This hands-on review originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
- Studio quality monitors
- Quality built-in Phono pre-amp
- Unique matte black finish
- Not as affordable as previous Kanto offerings
- USB A can't be used to play music from a USB key
- No boundary-compensation switch
It has been more than 20 years since I did music production for a living, and almost a decade since my last project. However, my love of realistic, true to nature, accurate audio remains strong to this day. I always want my speakers at home and studio to sound as honest as my wallet allows.
That's the reason that my studio and home audio systems were often identical. It's a habit and preference that I still follow to this day. It is frustrating, often times, that I can't enjoy many recordings due to their poor quality. However, I wouldn't want it any other way.
As music production is no longer my main source of income, I can no longer afford high-priced monitors such as those from brands like Genelec. But my quest was almost fulfilled when I reviewed the Kanto YU6. In many ways, the YU6s have surpassed Genelec, which are double their price. But the treble is still a little bit lacking. Some of known recordings that are smooth can sound slightly harsher. So when I was introduced to a prototype of the Kanto TUK at CES 2018, my interest piqued. It piqued even higher when I finally got to listen to a demo of the TUK speakers at CES 2019 earlier this year. The 7" x 8.5" x 10.9", 21-lb. package sounded amazing with the demo tracks. Even though I couldn't really judge sound quality accurately in a non-controlled environment, I was impressed nevertheless.
Once I had the TUK speakers in hand, however, I had the chance to dig deeper.
The TUK powered speakers employ a similar overall look to the Adam Audio T5V personal monitor. The TUK comes with an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) folded ribbon as tweeters and 5.25" aluminum driver for the woofer, producing the sonic spectrum between 50Hz to 20kHz.
Just like all Kanto speakers, the TUK speakers have four inputs, providing a variety of ways to connect any and all of your devices. There are two analog inputs, an RCA L/R (available as a line and a phono pre-amp), and a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as one Optical input (there are two in the YU6). This input is the one I used the most, connecting to the Panasonic UB9000 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player's optical output. It also has a Bluetooth receiver with Qualcomm aptX, and a USB port. New to the TUK is a USB-B input so you can use the speakers as a USB DAC. The USB-A port works for USB charging with 5V 2A output.
Even though there is a built-in DAC for the digital inputs, the USB is only used to power your devices. It would have been a nice feature to be able to use the USB port for a separate DAC, which PC users might appreciate. I hope they add it in a newer version.
TUK comes with a remote so you can toggle inputs, and adjust bass/treble, volume level, even left and right channel balance with ease, just like the Kanto YU6 and SYD I previously reviewed. Folded ribbon tweeters, as the ones featured in TUK, have always been the jewel in the monitoring world. They are an integral component that helps to deliver a particularly unique signature sound that many users, myself included, absolutely adore. But do these small, affordable TUK speakers (MSRP $999) deliver?
Somehow, with the TUK speakers, Kanto managed to design a relatively mid-cost monitor range that, to my ears, sounds very expensive with hardly any compromise on the quality of sound. As active speakers, having a built-in amplifier that was made for a particular set of speakers gives the powered speaker a huge advantage in efficiency.
The built in Class-D amp can be made as small or as powerful as desired, but not overly so. When you know the precise characteristics of the speakers you are trying to drive, it is much easier to make amplification for those exact speakers, the implementation of DSP to compensate any irregularities of the drivers, and their specifications. As an indirect result, the manufacturer can also save some money, since the amplifier is easier to make which, in turn, allows them to design a better amplifier and/or use better speaker drivers. The DSP implementation can minimize phase errors resulting in a much flatter frequency response.
Before I started testing the TUK, I was worried that the folded ribbon sound I know and love could have been watered down due to cost cutting. But those fears were quickly laid to rest when I started testing them in my controlled environment. For a full two days, I did nothing but run XLO Reference CDs to break in the speakers. Only after that process did I start my listening tests.
Playing music through my Thorens turntable using TUK's phono pre-amp was quite nice. The speaker performed really well for its price. The AMT folded ribbon tweeters and aluminum woofers coupled with bass reflex ports at the back produced a very nice tonal balance. Stereo separation, as expected, was great with no exaggeration from my seating position of nine feet away and the speakers positioned nine feet apart. It fills the room nicely coupled with my room's acoustic signature.
According to my real time analyzer, the TUK produced a solid bass down to 50Hz with no roll off. Bass this low and clean is very uncommon from a speaker this small and affordable. Usually, the bass produced in speakers in this price range rolls off badly, is distorted, or is nonexistent. If you want more bass extension, there is a subwoofer output.
I used my PSB SubSeries 600 to test TUK's subwoofer output. There was a perfect transition from the TUK's speakers to the subwoofer without any bloat or frequency doubling detected. While you can try to play around with your subwoofer's own crossover, after testing using LFE input (i.e. using the speaker's own subwoofer output's roll-off) versus using the subwoofer's crossover roll-off, I find the TUK's subwoofer output is best. This was the case not only with my PSB Subseries 600 (technically high end) but also with my Martin Logan Dynamo 600x (mid-level specifications) and an el-cheapo Sony subwoofer that used to be part of a DVD home theatre in-a-box I bought nearly two decades ago. This means you will be able to couple the TUK with virtually any subwoofer your want. Of course, to have a subwoofer with a flat frequency response down to 20Hz is highly recommended as too many so-called subwoofers out there are only ruler flat (if that) down to 35Hz.
These speakers played really nicely in my family room while I was listening to music videos from my Panasonic 65FZ1000 4K OLED monitor. However, unlike the previous Kanto speakers, they don't really like to be partied. When I drove them really hard, the sound quality went down a little bit and the vocals became less intelligible compared to when being played back at the 75dB average.
Within the more logical music listening loudness levels, the TUK shines nicely. It doesn't matter whether I played my usual Judas Priest, Charice, or my own studio recordings of yesteryear. The Kanto TUK speakers worked as refined studio monitor-sounding speakers. Thrash and speed-metal heads can also join in for good times. I had fun listening to recordings from Leap Frog Studios, with performances of kids "classics" repertoires such as The Wheels on the Bus and The Muppets Show theme in the style of heavy metal.
Speaker placement for best results, in general, can be a problem, especially for high-end speakers, which is what I consider the Kanto TUKs to be. The TUKs, however, easily produce nice stereo separation, so placement within the several rooms I tested was fairly simple.
Just like any other speakers, the ideal placement is with the tweeters at ear height facing straight out. Or if you prefer a tighter soundstage, toeing them a little bit is fine, too. In my case, based on the layout of the theatre room, I did just that. But for my living room, I ended up placing them facing forward, without any toe-in, and did not place them on speaker stands.
If I wanted to use them as a studio monitor, I'd put them on my 24″ speaker stands just like my other studio monitors from Mackie and KRK. That would make a difference in terms of accuracy since they'd be just at ear height while I'm sitting. I'd also recommend using IsoAcoustics vibration dampeners.
Unlike previous Kanto speakers, the TUK also includes a 3.5mm headphone jack with more than decent headphone amp quality. Don't expect it to drive electrostatic or planar headphones but tested using my PSB M4U-4 and Grado SR-60e headphones, the headphone amp yields a very satisfactory result.
I listened to a few podcasts and an audiobook to check performance with the spoken word, but mostly I listened to music from different genres and eras. From the smoky atmosphere, talking guests, clinking glasses of "Waltz for Debby" by Bill Evans Trio to the subtleties of guitar lines of the amazing Doug MacLeod's "You Can't Take My Blues," everything was reproduced nicely. Not to the point of audiophile quality, but close. The typical tests of the kick drums from my Judas Priest's "Ram It Down" and tom-tom rolls in GammaRay‘s rendition of Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin" passed with flying colours.
While they're not as affordable as their siblings, the Kanto TUK will give you great background, casual, serious listening and monitoring; something that most speakers can't deliver. While matte white finish is also available, the matte black finish, which looks more like dark charcoal in my eyes, is divine. And for current YU6 owners, yes, the tweeter upgrade alone is worth the entry fee. Add the USB DAC, headphone output, and its accuracy to be used as actual near-field studio monitors into consideration, and the purchase of a pair of TUKs is a no brainer.