YG Acoustics is a relatively young company (founded in 2002) that has made quite a splash in the upper end of the loudspeaker market. The firm has attracted some fervent supporters along with much controversy surrounding its key marketing slogan “The Best Loudspeaker on Earth. Period.” This statement, along with the products’ pricing and unusual build, tends to polarize audiophiles.
The Kipod Studio reviewed here is YG’s least expensive full-range loudspeaker, priced at $38,000 per pair. The Kipod Studio’s design brief was to bring the same level of performance found in YG’s $107,000 Anat Professional to a more compact design, with the only trade-offs being bass extension and maximum playback volume.
The Kipod Studio is a two-piece system: The Kipod Main Module is coupled to a woofer enclosure that also serves as a stand for the Main Module. The Main Module is a small two-way speaker in a sealed enclosure that is available on its own for $17,000 per pair. The Kipod Main Module is transformed into the Kipod Studio with the addition of the $21,000 per pair woofer, which can be ordered with or without integral power amplifiers (the price is the same). In my mind, the Kipod Studio is a single loudspeaker system that happens to be housed in two enclosures. Indeed, the Kipod Main Module bolts to the woofer enclosure to form a single structure. Nonetheless, one can buy the Kipod Main Module and later add the woofer for the same price as purchasing both together.
The sealed woofer module has a truncated pyramid shape that houses a 9" ScanSpeak woofer in the front and an amplifier panel in the rear. This panel has a variety of controls for tuning the system to a room. These include woofer level, crossover frequency, equalization frequency, and equalization level. Single-ended and balanced line-level inputs are provided. The line-level input is fed from a second output from your preamplifier. Note that your preamp needs two main stereo outputs, one to drive the woofer modules and one to drive you main power amplifiers. The integral power amplifiers, designed specifically for this particular woofer, are rated at 400W.
The enclosures are made entirely of aluminum panels, machined and finished in YG’s Colorado factory (see sidebar). The Main Module’s ScanSpeak-sourced 6" midrange driver is crossed over to the tweeter at 1.75kHz with a fourth-order slope. The crossover components are as good as they get—the ultra-expensive Raimund Mundorf capacitors and inductors. Each driver is measured and the crossover hand-tuned to a specific set of drivers. YG keeps these measurements on file so that if you need a replacement driver they can supply one of identical characteristics.
The crossovers are designed using a program YG founder Yoav Geva wrote that is based on an algorithm he developed for another field that reportedly allows simultaneous optimization of the frequency and time domains. That is, the loudspeaker’s amplitude response is flat, and its phase response is uniform. YG claims that the Kipod Studio has a phase uniformity of +/-5 degrees. This means that the disparate drivers move in unison in response to a musical signal.
A machined-aluminum waveguide around the Vifa ring-radiator tweeter controls the tweeter’s dispersion. The Main Module can be ordered with single-wire or bi-wire connection. The review samples were supplied with bi-wire connections. Incidentally, I replaced the stock jumpers with a pair from Kimber (Kimber Select KF9033 jumpers) and heard a reduction in grain and a small increase in transparency.
Although the woofer module is available in passive or active configurations, virtually every customer opts for the active version—and for good reason, in my view. An active woofer has many advantages, the main one being the removal of passive crossover parts from the high-level signal path between an amplifier and the woofer’s voice coil. A crossover’s low-pass section that feeds the woofer typically uses a large series inductor; its removal allows the amplifier to better drive and control the woofer. Second, an active woofer relieves your main power amplifier from the burden of driving the woofer. Third, a powered woofer can be equalized to deliver deeper extension than would be possible from a passively driven woofer. That’s the case with the Kipod Studio; the system is flat to 20Hz despite the small footprint and compact dimensions. Fourth, a powered woofer offers the ability to control the woofer level to best match your room. Finally, the integral amplifier can be designed specifically for the impedance curve it will be asked to drive.
Interestingly, the Main Module is run full-range. That is, there’s no high-pass filter to keep bass out of the Main Module’s 6** driver. The idea is to achieve the purity of a two-way mini-monitor with the bass extension of a floorstanding three-way. Nonetheless, the 6” driver’s excursion will be the limiting factor in the system’s macro-dynamic capabilities. It is, however, loaded in a rather small sealed enclosure which helps limit the excursion. For those who want higher sound-pressure levels, YG makes a Main Module Subsonic Filter that keeps low bass out of the Main Module, but presumably at the expense of ultimate transparency.
The Kipod Studio doesn’t carry a specified frequency response—the literature states that it delivers “useable output from 20Hz to above 40kHz” and that frequency-response deviations are limited to +/- 0.7dB “in the audible band.” Note that the upper-midrange and treble balance is somewhat dependent on the speaker’s rake angle—it can be tilted back to varying degrees by how far the front are rear spikes are inserted. Sensitivity is a moderate 87dB and the impedance is 8 ohms nominal, 5 ohms minimum, suggesting that the system should not present a difficult load to a power amplifier. The 100-watt Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblocks were plenty of power for the Kipod Studio.
Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics set up the Kipod Studio in my listening room, as he does for many YG customers. Setup, placement, and tuning were surprisingly quick and easy, partly because of the ability to adjust the bass from the rear-panel controls. There wasn’t the usual struggle between the loudspeaker and the room; the Kipod Studio’s low bass and midbass integrated easily and perfectly. The loudspeakers ended up very close to where I’ve positioned the last few speakers I’ve auditioned, the Revel Salon2, Magico V3, and Wilson X-2.
I had heard the Kipod Studio at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and thought it was one of the show’s highlights. In fact, the Kipod Studio in a small hotel room showed better than YG’s Anat Professional in the cavernous acoustic nightmares that are the ballrooms at The Venetian hotel during CES. The Kipod Studio struck me as having tremendous clarity and dynamics, with an almost horn-like presence and “jump-factor” dynamics, but without the typical horn colorations.
That initial impression was consistent with my observations after living with this loudspeaker for the past two months. The Kipod Studio’s sound was extraordinarily quick, clean, detailed, and “alive.” It was also an extremely transparent and revealing loudspeaker that laid bare changes in electronics, cabling, setup, AC quality, and source deficiencies. The Kipod Studio walked a fine line between resolution of musical detail and sounding analytical. Consequently, it should be matched with high-quality associated components, preferably those that favor warmth and ease.
With the right electronics, the Kipod was capable of an enormously appealing and captivating sound. It disappeared in the sense that it was a transparent window on the music, with extremely low coloration. I heard an immediacy and presence, yet the overall presentation wasn’t forward, spotlighted in the midrange, or colored in other ways that foster a sense of life but quickly become fatiguing. Rather, the Kipod Studio achieved its lifelike vitality by imposing so little of itself on the music.
This quality was, I concluded, not just the result of the Kipod’s lack of tonal colorations in the midband, but of its transient quickness and coherence. Leading edges of notes seemed to jump out of the presentation with startling speed, much the way horn loudspeakers reproduce music’s dynamic structure. Transient information had a coherence that was world-class; although highly resolving of dynamic shadings, transients never degenerated into mere noise. Instead, I heard percussion instruments, acoustic guitar, and other transient-rich instruments rendered with a completely natural and organic quality that was the antithesis of “hi-fi.” This quality is the Kipod Studio’s greatest strength—the ability to sound highly resolving and alive without a trace of fatigue-inducing etch. Many loudspeakers sound “detailed” during a brief listen and then become fatiguing. The tell-tale sign of such a speaker is a sense of relief when the music is turned down or off. Not the Kipod; its resolution was musically authentic, not an artifact, which allowed very long listening sessions.
I was greatly taken by the Kipod Studio’s reproduction of brass and woodwinds, particularly trumpet and saxophone. The speaker was able to convey the “blat” and bite of these instruments’ timbres (they are rich in upper harmonics) but without glare or shrillness. Check out the superb (and superbly recorded) DVD-Audio title XXL from Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band for a great example of this quality. Much of what we find unpleasant in a trumpet reproduced at realistic levels is not the instrument itself, but rather the distortion components that make it seem louder than it actually is. The Kipod Studio rendered these instruments will a full measure of upper-midrange energy that gave them a lifelike immediacy with no trace of hardness.
This performance was realized, however, only with very clean-sounding sources, electronics, and cables. The Pass Labs XA100.5 amplifiers were an ideal match, with their gorgeous rendering of timbre and lack of solid-state artifacts. Similarly, the Kipod much preferred the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme phono cartridge over the “hotter” Dynavector XV-1s. Note that I’m not suggesting that the Kipod needed “soft” electronics and sources to compensate for an overly bright presentation (it wasn’t bright), but rather that this loudspeaker was so revealing that it uncovered any flaws in source or electronics. (This is probably why show demonstrations of YG products have been so variable.) Indeed, the Kipod Studio thrived on a very clean and resolved source, such as high-resolution files played back on my fan-less, drive-less PC-based music server feeding a Berkeley Alpha DAC. This loudspeaker reached down to the lowest signal levels and to the farthest reaches of the soundstage to bring that information to the listener’s attention. My caveat earlier about the Kipod Studio walking a fine line between resolution and sounding analytical applies not to highly detailed sources, but rather to etch or brightness in the associated electronics and sources. In short, if you feed the Kipod Studio a clean and detailed signal, you’ll be rewarded a presentation that is richly filigreed and immensely involving.
The Kipod Studio’s bass was notable for its tuneful quality in the midbass along with extremely deep extension, the latter thanks to the integral amplifier and equalization circuit that pushes the woofer harder below its natural roll-off frequency. Even organ pedal tones were well served by the Kipod Studio, provided that the playback level was kept moderate. The bass had a consistent character throughout the entire range, and mated seamlessly to the midrange. The texture of acoustic bass was beautifully rendered, with a satisfying combination of warmth and agility. On bass-heavy recordings the Main Module’s midrange driver limited the playback level because of excessive excursion; the upper-bass became loose and uncontrolled. Keep the playback level moderate, however, and all is well.
Just as the midrange had tremendous clarity without sounding forward, the Kipod Studio’s treble was alive, open, and present yet never overbearing. The top end was musically vivid without being sonically vivid. In addition, the treble was exquisitely detailed, with fine resolution of nuances and inner detail. Delicate brush work on a drum kit, for example, had real detail that conveyed the mechanism by which the sound was made rather than merely sounding like a high-frequency noise. Cymbals were notable for the sense of delicacy, and of being surrounded by air.
The Kipod Studio’s soundstaging was commensurate with the rest of its performance—tight, precisely defined, and tangible. Images floated independently of the loudspeakers just as one would expect from a mini-monitor. The loudspeaker’s tremendous midrange and treble transparency helped in creating the impression of a “see-through” quality that allowed very low-level sounds at the back of the hall (including spatial cues) to be rendered with great resolution. The overall presentation was highly revealing of the hall’s size and characteristics, but not hugely expansive. The soundstage was wide, deep, and transparent, but had less height and sense of envelopment than I’m used to hearing. I had, however, been listening to the Wilson X-2 for the previous 18 months. No doubt this impression is the result of the Kipod Studio’s much smaller physical size that puts the drivers at ear level rather than considerably above ear level.
As much as I enjoyed the Kipod Studio, I have one serious reservation about its performance, particularly relative to its considerable price—it is limited in playback level and macro-dynamics. Timpani and other high-level, low-frequency transients caused the 6** midrange to produce a “popping” sound (the back of the voice-coil former hitting the magnet) when its excursion limits were exceeded. A related phenomenon was a tendency for the upper-bass to lose definition and sound flabby with a combination of high-ish playback levels and the presence of low-bass in the music. The low-bass caused high midrange excursion that colored the midbass. All loudspeakers have such limitations, and typically the higher the price, the louder the system will play without strain. Judged from one perspective, the Kipod Studio is quite expensive relative to its ability to reproduce orchestral climaxes with ease at realistic levels.
The YG Acoustics Kipod Studio is an extraordinary loudspeaker, but one that won’t satisfy all listeners. In a moderately sized room, fed by high-quality electronics, and played at reasonable levels, the Kipod Studio was world-class. Its ability to vividly bring music to life through dynamic expression without becoming analytical was extraordinarily compelling. This is a vital aspect of music reproduction, and one at which the Kipod Studio excels. If, however, you want to play orchestral music at full-tilt, or have a large room, or cannot invest in high-quality electronics and sources, the Kipod Studio probably isn’t your best choice. YG’s solution for larger rooms and for higher playback levels is the Anat Reference II series. The Kipod Studio is a specialized loudspeaker that maximizes transparency, transient accuracy, soundstaging, resolution, and tonal purity within certain limitations of room size and playback level. But when playing within those parameters, the Kipod Studio was utterly magical.
Sidebar: Inside the YG Acoustics Factory
I visited YG Acoustics’ factory in Arvada, Colorado (a Denver suburb) last year for a firsthand look at how these loudspeakers are made. I learned that Yoav Geva, YG Acoustics’ founder, based the loudspeakers’ design on an analog application of a digital-signal-processing algorithm he developed that allowed simultaneous optimization of signals in the amplitude and time domains. When used in loudspeakers, this technique reportedly results in flat frequency response and nearly perfect phase response. The “Best Loudspeaker on Earth” claim stems from what YG claims is the flattest frequency response and best phase response of any loudspeaker.
YG builds the loudspeakers from scratch inside its 6000-square-foot, seven-employee factory. The enclosures are all made from solid sheets of aircraft-grade aluminum. (The baffles of the Anat Main Module and the tweeter ring of the Kipod are ballistic-grade aluminum, which has some titanium in it.) YG owns the very expensive (and reportedly top-of-the-line) milling and grinding machines for working the metal. Raw aluminum sheets, some of them weighing three-quarters of a ton, are moved via an overhead crane system. The panels that make up the enclosure are cut and drilled, and then ground to create the finish you see on the final product. The panels are then anodized by an outside facility.
One model loudspeaker is built at a time with drivers that have been individually tested and measured. The data on each driver are archived so that if a customer needs a replacement driver, one of nearly identical characteristics can be substituted. Each speaker’s crossover is tuned to match the set of drivers going into the enclosure. The crossovers use the huge (and extraordinarily expensive) Mundorf capacitors and inductors. The Kipod’s two cone drivers are sourced from ScanSpeak and are either custom-made for YG or re-built by YG to its specifications. The tweeter in the Anat, for example, uses a diaphragm from Germany and ScanSpeak’s motor structure, with final assembly performed in YG’s factory.
The facility felt more like a craft shop than an industrial factory. There was a perfectionist attitude toward every aspect of production, and the pace was slow and deliberate. The metalwork was exquisite.
In addition to the Kipod reviewed here, YG makes the Anat Reference II line that begins with the $33k Anat Main Module. As with the Kipod, the Anat Main Module can be used on its own or mounted on a woofer. This configuration is the $70k Anat Reference II Studio, and can be ordered with a passive or actively powered woofer (the price is the same). The top-of-the-line is the Anat Reference II Professional, which adds a second woofer enclosure and is priced at $107k.
Specs & Pricing
YG Acoustics Kipod Studio three-way dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: 6" midrange, ring-radiator tweeter (main module); 9" woofer (woofer module)
Woofer module amplifier power: 400W RMS
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 5 ohms minimum
Cabinet: Aircraft-grade aluminum; tweeter ring is ballistic-grade aluminum
Dimension: 7" x 16" x 13" (main module); 12" x 41" x 17" (woofer)
Weight: 40 lbs. each (main module); 64 lbs. each (woofer)
Price: $38,000 per pair
YG Acoustics LLC
4941 Allison, St., Unit 10
Arvada, CO 80002
Basis 2800 Signature turntable with Basis Vector 4 tonearm, Dynavector XV-1S and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridges, Aesthetix Rhea and Rhea Signature phonostages; PC-based music server (built by Goodwin’s High-End), Classé Audio CDP-502 CD/DVD-A player, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Pass Labs X20 preamplifier; Pass Labs XA100.5 power amplifiers; MIT Oracle MA interconnects; MIT Oracle MA loudspeaker cables; Running Springs Audio Dmitri, Shunyata Hydra-8, Hydra-2, and V-Ray AC conditioners, Shunyata Anaconda, Python, and King Cobra CX AC cables; Shunyata Dark Field cable elevators; room custom designed and built, acoustic design and computer modeling by Norm Varney of AV RoomService, acoustic treatment and installation by Acoustic Room Systems (now part of CinemaTech)