Canada’s own Kanto Audio has a well-deserved reputation for designing high performance, self-powered speaker systems. Its YU series in particular has reached iconic status among those who want quality, stereo audio performance in a stylish and minimalist system that doesn’t require the space, complexity, and expense of a component amplifier. The latest in the YU series drops the numbers—it’s simply the Kanto YU. The YU is a compact, powered, bookshelf speaker system that delivers the audio the series has made famous, but does so at a much more affordable price.
How did Kanto make YU speakers more affordable?
Kanto Audio recognized there was a demand for high quality, stereo audio from a demographic that either didn’t need all the bells and whistles of other YU series speakers, or simply couldn’t afford its more expensive options.
That’s where the new YU speakers come in. The great thing is you don’t give up the basics that make the YU series so popular. The speaker enclosures are still MDF instead of plastic. They still have a potent combo of 4-inch Kevlar woofers, 1-inch silk dome tweeters, and a powerful Class D amplifier with 70 Watts RMS power. They still have the front-mounted control and handy remote. And they still offer both RCA input and Bluetooth 4.2 wireless. They even keep the subwoofer output.
So how did Kanto shave the cost down? Extras that are available on various other YU series speakers have been left off. No choice of colours, no glossy options, and no wood veneer—these are matte black. Kanto’s YU5 powered speakers offer additional features like dual optical inputs, a USB charge port, an AUX input, and larger 5.25-inch woofers. Other models in the series even feature an integrated PHONO pre-amp.
The Kanto YU speakers offer the solid basics and the ability to connect virtually any audio source (physically or wirelessly), but in a more compact package that skips the extras … I suspect most people who would want a good pair of powered bookshelf speakers won’t miss any of that, but they’ll still be able to enjoy great audio at a very affordable price.
Kanto YU powered speakers, key specifications:
Easy setup, with flexible connectivity
Setting up the Kanto YU powered speakers is easy. You won’t need any tools or any knowledge about stereo systems. The amplifier for the system is built into one of the speakers, so all you need to do is connect the two speakers with the included cable and plug in the power cord. There’s no power brick to deal with either—the power supply is also integrated in one of the speakers.
I’ve evaluated other powered bookshelf speakers that connect to each other with a proprietary cable. Just plug the cable into a jack. This is convenient, but I much prefer Kanto’s approach. The YU speakers are equipped with standard speaker binding posts, and they connect with standard speaker wire (Kanto includes 16 feet of it in the box). This takes a few seconds longer, but it’s still pretty easy—insert the red half of the speaker cable into the red binding post and tighten it, then do the same with the other half of the speaker wire and the black binding post.
The advantage of using standard speaker wire is that you can buy it inexpensively at any time. This gives you the flexibility to buy longer cable if you want to place the speakers further apart, or you can use a shorter chunk to cut down on bundling up extra wire. Standard speaker wire is also easy to tuck under baseboards to keep it out of sight.
You can easily connect any Bluetooth device wirelessly to the speakers. So you can play your favourite streaming music from a smartphone, tablet, or PC. Just like a wireless speaker! There are also RCA inputs to physically connect an external source. You’ll need the RCA cables, and if your source only has a 3.5mm AUX output, you’ll need a 3.5mm to RCA cable.
The heart of a compact, stereo, audio system
The Kanto YU powered speakers are a great way to get great, stereo sound in a compact space. The amplifier on my desk measures 40 cm across. Besides adding to the cost, that takes up a huge amount of space. With powered speakers, you skip the amplifier altogether.
So you can create a true bookshelf stereo system with a CD player or turntable plugged into Kanto YU powered speakers. The YU speakers don’t have an integrated PHONO preamplifier (that’s one of the ways Kanto kept the costs down), but most consumer turntables these days have their own. Check out my buying guide to record players and turntables if you want to learn more about connectivity options.
The Kanto YU speakers cost about what a decent portable wireless speaker goes for. However, they seriously outperform that wireless speaker. The key is stereo separation. You get true left and right channel stereo sound, with a much wider soundstage—portable speakers rely on DSPs to simulate this effect, but it’s never the same. The woofer and tweeter (as opposed to the full-range drivers and radiators most portable speakers use) provide more nuanced audio. MDF cabinets instead of plastic add some warmth. These even have decent bass, thanks to 4-inch woofers. And with 140W of peak audio power, these have the volume to fill any room with music.
Also great for upgrading your PC audio
My focus in testing the Kanto YU speakers was as part of a bookshelf stereo system. However, Kanto speakers have always been very popular for use with PCs. Connect the YU powered speakers to a PC or laptop and you’ll be rewarded with a serious audio upgrade for your gaming, video streaming—and even video conferencing.
For that matter, you can physically connect these speakers to any device that has analogue audio output capability, including many TVs and game consoles. Even devices with optical output (another extra that was cut on these speakers) can usually still be connected with an optical to RCA converter.
How to make these speakers sound even better
These powered speakers sound pretty amazing for the price, especially once you get some distance between them to make the most of the stereo separation and soundstage. To take things to the the next level, there are two improvements you might want to consider.
The first is the use of speaker stands. Small speakers like these benefit from being elevated. Even if they’re placed on a desktop or bookshelf, a tilted stand like Kanto’s own low profile option adds a bit of tilt for more effective audio dispersion.
The second is a powered subwoofer. You can connect any powered subwoofer to the YU for much more impressive bass rumble. Kanto also offers its own powered subwoofer if you want to coordinate the system.
The perfect, budget-friendly speakers to upgrade your sound
Kanto’s YU powered speakers are a great choice for adding true stereo sound to virtually any system. They are perfect for everything from listening to your vinyl collection to turning your PC into a multimedia powerhouse. Add in Bluetooth streaming audio support and these compact, affordable speakers are tough to beat.
If your home audio setup could use an upgrade but you want to keep it small, check out the wide selection of powered bookshelf speakers at Best Buy. You’ll find all the top audio brands, including Canada’s own Kanto.