’t feel qualified and (2) someone is going to tell me I’m full of it. (nah. –Ed.) Nonetheless, I’ll say it. I think these are the most accurate speakers I’ve encountered. Now you say, how the hell could I know that? Have I heard what the music I’m playing through the Kipod Studio sounded like when it was recorded, not to mention at the point it was recorded? No. Have I taken into account all my room’s anomalies? No (although I’ve fixed most of them). So why would I even dare to make the statement? Am I just mimicking the manufacturer’s hype?

I say it because the speakers themselves create that impression when reproducing top-notch recordings. When I now play music through my B&W 800D’s, I almost feel as though they’re colored. This is incredible, because most people I know comment on how neutral, detailed and accurate the 800D’s sound. The Kipod Studio is somewhat reminiscent of Thiel speakers I heard several years ago, where accuracy was the most prized audio feature. I have not done much listening to Thiel’s in recent years, but I remember thinking that they were “analytical”. Well, the Kipod’s confound my audio categories. You might say that they are so “analytical” that they make a great recording sound real.

Now, on to the “other” side. The Kipod was unmatched in its vivid performer placement, microdynamic and low level detail and depth of soundstage on excellent recordings, and that is where its siren-song lies. There was a huge amount of high frequency content whenever I played anything through the Kipod – sometimes to the point of feeling that it was too much. This was especially the case when recordings were below average or poor.

More than any other speaker I’ve had in my home system, the Kipod Studio proved the old computer adage of “garbage in, garbage out”. And more than in any other frequency range, the higher frequency content sounded terrible on a lousy recording. I really want to emphasize this point. There is no “give” in these speakers. You are going to have to get “give” from some other component in your system. This is not a defect of the Kipod. It is exactly what you expect when your design goal is absolute accuracy, which is what Geva designs for. But baby, you really better be able to handle it, because there were recordings that I own that I just wanted to throw out.

The Kipod Studio’s character stayed absolutely consistent in every listening environment I put it in. I used it in three significantly different rooms with different equipment, but in all cases the Kipod’s character was the dominant factor in the overall presentation. In all cases the detail was huge, almost feeling like there was too much of it; the performers were incredibly vividly placed; great recordings sounded the best I’d ever heard them; and the poor recordings I have were painfully unplayable.

Volume Issue

This needs to be addressed, especially if you’re spending $38,000 for an ultra-high-end speaker. If you have a big room (the width 24 feet or wider and the length 28 feet or longer) and like to listen to really loud rock n’ roll, you should plan to buy the Kipod Studio with the Subsonic Filter, or go right to YG Acoustics’ Anat Reference or Voyager speakers (assuming you have the bank account). If your room is in the 20’-24’ by 24’-28’ range but you do not play music at ear-splitting levels, the Kipod Studio will perform its magic without a problem, and if it turns out to be borderline, you can always add the Subsonic Filter.

If you room is, say, 20’ by 16’, you will not have any problem listening at any volume. How do I know this? I listen to some (not all) music at insane volume levels. I mean it. Volume levels that 21 year-olds sometimes ask me to turn down when I’m playing Smashing Pumpkins or the White Stripes. Since I could not reach such rock concert-level volumes on the Kipod Studios in my big room without making then sound strained or tripping a safety feature, I moved the Kipod’s to a secondary system in the basement. This is a 21’ x 12’ room in my basement equipped with a Denon AVR 1705 receiver (75Wpc), a Sony DSS and a Pioneer Elite DV 38A. In this room, the Kipod Studio had no problem filling the space with really loud unstrained sound playing any kind of music.

Conclusions

When you have a speaker that is this good in achieving its design objective, and especially when it costs $38,000, it is critical to decide how to mate it with other components. My personal approach with these speakers would be to mate them with a softer sounding front-end, such as one of Luxman’s recent digital offerings. I would guess that the pair would be a stupendous team. In addition, I would experiment with Pass Labs XA amplifiers, the Ayre MX-R, the Parasound Halo JC-1, or and MBL 8011, all of which are tad on the “sweet” or “full-bodied” side of the spectrum while still being seriously dynamic. You might also try a sweet tube amp, but make sure you have enough power, because the Kipod Studio (as is the case with any good speaker) definitely sounds better with more clean power.

I would also experiment with aftermarket power cables for the subwoofer if you find the Kipod’s bass to be too tight and too defined for your personal taste. I found that I could maintain the great bass definition of these subs while adding a touch of richness and body by using Silent Source Signature High Current PC’s or ZCable’s (now Clarity Cable) Red Lightning or Cyclone power cords.

Of course, if you are a true detail addict, none of these suggestions will be relevant for you. Coupled with my highly detailed Esoteric front-end, or, alternatively, with a David Schulte-modified EMM Labs CDSA I had on hand, and with the Pass X600.5, the Kipod Studio nearly overwhelmed me with musical information. I can’t even imagine what the effect would be with something like the Classe M-400 monoblocks (the most detail-oriented amp I’ve had in my system).

So where does this all shake out? The Kipod Studio’s are amazing instruments of sonic reproduction. They are tonally accurate, extremely detailed and revealing, superbly imaging speakers that come in a very attractive and reasonably compact package. They completely “disappear” when playing music. I personally found them to be ahead of the competition (at least the competition I’ve heard) when playing well-recorded small group acoustic music at moderate levels, including (in no particular order) madrigals, concertos, folk, etc. I found their level of detail somewhat disconcerting when playing some large-scale music at higher volumes, even when well-recorded. This detail was not unpleasant – quite the opposite – it was just more than I hear when attending live performances and my mind has trouble accepting it.

Finally, the YG Acoustics Kipod Studio will, perhaps for the first time, make you realize just how bad the recording is on some of your favorite discs. This is definitely not your speaker if you live on Romanticopolis, but if you are not from that planet and are prepared to build a system around the Kipod Studio’s, you will own speakers which will make your friends ask where the surround sound speakers are located.

Manufacturer’s Comment:

Dear Dagogo and Mr. Momkus,

Thank you for your very thorough and fascinating review of the Kipod Studio loudspeaker. You captured the true essence of the Kipod Studio’s abilities and design.

You brought up some important points in your review that I would like to comment on. It was suggested that a bit more setup information in the manual would be helpful. As a manufacturer, we are concerned about making general “one size fits all” type recommendations for system set up. We like to offer a more individualized approach for customers of YG Acoustics speakers. We invite customers to send us blueprints of their listening room. We can then use our state-of-the-art proprietary software, developed in-house, to simulate and optimize the recommended settings and speaker positions (part of the same proprietary software that is the heart of YG Acoustics technology). This is superior to the often endless trial-and-error exercises customers struggle through when trying to follow the written guidelines in a manual designed for an average room (whatever average may be). We find our scientific method superior to more animated practices of speaker set-up. This service is naturally offered to all YG Acoustics customers free of charge.

The comment, “this detail…more than I hear when attending live performances,” was very preceptive.

The Kipod Studio is unable to “make up” detail not present on a recording, but will give you everything that was captured on the recording. This means that the information on the recording is generally a result of the microphone configuration and technique used. Some recordings are miked very closely with a dry perspective while others, like Ray Kimber’s IsoMike recordings, are miked at a greater distance to preserve the atmosphere of the venue. It is also true that most speakers are voiced toward a particular musical or personal bias. Certain frequencies may be emphasized to highlight detail, ambience, or presence. YG Acoustics speakers are not voiced to enhance or modify aspects of common recordings. In fact, YG Acoustics speakers are not “voiced” by human bias at all. The technology is simply verified for accuracy and completeness by human involvement.

Again, we want to compliment and thank Ed Momkus and Dagogo for their considerable efforts and talents.

Dick Diamond
Director of Sales & Marketing
YG Acoustics

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