King Sound Model KS-17 loudspeaker
If we’re lucky, we learn something new every day. Maybe days seemed longer when I was a kid because each day was chocked full of new experiences. At 65, my days seem some shorter - time seems to pass more quickly, because new experiences happen with less frequency. So, I work when I can and busy myself in the hobby; reviewing equipment while also fixing and upgrading worthy turntables and tonearms for personal use.
My most recent project was a Well Tempered Simplex plinth I found in need of lots of love on eBay – no arm, no arm suspension, no pot, platter or spindle, only a bearing and the Simplex’s attached motor. Months later, with a friend’s 3D printing and a bit of perspiration, the Simplex is spinning beautifully with a lower more isolated base that allows me to use older WTRP platter, spindle and bearing parts – and a self-built arm that’s esthetically closer to the higher-priced Amadeus ll model. Thank you, Bill Firebaugh, for developing analog elements that I can wrap my brain around.
There's a knock at the door...
UPS says they've a super large package for me. Almost forgot the new The King Sound Model KS-17 Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers were being freighted to me. Loaded in imposing wooden crates, one large and long containing the speaker panels and the other of a more manageable size that contained the support elements, bases, connectors and crossovers. Clement Perry (CP) and John Hebert came over to help me move them in and set them up. Three of us got the King’s assembled… YES, it certainly takes at least two people to get these loudspeakers ready for prime time.
Since 2002, Hong Kong’s King’s Audio Limited has established itself as an exceptional electrostatic loudspeaker manufacturer, with products ranging from speakers, amplifiers, headphones, headphone amplifiers and CD players retailing in the UK, Italy, Canada, US, China and Australia. In the past 10 years, King’s Audio has been advancing rapidly quality and reliability, with lab research and, welcomed feedback from audiophiles across the world. In return, King’s makes high quality products with the goal to bring genuine high fidelity back into the listening room.
These King Sound Model KS-17 electrostatic speakers measure 18” wide, 2" deep and 80 -1/2” tall, once assembled. The mounting base for each panel is 15” deep x 18” wide x 3” tall off the floor with included ball-ended tiptoes. These are pure full range ESL’s, as such, there are no woofers to augment the lower frequencies. Each speaker comes with an external crossover, which clamps firmly to a hefty cable at the base of each speaker. The crossover is powered by a small 12V 2.15A power supply. The KS logo is illuminated by a white LED at the rounded bottom front of each panel – a nice finishing touch – indicating that the speakers are powered on and ready for business.
Simply put, an electrostatic speaker is comprised of a thin sheet of material, like mylar, with each side thinly coated with a layer of conductive material, sandwiched between perforated steel plates that are charged with a high DC voltage creating a strong electrostatic field around the diaphragm. As the input signal is applied to the diaphragm, the diaphram pushes and pulls toward the stationary stator’s opposing magnetic fields, resulting in sound wave production. An ESL often has limited bass response, unless it is part of a hybrid design with a dynamic woofer component. As such, bringing full frequency range to a panel speakers presents quite a challenge to most designers. When accomplished, a great ESL is capable of presenting an openness, transparency and a dynamic quickness that is simply not possible with a conventional dynamic speaker.
The KS-17 ESL’s have a system frequency response of 32Hz - 26kHz. While high frequencies like this are what can be expected from a great transducer such as this, there's also some impressive low end performance available here as well. Sensitivity is rated at 83dB/2.83 volts/meter and an impedance of 8 Ohms, with a crossover frequency of 1.2kHz. The crossover boasts Mundorf MCaps Silver/Gold/Oil film capacitors and topped off with WBT-0703 B binding posts. Mundorff states that this is their newest and best capacitor to date - it combines the best sonic properties of both their Silver/Gold and Silver in Oil SUPREME caps.
The King’s are taller than my reference Eminent Technology LFT-8b’s and my wife liked them immediately for their rather see-through appearance, green/black coloration, gunmetal grey frames and black bases with adjustable chrome ball-end tiptoes. It was surprising that something so thin in appearance could reproduce such impressive frequency response. Right out of the box, the King’s delivered mids that were very life-like and highs quite lilting and sweet… just what a good ESL does best, but the low frequencies were a shock to the system – the KS-17’s rendered deep dimensional bass with impressive weight and extension. The height of their image was a welcomed surprise. Being tall people (I'm 6'4" and my wife 6'), we appreciated a tall loudspeaker capable of producing great sound while standing and moving around the house. The King’s deliver a taller image than many speakers, and do it well.
Snap, Crackle… what?
Once set up in my main rig with my recently returned and upgraded Conrad Johnson PV-5 tube preamp feeding an Emerald Physics EP 100.2 SE power amp, we played the King’s for 1/2 hour or so before the guys left. Soon after their exit, I began noticing a popping and cracking, first 2-3 pops on a side, then eventually per song, and finally culminating in a crescendo of popping that caused me to race to the preamp to switch it off. The EP100.2 SE is a class D 100wpc stereo power amplifier. This little wonder pushes my planar magnetic hybrid Eminent Technology LFT-8b’s, inefficient as they may be (82-83dB) with ease, thanks to its 30dB gain. My hybrid planar speakers crave power and I often use a 200 WPC PS Audio 200CX. The King Sound KS-17 full range electrostatics are also demanding with the same 82-83dB efficiency.
While my primary experience with electrostatic-type speakers has been my hybrid ET’s, designed using the same kind of principle as electrostatic and ribbon speakers. The remainder of speakers I’ve had my hands on have been primarily of the dynamic variety. Who knew that some full range electrostatics speakers pop and crack if underpowered? I had no idea – you learn something new every day!
While reaching the King Audio Model KS-17 ESL’s, and ESL’s in general, I learned that some power amps don’t double their power when the impedance is halved. It is possible that I could have damaged one of my vintage bridged to mono 140 watt power amplifiers, had I tried them with the King’s as I contemplated doing – a tough load from an inefficient loudspeaker to an amp operating at a lower impedance can take out a bridged to mono power amplifier that lacks decent protection circuitry. I heard back from the builder of my 140wpc amps that it would have been okay to use them. Better to be sure than sorry! Never hurts to check such things.
Using the PS Audio 200CX proved the right choice for powering these speakers. With the CJ PV-5 and my newly modded WT Simplex on my small review rack, I was ready experience the King Sound KS-17’s without popping or cracking.
Cassandra Wilson’s “Traveling Miles” (Blue Note 1999) opens with “Run The Voodoo Down,” a great track that really sets the tone for her intimate, lyrical and moody vocal interpretations of Miles Davis’ music. Her silky smooth voice was wonderfully presented with warmth and accompanied by a solid bass foundation. There was a snap to transients that felt very live. Drums felt in-the-room, with a realistic crisp, punch, drive and impact. The KS-17’s presented excellent mid-range detail – on the total track “Traveling Miles,” Wilson’s honey sweet voice was warm, with a wonderful vocal body, and accompanied by a quite real sounding acoustic guitar. The band was oh, so tight and the bass quick and every sound captured had lots of depth and punch. Brushwork was soft and silken, conga slaps had a nice edge and the sax was rich and full. Wilson’s voice throughout was lovely and lush with great warm
A play off “Continuum” by Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile (ECM 2016) through the King’s delivered so much of what I love. Impressive bass, at times thunderous, snappy transients and a great soundstage. “Modul 29_14” brings crisp, fast transients with great body to the percussive instrumentation of this group (the piano is a percussive instrument). Bass accents were bold and fast and presented on a nice stage of great depth and solid imaging. Not only did the King’s present this picture with drive and excitement, they presented the woodwind with added dimension, describing the airiness of the notes with great body and nuance. Imaging was spot-on here and low frequencies, akin to the rolling in of thunder, enveloping this listener with great depth and ferocity.
On “Model 12,” the opening snare was near silken in texture, punctuated by low bass drum whacks from a recessed part of the recoding venue. The bass drum’s skin is so life-like in coloration and it’s body is a treat for the ears. Cymbal taps with the large end of the drum sticks ring with a metallic resonance and taps and accents offer an organic realism. Every small transient rang out beautifully. Each big, bold and forceful dynamic had speed, drive and depth of character.
“Model 18” opens full of dynamic color, with percussive squeals and squeaks. The quick, radiant string accompaniment was both rich and riveting and there was great body to even the bassiest of dynamics. Lots of bowed string work floated above a field of rolling, thunderous bass and drum play. This low bass drum work yielded a dark contrast to the lightness and snap of the more delicate transients.
A play of Pat Metheny’s “Kin ()” (Nonesuch 2014) release was quite revealing. Through the King’s, the track “On Day One” provided great transients, fun bass, lilting and light airy cymbal work and forceful and full-ranging instrumentation. Both the bass and bass drums were very well fleshed out and powerful, with great drive – there was nothing wimpy about this presentation! The speed and life-like qualities in this music, as presented by the King’s, was smile-invoking.
The King’s play at quite a nice listening volume in our good-sized space, and do so to no negative effect. One can play them louder, but you risk compression and distortion – these are full range ESL’s, after all. My Eminent Technology LTFT-8b’s play louder, because of their hybrid design, with the lowest frequencies handled by dynamic woofers. The King KS-17’s bettered them with deeper bass and a bigger sound that equaled their taller height.
Yes, the King KS-17’s envelope you in a wide and deep soundstage that’s also quite tall. The instruments that appear right in front of you are very life-like and delivered with a robust drive. Highs have a seductive sweetness and wonderful decay, with nothing ever harsh or edgy. Lower frequencies have real impact, full of energy and punch. I, for one, didn’t expect such well-rounded and dimensional bass from these full range panels… low bass tom tom rolls were particularly fun to hear rendered.
The transients and dynamics in “Rise Up” were attention-grabbing. Handclaps and the quick and nimble body and drive of Metheny’s acoustic guitar were impressive. As the band rolled in, the dynamics landed suddenly and were exciting in their immediacy. Percussive accents were very well delineated and instantly addictive. Again, those low bass tom tom rolls had body, depth and a fleshiness, dimension that elicited a “Wow.”
But, can they rock?
A play of “Brush with the Blues” from Jeff Beck’s “Who Else!” (Epic/Sony Records 1999) set me back on my heels. I was stunned at the power of the bass emanating from the center between the King KS-17’s and impressed with the way they responded to Beck’s electric guitar tone. From the subtle to the bombastic, each note had great body and dynamics. Beck plays without a pick for the most part, so the sound of a note comes from the meat of his fingers, not the pluck of a plastic plectrum – he coaxes a wide range of textures and tones from his Fender Strat, and the King’s did a very nice job of placing this listener in the recording venue of this live recording.
Daniel Lanois “Belladonna” on vinyl is a curious project, conceived, played and engineered by Lanois. a musician blessed with both an engineer’s ear and great guitar and steel guitar skills. As I played through side one, I enjoy the indulgent side of Lanois the engineer, known for his layers of sound. It was with surprise and excitement that I noted the bass energy produced by these King Sound ESL’s - it is deep, it has d-e-p-t-h… and it’s forceful.
The King KS-17’s capacity to deliver such a wide range of musicality should be applauded. The resolving abilities of these speakers are impressive. The King’s have a wider sweet spot than most ESL’s (which tend to be beamy). They were a lot of fun to hang with and jazz sounds particularly great through them.
The KS-17 ESL’s play quite loud, but not at aggressive volumes without a bit of compression and some distortion, as do most ESL’s. Still, you won’t feel slighted – I didn’t, and we have a good-sized space. The King’s go down impressively and most satisfyingly low, with bass impact more akin to a dynamic speaker. If you’e in a market for a full range speaker, ESL, dynamic or a hybrid of the two, at this or a higher price point, the King Audio LTD Model KS-17 Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers should be on you short list.
King Audio LTD Model KS-17 Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers
Frequency Response: 32Hz-26KHz
Sensitivity: (equivalent) 83dB/2.83volts/meter
Impedance: Normal 8Ω, 1.8 ohms #25KHz
Crossover Frequency: 1.2KHz
Weight: 20Kgs/ESL 8Kgs/DRIVER
Size: (HxWxD) 202 x 50 x 6cm (ESL)
12 x 24.5 x 22cm (DRIVER)
Price: $22,000 per pair
King's Audio Ltd.
Flat B,25/F Capital Trade Center
62 Tsun Yip Street, Kwun Tong
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2345 2323 Fax: +852-2345 8788
Twin Audio Video Inc.
PO Box 681
Loma Linda, CA 92374, USA