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November 2013
Best Audiophile Product Of 2014 Blue Note Award
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Kudos Audio Super 20 Speaker
An unfamiliar English speaker that is unfailingly musical and neutral.
Review By Phil Gold


Kudos Audio Super 20 Speakers  Kudos is a pretty bold name for an audio manufacturer. If this ends up being a poor review, or even a mediocre one, the name might be held to be rather tacky. You can skip to the end right now if you like to see if the name is inappropriate or I can save you the time by saying upfront that Derek Gilligan and his colleagues, sweating the details over in England's County Durham, can hold their collective heads high if this particular speaker is representative of their entire range.

Now you may not have heard of Kudos Audio before and it is only in recent years that I have come face to face with them myself at various HiFi shows. The UK has established a very strong reputation in the speaker business, partly due to the influence of the BBC and pioneers like Spendor, Quad, Tannoy, KEF, Linn and the 800-pound-gorilla B&W. Is there room for a small company like Kudos Audio to stake its claim in such august company? Derek Gilligan, formerly of NEAT, who took over Kudos Audio in 2005, is taking a very conservative approach. No space age materials or exotic profiles (such as may grace the Wilson Benesch line) but painstaking attention to detail and selection of the highest quality components in a traditional rectangular box is the chosen path. That may make it all the more difficult for Kudos Audio to stand out in the crowd.

So let us take a close look at the design. For a rectangular box it's on the slim side, which I like, with no smoothing off at edges. Two unusual choices are evident from the outside. First there does not appear to be a port and second it is not set up for biwiring. Most speakers in this price range will have one or two rear facing ports and doubled up speaker connections, usually supplied with a hard jumper for those who prefer single wire cabling. Well there is a port, but it is embedded into the gap between the plinth and the chassis so you don't see it. This downward firing port makes it very easy to place the Super 20 – it is not fussy about how close you place it to a corner or rear wall. As for biwiring, Kudos will supply the Super 20 in a single wire or biwire configuration, just the way you want it. They recommend the single wire approach so they have made that the default option. The cabinet work is finished to a very high standard as you would expect at this price point ($8490) and the standard finishes include black oak, cherry, oak, walnut, rosenut and white, with an upcharge for tineo and rosewood.

Some companies will roll their own drivers. Others buy them off the peg and yet others make modifications to standard designs. Kudos uses a 7" Nextel-coated paper cone bass/midrange driver built to their own specification by SEAS of Norway and unique to this speaker. According to SEAS:

For those listeners preferring soft cone drivers, we offer our exclusive Nextel series. Nextel drives feature a "sandwich" construction of paper, coated with Nextel paint on the front surface and damping compound on the rear. The resulting cone is both lightweight and well damped, offering an extremely linear frequency response. The 7" driver has a copper shorting ring to reduce eddy currents and an aluminum phase plug. The tweeter is a customised version of the very expensive 29mm Crescendo K2 model, also from SEAS. This tweeter is shared with the top model in the Kudos range, the Titan 88 (a cool $24,000). Let me remind you that SEAS knows a thing or two about drive units.

Kudos Audio Super 20 SpikesThe box is made from 18mm high density MDF with internal bracing and damping. The walls are finished with real wood veneers or you can order a satin white option. The cabinet is suspended with an air gap above a beveled plinth which combines a high density MDF layer, a damping compound and a steel bass. Four substantial spikes couple the plinth to the floor. And these are no ordinary spikes. There's a boxed set of eight adjustable stainless steel spikes from Track Audio supplied with each speaker pair.  Kudos supplies them only with the Titan 88 and the Super 20.

I can't see what's inside the box so it's reassuring to know that the internal components are of the same calibre as the ones I can see. All internal wiring is from the Chord Company, while closely specified Mundorf inductors and resistors are used in the low order crossover, which also incorporates an exotic Mundorf Supreme gold / silver / oil capacitor. These components are hand matched for each speaker. Derek Gilligan (along with many other fine designers) maintains that a simple low order crossover is optimal and that is what you get here. You can only do this successfully if you have full control over the parameters of the drivers (which he does) and of the cabinet construction (ditto). Low order crossovers have gentler slopes and reduce the issues many designs have with phase coherency.

The Super 20 is the top dual driver model in the Kudos range, and it sits above the stand mounted Super 10 ($6990). These models sit above the classic Cardea C20 ($6490) and C10 ($4790) which are similar in design but not as highly specified.

I put the speakers into a highly revealing Nordost Valhalla wired system comprising an EMM Labs XDS1 CD/SACD Player, an EMM Labs Pre 2 preamplifier, and a Modwright KWA 150SE power amp. The speakers had been well run in before they got to my house and made glorious sounds from the get go. I didn't have to fuss and fidget with the positioning, they seemed pretty much oblivious. They also offered a very wide sweet spot. According to my wife, who is very particular about these things, they not only fit well into the room sonically, they also look very attractive (for speakers!)

Holly Cole's Girl Talk [Alert Music Z2-81016] demonstrates the superb quality of the tweeter and its integration into the package. Her voice is sweet and warm, with no trace of etch or sibilance. The bass response is tight, pitch accurate and fast, the way I like it. The only weak points are in a lack of the ultimate slam evident through the reference YG Carmel, and an accelerated decay of open harmonics, evidence perhaps of slight overdamping.

A full Mahler Symphony - The Resurrection [Channel Classics CCS SA23506] is quite a test for any speaker. With a quick bass and a warm sweet midrange and treble there is a lot to enjoy, although the Kudos does not deliver the level of detail, notably in the bass, that the Carmel can. Cranking up the volume to realistic levels is no problem. The sound just gets louder but does not change its nature or approach dynamic compression.

The Super 20 performs equally well on The Beatles Love album [Capitol 094637981023]. It may lack the extreme dynamics and clarity of the Carmel but still produces a coherent and non-fatiguing picture of every style the Beatles throw into the mix. The upper registers avoid all trace of hardness, the bass is well defined, the imaging strong while instrumental color is rich and accurate.

"I'm Gonna Tell You This Story One More Time" from Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio [Rounder 11661-91422] allows you to hear low level details in a complex mix and demonstrates a very realistic piano tone, something many rivals fail to do. There is no sugar coating in the bass – you get the tight plucked notes I heard in concert from these artists. Dynamics are competitive and the image is cohesive and realistic.

I often bring out a recording of Haydn Quartets by the Quatuor Mosaïques on original instruments [Astree E8786] because it can sound thin or raucous on all but the best transducers. The Kudos aced this test, projecting a strong colorful image well into the room and preserving the expansive dynamic range recorded in the digital pits. This track alone is enough to tell me these speakers are truly musical since every facet of recorded sound is on display here – attack, sustain, tone, dynamics, low level detail, imaging, pace, presence. I could not find a fault here as the Kudos ran the reference Carmel close on all aspects of sound, and at half the price.

At this point the XDS1 flew off to the factory in Alberta to be upgraded to the latest V2 status and I switched to the Meridian G08 CD player as source. I compared the Kudos speaker to the YG Carmel as well as a couple of lower priced speakers sent to me for review, the Monitor Audio Silver 8 floorstander and the ELAC BS 244 BE bookshelf.

Every speaker loves "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" from Diana Krall's classic All for You album [Justin Time JTR 8458-2]. The Kudos, marginally more efficient than all but the Monitor Audio, did well on presence, richness of voice, dynamics and bass definition and really excelled on integrating the elements of the image into a coherent whole. As on all tracks, it could not keep up with the unbelievable dynamics and detail retrieval of the Carmel, nor with the bass pitch definition the Carmel and its sealed box design achieve routinely, but what speaker can? The ELAC has a simply wonderful tweeter and is equally non-fatiguing and splendid with the difficult percussive instruments, but its bass does not extend as low nor is it so well controlled. The Monitor Audio is less neutral than the others, giving (intentionally) a warmer and somewhat softer overall presentation, equally strong in bass extension but looser and less pitch accurate in the lowest octave.

Talking Timbuktu is a recording of African music I would recommend strongly. It combines the wonderful Ali Farke Toure's Groupe Asio with Ry Cooder and special guests Clarence "Gatemoth" Brown and John Patitucci. "Bonde" shows the much higher resolution bass achieved by the Kudos over the inexpensive Monitor Audio by breaking what sounds like a single heartbeat into its core complex sub-components. While the overall sound picture is well captured, you can easily listen through to the individual instrumentalists who are all clearly positioned in space. Here the advantage goes to the smaller ELAC which really does project the three dimensional image superbly, and to the Carmel which is another imaging champion. The Kudos provides much stronger dynamics than the ELAC or the Monitor Audio.

If you like jazz but you don't have Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section in your collection, go fix this omission right away. The opening track "You'd be so Good to Come Home to" is a perfect example of his artistry, with Miles Davis' crew (Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums) along for the ride. Pepper's sax has a wonderful silky quality through the Kudos, the deep bass moves rapidly and effortlessly while the percussion is exemplary in its clarity and remarkably easy on the ear (not common). The bass is also pitch accurate but perhaps a little lower in level than ideal. The piano sounds a little short of full presence - shy of the solidity of the Carmel, but still fuller than the ELAC or Monitor Audio could manage.

The Super 20 comes through with strong clarity and scale on Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony [Naxos 8.572461] where the dynamics appear to be much above average and volume levels can get ferocious. The image here is strong front to back but not as wide as the ELAC or Carmel.

Kudos Audio Super 20 Speaker DriversMozart's Divertimento in E Flat [Philips 416 485-2] is one of his great masterpieces. It sounds so simple and elegant but conceals the greatest possible depths and artistry. The Kudos is particularly strong in rendering a realistic string tone, providing more subtlety and body than the ELAC and Monitor Audio. The strings blend and contrast in a beautifully balanced way in an ideal image space. The sound is quite intimate and you can even hear breathing.

Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What [Hear Music HRM 3281402] is a welcome return to form, full of amazing rhythms. "Getting Ready for Christmas Day" offers a full sound, Simon's voce is well fleshed out and the imaging is strong. On the other hand, it is less punchy than the Carmel or Monitor Audio, coming out level pegging on that score with the ELAC. By contrast "Dazzling Blue" is close to demonstration class, fast and dynamic with excellent rich color. The Carmel has even stronger dynamics here and offers more detail, making it easier to hear all the different parts that contribute to the whole, but that's why you pay the even bigger bucks.

Last up is Clapton's Unplugged [Reprise CDW45024]. Again the Kudos pulls well ahead of the ELAC and Monitor Audio, offering a bigger more dynamic and exceptionally coherent picture in the sad song "Tears in Heaven". It also brings out a much more well-defined bass line. In one small aspect, the ELAC pulls ahead – it produces the clearest triangle notes of any of the four speakers, testimony once more to that fine tweeter.

Far be it from me to tell you this is the best pair of speakers you can get for under ten grand. There is no best. But this may be the one that presses all of your buttons. In its favor are its looks, fit and finish, its room friendliness, its undemanding nature with regard to partnering electronics, its smooth wide bandwidth response, accuracy and its dynamics. It seems oblivious to your taste in music. Hell – even country music sounds good (never thought I'd say that). I wouldn't say it has the best low end response you can get for the money, and there are speakers with a higher level of detail or stronger imaging. Being unfailingly musical and neutral to a fault, I would say it represents very solid value and is worthy of your audition.



Type: Two-way bass reflex
Tweeter: 29mm Kudos Crescendo K2
Midrange/Woofer: SEAS 7" paper coated w/Nextel, copper shorting ring and aluminum phase plug.
Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m
Impedance: 8 Ohms nominal
Frequency Response: 30 Hz to 30 kHz
Dimensions: 36.4” x 7.9” x 10.6” (HxWxD)
Standard Finishes: Black Oak, Cherry, Oak, Walnut, Rosenut, and White
Optional Finishes: Tineo and Rosewood (10 to 20 percent surcharge)
Price: $8490 in standard finish
Warranty: Five years


Company Information
Kudos Audio
Harvey Court
Low Willington Industrial Estate
County Durham DL150UT

Voice: +44 845 458 6698
E-mail: enquiries@kudosaudio.com
Website: www.KudosAudio.com


United States Distributor
Fidelis Audio/Video
460 Amherst Street
Nashua, NH 03060

Voice: (603) 880-4434
Website: www.fidelisav.com












































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