A lot of people might have never heard about them. These are the Kennerton Vali, high-end open-back dynamic headphones released in 2016. They retail for $990 in the USA, and 1150€ in Europe. Kennerton is the luxury brand of Fischer Audio, Russian headphones manufacturer based in Saint-Petersburg.
I consider Kennerton’s approach to audio gear similar to ZMF: A premium offer with a focus on handcrafting and a pleasing sound tuning.
- »Very dynamic and punchy presentation
- »Carefully tuned warm sound
- »Fantastic build quality
- »Comfort might be a major issue
- »Not the best in clarity or detail retrieval
Build and Style
The Vali, as well as the higher-end Kennerton Odin and Thror, have an absolutely amazing build. From the headband to the ear pads, everything feels like pure quality. The design and look has a slight steampunk vibe and is reminiscent of hardware from the 1930s.
Authentic Wood Packaging
The Vali come inside a superb wooden box, similar to the ones which came with early LCD2s, some Ultrasone or Grado models. Inside the box, you will find the headphones themselves. A round compartment containing the cable (2m long, with mini-XLR connectors and 3.5mm jack as well as a 6.35mm adaptor), a letter with flyers and a VIP card.
Notice how the round inner box is carefully designed, the lettered lid being made of authentic wood.
High-Quality Build Materials
There was not a single piece of plastic in the Kennerton Vali. The headband assembly is made from high-quality aluminum and steel, giving it a strong industrial feel. Kennerton themselves say it is some sort of « aviation grade » metal.
The black part that holds the adjusting screw to the hinges looks deceivingly like plastic but is also metal. The same applies to the outer grills which are built from magnesium alloy.
The headband, its suspension strap as well as the ear pads are made of lambskin leather. The cable is braided and very thick but I would like to see something a bit less rigid for longer uses or when I move around the desk.
The cups are made of Peruvian Walnut wood; while they feel and look nice, I would not put them on the same level as the ZMF Auteur or Eikon, as these ones have the best wood I’ve seen of any headphones.
I want to be quite frank. I almost sold them just a week after home delivery because of the comfort. But I know members on various forums who managed to improve stock comfort with some tweaks, some which I successfully applied.
The ear pads are not very large for an over-ear model but they have good depth. Being real leather and with partial perforations on the inside and outside, the breathability factor is excellent. My ears don’t sweat even after 5 hours of listening. The cushions are however a bit stiff and it might annoy some people; I am not bothered by that. I suppose the ear pads on my Vali have seen some use and might be plusher than brand new ear pads.
Headband and Weight Distribution
The Kennerton Vali is a heavy beast. They weigh 570g in stock form and even more after some modding. The adjusting wheel allows getting a solid fit quite easily, and unless someone else tries them, there is no need to re-adjust them once they have been properly set up.
Weight distribution is only average despite the presence of a suspension strap. This strap is too thin and creates a hotspot on my head after only 5 minutes of use. Fortunately, a French craftsman sold a quantity of custom leather headband specifically for the Vali (or the Odin). This strap is way thicker than the original one and helps for less pressure on the head.
However, I still encounter pain with this headband. My solution has been adding a wool headband that wraps the two headbands of the Vali (the metal headband and the custom suspension one). The wool is comfier for my head and the weight (now 610g !) is even better distributed. I can now wear the Vali for hours without issue, while I could not stand them more than 20-30 minutes in stock form.
The Kennerton Vali have a warm sound signature with a punchy presentation. They are absolutely not intended to show a balanced and accurate frequency response, but they manage to sound very musical and colorful despite some annoying flaws.
They can be run loud from any device since they are only 32 Ohms and 100 db/mW, but they do benefit from good amping. With my phone or my modest Fostex HP-A4, I heard a noticeable lack of overall punch.
While I would not say the Vali is bass-heavy, they have more quantity than most high-end headphones, like the Audeze LCD2-F and LCD2 Classic I tried recently. There is a clear bump around 60-80 hz that gives very solid slam, while the upper-bass is also slightly emphasized. As soon as I hear the bass, I hear the overall impact of the headphones and let’s just say they are way above average in macrodynamics. Quantity is extremely close to my ideal target, and these do it just nice except a moderate roll-off in the low octaves.
The bass is rather enjoyable and might be the best part of the sound of the Vali.
Below 40-45hz, a lot of planars have better extension. There is sometimes a gentle lack of control and tightness but it’s far from being too loose like a lot of mid-fi open headphones. Models like the HD650, K7XX or the Fidelio X2 all have midbass boost but with way more bloom and lack of impact.
It is thick from 200 to 1 khz, with a recessed upper-midrange section. What makes the mids so specific is not the frequency curve, but I suppose some kind of reverberation caused by the housing of the driver and the wood cups.
Possibly one of the most unique midranges I have heard recently.
Overall midrange has decent resolution and microdetails but some instruments with mid-centric fundamentals like guitars have that special wet character.
I am fine with the midrange of the Vali despite preferring a bit more presence around 2-3 khz ; most current headphones are not forward in that region while old classics such as the HD600 or the AKG K501 are richer and fuller sounding, but at the risk of being shouty.
I find the highs to be quite recessed and lacking extension past 8 khz. I usually dislike a lot harshness in the lower-treble region (4-7 khz), but my ear canals can stand moderate peaks around 7-10 khz.
The Vali have a withdrawn presence from 4khz up to the extremity of the upper treble. It is not as dark as the Audeze LCD2-C or the AudioQuest Nighthawk, but still too laidback for my tastes. I tend to prefer headphones with a more linear yet not bright treble, like the Hifiman HE-500 or the Sennheiser HD600.
The main sonic flaw I hear with the Vali sits in its treble presentation.
Not only it is recessed, but it also lacks refinement and « air » which I think any high-end pair of headphones should be able to reproduce decently.
Resolution, dynamics, imaging
The Vali use 50mm Tymphani drivers and I must say I like the overall dynamics they can produce inside the Vali’s housing. The sound is lively with a strong attack. Despite the average treble, the bass and mids form an impactful reproduction.
While macrodynamics are quite good, I am less convinced by the clarity of these headphones. The treble, as stated previously, lack excitement and resolution. The weird decay of some instruments does not help much in that department. I am in need of more clarity and a better sense of openness for a high-end pair of cans. During direct A/B comparisons, I even found the HD600 to be more open than the Vali, with a much more cohesive mids to treble transition.
The imaging is precise, with a nice sense of depth I usually attribute that to recessed upper-midrange / lower-treble. Better than the average mid-fi headphone, but way behind the HD800 or the Focal Clear. Perception of width is honest even if they will always sound a bit closed-in.
The Kennerton Vali is a fun and pleasing approach of the sound. If you want a punchy sound with meat and body without any sign of brightness, you will love the Vali. However, if you value airiness, clarity, openness, and resolution, these are not for you.
I could recommend them at used prices (around $500-$650) for people leaning toward warm/dark tonality ala Audeze. I suggest digging about comfort modding if you struggle with them in stock form, and I can guarantee that no disappointment is possible with the build quality and solidity.