Role Audio Kayak Bookshelf Speakers Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Monday, 23 November 2009

Going green is becoming a popular choice for consumers looking to lessen their ecological footprint on planet earth. Small changes made by many, over time, can make big differences. This is a wagon that needs no band: reduce, reuse, recycle and repeat. While the Green Revolution is still in its relative infancy, many consumers and companies are already changing their directives to reflect a commitment to greener living. 

While researching new and recent audio gear, I came across Role's Web site (www.roleaudio.com ) and was drawn in by the company's alternative “green” speaker offerings. “Use the latest technology and the least amount of drivers, crossover parts, and materials to deliver big speaker performance in the smallest possible cabinet designs.” That's part of Role Audio's credo; it's other is a commitment to manufacturing eco-friendly audio gear. Role is using certified green paints and sealers to coat the unfinished inside panels of its vented (TL) loudspeakers to help to prevent off-gassing – another name for that “new smell” that products such as speakers and furniture emit. Customers also have the option to purchase loudspeakers made with formaldehyde-free boards and painted with the certified green paints. 

I was sent the “all green” version of Role's Kayak, which comes covered in a lovely birch plywood finish and is available direct from Role for $995/pair. The Kayak is a mini-monitor and the smallest in the Kayak series of two-way loudspeakers. It sports an acoustic suspension design, where the speaker cabinet is sealed with no port. Sealed cabinets utilize a cushion or mass of air within the cabinet, instead of a mechanical spring, for the suspension. This design caused a huge stir back in the 1950s, when Henry Kloss and Acoustic Research associates introduced the legendary AR-1 to an unsuspecting audio community. Acoustic suspension speakers are small but capable of producing low, clean bass and have become the de-facto speaker for studio use where accuracy, clarity and precision are vital.

Features, Specs & Setup

Role Audio Kayak FrontStanding 8 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches deep, this craft is tiny but navigates through oceans of sound with ease. The speakers are magnetically shielded and time aligned and come equipped with five-way binding posts facilitating connection with bare speaker wire or wires terminated with banana plugs, pins or spades. Bi-wire and bi-amp terminals with jumpers are available as options.

Although the Kayaks have a recommended power range of 35 to 150 watts, at 85 dB sensitivity, the speakers do better paired with high-powered amps. If you want to hear what these sprites are capable of, feed them enough juice – they reach a point where the sound (as if straining to be released) becomes free, opening up into a soundstage that belies the size of the source. Though tiny, the Kayaks don't need pampering - these babies deserve to be let loose and sing. The singing comes from a 1-inch, soft-dome ferro-cooled soft-dome tweeter and a 4.5-inch long-throw carbon fiber woofer. Soft-dome tweeters work very well with sealed-cabinet designs, as they offer very flat (neutral) response and resist the digital squawk that can make any speaker – but certainly a mini – unpleasant, if not fatiguing, when listening to CDs over a long period. 

I put the Kayaks on a pair of 30-inch stands (Plateau STS-30s) and tucked a couple of Valhalla Technology's (www.valhalla-technology.dk) VT Feet 25 underneath each speaker. The 25s are triangular, vibration-dampening speaker feet made from poron, a microcellular urethane foam that is very dense, flexible, strong and stable. Although Valhalla advocates using the 25s for center speakers and subwoofers, I found that two of them worked very well to stabilize and isolate the Kayaks.

Listening

I was surprised and delighted by the Kayaks' performance, which other reviewers have aptly described as the speaker “vanishing,” leaving only music to enjoy. The Kayaks never reveal – or even hint at - their diminutive size during playback. Not only do they disappear but it's as if the music just appears. One curiosity – and this could just be my 42-year-old ears – is that it usually took me about 15 seconds or so to “hear” the Kayaks when I first played music through them. By this I mean, there seemed to be a delay for me to connect with the sound. I think that was largely due to the speaker's soon-to-come disappearing act. It was as if I needed to first locate the sound before I heard it. That sounds weird, I know, but it happened every time. Once I did lock in, the music was freed and coalesced into an unflappable stereo image.


In a sealed-cabinet speaker – and one of this size - bass is necessarily limited, but pair the Kayaks with a subwoofer and you've got a power trio that can rock the house or drop back for late-night jazz. Played alone, the Kayaks excel at stereo imaging and produce a soundstage with lots of air and oomph. You'll miss some low-end information but the speakers are balanced and don't veer into shrieking highs, even when the volume is turned long right.

Dmitri Shostakovich's moody “String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, opus 110” receives a darkly beautiful and languid performance from the Fitzwilliam String Quartet on its set of complete recordings of the Russian master's quartets. The Kayaks brought out the Quartet's precise articulations and let the sonorities of each instrument emerge in stunning detail while keeping the music's drama and pathos intact.

Noble Beast Album Andrew Bird's Noble Beast is a playground of exotic eclectica, where backwoods Americana, bossa nova, playful pop, spaghetti Western and swing jazz become one. The mutant genetic offspring of Jack Johnson, Vic Chesnutt, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jeff Buckley and Calexico. A classically trained violinist, Bird is a master of manipulation, turning his instrument into a saw, whistle or sad moan at will. The Kayaks painted a clear picture of Bird's 4-string musings with excellent detail and color.

Beach Boys Album The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds: 40th Anniversary (CD/DVD) reissue couples the album's original mono mix with a stereo program. I guessed the Kayaks would do the mono takes justice and they do. I can't imagine a more detailed “Let's Go Away For Awhile” or crystalline presentation of “Sloop John B.” Pet Sounds' mastermind Brian Wilson always championed the mono mix and there's little to challenge his assertion listening to both versions through the Kayaks, although stereo tracks such as “That's Not Me” have a warmer glaze than their mono counterparts. Too much of a good thing can still be a good thing.

Elton John Album My favorite moment with the Kayaks came while listening to Elton John's alternate take of “Madman Across The Water,” found on the remastered Tumbleweed Connection. Where the track on its namesake album is a lush, brooding affair tricked out by strings, the Tumbleweed take is biting and features savage playing from guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, whose kit has never sounded bigger in the mix. Cymbals and other transients were laser-quick through the Kayaks; imaging was mesmerizing. If you like Bob Dylan's “thin, wild mercury” sound, this cup of scalding tea be yours, too.

In a sealed-cabinet speaker – and one of this size - bass is necessarily limited, but pair the Kayaks with a subwoofer and you've got a power trio that can rock the house or drop back for late-night jazz. Played alone, the Kayaks excel at stereo imaging and produce a soundstage with lots of air and oomph. You'll miss some low-end information but the speakers are balanced and don't veer into shrieking highs, even when the volume is turned long right.

Final Thoughts


Barely bigger than a pair of computer speakers, the Kayaks nevertheless perform at a big level. Don't let the humble appearance fool you, these mini-monitors can serve as the speakers in a small- to medium-sized listening room. Feed them watts, sit back and prepare to be amazed. They sound great and look great; that the Kayaks are better for the environment than their predecessors ices the cake. As a famous frog often said, “It's not easy being green.” Kermit, meet Kayak.

System Setup

  • Grant Fidelity A-348 Integrated Tube Amplifier
  • Grant Fidelity CD-327 A CD Player
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3m)
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Anniversary Edition Interconnects
  • Role Audio Kayaks
  • Plateau STS-30 Speaker Stands
  • Valhalla Technology VT Feet 25 speaker feet

Company Website



www.roleaudio.com






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