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Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speaker Review

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Build quality – to what degree?

Build quality is not an absolute construct, even though at times we act like it is. Every company has quality and reliability issues, though for some there are few and others quite a few. Is it a build quality issue if a speaker’s aesthetics are 98% correct? I would say yes, but the consequence is different than if the operation of an amplifier’s power supply is 98 percent correct. A speaker can operate 100%  sonically with a blemished paint job, but an amplifier may not make any sound with a 98% intact power supply!

Thus we approach the Achilles Heel of the King III, the question of quality of materials and aesthetics. What if a cabinet was made of plywood versus a fine veneer over thick MDF, or plastic was used in the place of metal in a frame? Would the thin-walled cabinet, or a plastic housing be a quality of construction issue? I would suspect most of us would say, “Yes, absolutely!”

Well… allow me to plunge off the abyss, as it is a slippery slope when one suggests that in certain circumstances some forms of quality are less detrimental to the final result than others. The slippery slope nature of the argument is that if one sees imperfect paint or plastic where metal might normally be, then what of the rest of the build? Where else did corners get cut? Would operational quirks necessarily exist, and if so when might they reveal themselves? This is a legitimate question, perceived by some as a breakwater, which will stop another wave of audiophile shoppers in their tracks. It is understandable for some people to think, “Missed spot on paint… plastic housing… I’m done with this.” I will admit that were it not for my previous experience with the King, and were I to see the King III up close at a show on static display, I might conclude that very thing.

You guessed it, there are missed spots of paint and plastic housings holding drivers on the King III speaker. Is it a telltale sign portending ultimate failure of the speaker? I cannot say with certainty, but I do not think so. In the three years cycling on and off several times as the speakers alternatively sat between reviews and were reinserted into the room the King speaker never flinched. There were minor cosmetic flaws on the King speakers as well, but these never seemed to encroach on its operation, nor my pleasure in using them. I would love to say that King’s Audio eliminated any questions of build quality with the new speaker, but that would not be true. It seems to suffer the same quick and dirty build conceptualization as the King.

It gets worse, as there is also the thin plywood involved, which seems suspiciously similar to that used for the light wooden packing crates. I examined the speaker and spied what appears to be the same econo-plywood, complete with pitting and scratches painted flat black, used as a backing field for the ESL driver elements! I like quality, I look for quality, but here was facing a speaker with missed paint spot or two on stators, plastic housings for the drivers, and plywood in between! “Really? REALLY?” I thought in dismay.

For some audiophiles such things are the unforgiveable sin; if it looks cheap, then it must sound cheap. But is that really so? When Magneplanar added purely cosmetic metal side rails to the updated 1.7 it didn’t stop fans from proclaiming they had a positive effect sonically, even though Mark Winey told me they were a purely aesthetic update; previously they were cheap wooden strips. Where, then, is the line between form and function, between quality and quackery, between belief and performance? If it looks tough must it sound harsh, or if it looks keen is it guaranteed to be enchanting?

A strong technical point must be made in favor of the plywood. When I discussed the technical aspects of the design with Roger he indicated there was discovered a degree of tendency of the metal grid used in the King to resonate, or ring. Whether this was audible I cannot say; I never noted such an effect. But it was important enough for the designers at Kings Audio to move away from it to the wooden framework. The King III is not the first speaker to use less than svelte materials to address design principles.

As long as you treat the King III like a Maggie with the grill left on permanently all will be well; you will never see these things. It is when the grill is removed and the speaker examined that the heart skips a beat. I have handled a lot of high end gear and never encountered a component or speaker with plywood and plastic. Is it lunacy to use such materials in building a speaker which is supposed to be taken seriously? King’s Audio simply does some odd things. The King Tower omni originally had blue foam balls stuffed between the three individual conical cabinets. I ripped them out faster than you can say, “Begone bombastic blue orbs!” The speaker looks and sounds better without them. I think the blue foam balls turned off more casual audiophiles who were not willing to consider the speaker more seriously. In a different instance I remember questions of build quality surfaced when it was discovered that the Lars monoblock integrated amps, which if I recall correctly were near the $100K mark per pair, had plastic gears inside!

I may have been more inclined toward a condemning disposition had I not just finished writing the Purity Audio Design Silver Statement Preamplifier review. The Silver Statement has an all-acrylic chassis, a fancied up plastic box, and it’s one of the most sensational preamps I’ve heard. A serious audiophile who dismissed it merely due to the Tupperware-like appearance would have been fooled, as it has a sonic character which compared well to top products like the VAC Signature Preamplifier MkII.

Do I like it when I have to work with a product partially made from materials which are cheap and aesthetically unappealing? No, and if I had my way the King III would be made with more robust framework, have a supercar paint job, and have something really impressive – maybe a Cobalt alloy – placed between the ESL panels! Of course, I would also want it to cost the same! That is the sticking point, because putting sweet frames on the ESL panels along with a designer paint job and an impressive substance between drivers likely would add a lot to the cost of the speaker. There are myriads of audiophiles who complain – the whining has even infected some reviewers – that the high end has lost its direction, that there is no value for quality sound anymore The griping is incessant from the Cheapskate Gallery. Perhaps with some products, but when it comes to the King III it is as though it were a billboard saying, “Shut up about it already! Look at me! I’m made with inexpensive parts and I’m fantastic!”

And indeed, it is fantastic!

Technical design overview

When I asked Roger who the lead designer of the speakers was he responded that all Kingsound products are designed by a collaborative design team with experience in metal-work, circuit topology, acoustics and ESL technology.  The emphases for the redesign were reliability, packaging, structural integrity, bandwidth, dynamic range, resolution and serviceability. Is that all? You may think the team went back to the drawing board, but in reality they only seem to have gone back one model, to the Prince II (now updated to the Prince III) which shares the same driver type and external crossover scheme. There was something special about the Prince II which was heard easily enough at shows to make a person wonder, “Why spend so much more for the King when the Prince II sounds so good?” While the King was better, it was not vastly better. The Prince II was the choice for the best performing, affordable speaker from King’s Audio. Not remotely affordable is the Emperor, a tri-panel model with drop dead gorgeous looks. Appearing like an Asian style room divider with interchangeable Chinese embroidery on the panels for $60K U.S., it is still available by order even though it appears in the Discontinued Models listing at the bottom of the King’s Audio home page.

A very nice touch and not a small contribution to the leap in sound quality is the separation of the power supply and crossover from the panel. Called the “Control Driver,” it contains a passive crossover and an active step-up transformer. This reduces the weight of the speaker to make it far more manageable to move about. The odd throw away 12V wall wart supplying power to the Control Driver is not, it seems a move prompted by cheapness. Roger explains:

ESLs require a relatively high voltage to charge their stators… Most ESL manufacturers make use of the standard 110V mains voltage to achieve this, but King Sound has discovered that much of the noise and distortion found in our electric grid can make its way into the speaker. The external 12V power supply reduces much of this unwanted distortion and also earns UL approval.

16 Responses to Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speaker Review

  1. Bob Walters says:

    In addition to being overly long and repetitive, this “review” comes across to me as an unmitigated marketing piece. This is neither reporting nor reviewing — it’s crooning.

    Bias seems to permeate the entire piece. The wall wart is first dreaded, then hailed as a bright design decision, then dismissed in favor of an expensive VAC unit. Reference speakers are trounced without benefit oF audition in the same room or system. Horrid build quality (for devices meant for living rooms and costing as much as an automobile) is lamented then explained away.

    I’m sure that these speakers sound very good, perhaps even better. But this over-the-top exposition, coupled with what I heard from the King II in demos, is tough for me to parse.


  2. Bob,

    God’s Joy to you.
    I don’t know too many marketing plans which call for thorough, unflinching description of a product’s weaknesses. Rather than mask the speaker’s foibles I laid them out in full view and assessed them relative to its overwhelming strength, its sound quality.

    Do not mistake enthusiasm based on performance for bias. I believe you would have a difficult time arguing against my technological reasons for my conclusion.

    I agree with you that the King II was not all that, likely a reason it went away fairly quickly. I also heard it at CES 2011, I believe, and was not overly impressed. It had an integral power supply and crossover similar to the original King; the new external power supply and crossover seems to confer a distinct advantage to the King III. The King II also had one less bass panel than the King III. If you are basing your impressions on what you heard from the King II, be assured the King III is an entirely different experience.

  3. I should add an addendum to the article; I also heard Danny Richie’s efforts at a hybrid mangetic planar at RMAF 2012 and felt it was well executed sonically. I believe the use of smaller multiple magnetic planar drive units, similar to the King III implementation of a Line Source type of array could hold great promise for the magnetic planar technology going forward.

  4. vdorta says:

    To each his own, so thanks to Doug for the great review. I heard the original King years ago and was impressed, so the King II is certainly heavy competition at the price and I can’t imagine how much better the KS-30 would be.

    The Red Wine Audio Black Lightning battery supply ($900) is an alternative to the wall wart + VAC supply, gets the speaker off the grid completely and should sound at least as good as the VAC.


  5. Ant Slappy says:

    No record player or tape unit??? Only CD’s and servers??? Unbelievable!!!!!

  6. Constantine Soo says:


    Thank you for your readership and email. Reviews by Phillip Holmes, Richard Mak, Jack Roberts, Ray Seda, to name a few, are often turntable-related, for they are the vinylphiles. Doug Schroeder’s sole source is digital, so is mine and Ed Momkus’. Therefore, you won’t find insights on analog setups from the last three’s reviews.

    Of course, there are also the unthinkably resourceful, amphibious Dagogoans who have both analog and digital sources, like Richard Austen, Laurence Borden, Fred Crowder, Adam LaBarge and George Papadimitriou. It’s quite a party.

  7. Rob Bertrando says:

    I’ve been waiting to read this review ever since RAMF 2012, when I mentioned to Doug that the King III’s had impressed me, and he proceeded to tell me how they could sound even better (all the details mentioned in the review). There’s no doubt in my mind that of the under $20k speakers at RAMF, the NOLA KO’s and King III’s were the standouts, each in their own (quite different) way. I would have loved to directly (or at least closely) compare the Kings to the Magnepan 20.7, certainly its main competition. Maybe Doug can talk Magnepan into letting him try (they are pretty close to him)?

  8. Rob,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Good to hear from you again!

    I have doubts that Magnepan would wish to send me their flagship speaker in the context of my comments about the inherent weaknesses of their design. I would guess they would be hesitant to have the 20.7 compared directly to the King III. Further, I’m not sure that a 20.7 review would be the best use of my time presently. However, if Magnepan was confident of their speaker and wished me to write it up, I would give it a fair analysis. I would be delighted if they took some of my criticisms and revised the speaker to make it even more performance oriented. Then I would be eager to review it, as I believe the performance would increase substantially.

    Douglas Schroeder

  9. Stephen Fleschler says:

    I did not find a comment concerning listening area width. I have found that ESLs typically have a narrow listening area, sometimes akin to keeping one’s head in a vicelike position. I owned Acoustat Xs, 2+2s, Martin Logan Quest and Monolith IIIs. I have read that the Sanders 10C has a 3 foot wide listening area width. I now listen to Legacy Focus speakers which give me a 9′ to 10′ listening width (it’s a big room). How wide a listening area do the King IIIs have? Thanks.

  10. Stephen,
    God’s Peace to you,

    You have asked a wise question, one which would come into play with most ESL speakers. However, the King III is quite generous in terms of not beaming or being too narrow when it comes to the listening window. I have the speakers directed at me and still have a plentious envelope of sound such that I can turn my head or lean over to speak to another person and have no falling away of the stereo balance, only a slight shift.

    You will note that the treble panels for the King III are quite wide in comparison with ribbons and narrow drivers. Consequently, there is far more forgiveness in terms of the listener’s position relative to the speakers. Regarding the listening area width as you describe it, the King III is rather large, I would say larger than the Legacy Audio Focus speakers. The King III does not suffer from a smallish soundstage at all; on the contrary it is enormous and immensely gratifying! If they were used parallel to the head wall they would yield a giant field of sound. You may lose some of the solidity of the center image if they are used without toe in, so I recommend some to firm up the phantom image in the middle.

    Douglas Schroeder

  11. Satie says:

    Doug, the broader mid/tweet drivers provide more beaming and thus narrower “sweet spot”. Their width is no advantage in this regard. Where the bigger upper range drivers help is in allowing extending the XO down a little, or filling in the lower portion of the driver’s operating range at higher volumes.
    I believe the issue with the superior performance of the King III is that they managed to come up with a better coating that allows the stators to be placed closer without arcing – thus increasing the electrical field and ratio of motive force to moving mass – which they increased also by taking a thinner mylar – which is probably why they had to increase the driver area – since it may have limits in tensile strength at the lower thickness. Can you comment on sensitivity and ultimate bass power?
    Via bracing one can have stronger and more extended bass from the big maggies. The BG Neo 8 array I use for my midrange gives me the good force to mass ratio which is reflected in the sensitivity as well as the detail it can reproduce precisely. It also has the capacity to provide the ear bleed peak SPL I like, at beyond 120 db at the listening seat. The higher SPL is allowed by the greater excursion. The segmented array has very much the benefit you noted relative to the long drivers in getting rid of the annoying plastic sound. For a listener like me, the drawback of even the biggest ESLs is this loss of peak power. If the big events in big music don’t come through, I can’t care much for the details, imaging and ambient field recovery and true tonal balance and texture.

    Completely agree about the grilles needing to be removable on the maggies. There is an issue of taming the ribbon that the cloth does – since it is so much more sensitive than the mids. And there is the WAF issue with the raw maggie drivers looking downright ugly.

    I should note that at the moving mass includes the obstructed air in the gap, which is a limitation on how much of a difference the absolute mass/area of the diaphragm can make. It is interesting that the gap is narrow enough and the stators open enough so that halving the thickness of the mylar can make that much of a difference. I wonder what can be done with a graphite conductor on the diaphragm in a rare earth magnet’s strong field. Perhaps for once the current carrying capacity of the graphite would be sufficient to produce reasonable output with the reduced mass. Probably not, since the graphite is 300 times more resistive than Al, while the neodymium magnet is only 10 times stronger.

  12. silvano says:

    It is true that the electrostatic diaphragm has a lower mass, and therefore a lower inertia, of the diaphragm of a Eminent VI or a Magneplanar, but should be considered which amplifier is used. With a fast transistor instead of a slower valve, the gap is significantly reduced.


  13. John Horan says:


    Since I stopped publishing the Sensible Sound magazine in 2008 I have been fine with speakers. However, the itch returns and I thought back to the speakers that most pleased me toward the end of the magazine’s 32 year run: The original “Kings” as heard at the 2006 CES.

    The haphazard King demo was musically the best of the show, and they have been in a back corner of my mind ever since.

    An internet search brought me to your review. The editor in me want to help (everyone needs an editor), but my music lover part says thank you.

  14. MrAcoustat says:

    I have been with Acoustat speakers since 1984 i heard the Kingsound speakers in a show in Montreal a few years back and i also have a friend that own’s a pair they are great speakers but like many say ( reliability ) will they last ????? in over 30 years with my Acoustats i never had a problem just plenty of mods mods mods they keep on getting better and better Acoustat as been out of the picture ( USA models ) for more than 20 years i for one WELCOME Kingsound they are true full range stats.

  15. Hank Bakker says:

    Having enjoyed Doug Schroeder’s many reviews for Dagogo over the years and sharing a pair of Kingsound King II electrostatics, I was interested to hear if Doug has ever pursued the active crossover route for his Kings.

    Unfortunately I haven’t had any success with either the manufacturer or the USA distributor, with my queries being given the usual patronising response.

    Best Regards,

    Hank Bakker
    Melbourne Australia

  16. Hank,
    God’s Joy to you,
    No, I have not pursued active x-overs for the King. There are a few reasons; I do not have the requisite knowledge to built my own filters, thus it would take another party (who likely wouldn’t do so for free) to be the software guru for the x-over. I also would have to secure the proper hardware, and, frankly, I only have so much time to devote to that if it’s going to be used with a speaker which might see 25% of play time in my systems. I can’t blame Kingsound for being hesitant to go that direction, as electrostatic speakers are tough enough to sell to the public, let alone pushing for an active system. Finally, I have to work with equipment the public can actually obtain, not such esoteric pieces that it bears no similarity to what they could expect to hear. If I customize everything to the point that the sound is not representative of the stock unit, then my review loses some of it’s applicability to the community.

    For such reasons I am content to use an upgraded power supply (VAC Royal Power Supply) to the stock King’s power supply, and work with cabling.

    Douglas Schroeder

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