The word kudos comes from ancient Greek, meaning praise for exceptional achievement; no doubt then that Kudos Audio has a high-bar set for its products. The company had its start back in 1991 and originally focused on loudspeaker stand manufacture; however, in 2006, Derek Gilligan, a well reputed designer from Neat Acoustics, acquired Kudos Audio and took it in a new direction – from building stands to building loudspeakers.
Derek’s vision for Kudos Audio was the introduction of a range of loudspeakers that employed the highest levels of traditional and well-proven engineering, while avoiding unnecessary complexity and exotic materials. The principle that Kudos lives to today continues to be providing its customers with the ability to “enjoy their music as much as possible, with the best engineered product at a given price point.”
Kudos works very close with the Norwegian driver manufacturer SEAS to design drivers for their various loudspeaker models. When it comes to tweeters, Kudos believes in using wide-dispersion tweeters with even response, in all its speaker models. Crossovers follow the “simpler is better” approach and therefore, the crossovers are minimalist, low order designs that provide lower phase distortion and preserve harmonics, minimizing time smearing. Cabinets are all of high-density fiber board (HDF) verses more commonly used MDF and are well-braced, using special compounds to dampen the materials and minimize cabinet resonances, and colouration. All Kudos loudspeakers are covered in high quality real wood veneers with furniture standard finishes.
There are a number of speaker models within the Kudos Audio family of loudspeakers. These models, from bottom to top are: the X2 tower ($3,249), X3 tower ($4,579), C10 bookshelf ($6,269), C20 tower ($7,394), Super 10 bookshelf ($7,569), Super 20 tower ($9,249) and finally the flagship Titan T88 tower, priced in the tens-of-thousands.
This X3 loudspeaker, reviewed here, is the latest model in the Kudos family and had its Canadian premier showing in late-October 2014 at the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show. The X3, like its smaller sibling – the X2, is a two-way, dual-driver (woofer and tweeter) design that uses the same 25mm high quality tweeter as the smaller X2 but employs a larger 18cm woofer. The woofer cone is a blend of paper and reed that provides improved transparency. The woofer’s voice coil is copper-clad aluminum with a copper shorting ring that provides an increase in transients and dynamics, with reduced distortion. Both the tweeter and woofer are manufactured by SEAS to meet Kudos design specifications. The X3 uses a low order crossover to minimize signal impact. Internal wiring is all The Chord Company’s Sarsen loudspeaker cable.
The X3’s cabinet is built from 18 mm HDF and utilizes bracing and tuning that minimizes resonances and colouration. The speaker is a bass reflex design with a bottom port that is vented via a gap between the cabinet base and the affixed plinth. The X3 comes with a set of floor spikes to minimize interaction with floors. Cabinets are covered in real wood veneers with furniture grade finishes that include: Black (oak), Cherry, Rosenut, Oak (natural), White (high gloss), and Walnut. The cabinet dimensions are: 845mm (h) x 190mm (w) x 250mm (d). Stated specifications are: 8 Ohm, 88dB sensitivity with a frequency response of 30Hz – 25kHz (average in-room).
The review sample was a long-term demo, in fact, the same one that was played at TAVES in 2014. The aesthetic of the X3 follows the traditional British compact tower – compact with straight, simple lines that is essentially a box for the drivers – no rounded edges, curves, tapering, etc. The look is traditional, purposeful, minimalistic but handsome overall. The review sample came in a Rosenut finish and the veneer quality and matching was high, while the finish did not conceal the natural grain texture. The tweeter surround is set flush with the baffle, yet the woofer surround sits on top of the front baffle face, overlapping the bottom edge of the tweeter surround, which I can only guess has been done to increase the proximity between the two drivers for integration of their output. The speaker plinth is finished in a basic flat black. The greatest of adornments is a small button-like Kudos logo located at bottom of the speaker baffle. Wrapping on the cabinet, I did hear some cabinet resonance but nothing of great concern. On the back is a single set of brass binding posts, nestled within a plastic insert. I’d caution those with “garden hose” speaker cables and pitch fork sized spades, as the like just won’t fit. A pair of magnetic fabric grills is provided, which conceal just the drivers when affixed; though I personally prefer the look and sound with them off.
During my audition, I used the Kudos X3 loudspeakers with a Mastersound Dueundici SET tube integrated amplifier; however the bulk of my listening and evaluation is based on using the X3 with my reference setup that includes the Simaudio Neo 350p preamplifer, Bryston 4B-SST2 amplifier and ADL (by Furutech) Esprit DAC. My sources consisted of the Rega Apollo CD transport, Squeezebox Touch with MS-Vista PC and VPI Scout 1.1 turntable. All components were wired with Nordost Norse 2 Heimdall 2 cables.
If I had to characterize the sound of the Kudos X3 with one word, it would be “addictive”. The X3 has a sound that differs quite significantly from my own reference speakers – the quadral Aurum Montan VIII and the KEF LS50. Like the company name, the X3 is not a shy speaker; it is one of those speakers that serves the music to you rather than have you come and get it.
I played the Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk, and found that the X3 was capable of laying out an appreciably large soundstage. Elements within the soundstage were clearly delineated and it was easy to focus on any of the particular instrument lines. Detail retrieval was very good with enjoyable musical complexity. On the track “The Game Has Changed”, the dynamics were excellent albeit with less weight to the bass than this monster of a track can muster with some speakers.
Listening to the Norah Jones track “Say Goodbye”, from her album Little Broken Hearts I found the X3 delivered the song in a distinctive lively manner with vibrant tone and colour. The soundstage was markedly more forward than with my reference speakers, beginning right at the front plane of the speakers and moving back to the front wall, about three feet behind the speakers. Norah’s voice came across clear and sweet, with lovely palpability. The X3 drew slightly more attention to the sibilance within the recording, though this didn’t hinder my engagement in the vocals, rather the upfront delivery of her voice was quite alluring, bringing her nearer to me so as to say, “here I am, hear me”. The sound of the bass strings favoured the leading edge of the note, having a little less of the elastic nature that I’m accustomed to hearing; though this lent to a fast and tight feel to the music. The music through the X3 was full of drive and excitement – toe tapping and fun.