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Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speaker Review

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Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speaker

I am going to tell you why the Kingsound King III is inherently superior sonically to three popular Panel speaker brands with models under $20,000. I am also going to tell you why it is amazing to me that it is. If ever there was a paradoxical speaker company, it is King’s Audio. Its products present a conundrum; they are seemingly quick and dirty designs, but they sound superior to very serious, very high dollar competitors.

The King III follows on the heels of the impressive King ESL, which took me about ten minutes to determine would be my reference Panel speaker. If you want the background to the article and conclusions, read that review. In short, I concluded that the King was the panel speaker to beat in the under $20K class. I’ll go further in this article, declaring the King III has no serious competition  in the under $20K class. I have heard the popular panels by Quad, MartinLogan and Magnepan, and I wouldn’t trade the King III for any of them, regardless of model. How’s that for being blunt? It would be a real pisser if the King III failed me a year after this is published, but I doubt it. The King has been flawless in terms of reliability over the past three years, and given that track record, I expect similar from the King III.

I am extremely familiar with the King, so it only took about five minutes to conclude the King III is holistically superior, and not by a small margin! My first glance at it was when I went to CES and T.H.E. show in 2011 and discovered that Kings Audio, based in Hong Kong, was releasing two new versions simultaneously, one of which was more similar to the King and the other like a giant Quad 2905 – the short-lived King II. The lovely King Tower omnidirectional was shown in an unimpressive display two years, then discontinued. I am grateful to Roger that I obtained what seems to be the only pair of the King Tower in North America. King’s Audio moth balled what I consider to be one of the greatest speakers I have ever encountered under $5K. Consider, an omnidirectional speaker with detail and vast soundstage to make a Panel speaker jealous for about $5K.  If people had heard what the King Tower could do I believe the speakers would have sold like hotcakes. Consider, for a fairly reasonable sum the ardent audiophile could have had a pretty doggone good true omnidirectional at a price which would have been very attractive.

At the recent 2013 CES I picked up another Kings Audio oddity, a pair of a Kingsound “Guitar Speakers.” These are not in contention for any awards based solely on sound, but I have seen precious few lifestyle speakers with anywhere near the cool factor and décor-friendly appearance. The Guitar speaker incorporates what appears to be a 5” dynamic driver in the space which is normally the guitar’s (this is a replica of a guitar) sounding hole, and an electrostatic element running the length of the guitar’s neck. The ESL driver rests between the two outer limbs of the neck, which act like posts holding the driver between so that it can radiate backwards as well. On the backside is a plate amplifier which powers the ESL element and incorporates a sturdy brace to incorporate the replica tri-leg speaker stands. It is a truly splendid art piece with sound, most recommendable to those who consider aesthetics of the highest priority.

The King ESL took a back seat to no peers, but the King III has no peers. It quite simply is superior to any panel you care to name for $20K and under, and more than a few well above that price point. How do I know? I have heard almost all of them – Analysis, Magnepan, Quad and MartinLogan among them. Did I hear them in my room? No, I heard them at shows; if you want to dismiss my conclusion due to that fact, go right ahead. But before you do, I’ll share some uncomfortable truths about some of these other technologies and why I believe the King III is inherently superior. My complaints about these other speakers are not subjective quibbles, but technological trouble spots which the King III does not share. In what follows, readers inclined to rage against me for taking their favorite speaker company to task need to calm themselves and look at the hard facts before sending me hate mail. What follows may generate some strong responses, but I do not plan on defending my perspective to readers’ comments.

Other panels

I will start with the Quad 2805 and 2905, both of which are the most coherent sounding contenders to the King III. The Quads were obviously more coherent than the original King. The King was as nuanced and as tonally accurate, but superior in terms of scale, macrodynamics and bass extension. Quad has ridden on its reputation for a long time, and I believe these two models have been eclipsed by the King III. I understand Quad is coming out with a reiteration of its current design with the uninspiring names 2912 and 2812. The 2912 seems to be nearly five feet tall, which would address the problem of them being historically, woefully short.

However, I suspect questions regarding these models’ reliability need to settle. I had noticed a year or two ago things got really quiet in the audio community about newer Quads; they may as well have disappeared. Magneplanar and Quads both have shall we say “build longevity,” issues historically.  Magneplanar addressed lingering issues of delamination by moving to an all Quasi-ribbon design in its lower and middle models. This was hardly innovative, as I have in my office a dual magnet array, foil ribbon driver Eminent Technology LFT-VI which is about 20 years old. There have been whisperings about Quad speakers arcing and keeping ESL repairers happy. We’ll see if anything changes on that front with the anticipated 2912 and 2812 models.

The improved coherence between the Mid/Treble and Bass driver arrays on the King III is evident, the interlacing much tighter. The driver sets on the original King could be distinguished during listening, but not so with the King III. Perhaps the concentric nature of the Quad design still holds a slight edge in terms of driver coherence. However, the increased resolution and acreage of the new King III panels, similar to those on the Prince II speaker, make it a tough competitor to the Quads.

In every other parameter besides coherence I feel the King III is superior. I have heard older and newer Quad panels sound lush tonally, and with the right electronics this is a strong point. But the King III cedes no ground in that respect. Timbre is exemplary, and the voicing of instruments exquisite. In relation to the Quad the tonality of the King III is a strong point, not a weakness. My preference is that I will not even entertain the lower physical size of the Quads – the older Quad ESLs are knee scrapers – which sinks the soundstage almost as though someone opened a cellar door to the band down below! The bottom line is I feel Quad is running to catch up with the King III.

I was a huge magnetic planar fan for many years, and was in fact a rabid Magnepan 1.6QR owner who thought the company could do no wrong. But over time I have concluded it has done wrong sonically, and has done so for decades by wrapping the speaker in a non-removable shroud, because floating grill material in front of a panel speaker desiccates the sound quality. Consider the breakwater at the beach; the wall of grill material affects sound waves similarly – crash! Send a big, wide sound wave at high speed toward a semi-permeable membrane and you will have the sonic equivalent of launching a tomato at a strainer, a catastrophe! I was not aware of the appalling degradation of sound of a panel speaker with a permanent grill until I owned and subsequently reviewed the Eminent Technology LFT-8A (See my review of the changeover from the “A” model to the “B” model). Removing the grills resulted in no small improvement to the speakers performance.

Magnepan’s use of Mylar with wires glued to it presents another technological challenge. Compared to the nano-like, vaporously thin character of the King III drivers the magnetic planar panel seems ponderous. I now associate the magnetic planar sound technology with slow sound, at least when compared to Kingsound ESL speakers. On the other hand, the challenge to achieve coherence between the hybrid true ribbon and quasi-ribbon mid-bass as seen in the 20.1 testify to the fact that the mid-bass panels are slow. The effect is only worsened with the implementation of non-removable grills.

13 Responses to Kingsound King III Electrostatic Speaker Review


  1. Bob Walters says:

    In addition to being overly long and repetitive, this “review” comes across to me as an unmitigated marketing piece. This is neither reporting nor reviewing — it’s crooning.

    Bias seems to permeate the entire piece. The wall wart is first dreaded, then hailed as a bright design decision, then dismissed in favor of an expensive VAC unit. Reference speakers are trounced without benefit oF audition in the same room or system. Horrid build quality (for devices meant for living rooms and costing as much as an automobile) is lamented then explained away.

    I’m sure that these speakers sound very good, perhaps even better. But this over-the-top exposition, coupled with what I heard from the King II in demos, is tough for me to parse.

    Bob

  2. Bob,

    God’s Joy to you.
    I don’t know too many marketing plans which call for thorough, unflinching description of a product’s weaknesses. Rather than mask the speaker’s foibles I laid them out in full view and assessed them relative to its overwhelming strength, its sound quality.

    Do not mistake enthusiasm based on performance for bias. I believe you would have a difficult time arguing against my technological reasons for my conclusion.

    I agree with you that the King II was not all that, likely a reason it went away fairly quickly. I also heard it at CES 2011, I believe, and was not overly impressed. It had an integral power supply and crossover similar to the original King; the new external power supply and crossover seems to confer a distinct advantage to the King III. The King II also had one less bass panel than the King III. If you are basing your impressions on what you heard from the King II, be assured the King III is an entirely different experience.

  3. I should add an addendum to the article; I also heard Danny Richie’s efforts at a hybrid mangetic planar at RMAF 2012 and felt it was well executed sonically. I believe the use of smaller multiple magnetic planar drive units, similar to the King III implementation of a Line Source type of array could hold great promise for the magnetic planar technology going forward.

  4. vdorta says:

    To each his own, so thanks to Doug for the great review. I heard the original King years ago and was impressed, so the King II is certainly heavy competition at the price and I can’t imagine how much better the KS-30 would be.

    The Red Wine Audio Black Lightning battery supply ($900) is an alternative to the wall wart + VAC supply, gets the speaker off the grid completely and should sound at least as good as the VAC.

    Regards,

  5. Ant Slappy says:

    No record player or tape unit??? Only CD’s and servers??? Unbelievable!!!!!

  6. Constantine Soo says:

    Ant,

    Thank you for your readership and email. Reviews by Phillip Holmes, Richard Mak, Jack Roberts, Ray Seda, to name a few, are often turntable-related, for they are the vinylphiles. Doug Schroeder’s sole source is digital, so is mine and Ed Momkus’. Therefore, you won’t find insights on analog setups from the last three’s reviews.

    Of course, there are also the unthinkably resourceful, amphibious Dagogoans who have both analog and digital sources, like Richard Austen, Laurence Borden, Fred Crowder, Adam LaBarge and George Papadimitriou. It’s quite a party.

  7. Rob Bertrando says:

    I’ve been waiting to read this review ever since RAMF 2012, when I mentioned to Doug that the King III’s had impressed me, and he proceeded to tell me how they could sound even better (all the details mentioned in the review). There’s no doubt in my mind that of the under $20k speakers at RAMF, the NOLA KO’s and King III’s were the standouts, each in their own (quite different) way. I would have loved to directly (or at least closely) compare the Kings to the Magnepan 20.7, certainly its main competition. Maybe Doug can talk Magnepan into letting him try (they are pretty close to him)?

  8. Rob,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Good to hear from you again!

    I have doubts that Magnepan would wish to send me their flagship speaker in the context of my comments about the inherent weaknesses of their design. I would guess they would be hesitant to have the 20.7 compared directly to the King III. Further, I’m not sure that a 20.7 review would be the best use of my time presently. However, if Magnepan was confident of their speaker and wished me to write it up, I would give it a fair analysis. I would be delighted if they took some of my criticisms and revised the speaker to make it even more performance oriented. Then I would be eager to review it, as I believe the performance would increase substantially.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  9. Stephen Fleschler says:

    I did not find a comment concerning listening area width. I have found that ESLs typically have a narrow listening area, sometimes akin to keeping one’s head in a vicelike position. I owned Acoustat Xs, 2+2s, Martin Logan Quest and Monolith IIIs. I have read that the Sanders 10C has a 3 foot wide listening area width. I now listen to Legacy Focus speakers which give me a 9′ to 10′ listening width (it’s a big room). How wide a listening area do the King IIIs have? Thanks.

  10. Stephen,
    God’s Peace to you,

    You have asked a wise question, one which would come into play with most ESL speakers. However, the King III is quite generous in terms of not beaming or being too narrow when it comes to the listening window. I have the speakers directed at me and still have a plentious envelope of sound such that I can turn my head or lean over to speak to another person and have no falling away of the stereo balance, only a slight shift.

    You will note that the treble panels for the King III are quite wide in comparison with ribbons and narrow drivers. Consequently, there is far more forgiveness in terms of the listener’s position relative to the speakers. Regarding the listening area width as you describe it, the King III is rather large, I would say larger than the Legacy Audio Focus speakers. The King III does not suffer from a smallish soundstage at all; on the contrary it is enormous and immensely gratifying! If they were used parallel to the head wall they would yield a giant field of sound. You may lose some of the solidity of the center image if they are used without toe in, so I recommend some to firm up the phantom image in the middle.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  11. Satie says:

    Doug, the broader mid/tweet drivers provide more beaming and thus narrower “sweet spot”. Their width is no advantage in this regard. Where the bigger upper range drivers help is in allowing extending the XO down a little, or filling in the lower portion of the driver’s operating range at higher volumes.
    I believe the issue with the superior performance of the King III is that they managed to come up with a better coating that allows the stators to be placed closer without arcing – thus increasing the electrical field and ratio of motive force to moving mass – which they increased also by taking a thinner mylar – which is probably why they had to increase the driver area – since it may have limits in tensile strength at the lower thickness. Can you comment on sensitivity and ultimate bass power?
    Via bracing one can have stronger and more extended bass from the big maggies. The BG Neo 8 array I use for my midrange gives me the good force to mass ratio which is reflected in the sensitivity as well as the detail it can reproduce precisely. It also has the capacity to provide the ear bleed peak SPL I like, at beyond 120 db at the listening seat. The higher SPL is allowed by the greater excursion. The segmented array has very much the benefit you noted relative to the long drivers in getting rid of the annoying plastic sound. For a listener like me, the drawback of even the biggest ESLs is this loss of peak power. If the big events in big music don’t come through, I can’t care much for the details, imaging and ambient field recovery and true tonal balance and texture.

    Completely agree about the grilles needing to be removable on the maggies. There is an issue of taming the ribbon that the cloth does – since it is so much more sensitive than the mids. And there is the WAF issue with the raw maggie drivers looking downright ugly.

    I should note that at the moving mass includes the obstructed air in the gap, which is a limitation on how much of a difference the absolute mass/area of the diaphragm can make. It is interesting that the gap is narrow enough and the stators open enough so that halving the thickness of the mylar can make that much of a difference. I wonder what can be done with a graphite conductor on the diaphragm in a rare earth magnet’s strong field. Perhaps for once the current carrying capacity of the graphite would be sufficient to produce reasonable output with the reduced mass. Probably not, since the graphite is 300 times more resistive than Al, while the neodymium magnet is only 10 times stronger.

  12. silvano says:

    It is true that the electrostatic diaphragm has a lower mass, and therefore a lower inertia, of the diaphragm of a Eminent VI or a Magneplanar, but should be considered which amplifier is used. With a fast transistor instead of a slower valve, the gap is significantly reduced.

    Regards

  13. John Horan says:

    Doug

    Since I stopped publishing the Sensible Sound magazine in 2008 I have been fine with speakers. However, the itch returns and I thought back to the speakers that most pleased me toward the end of the magazine’s 32 year run: The original “Kings” as heard at the 2006 CES.

    The haphazard King demo was musically the best of the show, and they have been in a back corner of my mind ever since.

    An internet search brought me to your review. The editor in me want to help (everyone needs an editor), but my music lover part says thank you.

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