Kudos Super 20 Floorstanding Speakers
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.
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.