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                                                                      There’s no getting away from it: the
                                                                      hi-fi industry is getting old. Most of
                                                                      Britain’s leading hi-fi electronics
                                                                      brands (Arcam, Naim, Linn, Meridian,
                                                                      Rega etc) all started out in the 1970s,

   a Smile
                                                                      when hi-fi was still the height of
                                                                      consumer fashion, so most of its
                                                                      prime movers are now getting close to
                                                                      normal retirement age.
                                                                         By the time the 1980s came along,

  AudioSmile Kensai                                                   the music had arguably become less
                                                                      interesting, and the personal computer
                                                                      had started peeping over the parapet,

         loudspeaker                                                  providing a different distraction for
                                                                      those coming of age. Hi-fi had rather
                                                                      lost its glamour, and bright young
                   by Paul Messenger                                  things were becoming thinner on the
                                                                      ground. Musical enthusiasms still lead
                                                                      a good number of younger people to
                                                                      explore the world of hi-fi, as Britain’s
                                                                      most successful hi-fi retailer Julian
                                                                      Richer will confirm. But there aren’t
                                                                      that many people under 35 trying to
                                                                      start up hi-fi companies today.
                                                                         Which is why I was both surprised
                                                                      and delighted to find a decidedly
                                                                      youthful Simon Ashton occupying
                                                                      a room called AudioSmile at last
                                                                      Autumn’s Heathrow hi-fi show, and
                                                                      making some very enjoyable sounds
                                                                      therein too.
                                                                         AudioSmile currently operates
                                                                      on three fronts. It has add-on
                                                                      supertweeters; it modifies Behringer
                                                                      DACs and active crossovers to make
                                                                      them more audiophile-friendly; and it
                                                                      makes a complete miniature speaker
                                                                      system called the Kensai, which is the
                                                                      subject of this review.
                                                                         Why review a tiny and obscure
                                                                      speaker from a relatively small start-
                                                                      up company? Because it’s actually
                                                                      a very impressive tiny and obscure
                                                                      speaker. In the wake of the impressive
                                                                      Heathrow demonstration, I suggested
                                                                      Simon brought a pair down for me to
                                                                      try. I hate trying to make any sort of
                                                                      judgement under the unknown system
                                                                      and room conditions found at hi-fi
                                                                      shows, and wanted to check them with
                                                                      my own familiar sources, amplification
                                                                      and ancillaries.

                          Reproduced from Hi-Fi+ Magazine, Issue 64
                                                                                                 EQUIPMENT REVIEW

   By chance I happened to have the                                                                          According to
excellent Spendor SA1 (about                                                                              AudioSmile, the
which both Roy Gregory                                                                                     tweeter incorporates
and Chris Binns got                                                                                         an acoustic
pretty excited                                                                                              lens to widen
in Issues 60                                                                                                 dispersion, the
and 61) on                                                                                                    main driver has
hand when                                                                                                     a 9mm travel
Simon arrived.                                                                                                 and its motor
While I agree                                                                                                   uses copper
with both fellow                                                                                                 rings to reduce
reviewers that the                                                                                                distortion. The
SA1 is an exceptional                                                                                             crossover is
small speaker, the                                                                                                 hard-wired,
even smaller Kensai was                                                                                            phase-aligned,
every bit as good, albeit                                                                                           uses poly-film
in its own rather different                                                                                         capacitors
way. And any speaker that                                                                                            and is
can hold its own with the SA1                                                                                   covered in
definitely deserves to be given the full      by a heavily damped                                        a butyl rubber
Hi-Fi Plus treatment.                         (aperiodic) front slot port.                           compound to avoid
   The Kensai is both tiny and                Signal is applied to a single                  vibration effects.
expensive, but there’s long been a            pair of terminals, each fitted              You might expect a speaker this
niche for speakers that are both very         directly through the woodwork.          small would work well with a little
small and very good, irrespective                Finish and presentation are top      extra bass help by being sited just in
of price. An interesting bonus is a           class. Solid wood side panels – beech   front of a wall, and that is very much
matching flight case, available as a          on our samples, though alternatives     the case. Indeed, the Kensai coupled
£150 optional extra, for those who want       are available – while the top, base,    beautifully to the wall in our room,
to travel around and still have access to     front and back are covered in white     so that the far-field averaged ‘power’
a decent pair of speakers. The price of       (or black) leatherette. There’s no      response is smooth and even right
the speakers (sans case) is £x,xxx per        grille to mess up the sound.            across the audio band. It’s flat too – it
pair, which might seem a lot, but if you                                              delivers a +/-3dB in-room response
want something small, ultra-discreet,                                                 from below 40Hz up to 16kHz –
and potentially easily transportable, yet                                             though there is enough variation to
which is good enough to make your                                                         add character. The bass is strong
music (or radio, or whatever) totally                                                          45-75Hz, but output is then
engrossing and communicative, I can                                                             weak (about -4dB) through
think of no better.                                                                             the upper bass and lower
   Naturally it’s a two-way design,                                                             midband (80-600Hz), before
with a 120mm bass/mid driver and                                                                a forward upper mid and
a relatively large isoplanar ribbon                                                              presence (800Hz-5kHz).
tweeter. Said tweeter has a 40x56mm                                                              Happily, the the transitions
visible area, albeit somewhat occluded                                                           are smooth. Not surprisingly,
by a cellular structure that presumably                                                          sensitivity is low, my
provides the magnetism, (and which                                                               measurements confirming
looks very like the transducer used                                                              the claimed 83dB/W, though
in Wharfedale’s famous Isodynamic                                                                 it won’t stress the amplifier
headphones some decades back).                                                                    too much as the load stays
The bass/mid unit looks like a very                                                               comfortably above 6 ohms
classy SEAS affair with fixed copper                                                              throughout. Centred on
phase plug, and has a 75mm diameter                                                                48Hz, the port output is
magnesium alloy cone, and is loaded                                                          well damped.

                                            Reproduced from Hi-Fi+ Magazine, Issue 64

   Listening immediately confirmed           Flash’s ‘The Message’ came pounding          or dynamic tension low down in the
the extraordinarily good close-to-wall       out of the speakers.                         audio range.
integration, and the excellent bass             Although the bass is thoroughly              Any small speaker is bound to have
alignment. The sound shows a fine            impressive, the best thing about this        constraints as well as benefits, but I
freedom from boxiness with no obvious        speaker has to be its total and seamless     have to admit that the Kensai hides the
reflection effects to cause unpleasant       coherence. Just prior to trying the          former remarkably effectively, while
midrange colorations.                         Kensai, I’d been listening to a pair of     displaying the latter in abundance.
                                                those lovely single-driver egg-shaped     The more time I spend time listening
                                                 Eclipses, where a solitary voice-coil    to it, the more impressed I become by
                                                  ensures total coherence. Not only       its extraordinary ability to sound as
                                                   does the Kensai supply a degree        big as a full size speaker, while almost
                                                    of coherence that’s at least          disappearing visually.
                                                     broadly comparable, it does so          Simon tells me he’s making progress
                                                      alongside the sort of flat and      on a new big loudspeaker design, so
                                                       wide frequency balance that        I’m going to start saving my pennies
                                                        no single-driver system can       now. Meantime, anyone in the market
                                                         yet approach.                    for a tiny loudspeaker should at least
                                                             Tonally, one is aware of     try to hear the Kensai before making
                                                           the Kensai’s slightly light,   a decision.
                                                            bright and forward overall
                                                             character, at least when
                                                              using the speakers in a
                                                               fairly large room. (A
                                                                smaller room could
                                                                 well help here.) The
                                                                  sound therefore has
                                                                   a certain coolness,
                                                                 while at the same
                                                                                                    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
                                                         the voice band detail is very
                                                 explicit – not unwelcome, since it’s     AudioSmile Kensai
                                             not at all peaky, especially with speech.    Type:               Two-way, stand-mount,
   Indeed, provided that the volume             Stereo imaging is very effective,                             reflex-loaded speaker
level is kept in sensible bounds,            especially for a wall-mount, helped          Drivers:            1x 40x56mm isoplanar
the little Kensai can do amazing             by the lack of boxiness, the small                               ribbon tweeter
things even with bass-rich material.         size of the sources, and the way these                           1x 120mm mid/bass unit
Seeking to catch it out, I slipped           speakers seem able to ignore the                                 with 75mm magnesium cone
Massive Attack’s Mezzanine onto the          wall immediately behind them,                Bandwidth:          48Hz-20kHz ±3dB
turntable and deliberately selected          acoustically speaking. A degree of           Sensitivity:        83dB
‘Inertia Creeps’, one of of my favourite     depth is apparent with appropriate           Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
subwoofer test tracks. Much to my            recordings, and even some height is          Minimum impedance: 6 ohms
surprise, the Kensai wasn’t in the least     sometimes audible.                           Crossover frequency: 2.2kHz
discommoded – in fact rather the                AudioSmile claims that the relatively     Dimensions (WxHxD): 150x250x200mm
reverse. What it might lack in terms         large area of its ribbon tweeter             Weight:             5kg each
of party-level power handling, it more       contributes to the speaker’s “impressive     Finish:             Beech or Walnut (with black
than makes up for in taut timing,            dynamics”. It’s not an argument I’ve                             or white leatherette
fine agility and an impressive ability       heard before, but, I can’t argue with
to discriminate between different            the observation that the dynamic
instruments and musicians and the            expression is impressively vigorous,         Manufacturer:
way they are playing. So struck was I,       especially so (again) from something         AudioSmile
when Mezzanine finished, I dug out           so small. The top end is also attractively   Tel: 07952 478193
Blue Lines as an encore. “Eat your heart     sweet and clean, although it should          Net:
out LS3/5a”, I thought, as Grandmaster       be added that there’s not a lot of grip

                                           Reproduced from Hi-Fi+ Magazine, Issue 64

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