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Speakers

These tiny speakers will throw a party for your ears

Totem's Acoustic KIN Mini speakers and KIN Sub make a sweet little three-piece system for music and movies.

totem-kin-sub-blacksss

The Totem Acoustic KIN Mini speakers and KIN Sub.

Totem Acoustic

Last weekend I reviewed the fabulous Q Acoustics 3050i tower speakers. But then I thought, too bad not everybody has room for speakers as big as these bad boys! So this time I went for downright tiny speakers, the Totem Acoustic KIN Mini, which measures a trim 5 by 8.9 by 5.8 inches (126 by 226 by 146 mm). 

Surely these tykes will fit in even the smallest rooms. Deep bass is supplied by the matching KIN Sub, which is mighty small for a subwoofer, just 9.5 by 11.25 by 11.5 inches (241 by 286 by 292 mm). Could these little speakers, aided by a subwoofer, compete with the tower speakers?

The KIN Mini speakers feature 4-inch (105mm) phenolic honeycomb woofers and 0.75-inch (20mm) soft dome tweeters. The speakers have a small bass port just above their heavy-duty biwire speaker cable connectors. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms.

The sealed (non-ported) KIN Sub hosts an 8-inch (203mm) carbon fiber woofer that gets motivated by the built-in 150 watt Class D amplifier. The build quality of my review samples was very decent, as was their white satin painted finish and white cloth grilles. Of course the speakers and sub are also available in black satin with matching grilles, as in the image above. The speakers and subs are fitted with antiskid aluminum feet.

The KIN Mini speakers sell for $500 (£399, AU$775) per pair, and the KIN Sub used in this review retails for $699 (£599, AU$1,000). But there's also the somewhat smaller KIN Sub Mini, which runs $500 (£399, AU$700).

Fiddly setup

Listening sessions took place in CNET's comfy New York listening room, where I used the KIN speakers and sub with a Sony STR DN1080 AV receiver. The sub has three controls on its rear panel -- volume, phase and crossover -- and that last one is continuously variable from 50 to 200 Hz. Setting the volume control was tricky: It's sensitive and getting the sub's volume set just right whenever I changed movies or music took some time. No single volume setting was right for everything.

The Totem Acoustic KIN Sub's rear panel.

Totem Acoustic

The KIN Sub sports stereo RCA inputs and outputs, plus speaker level inputs and outputs. I initially used the receiver's RCA sub output hooked up to the sub and tweaked the STR-DN1080's bass management, with the speaker size set to Small. I experimented with different crossover settings, from 50 Hz to 150 Hz and never felt the blend between the sub and speakers was as smooth as I like. Then I tried running the KIN Minis as Large speakers, effectively bypassing the crossover, and the sound was much improved. Not perfect, but better.

Since most stereo integrated amps don't have dedicated RCA subwoofer outputs I also tried using the KIN Sub's speaker level inputs and outputs and had good results with them. Both KIN system hookup methods -- RCA and speaker level -- worked equally well.

Epic listening

The KIN Mini speakers and KIN Sub sound much bigger than they are. Starting with The Revenant on Blu-ray, the battle scenes between the fur trappers and the Native Americans were viscerally alive. And later with the waterfall scene, the roar of the surging water was intense. The little three-piece system isn't lacking in power!

I next tried something completely different, Ēriks Ešenvalds: Doors of Heaven, an exquisite choral recording. The sound of the massed voices and soloists was breathtaking in its clarity. I had goosebumps listening to this soul stirring music.

I squeezed in some high-resolution audio listening time with Kraftwerk's 3-D The Catalog on Blu-ray, and the band's synths churning textures and details were on full display. The KIN Sub's control over the low frequencies was good, but the blend between sub and speakers wasn't as smooth as I would have liked. Sometimes there was a gap in the bass response between sub and speakers.

The little system could play loud, but I could localize the bass coming from the sub that was to the right of the right channel KIN Mini speaker. Centering the subwoofer between the left and right channel KIN Minis speakers helped minimize that, but that centered sub placement strategy isn't possible in every room. Most folks want to place the sub off to one side or another. When I stopped focusing on where the bass was coming from and just enjoyed the music, the three-piece Totem system sound was wholly engaging.

Still, the Totem Acoustic KIN Mini/KIN Sub system as tested runs $1,199, and it's nowhere as powerful as the Q Acoustics 3050i towers I reviewed last week. The 3050i's midrange was also more natural-sounding and dynamics were much livelier. Oh, and the 3050i goes for $800 a pair in the US (£649 or AU$1,399), so they're more affordable than the three-piece Totem system. Still, for a lot of folks the 3050is will be much too big -- for them, the seriously compact KIN Mini system is well worth considering. 

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