In the mid-1990s, EgglestonWorks released the original Andra, the loudspeaker that thrust that Memphis-based company into the consciousness of audiophiles. I remember hearing a pair of Andras in New York City in 1996, at Sound by Singer, with Andrew Singer himself playing DJ for me. The Andras had replaced a pair of Wilson Audio’s WATT/Puppy speakers in the system, and Singer was in hard-sell mode. At the time, of course, I had no money to buy the Andras or anything else Singer carried, but I was a youngish audiophile learning about good sound, and Singer was a legend in the world of high-end audio retail. That audition made a lasting impression on me. I recall thinking how utterly powerful the Andras sounded for such relatively compact floorstanders. That was my introduction to EgglestonWorks, and 22 years later, I’m still impressed with the sound of their speakers.
Fast-forward to Munich, Germany, and High End 2017, where EgglestonWorks was launching their new Viginti ($39,900 USD/pair), a loudspeaker whose shape harks back to the original Andra. Although the Viginti’s launch was intended as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Andra’s debut, the Viginti’s design was entirely new, with advanced engineering that resulted in better sound than the Andras were ever capable of, and that made it a hit at High End 2017. And to me, the Viginti was also the most visually attractive loudspeaker EgglestonWorks had ever produced.
Early in 2018, EgglestonWorks’ CEO, Jim Thompson, contacted me to let me know that a new speaker was coming, and that I might be interested in reviewing it. This “baby Viginti,” as he called it, had been developed on the heels of the Viginti’s launch, with the goal of distilling the costlier speaker’s DNA into a smaller, more affordable package. The result of that project is the Kiva ($15,500/pair), a pair of which I installed in my listening room last November. Those of you who’ve admired the Viginti’s sound and looks -- but not its price or its 255-pound weight -- now have an alternative.
Each Kiva comes in a large box, screwed down securely to the box’s wooden base. The speaker is shipped already mounted on casters -- when the box is opened, the Kiva can be rolled down the built-in ramp and into place. Once in position, its included feet or spikes replace the casters and you’re off to the races. Thompson and I were able to carry the Kivas up to my second-floor listening room from the garage where they were uncrated with no problems -- speakers don’t roll up stairs.
The three-way, five-driver Kiva measures 49”H x 10.5”W x 22”D and weighs 115 pounds. Its angular top and bottom profiles and its slightly raked-back stance give it some character, even if it lacks such flourishes as the Viginti’s ultracool carbon-fiber side panels. Though it may be a “baby” Viginti, the Kiva is not small, and its considerable depth will require careful thinking about positioning -- but its size, shape, and weight are manageable: a single person can move them around.
The five drivers are all mounted on the front baffle: Up top are two 6.5” paper-based midrange drivers made by SB Acoustics from their Satori line, one above and one below a large (1.38”) soft-dome tweeter from SEAS. Stacked at the bottom are two 7.5” woofers with paper cones, also SBA Satoris. Each driver’s frame is sandwiched between the MDF subbaffle and two panels of brushed natural aluminum that contrasted nicely with the gray of my review samples.
The sharp-eyed reader will have already noticed that the Kiva’s drivers are all different from those used in the Viginti, most notably its soft-dome tweeter vs. the more expensive speaker’s beryllium dome. “So how is it a baby Viginti, Jeff?” I hear you thinking. I had the same question. The similarities lie not in the two models’ driver complements but in their acoustical design. EgglestonWorks wanted to use drive-units that would be unique to the Kiva within their line, and so chose them based on the requirements of the speaker’s smaller cabinet and lower cost.
Construction of a Kiva begins with panels of MDF that range in thickness from 1.53” to 1.79” -- the Kiva does seem more physically substantial than its 115 pounds would indicate. Nor is its cabinet just a big empty box -- inside, it’s rather complex.
We all know that, in reproduced sound, nothing else matters if you don’t get the midrange right, and it seems that EgglestonWorks has put tons of effort into that aspect of the Kiva’s design. The two midrange drivers are each loaded into quasi-transmission lines that terminate at the rear of the speaker, each line ending in a rectangular opening covered with black fabric and trimmed in matte-finished carbon fiber. EgglestonWorks explains that these drivers’ backwaves begin 180° out of phase, and in a traditional speaker box would undergo further phase progression before being reflected back through the thin diaphragm of the midrange driver itself, and thus be made audible as distortion. To counter this, EgglestonWorks uses a transmission line: a long tube that tapers toward the rear, filled with absorptive material to attenuate the reflected backwave. This driver-loading method has another benefit: a very small amount of sound is vented to the rear through the transmission line’s port, which adds a touch of midband ambience to the in-room sound. This makes the Kiva, in the strictest sense, a dipole, though EgglestonWorks is quick to point out that this energy is highly attenuated in comparison to the direct sound.
The crossover frequencies are pretty standard. The midrange drivers hand off to the tweeter at 2.2kHz with an electrical third-order, high-pass crossover that yields a fourth-order acoustical response. The woofers are crossed over to the mids at 200Hz with a second-order slope. EgglestonWorks states that the vented woofers’ resonant frequency is 37Hz, and that this results in group-delay phase shift in a region in which our ears are minimally sensitive to such errors.
More details: The Kiva’s frequency range is specified as 29Hz-24kHz, its nominal impedance as 6 ohms, and its sensitivity as 88dB/W/m. Two sets of rhodium-plated binding posts facilitate biwiring or biamping, and are mounted on a large, matte-finish carbon-fiber panel recessed into the cabinet’s rear, just above the woofer’s slot vent at the bottom. The rather narrow Kiva is made laterally quite stable by two outrigger bars, to which are attached its feet or spikes (included). These outriggers widen the speaker’s stance by about 3” on each side.
Although I don’t find the Kiva as attractive as the Viginti, its look grew on me. EgglestonWorks has improved its finishing processes over the years, and the Kivas’ painted finish is equal in quality to what you’d see on a speaker from Wilson Audio.
System and placement
Each Kiva was fed 100W from my Coda Model 11 class-A solid-state stereo power amplifier, which was connected to an AVM SD 6.2 streaming preamplifier-DAC. Source music was mostly from Tidal. Cables and interconnects were Explorer-series models from Siltech, and I single-wired the Kivas using their supplied jumpers. The Kivas were ended up about 2’ 6” from the front and sidewalls of my listening room, just over 8’ apart, 11’ from my listening position, and toed in so that I could just see the surfaces of the inner side panels when I sat down to listen.
I’ve read posts on Internet audio forums by guys who buy new speakers and struggle with them for months. The most common problems are a lack of bass and strident highs. What typically happens is that the owner stays up nights for weeks on end, working on their positions in the room, and if that doesn’t work he’ll start replacing electronics and footers, and addressing power conditioning. Some months later, he’ll post on the forum declaring the problem(s) solved. A couple years later, this same dude will sell the speakers because he hadn’t ever really fixed the problem(s) -- that interim period of silent “satisfaction” had simply become too fatiguing. At some point, you want to quit messing around with your audio system and just enjoy some music.
I didn’t have that problem with the EgglestonWorks Kivas. To begin with, I found these speakers just plain listenable. Although Jim Thompson moved them around a bit in my room to optimize their sound, the Kivas never actually sounded bad anywhere. Yes, things got better as we dialed them in, but we never experienced an “Oh, no” moment when we wondered if these speakers would ever work in my room. Contrary to what some audiophiles would have you believe, a pair of good speakers doesn’t typically sound downright bad everywhere in your room except in one pair of spots, where they sound good only if your head is locked in one point-size sweet spot in aural space.
The Kiva’s listenability began with its tweeter. As I listened to “Little Paradise,” from Eliane Elias’s Dance of Time (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Concord Jazz/Tidal), I immediately concluded that the Kivas’ big soft-dome tweeter were striking a nice balance of detail and tonal friendliness. The piano had enough sparkle to tickle the ear, but it never sounded strident or too hot -- at all. This recording is slightly warm sounding to begin with, so perhaps this wasn’t the best test of upper-frequency balance, but still -- the sound was just beautiful in my room, and required no effort on my part to enjoy it.
I next cued up “Hello,” from Adele’s 25 (16/44.1 FLAC, XL/Columbia/Tidal), which has decidedly more treble bite than the Elias track. The highs seemed a touch restrained, but then I realized that I was listening at a very low level -- around 60dB -- in my admittedly quiet listening room. (That room is isolated upstairs at one corner of our 3900-square-foot home -- I hear virtually nothing from other parts of the house.) I raised the level about 15dB and listened again. Lo and behold, the treble did not take on a different character. The soundstage spread out appropriately, and Adele’s voice grew in power and majesty with the rise in volume -- but the highs never became problematic. The soundstage depth was superb, and Adele’s voice was perfectly centered in space, but no grating or harsh sounds emanated from the Kivas. A bright-sounding speaker will sound terrible with this music played loud. Thinking about the Kiva’s highs, I kept coming back to one word: balanced.
Knowing how much effort was spent on perfecting the Kiva’s midband, I wanted to explore that next. I cued up “LA Rain,” from Max Jury’s Notes from California (16/44.1 FLAC, Marathon/Tidal). The image of his voice was farther forward in my room than Adele’s had been -- Jury was slightly in front of the Kivas’ front baffles. This yielded excellent presence, the singer seeming to be standing there, singing just a few feet in front of me. I almost involuntarily moved my head back a touch, as you do when someone invades your personal space a bit too aggressively. Of course, that’s how this song was recorded -- my point is that the Kivas were able to re-create Jury’s intense vocal presence with ease. As I listened to more midrange-centric music from Tidal’s Folk/Americana genre, I came to largely the same conclusion about the Kiva’s midband as I had about its treble: This speaker was inherently listenable, never assaulting me with its sound. I also concluded that the blend of the outputs of the tweeters and midrange drivers was seamless. Music was all of a piece -- never did I hear any problems related to audible handoffs of frequencies from driver to driver.
To assess the Kivas’ reproduction of bass, I began where I often do: with the title track of Donald Fagen’s Morph the Cat (24/96 AIFF, Reprise/HDtracks). I use this cut to see if a speaker has power in the lower bass and punch in the midbass. If I can’t feel the percussive impact in my chest, then I know that the speaker in question is too lightweight in the lows and will ultimately not satisfy me. You’ve got to have some volume for this song, so I raised the level to a peak of about 90dB and let ’er rip. The EgglestonWorks played with real growl in the bass, and physicality from the kick drum. They didn’t produce the seismic shifts that I’ve heard from the super speakers I’ve had in past years, but I heard plenty of low-bass energy, and at impressively high volume levels.
So percussive slam was there. What about subterranean bass? I searched Tidal for “Norbu,” from Bruno Coulais’s music for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 AIFF, Virgin), found it, and settled into my chair to let some bass waves wash over me. I’ve heard this track hundreds of times -- for years, I’ve used it to assess speakers’ bass abilities, and I know precisely how it should sound when a system is hitting on all cylinders: “Norbu” should fully energize a listening room, with massive drum thwacks that roll from the front of the room to the rear, each note decaying smoothly into the start of the next, creating an unbroken series of bass peaks and valleys. (I’ve always envisioned these bass peaks as a mountain range -- the music was composed for Himalaya, after all -- and have wondered if Coulais had that in mind when he wrote it.) The Kivas couldn’t re-create this track as well as my past reference speakers, but they did produce powerful waves of bass down to about 30Hz. I heard no protests of overload from the Kivas’ woofers, even as I pushed the volume level at the listening position to over 90dB. The area in which the Kivas fell a bit short, in addition to sheer depth of bass, was in the decay of each bass note. It was very minor, but I could hear notes end just a fraction of a second before I know they actually do on this recording. Still, I came away thinking that the Kivas sounded exceptionally full for their size and driver complement.
Overall, the Kivas produced a tonally balanced sound that veered a touch toward the polite. I wouldn’t call them warm -- I never felt that the midrange or bass was elevated over the rest of the audioband. But the tweeter was eminently listenable with any music I played, which indicates to me that, at least in my room, it was maybe just a tad subdued in the uppermost frequencies. What I like is that this didn’t affect the Kivas’ ability to accurately position aural images on the soundstage, and with a depth that gave music real dimension.
The last speaker I reviewed in my former listening room was the Raidho Acoustics XT-5, which cost $41,600/pair -- about three times the Kiva’s price. Nonetheless, I wanted to compare them for two reasons: First, because the Raidho was the last speaker I reviewed in the Music Vault, I thought I could somehow bridge the gap between that room and my new space by describing their differences in sound as a way to transition my own thoughts from room to room. This is a flawed approach, I know -- the two rooms are as different from each other as are these two speakers, if not more so, and of course the room always accounts for a large portion of the a system’s sound. So don’t take this as a precise comparison, as if I’d A/B’d the speakers in the same room with the same system. Second, the Raidho measures 52”H x 5.7”W x 18.5”D and weighs 85 pounds -- a pair of them occupies about as much of a room’s real estate as a set of Kivas.
Those qualifications aside, there are some solid conclusions I can make: The Eggs are built as well as the Raidhos. In terms of fit and finish, both fall just a tad short of the industry’s best, but they’re also far from the worst. Both speakers are three-way designs with forward-firing drivers, the Raidhos specified to produce usable bass output down to 40Hz, the EgglestonWorks down to 29Hz. And yes, my listening confirmed that last spec: The Kivas played deeper and with more authority, and I got the sense that this bass advantage would hold even if both speakers were set up in the same room. The ribbon tweeter in the Raidhos had a touch more precision and, especially, air compared with the Eggs -- but surprisingly, the Kivas’ expansive soundstage rivaled the Raidhos’ in width and depth.
Which speaker would I choose, were price not a factor? I’d take the EgglestonWorks -- I know they’d sound great with minimal fuss, and I enjoyed their greater bass capabilities. Would I crave the Raidhos’ increased detail retrieval and air in the highs? I’m not sure . . . but now, as I write this, listening to the bells in a Loreena McKennitt track through the Kivas, I think I wouldn’t be giving up much at all.
But if price were a factor -- and when is it not? -- well, you can see that this is really no comparison at all. The Kiva wins, hands down.
The EgglestonWorks Kiva is a relative bargain in a large, almost full-range speaker that effortlessly delivers beautiful music. It doesn’t need to extract a pound of flesh, it’s not in the least idiosyncratic, and you won’t spend months dialing in a pair of them to get your music to sound as it should. Their solid build quality and excellent finish guarantee that you’ll be proud to display them in your room. And if my time with them is any indication, you won’t feel the need to go out and spend twice their cost to get marginally better sound. I think that, for most audiophiles, buying a pair of Kivas can be a set-it-and-forget-it proposition -- and these days in high-end audio, that’s rare.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Amplifier -- Coda Model 11
- Sources -- AVM SD 6.2 streaming preamplifier-DAC with integrated Tidal streaming
- Cables -- Siltech Explorer interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
EgglestonWorks Kiva Loudspeakers
Price: $15,500 USD per pair.
Warranty: Six years parts and labor.
540 Cumberland Street
Memphis, TN 38112
Phone: (901) 525-1100