Ku­dos Su­per 20 Floor­stand­ing Speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Phil Gold

On first glance, there is lit­tle to lead one to ex­pect any­thing spe­cial from the Ku­dos Su­per 20. Its form fac­tor is the fa­mil­iar rec­tan­gu­lar box, al­beit very nicely fin­ished. It’s a slim tower with two con­ven­tional look­ing driv­ers mounted near the top. But I’ve heard Ku­dos speak­ers at re­cent HiFi shows and re­mem­ber be­ing quite im­pressed with their mu­si­cal­ity. Th­ese shows are not al­ways the best guide as it can be dif­fi­cult to work around the lim­i­ta­tions of the ho­tel rooms and ball­rooms used. The for­mer are of­ten too small and the lat­ter too large to do jus­tice to the equip­ment. Much bet­ter then to spend a month or so in com­pany of those com­po­nents that seem wor­thy of fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion. So that’s what we’ve done with the Ku­dos Su­per 20 ($8,500 in the stan­dard fin­ish).

de­sign | fea­tures

There are speak­ers that need to be placed just so in the room, the re­viewer’s job in­volv­ing hours of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, of­ten in con­sul­ta­tion with the man­u­fac­turer, to get the best out of them. I am spoiled by the YG Carmel, a slim tower speaker with no port that seems happy wher­ever you plunk it down. Not hav­ing a port is a key fac­tor, since rear ports in par­tic­u­lar pro­ject sound be­hind the speaker and are quite fussy in terms of dis­tance from rear walls and cor­ners. An­other key fac­tor is dis­per­sion. The Carmel is blessed with a very smooth and wide dis­per­sion pat­tern. None of the beam­ing that makes some speak­ers not just dif­fi­cult to place, but also means you have to sit in the ex­act sweet spot to avoid the im­age col­laps­ing. Any­one with ex­pe­ri­ence of flat panel elec­tro­static speak­ers will know what I’m talk­ing about.

So the first piece of good news is that the Su­per 20 is cut from the same cloth as the Carmel. Not fussy at all. Within min­utes of un­pack­ing, glo­ri­ous mu­sic emerged. The dis­trib­u­tor Alex Tiefen­boeck (of Crown Moun­tain Im­ports) was on hand and was also im­me­di­ately happy to hear his well-used ba­bies fit­ting so well into the room and the sys­tem. The one draw­back for me was that the Su­per 20 is not set up for bi­wiring. No prob­lem – we plugged one set of ba­nanas into the stan­dard ba­nana socket and the sec­ond we clamped into the bare wire hole, thus max­i­miz­ing the quan­tity of cop­per wire con­nect­ing the amp to the speak­ers. I learned later that

Ku­dos make all of their speak­ers in two ver­sions – the stan­dard one with a sin­gle set of con­nec­tors like the test pair, and a spe­cial or­der op­tion set up for bi­wiring. So my small reser­va­tion here just evap­o­rates.

When I say cop­per wire, that’s a bit of a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion – the ca­bles are Nor­dost Val­hal­las, like all the rest of the ca­bles in the sys­tem. They are con­structed from strands of 99.999999% OFC cop­per, plated with a 78 m-thick sil­ver coat­ing. The rest of the sys­tem com­prises the EMM Labs XDS1 CD/SACD player, EMM Labs Pre 2 pream­pli­fier and the ModWright KWA 150 SE am­pli­fier.

Be­fore I get too car­ried away on how it sounds, let me give you a bit of back­ground on the man­u­fac­turer as it may well be un­fa­mil­iar to you. Ku­dos Au­dio is a speaker man­u­fac­turer lo­cated in a beau­ti­ful part of Eng­land - County Durham - close to the Scot­tish bor­der. De­signer Derek Gil­li­gan took over Ku­dos in 2005 af­ter a stint at NEAT and a num­ber of other com­pa­nies. He be­lieves in sim­plic­ity of de­sign and then op­ti­miz­ing that de­sign through the use of the high­est qual­ity com­po­nents rather than pi­o­neer­ing the use of new ma­te­ri­als or con­struc­tion meth­ods. So no car­bon fi­bre, rib­bon tweet­ers or alu­minum baf­fles here – just high den­sity MDF boxes and con­ven­tional al­beit highly re­fined driv­ers cus­tom­ized for Ku­dos by SEAS of Nor­way.

The Su­per 20 is the top dual driver model in the Ku­dos range, and it sits above the stand mounted Su­per 10 which shares the same Ku­dos Crescendo K2 fab­ric dome tweeter. Ku­dos’ state­ment speaker is the Ti­tan T88, a con­sid­er­ably larger an­i­mal with an Iso­baric bass re­flex de­sign and the same ex­pen­sive tweeter. Six other mod­els, the C1, C2, C10, C20, C30 and the en­try level X2 com­plete the range. The Cardea C1, Cardea C10 and Su­per 10 share a com­mon stand-mounted chas­sis, while the Cardea C2, Cardea C20 and Su­per 20 share a floor­stand­ing chas­sis, with the qual­ity of drive units, com­po­nents and re­fine­ment go­ing up in lock­step.

The box is con­structed from 18mm thick high den­sity MDF, in­ter­nally braced and damped. It is fin­ished with real wood ve­neers or a satin white op­tion if you pre­fer. It sits over an at­trac­tive beveled plinth which com­bines a high den­sity MDF lay- er, a damp­ing com­pound and a steel base with four ad­justable stain­less steel spikes. There is a gap be­tween the speaker and the plinth through which the down­ward fir­ing port breathes .It is de­signed to con­trol the port out­put and to a lesser ex­tent, the main driver it­self. Derek feels this care­fully cal­i­brated de­sign lies some­where be­tween a tra­di­tional ported and an in­fi­nite baf­fle, mar­ry­ing the ad­van­tages of both. The 7” Nex­tel-coated pa­per cone bass/ midrange driver has been de­vel­oped es­pe­cially for this model and in­cor­po­rates a cop­per short­ing ring to re­duce eddy cur­rents and an alu­minum phase plug. The low or­der cross­over (al­ways a good choice if the chas­sis and the drive units per­mit) in­cor­po­rates Mun­dorf in­duc­tors and re­sis­tors and an ex­otic Mun­dorf Supreme gold / sil­ver / oil ca­pac­i­tor, which puts it in very se­lect com­pany. As you might ex­pect at this level of re­fine­ment, com­po­nents are spec­i­fied to tight tol­er­ance and then hand matched to the speaker. All in­ter­nal wiring is from The Chord Com­pany.

per­for­mance

Let’s cut to the chase and tell you how the Ku­dos Su­per 20 sounded. On Girl Talk, track six is the amaz­ing “My Baby Just Cares for Me”. The Ku­dos does a good job here but it falls sig­nif­i­cantly short of the best in this Holly Cole record­ing. Holly’s voice is sweet and warm with no sibi­lance, ev­i­dence of a su­perb tweeter. The strong plucked bass is tight, well-pitched and mu­si­cal and ex­cites no cabi­net res­o­nances. So the lower end is well sorted. What’s miss­ing is the vis­ceral slam that the Carmel of­fers. Plucked notes also de­cay faster than the ref­er­ence which sounds more re­laxed here.

The Ku­dos is warm and dy­namic in the big Mahler sym­phony. The bass is quite quick and is re­in­forced by prox­im­ity to the rear wall. The midrange is quite sweet and this qual­ity ex­tends to the tre­ble. No mat­ter the vol­ume, the sound is never harsh or con­gested, but could be more de­tailed and fully re­solved in the bass.

The Bea­tles Love al­bum pro­vides many tests be­cause it in­cludes the sim­plest tracks like “Black­bird” up to the heavy rock of “Back in the USSR” with stops in be­tween like “Eleanor Rigby” with its lush strings and “Be­cause” with low level bird sounds and un­ac­com­pa­nied vo­cals. The Ku­dos is thor­oughly at home in all styles, of­fer­ing strong clar­ity, a rich har­monic mix in the vo­cal tracks, with just a trace of a nasal sound in Paul’s voice and a slight per­cus­sive edge to the gui­tar on Black­bird. “Back in the USSR” is suit­ably tight and punchy al­though some clar­ity is lost be­hind the lead in­stru­ments. “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” is well con­tained and con­trolled, with a slight lack of fo­cus in the strings. Lead­ing edges are some­what re­strained mak­ing for a gen­tler over­all ren­di­tion than the Carmel which brings more colour to the gui­tar and greater co­her­ence to the strings.

Béla Fleck’s “I’m Gonna Tell You This Story One More Time” is a tough track to get right. There are things go­ing on in the back­ground that are eas­ily missed. But the Su­per 20 clearly re­veals the pres­ence of the cym­bals play­ing at a low level far back in the mix. The pi­ano, the most dif­fi­cult in­stru­ment to re­pro­duce ac­cu­rately, shows re­ally good tone. The im­age is large but not ide­ally sta­ble. Fleck’s banjo sounds more per­cus­sive than beau­ti­ful here. The bass is firm but not res­o­nant, show­ing more of that ex­cel­lent con­trol. Over­all the sound is co­he­sive and very dy­namic. It sounds a lit­tle softer than the Carmel which brings more of a funky edge to the ma­te­rial.

Now for the tough­est test - the Haydn. The Su­per 20 throws a big im­age, with for­ward pro­jec­tion, and eas­ily han­dles the dy­nam­ics at all vol­ume lev­els. It is very clear with a slightly ag­gres­sive tre­ble that is in keep­ing with the gut strings used on the orig­i­nal in­stru­ments. I find it re­ally in­volv­ing with a com­plete ab­sence of the usual flat­ten­ing of dy­nam­ics. It starts and

The Ku­dos Su­per 10 book­shelf speaker is the lit­tle brother of the Ku­dos Su­per 20 oor­stander.

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