Vivid Audio K1 £15500
30th Jun 2005 | 23:00
Remember the name...
As a reviewer, you get to hear a seriously wide range of equipment in different circumstances. Certain hi-fi shows are essential reviewers' background homework where you have to go and listen to a bunch of stuff set up in similar tiny concrete rooms, so as to have a more informed opinion.
I'm the sort who would be a hi-fi show goer even if I wasn't professionally involved, so it isn't like any kind of chore. I get all excited and hope to experience at least a few rooms that'll make all the hairs on my arms stand up with goose bumps.
I go to the Heathrow hi-fi show and AV Expo each year, simply due to history and locality (it's nearest to my house) and this last one gone, I had a cracking time, meeting all sorts of new brands and checking out some seriously tasty systems.
I will admit that this review came about after blundering into Vivid Audio's room. They had come from South Africa, looking for UK distribution. I recognised that the music was Yello and I was simply stiff-nippled at how gorgeous the output sounded.
I had a brief rave to the fellows there about how I would love to hear their centre speaker as well as a set of rears in a 5.1 system, as that's our main thrust, and asked them to get in touch when they got UK distribution. Instead, I actually spotted the eventually-appointed UK distributor advertising in the trade press and so got in touch myself to ask the same question. So this is more of a 'you read it here first' sort of a piece, as these babies literally had me at hello.
Art for audio's sake
The speakers are shaped with organic curves and with the same lustrous finish you get on a new up-marque motor car, they stand on their own integral plinths like some sort of art exhibit. Well beyond 'designer' looks, these sexy double teardrops are shaped by physics and proven theories of very high end speaker design.
Laurence Dickie (known as 'Dic') served an apprenticeship at B&W loudspeakers and was involved with the legendary Nautilus loudspeaker, a total design and sound icon, before joining Vivid Audio. He designed these drivers in particular.
They are made with aluminium cones, massive travel voice coils and magnets of very high Tesla (2.4T is lots, honest) along with edge wound voice coil wire. The units all seem to exhibit true pistonic action. Meaning that they do not bend or flex appreciably under use and as they can soak up huge amounts of the heat from the inherent inefficiencies of moving coil speaker technology, they also show very little power compression. This is when heat build-up affects the amount of thrust applied to the coil.
As it heats up, the 'push' is lessened. You only hear this by its lack - you get massive crispness, edges, detail and a truly delicious adherence to complex low frequency information - when it's not there.
Each speaker has one D26 tweeter with specially developed 'tough' ferrofluid that can reach up to 44kHz, set above a single D50 high frequency driver that looks after a passband between 880Hz and 4kHz. Then, on the centre fronts and rears, the same C125 driver is used in different ways to create the mid and lower bass tones. On the C1 centre, it's two drivers with ports facing front, so as to be able to place the centre speaker against a wall.
For the B1 pair we used as rears, there's a pair of these C125s operating in Bipolar equal-and-opposite drive, each with a port in its own face, so the ports are bipolar, too. On the largest K1 speaker, there are two pairs of these drivers, again, bipolar-coupled. The enclosures are made of a mad composite of polymer resin, mineral filler for density, carbon fibre for inertness and some deep cunning. The integral stand plinths were inspired by a tennis racquet's lower frame shape via an idea from one of the boss's wives! All connections are the best from WBT.
I tried some music on dts from Stevie Stevens and Studio VooDoo. We spun up the demo disc of clips from the same stable and checked out bits of Chicken Run and even played that stereo Yello album I heard at the Heathrow show.
Using a Chord DSP8000 preamplifier and a huge 5ch amp we got all five channels' distance and sound pressure levels autobalanced via the microphone. The clip of the pie machine doing its thing from Chicken Run was a hoot. Impactful, yet detailed in where things were going on, you could hear every layer. When things got hectic and the Chord amp was really throwing down some watts, the system revealed that is has huge spl ability and can go from merely loud to worldassaulting, should you have both the power available as headroom to drive them and an explosion in the middle of an action sequence to play through them.
The soundstage is divorced from the enclosures and works brilliantly as simple stereo for music or else is utterly involving, realistic and psycho-acoustically gripping as 5.1. Dic sat through the Jurassic Park III clip and when it ended, had a brief attack of the didn't-want-that-to-end-itis.
Even a seasoned speaker designer was just transported into the film, effortlessly and instantly. And that after all, is what the filmmakers' art is all about and what we hope our home cinema kit will deliver to us in our homes. Only the best kit does it this well and Vivid is up there. It is big and it is clever.