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Vandersteen Audio Kento Carbon Loudspeaker


For nearly two decades, my baseline audio system has comprised a pair of Vandersteen loudspeakers and four Vandersteen subwoofers. During that period, many other transducers have provided me with musical enjoyment. They’ve always sounded different in one area or another, including occasional increases in perceived resolution or clarity. But after evaluating them and returning to my baseline system, I’ve continued to remain completely satisfied with its purely cohesive presentation. I realize part of my satisfaction is due to having many years of experience with this sextet and their placement within the room. On the other hand, the visiting speakers have always performed to the installer’s delight—far beyond his expectations at times. I believe this is due to my listening room’s near optimal coupling with whatever speakers are in play. Because loudspeakers have seemed to perform excellently in my room, it has made listening to all of them a joy. The Vandersteen Kento Carbon is no exception; as you will read, it synchronized with the room in imaging and soundstaging pretty quickly, establishing itself in the top tier of loudspeakers I’ve reviewed.

After 25 years of exceptional service, the Vandersteen Model 5 loudspeaker has been retired and replaced with the Kento Carbon ($39,475). The Kento Carbon is a four-way five-driver system, encompassing a 1″ carbon tweeter, 4.5″ Perfect Piston midrange, 6.5″ tri-woven mid/woofer, and two 9″ powered woofers. Replacing the award-winning Model 5 requires a speaker that offers improved performance, and Richard and Nathan Vandersteen believe they have found a way to do that. A key advancement is the use of side-firing 9″ woofers, which—when used with the built-in, analog, low-frequency room-optimization/compensation controls—allow for increased 100Hz-to-200Hz integration adjustments in multiple spaces and locations, including placement near walls or out into the listening room. Vandersteen Audio says that “early measurements and listening show this speaker’s performance will equal a good part of the Model Seven Mk II’s, and [that it is] a significant step forward with its new proprietary technological features.”

Vandersteen’s tweeter is an exclusive 1″, aerodynamic dual-chamber, transmission-line-loaded, carbon-dome model with ferrofluid voice-coil cooling. This is the same tweeter used in the now-retired Model 5a Carbon. The actual dome (minus the surround) is constrained-layer damped and constructed with two layers of carbon fiber plus a special-modulus resin—there are no other metals or materials used.

The midrange is the patented 4.5″ Perfect Piston driver with a three-layer (carbon/balsa/carbon) cone mounted in a die-cast aerodynamic basket with neo-magnet assembly and ferrofluid cooling. This is the same midrange driver used in the flagship Model 7 Mk II.

The 6.5″ tri-woven composite-fiber mid/woof with a precision-formed magnet assembly and copper Faraday ring is the same unit used in the Quatro Wood CT. This driver has a breakup mode far outside of its passband, which ensures linear behavior under all operating conditions.

The dual 9″ woofers have long-throw motor assemblies and are powered by an internal 400W Class B high-current amplifier with fully regulated switching power supply. Each woofer fires from opposite sides of the cabinet; this opposing-side mounting creates a counterforce that cancels each driver’s potential for adding cabinet vibrations. Since the powered amplifier is an integral part of the Kento Carbon, the 9″ woofers are protected from bottoming out with an electronic excursion limiter, in addition to an automatically engaged subsonic (below 20Hz) signal-attenuation circuit that’s built in.

The primary internal crossovers are first-order (6dB/octave) on all drivers with corner frequencies at 200Hz, 900Hz, and 5kHz. These crossovers in conjunction with the physical alignment of the drivers make the Kento Carbon time-and-phase-aligned at the listening position, based on adjusting the speaker’s rake-angle (tilt) for ear height at that location. The optimal listening window is approximately 6″ (3″ above and below the ear-height rake-angle setting).

The Kento Carbon’s cabinet comprises constrained layers of high-density fiberboard panels that form a box-within-a-box structure. Even the corner bonding is a viscoelastic membrane that keeps the box-within-a-box construction intact. The special broadband elastomeric polymer between the inner and outer boxes, along with internal bracing, pushes the resonance frequency high enough to allow the material between the panels to eliminate/damp vibrations by turning them into heat. Internally, all the driver enclosures are sealed. The midrange and tweeter also have transmission-line terminations that dispel the energy exiting the rear of the driver diaphragms, preventing it from reflecting back and thereby avoiding time-smearing the sound.

The Kento Carbon is available in a variety of wood veneers and painted finishes (including any high-gloss automotive paint color). The pair that arrived for evaluation had an eye-catching automotive paint color called Volcano Orange. The vertical planes of the Kento Carbon’s cabinet (front, sides, and rear) are trapezoidal with the lower sections wider than the tops. There is a graceful slope backwards on the front baffle, which sets the acoustic center of the driver array (coupled with the crossover network) for time-and-phase-alignment. Behind the front grille cover, which is an integral part of the front baffle and more than a frame for a decorative fabric, are three of the drivers—from top to bottom, the 1″ carbon tweeter, 4.5″ midrange, and 6.5″ mid/woofer. The 9″ powered woofers are situated on the sides of the Kento, near the base of the cabinet behind decoratively styled grille covers. An IEC power inlet for the internal power amplifier that drives the 9″ woofers is located on the rear of the cabinet; also visible are a ground lug and the amp’s heatsink fins. Equally spaced and horizontally aligned above the top of the woofer amplifier’s heatsink are adjustment potentiometers for the 11-band, analog, low-frequency room optimization/compensation controls. Just above the room optimization/compensation controls, toward the right of the rear panel, are the low-frequency level adjustment and the low-frequency contour (Q) controls. The speaker terminal connectors are custom (7/16″ maximum width), bi-wire, gold-plated barrier strips. There is one pair for the tweeter/midrange and another for the mid-woofer/woofer.

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By Andre Jennings

My professional career has spanned 30+ years in electronics engineering. Some of the interesting products I’ve been involved with include Cellular Digital Packet Data modems, automotive ignition-interlock systems, military force protection/communications systems, and thrust-vector controls for space launch vehicles.

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