Review: Vivid Audio Kaya S12

Vivid Audio Kaya S12

Vivid Audio has managed something that should not have been possible in such a small cabinet.

Published 2021-11-24 - 8:00 am
Vivid Audio Kaya S12
Geir Nordby

Following the success of the Kaya 90 compact floor-standing loudspeaker, which Vivid Audio magically managed to make it sound twice as big, the British-South African manufacturer has faced a new challenge: How do you use the same concept, which normally needs a much larger cabinet, in a small compact speaker of only 12 liters? The answer is as simple as it is brilliant, but one that the designers have spent a lot of time figuring out.

Vivid Audio has worked scientifically in the search for the perfect speaker. In the pursuit of the lowest possible distortion from the loudspeaker elements, they have wanted to capture the energy from the back of the loudspeaker element, so that it does not mix with what is happening on the front. By only allowing the front to create sound that reaches the ear, you ensure the absolute best dynamics possible, and the best starting point for pure sound.

Vivid Audio has mounted all its elements at the end of a tapered tube, which absorbs the energy from the back of the diaphragm. Photo: Vivid Audio

Tapered tube

The solution for Vivid Audio is to mount each and every speaker element at the end of a tapered tube that goes backwards, through the cabinet. That it is tapered means that it goes gradually inwards, opposite of a loudspeaker horn.

A loudspeaker horn amplifies the sound from a loudspeaker diaphragm, in that the diaphragm works in strong air pressure inside the horn, so that the pressure gradually decreases as the sound travels outwards towards the mouth. At the end of the horn, the acoustic impedance is best adapted to the air impedance, so that as little energy as possible is lost as the sound leaves the speaker and changes to a new medium (air). A much larger part of the amplifier’s electrical energy is converted into kinetic energy in the air.

A tapered tube behind the speaker element works in reverse. As the sound moves inward into the tube, the air pressure becomes greater and greater. The mechanical impedance increases correspondingly, until it is finally so far from the low impedance of the air, that very little of the energy can be transferred. The result is that the sound dies out. Thus, there is virtually no sound from the back of the speaker element, which can ruin the sound from the front. The result is much better timing and transient response.

Vivid Audio KAYA S12 Standard Color
Kaya S12 in its original, neutral colour. Everything else costs extra. Photo: Vivid Audio


Bowers & Wilkins used the same principle in the legendary Nautilus loudspeakers, and still apply it to the treble driver of their most expensive speakers. The man in charge of the Nautilus project was Laurence Dickie, the man who would later go to found Vivid Audio, along with former B&W chairman Robert Trunz.

The biggest challenge with tapered tubes are the lower frequencies. As the wavelength increases, the length of the tube must increase. On the Nautilus, it has been solved by winding the bass tube around, in a snail shell shape. Hence the name. On the largest Vivid speakers in the Gaya series, the tube has instead been allowed to go up through the entire height of the cabinet, to get out to the top and then coil backwards in a spiral. Hence the special design.

The cabinets set limits

In the smaller Kaya series, you had to get creative. The speakers are not large enough to solve this problem. In the floor-standing Kaya speakers, such as the Kaya 90, which we reviewed two years ago, they chose to hide the tube inside the cabinet. Here it folds back around itself, to save space. The pipe is also exponentially tapered, so that it can be made shorter.

The even smaller compact speakers Kaya S12 demanded that you go even more radically to work. The principle is the same as in the Kaya 90, but instead of one long, energy-absorbing tube, six shorter tubes have been used instead, which are folded inwards along each axis on the inside of the cabinet. Each tube then only needs to absorb one sixth of the energy, so together they make work into a larger tube.

Getting the correct and symmetrical shape of the pipes is crucial, so that the energy is absorbed as if only one tapered pipe did the job. Vivid Audio calls the design Omni-Absorber.

Vivid Audio Kaya S12-Omni-Axis-Absorber
An energy-absorbing tapered tube structure on the inside ensures that the energy from the back of the bass diaphragm does not return to and out of the speaker. Photo: Vivid Audio

No parallel surfaces

There are no parallel surfaces on the inside of the cabinets, which have a neutral matt metal as the standard color while other colors cost something extra. The outer surface is curved in a way that makes it an “infinite baffle”. This prevents unwanted resonances, and also diffractions – especially in the treble frequencies – when sound waves travel along the surface on the outside of the cabinet.

The shape of the cabinet means that it does not need much mass, thickness or internal damping. Which is why they can weigh only 8 kg per. speaker.

The drivers

All speaker elements have aluminum diaphragms, with a break point far above the crossover frequency. This ensures the lowest possible distortion in its operating frequency range. And as I said, all the elements have their own tapering tube that absorbs the energy from the back of the membrane.

All elements also have an oversized magnet, for the best possible control. A flux density of over 1 tesla is considered a lot, but in the Vivid speakers the tweeter magnets alone measure 2.4 tesla. It’s extreme! By the way, all components are designed and produced by Vivid Audio.


Vivid-Audio-Kaya-S12 exploded
Kaya S12 is a complex speaker construction, without parallel surfaces, and with well-thought-out solutions on the speaker elements to disconnect them from the cabinet. Photo: Vivid Audio

The sound of Vivid Audio Kaya S12

When I got to experience the speaker technology in practice with the Kaya 90, my chin almost fell to my knees in shock and awe. It was absolutely insane to hear music reproduced so cleanly, rhythmically and weightlessly.

And I can happily say that the Kaya S12 gives a lot of the same feeling. Especially the way handles handle vocal voices, where they are connected to the fabulous amplifier Devialet Expert 250 Pro, are addictive cases


Devialet Expert 250 Pro
Devialet Expert 250 Pro is an excellent amplifier, and drives the Kaya S12 with brilliance. Expert 140 Pro, which is more properly priced for the speakers, will fortunately also do the trick. Photo: Devialet.

The sound

The remake of Willie Nelson’s classic It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way, this time as a duet with Nathaniel Rateliff, sounds naked and emotional. With Rateliff’s powerful voice spreading out into the room with all its timbre. And the more nasal voice of Willie Nelson, who can often threaten to cut at the crossover frequency, but who with S12 only sounds natural and fragile. This is a ballad about a grieving and self-pitying main character who refuses to accept that his loved one is over. And as I sit on the couch in our test room, I feel with him every sip into his mourning bottle.


Vivid Audio KAYA-S12_Orange
How about a cheeky orange color? Photo: Vivid Audio


This stereo perspective must then work wonderfully with classical music? And, yes, you can believe that.

The British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova proves what she is good at on the 2013 release String Paths, with the movement Concerto for Violoncello and Strings. Part II, Longing, fills the room with emotionally charged strings, evoking feelings of nostalgia and longing. The strings spread out over a large stage, from specific, assigned places. Here there are no diffuse elements, instead each building block in the soundscape is concrete and distinct. While the notes dance on a carpet of air.

And what dynamics! Here you get full ignition every time the crescendo parties reach their climax, and without effort at all.


Vivid Audio KAYA S12 Blue metallic
Photo: Vivid Audio

Honest bass

What is a little unusual is that when the bass tones are reproduced as undistorted as here, you also do not get a false impression that the speakers go deeper than they do. Speakers that make up and enhance the mid-bass range are perceived as more voluminous, and can thus trick one into thinking they are going deeper than they are. But it is a lie, and it is revealed when a double bass or a grand piano plays in the deepest octave. Then you can clearly hear that the speakers are emphasized, and the illusion breaks.

45 Hz is actually quite deep, and it’s impressively deep for a speaker with internal dimensions of only 12 liters. But the S12 does not have the same physics in this area as its floor-standing siblings, and even though the speakers have a good bass – yes, in fact on the verge of fantastic bass – purely qualitatively, it’s hard not to want even more of it.


Vivid-Audio-KAYA-s12 rear shot on stand Vivid-Audio-Kaya-S12 stand
De spesielle stativene gir både et visuelt inntrykk og kommer dessuten minst mulig i veien for den "uendelige baffel"-designen. Foto: Vivid Audio


It may seem strange to want to pair a speaker, where one has worked so hard to recreate the whole truth of the music, with a subwoofer. But precisely because the speakers are so linear and honest, it is also a good starting point for playing well with an extra bass speaker. Therefore, it is conceivable that you may eventually want to pair the S12 with a sub.

Just to try, I tested with our Procella P15 AMP subwoofer with 2 x 15-inch bass elements and a total amplifier power of 700 watts. Overkill, and also not fine-tuning enough for this type of hi-fi caliber. But by adding the extra bottom octave, the gigantic soundscape gets a blacker background to stand against, which adds an additional degree of depth. Then there is something about the physics that the extra bass gives.


Procella P15 AMP is intended for heavy home cinema, but illustrates that the Kaya S12 gets even better with the subwoofer. Photo: Procella


One can not talk about a speaker in this price range, without mentioning a few rivals. For there is no doubt that the Audiovector R1 Arreté has a lot to offer, as a wonderfully airy and distinct treble. And even though it does not have deep bass as its greatest strength, many will probably feel that it is more inviting in the bass register at the first hearing.

But Vivid Audio is even more honest, and has an even more super-focused perspective on the soundscape. It evens out when the Audiovectors get the Freedom grounding cable connected, but still the sound picture on the S12 is notched more tightly screwed together. But I have no problem understanding those who prefer the R1 Arreté, especially at lower sound pressure.

Then one should not forget the silky soft sound from Sonus faber Minima Amator II. Which has a special magic when vocalists are at the center. But they are not close to the dynamics of the Kaya S12, and fall short on larger ensembles.

I would also like to hear 805 from a competitor and – dare I say – ancestor, Bowers & Wilkins, but the price tag on the latest D4 model has climbed so far up the bean stem that it does not become particularly relevant in this regard.


Vivid Audio KAYA S12 Black
Photo: Vivid Audio

Vivid Audio Kaya S12: Conclusion

When the music appears as effortless, resolved – and neutral – as with the Vivid Audio Kaya S12, it is the music that determines the sound. Not the speaker.

It could be reminiscent of a couple of studio monitors, but at the same time I can not remember hearing anything from either Genelec, ATC or Adam Audio that draws the soundscape as large as here. On the other hand, I can not imagine that a sound engineer would do anything other than jump for the joy of hearing the Kaya S12.

The dynamics, the resolution, the honesty. Everything goes up in a higher unit. The only thing anyone can miss here is real deep bass. Because even though 45 Hz is actually quite deep, and you can partly get a little extra bass by placing the speakers closer to the back wall, something happens when a subwoofer adds extra energy in the bottom octave. Then magic occurs. But then it must also maintain high quality.


Vivid Audio Kaya S12
High End

We think

Some of the cleanest and most resolved sound we've heard from a compact speaker, combined with fantastic dynamics within the speaker's range. As undisturbed bass as this can quickly feel naked, and can create a need for a subwoofer.

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