TUK Powered Speakers Review
After years in the making, the brand new Kanto TUK powered speaker is here!
Company & Product Overview
We first heard the Kanto products at CES in 2016 and were very impressed with their sound and build quality. Plus the fact that most of them had a built-in phono stage made our vinyl side smile. Their YU series of powered speakers have proven to be a great value for the money.
Kanto was founded by David Reid, who grew up in a room where music was constantly playing. His dad had the audio bug and loved to play around with different combinations of gear to try and reach better and better sound. This led David to become a big lover of music and a tinkerer consummate. He worked in the telecommunications industry for many years and there took on the skills needed to design and build consumer electronics.
Kanto hit the market in 2007 with an iPod docking station. It won a number of awards, which helped launch the company. Their goal was to create high-performance audio products that were very affordable. They followed up the iPod dock with a line of powered speakers and other accessories. Another Kanto goal, which is a little unusual in the audio space, was to create products that looked as good as they sound. They have so many color options on their speakers, you almost feel like you are in a paint store, which is pretty cool and unique.
Following up on the success of their YU speakers, Kanto wanted to come out with a speaker that offered far more performance, yet stay within the compact size of a typical powered speaker. We have to say, they have been working on this product for quite a while as we saw a prototype at CES 2017. Audio Advice was lucky enough to get a pre-production model of this new speaker, called the TUK, for testing. The TUK is a very compact powered bookshelf speaker, that is just packed chock full of technology.
Design & Build Quality
The Kanto TUK gets its name from a small town in northern Canada, Tuktoyaktuk. This little hamlet sits on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and is home to some spectacular Aurora Borealis displays. We suspect someone from Kanto spent time here as they say they want this speaker to give the same excitement to your ears as the Aurora does to your eyes. The name also pays homage to the fact all Kanto products are designed in Canada.
The TUK is a small speaker that is under 11” tall, about 8” deep and 7” wide. It is available in two matte finish colors, black or white. Like many small speakers, the TUK is ported, and in this case, the port is on the rear of the speaker. You’ll get some grills that attach with hidden magnets, although we feel the TUK is very sharp looking without the grills so you may want to leave the grills in the box.
You’ll only need sources to make a complete system with the TUK as it is self-powered with a built-in DAC and phono stage, plus some pretty cool DSP circuitry we will cover in the tech section.
Features & Technology
Most bookshelf speakers this size are a two-way design, and the TUK is no exception, however, the drivers they use are pretty exceptional! Rather than a typical dome tweeter for the high frequencies, the TUK uses an AMT tweeter. AMT stands for air motion transformer. This technology was invented by Dr. Heil back in the early ’70s and was famous in a speaker he designed called the ESS AMT1. An AMT tweeter uses a folded membrane, which gives you a lot of surface area in a small space. The sound is effectively “squeezed” out of the driver. The result is far less distortion and a high-frequency driver that can get down lower in frequency than most tweeters. AMT tweeters are typically more expensive than a conventional dome tweeter. Kanto chose them for the TUK for their ultra-fast, low distortion characteristics.
The woofer of the TUK is also pretty special. It is made out of aluminum. Kanto obviously wanted to spare no expense to squeeze great sound out of a small package by using this much more expensive driver material. Aluminum has very high rigidity and low mass which is ideal for a bass driver. The result is an ability to play much louder with less distortion. An important factor when you have a small box!
You’ll find plenty of input flexibility on the TUK. First, they include a built-in phono stage for moving magnet cartridges. We were also pleased to see them add an additional set of analog RCA inputs. Many companies just have one set with a switch to make them either phono or line-level analog, but you can do both with the TUK. Connecting up to a TV is easy too with the optical input. Computer audio is no issue either with the USB connection right on the back, plus the TUK has a pretty good built-in USB DAC. So let's see, that is a phono connection, a legacy CD player, tape deck or tuner input, an input for your TV, and a way to connect your computer. What more could you ask for? Yes, Kanto covered the one last possibility with a Bluetooth® 4.2 aptX™ HD connection. This is the highest resolution format available right now for Bluetooth.
That is a really full slate of inputs, but there are a couple of other ports on the back. You’ll be able to charge your phone up with a USB charging port built into the rear. Adding a subwoofer is also really easy with the addition of a subwoofer out on the rear of the TUK. Most powered speakers with a subwoofer out simply send an audio signal out to the sub but do not do anything to take the bass away from the speaker when the sub is connected. In the high-performance audio world, this is a big deal. When you route the bass away from a small speaker, the typically small woofer is not asked to move as far since those deep bass frequencies are no longer there (they got sent to the woofer). The end result is not only better bass, but a far more open and transparent midrange presentation. This type of speaker combination with a small pair crossed over to a subwoofer gives you the ability to play things a lot louder as well. When a small woofer is not being asked to move as far, it can put out more midrange with less breakup on loud passages. Kanto gives you a way to engage a DSP (digital signal processing) function that kicks in an 80hz crossover, sending only 80hz and above to the TUK and the tones below 80hz to your sub. You’ll get less distortion, cleaner mids and highs, and the ability to crank things up a bit when you couple a sub to the TUK. A great feature!
Another pretty neat feature the TUK has we have never seen on a powered speaker pair is the ability to flip channels. Powered speakers all have one speaker that has the amp built into it for both speakers and all the connections. The other speaker simply connects up with speaker wire. One of the speakers is designated as the left and one is the right and you really can not change this. The disadvantage of this is a case where your power outlet and components are closer to the speaker without all the connections. Kanto gives you a way, by holding down a button on the supplied remote control to reverse the channels should you need to, very cool.
To reduce power consumption, Kanto built an auto power on/off feature. This will power down the speaker if it does not see a signal after about 20 minutes, a good way to save a little power. You do have the option of turning this off should you wish with the remote control.
Speaking of the remote, it's a nice little unit that feels good in the palm of your hand. Along with the normal functions, you get some pretty unique features. Many new powered speakers give you an adjustable bass and treble control these days. And most will have a single button to reset them both to flat. Kanto took things a step further. First, you can select the bass and treble flat reset separately. This is kinda neat should you want to back off on the treble without changing what you had dialed in for the bass. Another first is the ability to assign different bass and treble settings for each input. The TUK comes defaulted to where they are global across all inputs but with a couple of button presses, you can make them unique for each input.
There is also a sub button on the unit. This will turn the subwoofer outs on and off. For late-night listening, if you have neighbors or a sleeping baby nearby, this will let you still hear some music, without the deep bass. Or for late-night and private listening, the TUK has a headphone amp built-in with the connection on the front.
If you wish to reset the BlueTooth connection there is a quick button for that on the remote as well. The remote also has some basic transport control functions when you are in BlueTooth mode.
We did have one gripe about the remote. Since the TUK has so many inputs, it would have been nice to have direct access to them. The remote just has a single input button that toggles through them. There is a tiny display on the front of the TUK to indicate the input, but we would have preferred direct access.
If you can’t find the remote, the TUK has basic functions of on/off, volume and input selection built into the small knob on the front panel. We have to say, the feature set and tech inside the TUK is very impressive. Of course, it all comes down to the sound which we were really curious to dive into after studying all of the cool things the TUK can do.
For testing purposes, we used a MacBook for USB, a U-Turn table for vinyl, and our phone for BlueTooth. We also had a Kanto Sub8 which is their 8” powered subwoofer to use for testing out how well they paired with a sub using their special DSP. The first thing we did, and we’ve learned this in the past from other small powered speakers, was to plug in a CD player, put it on repeat and let it run the TUK’s pretty hard for a couple of days to break in the drivers.
We put them in a room that was a bit lively to try and recreate what might be a typical room they would be in and having the treble and bass controls were very handy as we backed down the treble 1 click and everything sounded very natural. We had just a shade too much high-frequency energy due to the room before we backed it down.
After a few tracks, we were grinning ear to ear. The TUK is just flat out fun to listen to. They are extremely dynamic which pulls you into the music. Percussion and any other instruments with a lot of dynamics jumped out into the room. This was especially noticeable in the first 2 minutes of Dave Matthews “Grave Digger” live at Citi Field. The intro drum solo was very impressive.
We switched to an old rock classic, “Pink Houses” from John Mellencamp and had the exact same experience with anything dynamic. “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck showed us how well the TUK imaged. The soundstage was very wide. Vocals on “Call Me” by Hans Theessink were also very impressive. Even deeper kickdrum sounds were handled quite easily by this tiny little speaker. They reach down quite deep for their size.
Changing over to some light jazz, again, we wanted to go from explosive dynamics to see how well they revealed the subtle details of the music. Again, the TUK was very impressive letting us hear harmonics of a clarinet and brush strokes on a cymbal.
Next, we put on an old Hendrix cut, “Purple Haze” and cranked them up. They were able to play very loud and totally fill up the roughly 22’ by 16’ room we were in.
Overall, by themselves, with no sub, the TUK is a real winner! Of course, we had to try out adding a sub. Holding down the Sub mute button for about 8 seconds kicks in the crossover. We adjusted the output of the Kanto Sub8 to match well and played most of the same tracks over again. While it was not a complete transformation three things really stood out. Bass, of course, went deeper with the sub. However, the midrange opened up quite a bit on most passages. With the sub engaged they could also play several dB louder before sounding strained. If you decide to add a sub to the TUK’s, be sure and play around with its position and spend some time tuning in the sub level, it will be well worth it.
Kanto has done a fantastic job of creating one of the most dynamic and engaging small powered speakers we have heard in a long time. Although they are not inexpensive for powered speakers, they deliver sound far above their price point.
If you are considering putting together a compact system that has the ability to start to play in the big leagues of audio, you should put the TUK on your list. It has a plethora of inputs, sounds fantastic, and takes up very little space. You don’t really need a subwoofer to get great sound either, but it will make a fun upgrade down the road. Pull out some dynamic tracks and you’ll be grinning like we were!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
High Tech Drivers
The TUK uses an AMT tweeter for wide dispersion and crystal clear highs. The aluminum cone woofers are super fast and low distortion.
Inputs for Everything
Phono, AUX, Optical Digital, USB, and BlueTooth. The TUK covers high tech and legacy vinyl and cassette.
Great Control Feature Set
We love the way you can adjust the bass, treble and the subwoofer on the TUK. Plus the left-right swap for positioning is really cool.