Kanto's YU4 Active Speakers: A Better Desktop Audio Experience

As a photographer, I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, both producing and consuming content. I have a supportive chair, high-end monitors, and all sorts of peripherals cluttering up my desk. All to make that time easier, comfortable, and more productive. One area a lot of people either don't think about or just skip is speakers. Whether you are listening to music while you work or editing your next big video project, quality speakers will improve the experience and quality of that work. In an attempt to improve the audio experience at my desktop I tried out a midsize set of speakers made by the Canadian company Kanto. The Kanto YU4 speakers are a reasonable size with a built-in amplifier making them perfect for desktop use. 

What stands out right away when you see the Kanto YU4 for the first time is the stylized design and finish. If you do a quick Google search for speakers you will find that the world of audio is very grey and black. Now I would never purchase a product based solely on its design and color but if you've read some of my other reviews you'll find I love a good looking product. Kanto's speakers come in all sorts of vibrant colors and even have a matte or gloss option for black and white. Recently they even released a new Bamboo finish made from solid bamboo wood. The design has nice round edges that make the actual 5.5" x 7.5" x 9" dimensions feel smaller when placed on a desk. Instead of typical speaker grills, these have been formed around the driver and domed tweeters giving them a much more pleasing aesthetic look. I like the look of these so much I'm planning on picking up a pair of the larger YU6's in matte white to go with my custom matte white PC case in my studio office.

It isn't their design and color that make these a unique speaker option for your desktop though. These are active speakers with a built-in amplifier which means you don't need to find room for an additional stereo amplifier near your desk. This I find is one of the biggest reasons people don't get a quality sound set-up for their desktops. Maybe you are like me and have several monitors and peripherals making desktop space limited, or you only use a laptop so feel a big system is too much. Active speakers combine the power and quality of passive speakers connected to an amplifier in a smaller combined package making them perfect for small spaces like a desktop. 

The YU4’s are 140 watts, each has a 4” Kevlar driver with a frequency response of 60 Hz and 1” silk dome tweeters. One of the two speakers is the active speaker while the other is a standard passive speaker. The fronts are almost identical with the active speaker also having a small led and Infrared receiver in the lower left corner for use with the included remote control and a volume knob and power button to the right.

Looking at the rear of these two speakers you can see how different they really are. The passive speaker only has left and right posts to connect speaker wire from the active speaker. These do accept banana clips which is a great feature. The active speaker contains the built-in amp and all the inputs and controls that come with it. There are an amazing five inputs giving a variety of ways to connect any and all your devices. There are two analog inputs an RCA L/R and a 3.5mm mini-jack AUX, as well as two Digital Optical inputs. The 5th input is probably the feature I used the most, a Bluetooth receiver with Qualcomm® aptX™. Also on the back, you’ll find a phono line switch for the RCA input. This is great if you love the sound of vinyl and want to connect a turntable. There is also a USB port but even though there is a built-in DAC for the digital inputs the USB is only used to power your devices. It would have been a nice feature for a lot of PC users and I hope they add it in a newer version.

To test these out I hooked them up to my PC via the optical input and switched between them a $200 desktop setup and a $500 set of reference monitors I borrowed from a friends recording studio. Over the course of a month, I used each one while watching YouTube videos, listening to music or podcasts, editing sound for video, and some occasional Netflix breaks.

Right away I noticed the Kanto’s were worlds better than the desktop setups smaller speakers even though they are of a similar wattage and have an attached subwoofer. Now, this was kind of expected but what really set them apart for me was how good the stereo imaging is with the Kanto’s. Stereo imaging is the perceived location of sound sources. This is very important if you plan to use these speakers for any video editing. When sound engineers set up their speakers they do a lot to get them in the ideal position to the listener. I, however, didn't do anything special when setting up the speakers, in fact, I probably put them in terrible positions relative to where I sit at my desk because of my limited space. Even with this in mind, I was blown away by the depth and stereo imaging compared to both the other speakers.

The reference monitors had just as good sound, both having a nice linear or flat sound to them which is another desired feature for doing any editing work with audio. The biggest difference for me between the more expensive monitors and the Kanto’s was what is called the Phantom Center. No matter how I positioned the Kanto’s this effect was always there and it really made my daily computer use better. The best way I can describe this effect is that the sound just seems like it is coming from a speaker placed in the center of my monitor. With a lot of speakers as you move around, you hear more or less sound depending on where you are in relation to the speakers. The Kantos just felt really balanced always coming out of that phantom center speaker.

If you are a full-time video editor or do a lot of audio recording you might need or prefer the reference monitors. However, as a photographer who occasionally edits my own video projects, I couldn't hear any advantage over the YU4’s. My one biggest complaint was that there just wasn't enough low end for me coming from the 4” woofers. The sound has great presence with super clean highs and good midrange and I’m sure a lot of people would be more than happy with them on their own. But I have a subwoofer on every stereo system I own so I’m just used to hearing good low-end. Luckily there is a sub out on the speakers for people like me who want a subwoofer. So I reached out to Kanto and they sent me one of their SUB6 200 watts 6” subs to pair alongside the speakers. At $240 the sub is a bit on the pricey side as compared to what you get with the speakers but combined you really get a much fuller sound. The SUB6 with the crossover set correctly really blends well with the Yu 4’s really helping to take the load of the 4” midrange woofers. You can use any subwoofer with the YU4's but the SUB6 has the same quality build and stylized design. So if you want to put it on your desktop it will look good too. 

Pause, Play, and Advance tracks via remote on Bluetooth devices

The YU4’s come with all the accessories needed to set them up out of the box. Speaker wire, an AUX cable, power cable, some felt discs for the bottom, and as I mentioned before a remote control. The remote is a really important feature as most active speakers don't come with one. This gives you an easy way to switch between inputs if you have them set up on your desk or even as a sound system for your studio. If you prefer a richer less flat sound you can tweak the treble and bass with the remote. Most importantly when using the Bluetooth input you can advance, pause or skip tracks. The remote also makes these speakers a great alternative to sound bars on a home entertainment center. The volume can be controlled using most universal learning remotes and most TV’s have an optical out to get the best sound.

What I Like

  • Color options
  • Variety of inputs
  • Bluetooth receiver
  • Remote control
  • Sub output

What I Don't Like

  • No USB input
  • Attracts fingerprints
  • Might need a subwoofer depending on your preferences

Final Thoughts

The YU4’s are about as big as I would want for desktop speakers but the option for both optical and Bluetooth inputs plus having an available sub out and the variety of good looking finishes makes them worth the $299 cost. If the size and price are just a little too much for you Kanto also makes a smaller size version the YU2’s with almost all the same features just fewer inputs. At $200 dollars and a much smaller footprint, these might be perfect for you. If you just have to have more sound there really is no way around it you have to get bigger speakers. For me, the larger size on my desktop isn't worth the slight improvement in the mid and low-end sound. If speaker size doesn't matter to you than Kanto has a larger set the YU6’s. They have a 5.25” kevlar driver with all the same features as the YU4’s for around $389. 

Michael DeStefano's picture

Michael DeStefano is a commercial/editorial photographer focusing on Outdoor Lifestyle and Adventure. Based in Boston, MA he combines his passion for outdoor sports like climbing and surfing into his work. When not traveling or outdoors he is often found geeking out over new tech gadgets.

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That's exactly right Lee. With those speakers, you're really treating yourself haha. So expensive though.

I think you missed my point Bob. Yes, most desktop speakers are active powered speakers but they are not high-end bookshelf speakers or studio monitors. These are quality active bookshelf speakers that can be used as desktop speakers because of this fact for much better overall sound. Although Bose is a good company that makes great products I can guarantee there is no comparison to these.

My comment about bose is in reply to the specific model you mentioned. I am very familiar with Bose I live in Boston where they are from. I know they make good products and I agree the quality of sound can be very subjective. However, I stand by my statement that a pair of speakers with a 2-inch driver and only analog inputs can't compare to the sound of these Kantos.