Kennerton Vali Review

Thanks to Super Best Audio Friends for providing this loaner unit of the Kennerton Vali for review.

Pictures

Background

Kennerton is the luxury arm of Fischer Audio and maintains their line of ToTL headphones.  The Vali is an open back dynamic headphone that uses a Tympany paper driver.

Fit and Comfort

The fit of this headphone can be difficult to adjust to get just the right amount of clamp and seal.  The adjusters are thumb screws that attach the cup yokes to the headband, and the yokes have a sort of 2 axis adjustment to both extend the cups down as well as angle them forward or back.  Adjusting the cups to fit just right takes time and I wouldn’t want to have to readjust them once they’ve been set.  Once I had them set properly and had the angled pads rotated into the appropriate position they sealed quite well.  The headphone is surprisingly heavy but has a leather headstrap that distributes the weight pretty evenly.  The cups feel a bit small, with the pads touching the edges of my ears and I don’t find the pads all that comfortable, they seem a bit stiff, but that may go away with time.

Sound Impressions

Overall, I find this headphone has a fairly dark tuning with unevenness in the mids and treble.  Bass quality is excellent and overall detail and dynamics are very well presented.

Bass seems bottomless on this headphone, excellent impact and slam to the bass.  There is so much weight to the bass and it remains extremely clean and coherent throughout.  This headphone seems to have no issues extending down low with an exaggerated quantity of bass.  The one thing about the bass that seems a bit odd is the upper bass seems a bit light or rolled off in comparison to the sub-bass and I believe it accounts for some of the unevenness in the mids as well.

The mids are a difficult area for this headphone.  The middle of the mids, specifically closer to the bottom of male vocals seem dipped and then seem to rise into the upper mids around where female vocals tend to be.  This creates a really awkward unevenness where the lower notes of acoustic instruments are seem emphasized like the bass is, followed by this very specific dip, then a rise.  This makes female vocals sound unnaturally forward and  male vocals unnaturally distant.  Vocal and instrument clarity and separation remain fantastic despite these tonal aberrations, but this also introduces an artificial depth to the stage that makes male vocals appear to naturally sit back behind the “main” stage of the headphone.

The headphone seems to dip significantly in the low treble, generally sounding distant but somehow still present and alert.  The headphone never seems veiled in the treble, retaining its ability to reproduce great detail and dynamics even though it sounds distant.  

Staging on this headphone is confusing with certain elements always being set further away than others in that sort of two stage arrangement that it seems to have.  Ignoring the artificial depth of some of those elements, the size of the stage overall is a bit bigger and more coherent than something like the HD650 with strange but easy-to-understand imaging.  The sense of imaging is great, making it very easy to locate individual voices or instruments in a song.  Separation is also excellent on this headphone, despite the tonal colorations, nothing ever seems muddied or seems to interfere with other regions of the headphone.  Everything comes through extremely clearly, even though it may be with irregular tone.

Conclusion

This is a really strange headphone because of how extreme the pros and cons of it are.  The dynamics, detail, and just overall resolution of the headphone are fantastic.  It clearly uses a very technically capable driver evidenced by all those qualities.  The long-term comfort and tonality are where this headphone falls short for me.  The headband, despite having a suspension strap, isn’t spaced far away enough from the spring steel band to avoid creating a hotspot on my head and the pads are stiff and uncomfortable for me.  The tonality has obvious issues as the excellent bass performance gives way to uneven mids and treble that all lend their own, very obvious colorations.  It essentially comes down to what seems like an absolutely excellent driver that still manages to give the impression of its raw capability despite the tuning issues.  If those issue could be fixed, I think this would be a significantly more competitive offering from Kennerton.  As it is, in this market and for the retail price, this headphone has some very stiff competition and I don’t think it merits are enough to make it a sensible choice for most people and for most types of music.