So you took advantage of Black Friday and picked up a sweet 50 inch HDTV, a Angry Birds-toting Roku 2 XS and a great Xbox bundle. But what good are all these new toys if the audio coming out of them is flat, boring and anemic?
In November, I received an email from the people at Kanto Speakers asking me if I would be interested in reviewing their new speaker system. It’s called the Kanto Yaro, a two-channel audio system, made especially for owners of streaming setup boxes like the Apple TV, utilizing audio technology by the venerable Bang & Olufsen (the makers of beautiful speaker systems I could never dream of affording). I of course said “YES!”
The Yaro is a breeze to setup, dramatically improves on the stock audio from your television and does it with panache. But does its performance match the $330 price tag?
I was tinged with excitement as I unboxed the Yaro. I‘ve been interested in what Kanto is doing since they released the iPair 5, a bookshelf speaker system designed to be used with iPods and iPhones. The Yaro expands on the vision of the iPair 5, finding a similar audio solution for AppleTVs and other setup boxes.
When I got the box, I thought something must be wrong. How in the world could the Yaro fit in this relatively tiny, somehow elegant, cardboard box?
So what’s in the box?
- Two piano black two-way speakers
- Digital receiver/amplifier
- IR remote control (battery included)
- Two digital optical audio cables (two lengths)
- Mini stereo audio cable
- Two speaker cables with tinned ends
For $330, I cannot believe that Kanto includes optical cables, the required AAA battery, stereo audio cable and that they tin the ends of the speaker cables. This might all sound like no big deal but, it’s incredibly rare to buy a system like this and not have to make three trips to Radio Shack. Tinning the ends of speaker cables helps reduce resistance for better sound quality and keeps them from fraying.
Since we’re talking about value, I also want to add that Kanto puts a 3-year warranty behind the Yaro. That’s pretty much unheard of in the world of electronics. Obviously they believe in their product and are ready to back it up with support for the long haul.
The surprises don’t stop with the included accessories. Each vented speaker cabinet weighs in at 6.6 pounds, is made of wood (not cheap plastic) and has a fingerprint hungry, piano black paint job fit for a Steinway. The top of the speakers is covered with a rubber mat. I’m not exactly sure why they chose to put rubber on the top of the speakers.
Each of the speakers feature a one-inch silk dome tweeter and 3.5 inch midrange driver. Noticeably missing is any form of grill protecting the speakers from dust, cats or jerks who like to poke things.
The rear of each speaker sports a 1.5” bass port and inputs for connecting the speakers to the amplifier. Unlike most speakers in this price range, the Yaro uses audiophile-quality, gold-plated posts allowing the use of either banana plugs (popular with high-end speakers) or bare wire.
The amplifier is about the size of two Roku XDs stacked on top of each other. The front has only one volume knob with a push on/off mechanism built in. The volume knob is large and feels great as you turn it. Well-made volume knobs are a rare find. To the right, from bottom to top, is a headphone output, IR remote receiver and white status LED.
Turn the amp around and you’ll find a handful of inputs and speaker outputs. In total, you have two digital optical inputs, one 3.5mm stereo input, a subwoofer output, four more of the fancy binding posts to the speakers and the power input. The amp features the same high-gloss paint job of the speakers and rubber mat on top.
Following the lead of Apple, the Yaro remote control is dead simple. Nine buttons allow you to turn it on, change volume, mute all audio and fine-tune the bass and treble. I found the volume buttons a tad misplaced, I often tapped the mute button when I meant to hit the volume up button. Not a deal-breaker, just took some getting used to.
I was able to go from in the box to listening to Pandora through my Roku in under fifteen minutes. Setup couldn’t have been easier. I plugged the two optical cables into my AppleTV and Roku, the two speaker cables into the speakers and amp, plugged it in and powered it up.
It was that easy.
However, when I tried to play audio through my AppleTV, I discovered a glitch in the system. Yaro is supposed to automatically select the active audio source. In theory, if you switch to playing a video on your AppleTV or XBox, the Yaro will automatically switch to that new input. Unfortunately, my early release Yaro doesn’t do this. In order for me to play my AppleTV, I have to unplug the Roku. Good news though, Kanto says they’ve fixed this problem in the official-release version of the Yaro so you shouldn’t experience this trouble.
Update: Fix is confirmed. So no worries with source switching.
If you’re comparing the audio performance of the Yaro to your television, there isn’t any competition. The Yaro sounds infinitely better than just about any television on the market. It’s the same experience you enjoy when going from the stock iPhone ear-buds to something more substantial like Klipsch S4i headphones.
Movies & Television
Watching movies and television with the Yaro playing the audio is a great time. If you’ve been stuck listening to the speakers inside your flatscreen, you don’t know what you’re missing. The power of the system is especially striking with movies.
Unfortunately, if you were hoping to watch Die Hard and feel the gratuitous explosions or feel your walls tremble from earth shattering (literally) battle for Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, look elsewhere right now. Physics just does not allow a 3.5″ driver to move enough air to accomplish such feats. Only a proper subwoofer can bring that movie theater experience to your home.
Shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are great programs to test out the Yaro. Few shows are recorded as meticulously as these. I also watched the movies Chicago and the latest Star Trek film on the Yaro, played through my Roku HD and Netflix. It was a great experience. These productions would feel hollow and lackluster without a good speaker system to backup the vocal performances and high-tech wizbang sound effects.
It was while watching the show House, M.D. that I noticed some male voices, in this case Hugh Laurie, can sound harsh through the Yaro. I did a little experimentation and found that putting a bit of cloth over the tweeter decreased this roughness. Alec Baldwin, in the film Lymelife, is another male voice I noticed that doesn’t shine when played through the Yaro speakers.
I’m still working on some serious music listening with the Yaro. So far I’ve spent most of my time watching Netflix and Hulu through the Roku. I will say that for Thanksgiving the Yaro played through hours of enjoyable seasonal music. People seemed to enjoy the experience and the bowl-shaped dishes the silk-dome tweeters sit in allows for even projection of audio throughout the living room and into the kitchen.
Our living room has fifteen foot ceilings, large for a San Francisco apartment. Nevertheless, the Yaro easily fills the room with sound, but likely won’t get us evicted for noise violations.
Just like bassy action flicks, large orchestral sets, especially those featuring pipe organs, hiphop and bassy pop music doesn’t play off as well. This is mostly because what the Yaro doesn’t have is a subwoofer, yet. In early 2012, Kanto will be releasing an add-on unit. The 200-watt, 8″ subwoofer will more than likely get you eviction-level bass output.
So it can get loud and is significantly better than your television speakers, but what about subjective sound quality? I admit that I am a bit spoiled when it comes to high end audio systems. My everyday speaker system in my living room is a pair of Klipsch Heresy speakers with a classic Harman Kardon HK-430 50 watt stereo receiver.
This system costs just under $2,000 and is commonly known to be one of the best sounding two-channel bookshelf speaker systems ever made. Comparing the Yaro at 1/6th the price and 1/7th the weight isn’t fair at all. But since it’s what I have, let’s do this!
The graph above comes from my somewhat scientific measurements of real-world frequency responses of my Kanto Yaro vs my Klipsch Heresy speakers in our living room. Ideally, these measurements would be done in an anechoic chamber with thousands of dollars in audio equipment. Rebel that I am, I use a simple SPL meter and an iPhone app (Signal Generator) to do my measurements.
From this graph you can see the lack of sub-frequency audio output coming out of the Yaro speakers compared to what you might expect from a truly high-end speaker system. However, what’s similarly important is how relatively flat the response is from the Yaro. This is good, really good. It means that, in general, across all audible frequencies, the Yaro doesn’t exhibit dramatic changes in volume.
Crappy speaker systems will get loud around 60 Hz, and up through 150 Hz, but then drop off significantly. That’s because speaker companies that don’t care about real audio quality rake people in with boomy bass and say “to hell with the rest of the audio experience”. Pleasantly, this is not the approach of Kanto. They opt for a more balanced sound.
The Yaro sounds great at first blush. Music and movies shine with the two-way speaker design and the vented cabinet allows more bass production than what should be possible from such a small speaker.
Compared to the full-sized, three-way, forty-four pound Heresy speakers, the Yaro sounds expectedly thin. It’s 3.5 inch midrange driver and ported cabinet is no match for the 10 inch one driver found in the Heresy. But who thought it would be?
That being said, I whole-heartedly believe that this thinness will be remedied when Kanto releases the aforementioned 200-watt subwoofer. I’m set to get one of those for review and will update this review as soon as I do.
There aren’t many speaker systems on the market like the Kanto Yaro. The only one that comes to mind, that isn’t a sound bar, is the Bose CineMate® Series II digital home theater speaker system. It costs nearly twice the price of the Yaro but adds a subwoofer and loses a few inputs. As much as I loathe Bose systems, the CineMate speakers have a smoother, richer sound than the Yaro. Of course you’re paying $270 more and losing that precious second digital input. Again, I think the addition of the Kanto subwoofer will bring the musicality of the Yaro beyond that of the Bose and still clock in significantly lower in price.
- Setup is a breeze
- Fully integrated, all-in-one system
- Stylish looks that don’t distract
- Multiple inputs that should have you covered
- Some floor noise in the form of hiss
- Lack of low frequency reproduction
- Midrange/treble sometimes harsh with male vocals
For $330, the Kanto Yaro dramatically improves your AppleTV, Roku, Xbox, Playstation, etc, viewing experience. It’s dead simple to setup, is forgiving with speaker placement limitations and comes with everything you need to set it up. All you need to do is bring the TV and an audio source. If you’ve been watching TV or playing Gears of War 3 through your TV speakers, you owe it to yourself to get the Yaro.
When I think of the Yaro, I think of a near-perfect dormitory or apartment audio system. The only downsides I experienced were the thin bass response and the sometimes harsh midrange/treble. Again, adding a subwoofer, even an existing one you might have sitting around, will fill out the lower frequencies.
|Design: 9.5/10||Bass: 7/10|
|Build: 9.5/10||Mids: 7.5/10|
|Remote: 9/10||Treble: 8/10|
|Connectivity: 9/10||Soundstage: 8/10|
|Accessories: 10/10||Value: 9/10|
|Overall: 9.4||Overall: 7.9|
I hate that I have to rate this otherwise awesome speaker system anything below an “8” on sound quality and performance. However, if this is supposed to bring the movies, games and concert experiences through your television to a new level, I feel it falls a bit short. As it stands right now, it’s still an incredible value.
The Audioengine 5+ ($399-469) two-channel speaker system provides more of the sound I expected from the Kanto Yaro. A richer, silky-smooth midrange and punchier bass. Unfortunately you trade off an extra $70-139 and lose the Yaro’s precious digital inputs.
Once Kanto releases the add-on subwoofer, I expect a significant bump in the bass response. This might also fix the issues I had with the midrange. If not, perhaps the new and improved amplifier will provide the fix. I will update this review when those arrive.
- Audio technology by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower
- 2 x Digital Optical Audio inputs
- 3.5mm audio input
- 3.5mm audio stereo headphone jack
- Sub-woofer output
- Manual volume control
- Acoustically enhanced wood cabinets
- Sleek piano-black finish
- Optional cable upgrade accessories
- Optional sub-woofer upgrade
- Weight: 8.7 kg (19.2 lbs)
- Warranty: 3 years
According to one press release, in February 2012 there will be an optional DAC (digital to analog converter) upgrade. Perhaps this will resolve the midrange issue.
Check back for my updated review with the Kanto subwoofer sometime in January or February. As usual, feel free to ask away in the comments with any questions you might have.