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.
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.
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