Kanto YU2 Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis

Reviewing audio devices require extensively trained ears and lots of experience. Even for audiophiles, it may prove challenging at times to obtain an accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as a simultaneous reference. While I am not going to even try to claim that I am the only trustworthy or best reviewer for sound, it is fact that most computer review sites have editors that are insufficiently trained in reviewing audio equipment. Give them practically anything and all you will read about goes along the line of "good bass, nice midrange, awesome treble, really clear sound, 10/10". While there are many knowledgeable audio reviewers at various respected online media outlets, these are by far the minority.

As I have mentioned in my past audio reviews, there are really no true objective measurements for speaker sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put it through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating possible (Yes, it's quite a paradox haha). The tests were conducted primarily with the SilverStone EB01-E dedicated external digital to analog converter (XMOS XS1 TQ128 USB decoder, TI PCM1798 DAC, TI NE5532 OpAmp). Some tests were conducted with the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD sound card as well. (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors.) These are some of the best sound equipment out there in the market today, and will reduce its potential to be a limiting factor in our auditioning today.

After over 100 hours of break-in time (Well above typically required period), we put the Kanto YU2 to the tests. All tracks are uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.

While testing the Kanto YU2, one thing that kept circulating my mind was, is it possible for me to write this section without comparing it to the Audioengine A2+ I have raved about in early May? Going through the internal Audio Evaluation Form here at APH Networks, personally speaking, I would say so. At the same time, I think there is a lot of merit in making a weighted comparison between the two. By "weighted comparison", I mean it is important to constantly remind ourselves the Kanto YU2 is approximately two-thirds of the price of the A2+. They are not in the same market bracket, therefore, it is important not to compare them directly without taking price into account.

With that in mind, I would describe the Kanto YU2's overall sound character as "pseudo-flat". For those who are not into technical listening, overall, I found the effect to be fairly neutral. However, like the Audioengine A2+, they are not perfectly flat like studio monitors, nor were they meant to be in the first place. So what do I mean by "pseudo-flat"? I cannot explain this in a single sentence, so let us dig into every aspect of the Kanto desktop speakers in detail.

First things first, while the A2+ and the YU2 has a very similar woofer and tweeter configuration, there are two very crucial differences between the two: Its physical enclosure, and the acoustic tuning. For something that features a 3" Kevlar woven composite woofer with rubber surrounds, you really cannot expect much bass. As I have explained in my Adesso Xtream S2 review, powerful low frequency reproduction requires the movement of a lot of air with a lot of power. This is simply physics. You can quote me again in ten years, and we will still have the same problem. When I first fired up the YU2, I noticed it has noticeably more bass reproduction than the A2+. Surprised by this observation, I did a frequency sweep to see how Kanto pulled it off. As it turned out, the Kanto YU2 can produce frequencies -- albeit at a very low volume -- as low as 30Hz, which is better than the A2+'s minimum 40Hz tested response. However, from anything between 30Hz to 110Hz, the drivers are clearly overdriven, causing the output to distort. It noticeably vibrates in an undesirable manner, and this is probably the single biggest shortcoming of the Kanto YU2. Of course, no one sits around and listens to 60Hz test tones all day, so I fired up some songs to see how it translates to real life performance. The Kanto YU2 did exactly what my purely synthetic tests suggest -- woofer vibration at low frequencies. At a distance, it is not noticeable unless you specifically listen for it. Optimal response comes in at 120Hz and above, so make sure you own a good subwoofer to go along with it.

Ironically, in the midst of its lighter bass, stripping away the vibration, and you will hear something that is actually pretty smooth and round for its size. Obviously, it will not punch your floor, but my money will be on the fact not a whole lot of people can actually hear the low frequency distortions with everything else in place. Personally, I just think Audioengine has done a better job in tuning the A2+, because they did not try to overdrive the speakers in an area where it is not capable of doing. If you are buying the Kanto YU2, I think it is reasonable to expect to buy even a small subwoofer to go along with it. From an engineering perspective, it is generally wiser to design a device to do the best at what it is capable of doing, rather than expecting it to achieve a goal it cannot physically attain.

Moving into the midrange, I found it to be reasonably warm, and generally well saturated. I did notice a small dip in intensity at the lower midrange, so it is not as wide and thick as the Audioengine A2+. Characteristically, the Kanto YU2 is not as rich and harmonized as the Audioengine, which is the A2+'s strong point. In my opinion, this is probably due to the A2+'s superior cabinet design that made it perform better than the YU2. The treble, on the other hand, is quite sharp and lofty. You will want something that is well tuned for a distinct, wet, clean, and well defined; at the same time, it must not sound like a bunch of metal pots clashing down on a Saturday morning to the ears. The Kanto YU2 is pretty much everything good in this category. At the very upper range, I found it slightly attenuated for a darker feel, which is okay. The A2+ is no different, and this somewhat recessed treble is acceptable in the context not everyone considers having a one inch tweeter adjacent to your ears like my 2013 Honda Accord sedan configured with a Polk db6501 component speaker system to be the standard.

Turning up the volume to two-thirds of its maximum, and pushing my SilverStone EB01-E just past half way on my computer, I sat back and listened to the Kanto YU2 at ear level to see how it performs in the context of soundstaging and soundscaping. After running through our APH Networks standard set of synthetic auditioning tracks, as well as a nice mix of songs, I have to say the soundstage is pretty wide for its size. They are not going to fool you into thinking they are large tower speakers even with your eyes closed, but perception and direction is pretty well defined. You are going to get more width that depth though. In terms of imaging, it is fairly centered; not as much drama as the Audioengine A2+, but slightly more realistic.

Coming to the speaker's auxiliary characteristics, I am quite impressed by the excellent high resolution detail of the Kanto YU2. The sound is well layered, and frequency separation remains excellent throughout the range. At the same time, the precision of each layer is detailed enough for smooth transitions, creating a very cohesive setup in the end. Again, the sound on the Kanto YU2 is very clean, except for the overdriven bass below 110Hz. If you are buying the Kanto YU2, as I made the same recommendation in my Audioengine A2+ review, just buy a subwoofer. Even a cheap $100 unit will have a hundred fold gain in listening experience.

And here we are, at the end of the auditioning results of the Kanto YU2. To not give too much away before the end of this review, I am just going to skip ahead, and round up my thoughts in the conclusion on the next page.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis
4. Conclusion