Review: Thonet & Vander Koloss Bluetooth speakers

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The Thonet & Vander Koloss speakers can be separated from each other by up to 7 ft (2.1 m)(Credit: Stanley Goodner/Gizmag.com)

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Although many of the latest portable speakers pack an appreciable amount of power, sometimes you’re just in the mood for more. Bigger. Colossal, even. Thonet & Vander, an audio manufacturer based out of Germany, has recently debuted a number of high-end Bluetooth speakers to consumers in the U.S. We’ve recently had the opportunity to crank up and hulk out to the flagship model, the Koloss.

Design & Connectivity

The Thonet & Vander Koloss departs from the standard, boxy shape of speakers with its gentle bevel on both sides of each cabinet. The curves do indeed catch the light nicely, adding an element of dimension to the smooth, fine finish. Those with an appreciation for aesthetics should certainly relish this design choice. But the Koloss isn't just about good looks, as the speakers feel well-constructed and appropriately solid. The box material, made of High Density Acoustic Absorber (HDAA) wood, is indeed dense, delivering a short, light, woody "thock" sound with no reflection when you hit a knuckle against the side. Each speaker is heavy enough so that it stays put without any vibrations, even when music is played at the highest volumes.

Being that the Koloss is taller than many bookshelf speakers, yet too short to just stand on the floor, ideal placement would involve pedestals or the top surface of an entertainment center. These 2.5-way speakers each sport a 1-inch silk tweeter above a brace of 6.5-inch aramid (i.e. Kevlar) fiber-constructed woofers, with a bass port in the rear. In addition to the Bluetooth wireless, the Koloss provides both RCA (cable included) and SPDIF optical (cable not included) ports for more traditional connectivity. The out-of-box setup is quick, requiring only the power and proprietary speaker cords to be plugged in. Positioning with respect to a nearby outlet is critical, as the included power cord isn't terribly long at 4.5 ft (1.3 m). The speaker cable is better, allowing the pair to be separated by up to 7 ft (2.1 m) with a little slack left in the line.

The included manual is lean, basic, and covers all that one needs to know to operate the Koloss. While the remote is designed to provide handy control at a distance, it’s also very basic and vanilla. But you're also not likely to do much with the remote unless you happen to have a CR2025 battery handy as, that too, is sold separately. On-board volume control, bass/treble adjustment, and input selection is performed through a panel on the right side of the right speaker. The flat, dual-function buttons are delightfully discreet with the way they're recessed in the wood. However, some may find this interface to be far too minimal due to the lack of level indicators for volume, bass, and treble.

There are 60 levels of volume on the Koloss, but you wouldn't have any idea unless you counted (we did). And if you happen to forget how you adjusted the bass/treble and want the Koloss set to default, you'll have to power the speaker off with the switch on the back ... unless you have a battery for the remote, which has a reset button for just that purpose.

The Koloss will appeal to many modern music listeners with its Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity. Surprisingly, it doesn't support aptX, which is becoming more common in the latest mobile devices. Considering the high-quality components and power of these speakers, aptX does indeed make a discernible difference over standard Bluetooth. For comparisons (and also the majority of testing), a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 was paired with a Nyrius Songo HiFi aptX Bluetooth receiver, connected to the Koloss via an optical cable. The resulting difference is that the Bluetooth with aptX presents an overall smoother, cleaner output of sound with a better sense of open space, especially while playing lossless audio. It’s subtle, but it's there, and certainly something to keep in mind if you want wireless audio at its very best. But at least the Koloss provides cable connections for such purity.

The Koloss' Bluetooth shares the same 30 ft (10 m) range found in your everyday wireless speaker. With a clear line of sight, the Koloss can maintain a steady signal up to about 28 ft (8.5 m). But under real-world conditions that include furniture, corners, and the occasional passing body, a 14 to 17 ft (4.2 to 5.1 m) operational range is about the best it can do for uninterrupted music.

Audio Performance

With the volume set to max on the speakers and 70 percent on a Bluetooth-connected device, the Koloss can flood a room full of music, extra spilling over into adjacent ones. It doesn't do a half-bad job at projecting across two rooms and up a flight of stairs to make itself heard. The overall quality of music carries evenly and stays consistent with respect to distortion. The Koloss features active crossover, Auto Level Control (ALC) circuitry, and digital signal processing (DSP), which are designed to keep sound clean and minimize distortion as the volume cranks up. While these perform remarkably well for the decibel output, they're not perfect – at least not to the extent that the product descriptions/marketing suggest.

When the volume is maxed out on both the Koloss and a wireless-connected device, the highs shift from sounding smooth and clear to sharp and edgy. They can also develop a bit of halo-like blur with string instruments, regardless of a song's composition or complexity. Vocals – even ones in the mid- and low-range – turn a little too intense by bleaching and developing hard consonants. Most elements in the mids and lows do very well to maintain quality without distortion, most of the time. At extreme volumes, you get more and louder force from the mids/lows, although it’s at the cost of musical character. So while the Koloss can deliver the decibels, driving the volume up too far tends to compromise a whole spectrum of nuances appreciated by focused listening. But to fix all this and make distortion a paltry concern, one merely has to dial it down and maintain moderate levels.

The tonal balance seems to favor the lows just a smidge, especially when tracks feature prominent drums and bass. Although the Koloss really brings it, it does so without sacrificing or overshadowing the mids and highs, which competently hold their own. All levels sound integral to the music, remaining tied to each other without any sense of detachment due to added emphasis. The soundstage’s presentation is slightly forward, just the right amount to engage listeners yet invite them to lean in. Performances sound open as the Koloss delivers wide, ample room for elements to create layers of sound without overlapping edges. Vocals have space in front, to the sides, and behind to breathe, so rarely does the soundstage ever feel crowded.

Despite the perceived amount of room, the depth of the soundstage falls shy of sounding fully (and consistently) immersive and/or three-dimensional. But this doesn't necessarily mean the depth is lacking. You can hear and identify instruments located further away or closer to the front of the stage, and the Koloss makes sure that everything is encompassed as part of the entire stage performance. It just doesn't pop out, at least in a way one might expect for the amount of power driving the speakers.

Imaging, much like soundstage depth, is also only OK again, with respect to power. The lateral imaging sounds appropriately wide and the movement between sides is good, but not necessarily phenomenal. Instrumental focus, however, is satisfying to the ear as envelopes of sound are delivered with clean edges. Seldomly does one hear a bit of glow hovering above, and it's typically limited to instruments in the highs rather than the mids or lows.

The Koloss showcases a fairly substantial dynamic range. Although it strongly excels at playing the loud parts of songs, handing the soaring swell and crest of singing choir voices without so much of a flinch, it’s still sensitive enough to the quieter elements. With the right recording (i.e. lossless audio), you can hear almost everything as intended by the artist. Louder elements aren’t so aggressive to drive softer ones into the background to disappear or be blended into oblivion. So long as the volume is kept in check, of course. The Koloss is capable of maintaining fast changes in tempo, and it performs exceptionally when it comes notes delivered in rapid succession.

The tone and texture of instruments and vocals is definitely a highlight with the Koloss speakers. Notes from hammered dulcimers are nimble, twinkling, yet they still exhibit that percussive aspect of sound. Strings, such as from harps and mandolins, evoke a delicate atmosphere. You can hear the pluck of the bass, the hit and scratch against acoustic guitar strings, and the warm, burnished tone of saxophones. Vocals sound full, coming from deep within the chest. The Koloss celebrates the vocal characteristic of artists, picking up breathy, even ethereal details that you might not normally hear otherwise. All of it is delivered with a very real, flesh-and-bone naturalness that makes it easy to imagine a live performance is happening right across the room from you.

Through the Koloss, string and wind instruments in the highs entice and hold the attentions of those listening. In the hands of a skilled musician, such as Lindsey Stirling, the violin can sing silky-sweet one moment, belting out with vivid fervor the next. And despite the Koloss' tendency to flex its low-end brawn (more on that later), not ever does the spotlight of sound drift away from Lindsey’s violin. Whether it’s from a fiddle, flute, or clarinet (to name a few), music in the highs sustain equally fast attack and decay. The edges of sound end as they’re supposed to with minimal (if any) blur, even as notes are played in flurries.

Cymbals sound natural, energetic, and without any synthetic or sizzling sound. Hits and brushes are characteristically distinct from each other, yet retain that metallic texture. Piano notes played daintily in the highs never sound thin or brittle to the ear, even as volume encroaches the point of creating distortion. The main thing to keep in mind about the Koloss is the volume, as the highs tend to suffer first from excess levels.

But overall, the audio output of the highs is smooth without peaks or dips, even as it transitions lower into the mids. Male vocals take the spotlight, as the Koloss delivers a very natural, warm energy throughout the midrange. It's just enough to bring out the rich qualities of singing and guitar, taking care to not drive the presentation forward aggressively. While listening to The White Buffalo or Mr. Moonshine, the Koloss virtually transports you to a local venue with room enough for about 100 people in front of the stage. It's boldly intense, yet intimate.

When it comes to the lows, the Koloss delivers an impressive amount of impact. With the volume turned up far enough, those in the same room will readily feel the sub-bass rumble in their chest cavities. The force of kick drums can be bit startling, as they leap out of the Koloss with such power and speed. Beats are delivered with an attack that is vigorous, extending all the way through and capturing the full envelope of sound. Play some tracks from Massive Attack or A Tribe Called Red and watch as eyes smile wide as the lows stretch deep, expressing muscularity with apparent ease.

Although the robust presentation can lead to music feeling marginally heavier in the lows, the bottom frequencies remain rhythmically tied to everything else going on above it. The power neither overwhelms nor negatively colors the highs or mids, especially, as the speaker maintains pretty tight sound control. You won't find the Koloss transforming the music of folk hand-drumming into booming war chants, like some other speakers can (and will). Despite its low-end might, the Koloss exhibits a substantial amount of detail and nuance, enough to let listeners indulge in taut drum surfaces and purring bass strings.

Although the solid heft of sound is tempered by agility, the Koloss does seem to present a touch more focus on volume and power than articulation in the lows. Notes sound distinct with precise pitch up front, but they can linger a lick on the decay. The result, which is also exacerbated by excess volume, adds anything from a bit of a loose blur to a thicker sound on the finish. This tends to affect the mid- and sub-bass regions, more so with synth and drums rather than bass. Those who are intimately familiar with certain/favorite music tracks may certainly pick up on this. But when you consider the range of sound as a whole, it’s reasonably easy to dismiss such traces of blur to simply enjoy the musical experience.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, the Thonet & Vander Koloss Bluetooth speakers deliver big sound in a well put-together package. Those who appreciate room-filling volume, warm tones, full energy, and vibrant vocals have much to love about the Koloss. For the speakers' size and US$400 price (available now for purchase), the level of clarity and realism is wonderful. It feels like there is little-to-nothing between the listener and the music – no hardware, no electronics, just spine tingles and body-moving beats. All types of music sound good, which is great for those who like to stream audio (i.e. listening via Pandora, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc.) in addition to playing music from personal libraries. The Koloss won’t chide you for enjoying lower-quality recordings, but those with the ear for it can certainly hear how it does justice to lossless audio.

At times, the Koloss can seem too powerful for its own good. Excess volume brings out distortion, which contributes to the steamrolling of finer musical detail. The depth of the soundstage, which is moderate/passable, pales in comparison to how well the Koloss enunciates. The lateral imaging/placement is a little bit better, and at least the envelopes of sound are able to maintain crisp, clean edges. Considering how well the Koloss projects across rooms, it would have been nice to have the Bluetooth wireless connection do the same for playback through mobile devices. Lastly, the built-in bass/treble adjustment feels unfinished as there are no visual level indicators either on the speaker or remote control.

Once you get past the heavy marketing with proprietary buzzwords and fancy-sounding materials, the Koloss makes for a great choice that is equal parts impressive and delightfully fun. The price-performance ratio is pretty darn solid; you definitely feel like you're getting your money's worth in terms of build and audio quality. It looks good, but also sounds good too. While the Koloss is physically sizeable, it's not inconvenient to unplug, pick up, and relocate as needed. Whether paired up with a home entertainment system, or set by itself for wireless streaming, the Koloss delivers engaging music, movies, and party-like atmospheres.

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