This article originally appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
I've never been a fan of powered speakers, other than ones from Mackie and Genelec. I find that too many powered speakers don't sound natural, but rather have boomy bass and shrill treble. Mackie and Genelec speakers, on the other hand, sound extremely accurate without unnecessary "spices." But there's one problem: they are very expensive, running around $2,000 to $3,000 per pair.
So when I saw Kanto Audio at CES 2017 in January, I was initially going to brush the company off as just another brand trying to take a piece of the overly crowded powered speaker market. But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't approach every product with an open mind. Thus, I wandered into the room and found a line-up of small speakers in an impressive variety of colours. It didn't take long for me to realize that these guys know a thing or two about speaker sound design.
The YU6s especially caught my eye. They are two-way bookshelf speakers that have a near-Genelec professional monitor look, with the woofers and silk dome tweeters (my favourite material) exposed. The corners are rounded, similarly to Genelec's, but without the boring grey appearance. Kanto speakers, just like my favourite Genelec studio monitors, are also powered speakers, meaning that they have a built-in amp designed to perfectly match the speaker drivers. But there's one important difference: they are sold at a fraction of the price.
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 amp can be made as small or as powerful as desired, but not overly so. When you know the precise characteristics of the speaker you are trying to drive, it is much easier to make amplification for that exact speaker, its implementation, and its 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 Kanto YU6 speakers, just like their siblings, the YU2 and YU4, share a ported enclosure design that allows the speaker to have a smaller enclosure yet still produce decent bass output. As the biggest brother in the family, the YU6 also comes with a plethora of additional features. First and foremost, it has the beefiest internal amplifier, which can party to near ear shattering levels yet, at the same time, be clean enough to be used as a studio monitor, and clear enough to be used as background music speakers. Not too many speakers can do all that with such a nice balance - not even the Genelecs.
The YU6 speakers use the same 1" silk dome tweeter as their siblings, but add 5.25" Kevlar bass drivers. From my listening tests using the Lenco L175 turntable, and the Pioneer Elite BDP-09 as the transport and analog audio source, the YU6 midrange sounded very rich and the silk dome tweeters give them a smooth sound, which is perfect for showing off your music collection, be it digital or analog. I found them to be very pleasant and musical, yet able to maintain the accuracies needed for a studio monitoring system. All in all, it was a lot of fun listening to them.
However, since the YU6 speakers can reach rather low on the bottom frequencies, I don't recommend having them on the same platform as the turntable. (Really, I wouldn't recommend this for any speaker/turntable set up, though). All the mighty bass energy they put out will definitely make the stylus jump around.
These speakers played really loud in my family room while I was listening to music videos from my Panasonic 65D900 4K monitor. My, oh my, do these speakers love to be partied, and without a collapsing soundstage, despite how hard I drove them. It doesn't matter whether I played my usual Judas Priest, Charice, or my own studio recordings of yesteryear. The Kanto YU6 speakers worked as refined studio monitor-sounding speakers that can couple as speed-metal heads for good times.
Speaker placement for best results, in general, can be a problem, especially for high-end speakers, which is what I consider the Kanto YU6s to be. The YU6s 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 room, I ended up placing them facing forward, without any toe-in, and did not place them on speaker stands. Of course if I wanted to use them as a studio monitor, I'd put them on my 24" speaker stands. That would make a difference in terms of accuracy since they'd be just at ear height while I'm sitting. Either way, the Kanto YU6s will give you great background, casual, and serious listening.
The YU6 speaker, as with the YU4, does not include the USB computer connection that is found on the smaller YU2. Admittedly, though, I never use a USB connection, so I don't miss it. But others might. More important for me is that the YU6 speakers have two sets of optical inputs, two sets of analog audio inputs (one of which you can switch to a Moving Magnet phono input for a turntable), a subwoofer out, and Bluetooth streaming. None of these features are available on the Genelec, but for the analog input.
The YU6 speakers also come with a nice remote control and a spare USB power charging port on the back that I used to plug in my iPhone's wireless charger. For quick volume adjustments, there's a little round volume knob located on the front side.
If I'm gauging purely from the standpoint of sound quality, there are speakers on the market that can match the quality of the YU6 at the same price point of $500 per pair. However, those other speakers within the same price range don't include features like an amplifier, phono pre-amp, digital inputs, subwoofer output, Bluetooth streaming capability, or powered USB output that can be used as a charger as well. Those features might often cost you an extra few hundred bucks. What's more, the new bamboo finish is a very attractive option alongside the other colour options that could be a dealbreaker for design-conscious folks.
Overall, I had a lot of fun listening to music using the YU6 speakers. They don't hurt my ears with the coarse high end or bloated bass that has plagued many other powered speakers I have tested at the same price level, or even, in same cases, double the price.
It's worth noting that I also tried pairing the YU6s on stands with my PSB SubSeries 450 subwoofer. That combination turned them into a much more impressive little system that replicated the sound of Genelec sub/sat systems I used to use during my studio recording days. And the set-up was merely a third of the price.
I can't recommend these speakers enough - they are the first set of powered speakers, other than the Mackie and Genelec, to which I'd give my listening seal of approval.