Saturday, 9 January 2016

Is The Kudos Super 20 a Neat Solution?

Audiophile Musing's system has been "active" for about 18 years.  In Linn style, this means a set of active crossover cards - one per speaker drive unit and one power amp channel to deliver to that drive unit.  This was how the Keilidhs were when they retired and were replaced by an actively powered pair of Majik 140s.

About 8 months ago, I heard a comparison of active 140s using Majik power amps (Linn's lowest rung), just like my own set up, against the same pair of speakers returned to passive crossovers and a pair of Linn's top of the range Klimax Solo/Dynamik mono power amps.  There was no comparison. The passive Solos were not streets ahead, more of a complete city ahead.  They remain an ambition. However, about 4 months ago one of Linn's top of the range stereo power amps (the Klimax 500 Chakra Twin/Dynamik) came available ex-dem and at a very attractive price. And it was black. So the Majik 140 speakers were converted back to passive and in came the Twin.  Its not at Solo level, but it is a significant step up from active Majik.

So what has this got to do with the Kudos Super 20?  Well, its quite straightforward really.  Once the system is no longer active, then the range of speaker choices opens up to pretty much everything out there.  No longer "limited" to Linn.  Of course, Linn speakers are still of interest (particularly the Akubarik, my favourite of the current range), but why not listen around to see what else is possible? My local Naimist, Richard (you'll have read about him before in some of the comparison tests and for his help at Scalford etc), has a pair of Kudos Super 20s.  In an act of some considerable generosity, Richard offered up the loan of the Kudos speakers for a week (which turned into 2 weeks, due to schedules and an extremely long period of wet weather when it wouldn't have been good to be moving the speakers between houses).

Let the fun begin.

Well, it wasn't too much fun to begin with.  The Kudos's had to come down the narrow tight cornered stairs from the loft conversion and then into the car. To make sure the 140s went back in their correct place (and the Super 20s back in their home), positions were marked on the floors with masking tape. Then there was the lifting of the M140s out of the room - I'd forgotten how heavy they are with their solid metal bases.  The Kudos stands slightly shorter, is slightly more shallow and somewhat lighter. They're beautifully built and finished, a real credit to the team from the North East.  I had high expectations for these as they do work well for Richard and I've found Kudos's T-808s a thoroughly enjoyable (if rather expensive) pair of boxes.

Left speaker installed.  Masking tape showing position of the M140s
Starting with the 20s in the exact same position as the M140s, Linn SPACE was disabled (due to the need to start from scratch) and the messing about with speaker positions began.  Listened for about 30 mins in this position and then shuffled the speakers about, playing tracks for 10-15 mins between each position.  Ended up with the speakers about 15cms further out from the wall.  Toe-in was best at the same angle as the 140s.

Then the tuning using SPACE began, and that proved to be much more of a faff than I was expecting. SPACE comes with the Super 20 as one of the listed speakers, so that was easy enough. Measurements were taken of where the speakers are in the room and SPACE calculation run.  It was awful.  All life sucked out of everything, speakers sounding over bright.  I re-checked all the measures.  I then worked through the SPACE instructions on how to tweak the deep notches.  It took a long time before something came back to the system.  I left it like this for a few days, found the system difficult to listen to.  It was edge of the seat stuff all the time, even with music that's supposed to be chilled and relaxing.

I reported back to Richard and he suggested we swap out the speaker cables.  I'm using Linn K200 (which is split K400).  Richard is using Naim SuperLumina.  This had a marked effect on the system - it brings a level of refinement and "care" to the sound.  Its not over smooth, but it removes some rough edges and brings an extra level of tiny details.  Bass got a little tighter and much more subtley textured.  A quite remarkable bit of wire.  Tried it later with the M140s and it did similar things there too.  Impressive.  Enough of a change to necessitate switching SPACE off and to mess about with positioning again.  This resulted in the speakers being about 12-13cms further from the wall compared to the Linns.  A small change from the initial 15cms, but worthwhile.

And then all the messing with SPACE again.  This time I ended up taking nearly all of the SPACE notches out.  The lowest frequency notch went from -29dB to -6dB and the other 2 smaller notches dropped from around -9dB to -2dB.  I also let in -1dB of treble shelf to tame the top end.  This was another 2 or 3 days of messing about to get to this position.  So that was the set up done.  At last.

General view, but before the speakers were moved to their best position
So how did it sound with the SuperLumina and with SPACE dialled in to its best?  Well I'm going to write about this in reference back to the Linns I'm afraid - a comparative review rather than in absolute terms.  I think that's because that's what I'm looking for - something that's an improvement on the 140s.  Its worth saying, at this point, that they didn't work well with the Linn speaker cable and therefore something different would be a requirement.  SuperLumina might be the thing, but others might be as good or better (or worse of course).

Here's what the Kudos Super 20s do better than the Linns - instrument separation, speed (they sound like they respond to inputs from the amp a little quicker) and they image better too - not so much left to right, but certainly back behind the speakers.  So they're an exciting listen.  Attack is great, the music is pacey and the instruments are easily picked out.  The Linns are good at instrument differentiation, but the Kudos moves this on a notch.  They go reasonably deep too, when the content is there in the music.  Female vocals are a particular forte, just as they are in their home Naim system.

What do they not do so well?  There's a few things really.  I still never really relaxed into any music whilst they were in the house for 2 weeks (although it was so much better with the SuperLumina in place).  The speed I found a little distracting.  I notched the treble shelf down another 0.5dB and that helped a little, but I didn't really get settled with them.  This, and they sound a little out of breath in my room.  Back in their home system, they're in a 12ft x12ft (ish) area of an L shaped loft room, which has part sloping roofs.  The listening seat is closer to the speakers too.  In my room they're in a 19ft x 12ft full ceiling height room and that might be just a touch too big for them.

So its a mixed bag.  I really understand why they're a good seller and why their owners enjoy them so much - I get the appeal of the etched instruments, I get the speed, I get the way they do female vocals. If I was in the market for speakers at this price point, I would say that they could be on a short list. But I need to relax into my music.  I like chilled out music to wash into the room and give a warm feeling as I sit back after work and wind down. When a system doesn't let me do this, its not right for me.  Others will have a different view.

As such, these aren't the right speakers for me or my room.  They're different to the M140s, but they're not the right mix of abilities to justify a change to the Super 20s.  I'm looking for a bigger difference, but perhaps, more of what I have, rather than a different direction.

Must get around to trying the SuperLumina again and compare it with other options.  Its capabilities are impressive - far more of a change than a bit of wire has any right to deliver.

A huge thanks to Richard for trusting me with his expensive and highly valued speakers.  They're back in their home now, and the brand new Naim 250DR is probably warmed up enough now for him to get thoroughly back into enjoying his music.

5 comments:

  1. Kudos works best with Naca5 cable and proper Naim speaker pins. I went through a painful process with Titan's where I learned this the hard way. Treating the room with Vicoustic panels and traps also made a huge difference. Effort was worth it.

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    1. I can't agree with this Ambient. They Super 20s sound waaay better with Naim SuperLumina. At a price. In their home system (previously using NACA5) and my system, SuperLumina is a significant upgrade. In their home system the improvement was roughly as big a jump as XPS to 555 into the streamer.

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    2. Should also have said that room treatment really isn't something to worry about, with Linn SPACE - if you're not familiar with it, its worth reading about. It only tackles room nodes though, so if you were referring to higher frequency issues then I'm not a big believer in room panels that absorb these - they make for an unnaturally dead sound, not very enjoyable. So I look for speakers that work without the need for this kind of treatment.

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