When I was told I would be reviewing a pair of speakers from Kanto, I assumed they were a new company because I have never heard of Kanto before. So, imagine my surprise when I found out they have been in the audio business since 2007. This Canadian company started as an OEM of audio components before transitioning into producing its line of audio equipment. What we have here today is Kanto’s flagship speakers, the TUK.
So, what is the Kanto TUK?
Well, it’s a powered speaker, which to the uninitiated, means it’s an all-in-one solution. Sound, amplification, and source input are neatly packaged into the left channel speaker. By comparison, in a passive speaker setup, you will need to get a separate power and pre-amplifier or an integrated amplifier to run the speakers. This not only adds complexity but also additional components and wiring.
Since I have never listened to speakers from Kanto, I want to start this review with their audio performance. Despite having a compact form factor, the Kanto TUK manages to produce a wide soundstage and a big sound. If I was listening to the speakers blindfolded, I would have guessed the sound was being produced by a bigger set of speakers. They can also produce a phantom centre for vocals without the need to mess with the position too much.
Kanto designed the TUK to be used for video, gaming, and music, so that’s exactly what I did.
The TUK’s detail clarity swept me away
We’ll start with videos and gaming because I think this is where the TUK excels. I was impressed with the clarity in the details produced by this pair of speakers. You can identify the type of surface the character is walking on, clothes brushing against surfaces, a belt rubbing against pants and glass shattering were pronounced. These are the details I heard while playing Spiderman on my PS4 and watching John Wick on Netflix. Especially with Spiderman on PS4, I never knew all these subtle sounds existed when I played the game on a Samsung HW-K350 soundbar.
Vocals was another area where the TUK shined as it was really clear to the point where I didn’t need a subtitle. This is because the TUK uses a 5.25” aluminium woofer and an air motion transformer tweeter (AMT) which is uncommon in speakers in this class. Unlike a dome tweeter with a moving coil, an AMT tweeter uses a folded membrane with an electrical circuit.
Think of it like an accordion. When an electrical current is pass through the membrane, it contracts and relaxes which pushes the air. Moreover, the membranes can move rapidly given the short gap between being open and folded. The result is a detailed high-frequency range.
That said, the TUK had to make sacrifices elsewhere to produce clear vocals and detail clarity. As such, the volume of background music or score is lowered, and the sound of big explosions feels like they are at the same level as the vocals. Now, without a multi-channel system, this is bound to happen, which is why I prefer how my Parasound New Classic 200 prioritises the music, ambient sounds, and loud explosions, which are the essence of any action movie, by slightly sacrificing the vocal clarity and detail quality.
If you’re going to be consuming action-heavy content like I did, then you might want to invest in a subwoofer. The TUK does have good bass, but given its size, it just can’t reproduce the rumble of the low frequencies. Conveniently, we were provided with the RM1,550 Kanto SUB8, an 8” subwoofer, but the Kanto TUK will also work with third-party subwoofers as well. With a subwoofer, landing a hit on an enemy in Spiderman or a gun being fired in John Wick carried weight with a deep thud.
One neat trick the TUK has is an Active Crossover feature where it can digitally filter frequencies below 80Hz and channel them to the subwoofer. Bass frequencies take a lot of energy, so you’re freeing up the main speakers to focus on the other frequencies. The difference is noticeable with this feature turned on, but you can disable this feature should you choose. With this feature being on the TUK instead of the SUB8, it means the feature will work on any subwoofers from the likes of Yamaha, Sony, Klipsch or Polk Audio.
Overall, I enjoyed my time watching videos and gaming on the TUK as I discovered sounds that went undetected on my audio set-up.
The same detail clarity became its downfall
However, the good clarity and detail tuning that made it sound nice for movies and games actually affected the music listening experience. For this part of the review, I removed the subwoofer and hooked up my Bluesound Node 2i music streamer via the optical port, because I wanted to hear how the built-in DAC of the Kanto TUK handles music.
Playing Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen, a song that I have heard on repeat since I was born, sounded new, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Firstly, Billy Ocean’s voice came through clear, and I could make out every word he was singing. The bass was pronounced and tight though a little overpowering for my taste.
But what put me off was the TUK doing its thing of moving the vocals and bass-forward and the music to the back. This is an upbeat song, so I would like to hear the music encompass the vocal track to get the full feel of the song. Because of this, the music in the mid-frequency became tricky to make out. Now, I’m not saying that the mid-frequency was muddy or wasn’t there. It’s just that they were difficult to hear over the vocals and bass.
It’s not until I played Sia’s Thunderclouds and Kenny G’s rendition of my Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion that I found out that the TUK’s sound signature is just not for me. The speakers have a tendency to overemphasise the treble making high frequencies a mess. More than that, the high notes produced were piercing to my ears. Maybe it’s because I am more accustomed to the warmer sound signature of my Bowers and Wilkins and Bose speakers. Therefore, more vocal-heavy tracks like Yuna’s Crush are a better suit for the TUK.
The TUK’s sound processing comes from its built-in digital to analogue converter (DAC) which is utilised when you connect a digital signal like the optical input. I did switch it over to analogues via RCA and utilised the DAC in my music streamer to find out if that made a difference.
The answer is YES, but to a degree.
The volume of the music track in the mid-frequencies was now louder but the emphasis was still on the vocals. As for its treble-loving sound signature, it was still present. Kanto does give you the option of adjusting the treble and bass on the TUK, but I just couldn’t find the right treble level that made for a good listening experience, but you might be able to.
Give and take when it comes to usability
What you won’t be able to do is know what level your treble is set to because there are no visual indicators. I had to look up online to find out that you can increase or decrease the bass and treble level by 6 steps. There is no visual indicator for the volume level nor does the volume dial have min or max stops. It just spins infinitely.
While we’re on the subject of usability, Kanto has a cool feature where you can swap the left and right channels. This comes in handy as the power input is only on one speaker which is by default the left channel speaker. So, if your wall socket is on the right side of the room, you can simply swap the channels and place that speaker on the right side now. This provides more flexibility when it comes to cable management. I have not seen this feature on another powered speaker.
Although I would say usability is a strength of the Kanto TUK, it also has a fatal flaw, and that is that the speakers reset every time you turn off the main power switch. So, if you’re like me and you turn off the power switch of your electronic devices, you should know that your settings for the channel swap and active crossover will be reset. Having to configure your setting each time you turn the speakers on might get annoying quick. So, the only solution is to leave it in standby mode.
There’s quite a lot to love here
But if you can live with those annoyances, there’s no denying how handsome the TUK is. It packs all these features and hardware while retaining a clean and understated design. There are two colours to choose from. This gorgeous matte white with a grey magnetic grill that we got or a stealthier matte black with a matching magnetic grill. It’s worth mentioning its compact form factor as well measuring 17.8W x 21.5D x 27.6H cm and weight around 5kg. It will definitely blend in with a wide variety of home setups.
Kanto also provides every accessory you need to get up and running, well almost everything.
In the box, you will find a remote control with included batteries, an IEC power cord, speaker wires that terminate with Banana plugs (NICE), 3.5mm to RCA cable, 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, USB A to USB B cable, some rubber feet, and the manual. Despite that, there is no RCA-to-RCA cable or a TOSLINK aka optical cable which you need if you’re planning on hooking the speakers up to a TV. That said, it’s rare to find such a comprehensive list of accessories provided with a comparable speaker system at this price point.
On that note, the asking price for the TUK is RM3,800, which might be hard to justify based on its sound quality alone. BUT! You need to bear in mind that the price also includes more than just the speakers.
For starters, there is a built-in 130W, class D amplifier which provides 65W of power into each channel. The Kanto TUK also acts as a pre-amplifier as it comes with a variety of connectivity options. So were talking USB B for connecting a PC, optical, phono stage, RCA, subwoofer out, USB A power output, Bluetooth 4.2 with Qualcomm aptX HD and a binding post to send power to the passive right channel speaker. There’s also a 3.5mm jack with an integrated headphone amplifier on the front. So, there’s no shortage of choices.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a hassle-free experience of getting hi-fi audio, these speakers can offer that. Just don’t expect these stands to be included in the price. Those are an additional RM560.
Do I have other options?
Now, what if you don’t need all the ports and you just want good PC speakers? Is there something that can give me more value for my money?
Well, I personally use a Bose Companion 50 sound system with my desktop computer. For RM1,889, the system includes two speakers, a subwoofer and a single 3.5mm port. At the moment I have it connected to the line-out port of my PC’s motherboard, and even if I invested in a decent DAC like the Ifi Zen DAC Signature V2, I would still spend less than the price of a Kanto TUK. They produce big sound with none of the harshness of the TUK which to me makes them great for movies and gaming. However, you do sacrifice sound staging and they have a more industrial look to them which might not fit your setup or taste.
So, if the TUK’s connection flexibility, wide soundstage with a room-filling sound, and beautiful looks are more of what you’re looking for, then I guess it’s worth the extra cost. You can head on over to TechX showroom in Petaling Jaya, and have a listen to what your favourite videos and music sound like on the Kanto TUK.
If you did, let me know what you thought about the TUK and whether you liked how they sounded in the comments below. And while you’re down there, let me know if there’s something specific you want me to test with speakers in future reviews.