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Comparing K Brand Tenors

This short video shows three Hawaiian made tenors played back to back. These are the three main ukulele makers here in Hawaii, KamakaKanilea and KoAloha.

This is a “dry” recording, unaltered, just like all of our comparison videos. See more videos from “the Listening Booth” at our Review Section here.

Sound is one of the main factors in choosing an instrument. All three of these Hawaiian made koa tenors have a wonderful tone, but each is different. Share your thoughts below in the comments
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Phones, iPads, and all computer speakers will compress the sound and hide the differences. To truly hear the sound you must listen with good headphones or good monitors. By listening this way I am confident you will hear differences.
Aloha friends, a hui ho!

Comments 49

  1. From listening through my smartphone speaker (of course, not hifi), the Kanilea and KoAloha sounded similar, having open and crystalline high ends. The Kamaka seemed to sound less bright, and a bit less complex.

    1. Wow. These are all fantastic instruments! I have wanted a high end tenor for a while but ability doesn’t yet justify the expense. It’s fun though to do the research and this is the next best thing to getting your hands on the actual instrument. Thanks for posting this Andrew!

  2. KoAloha is a brand that only recently came on my radar, I’ve been very zero’d in on Kamaka since I got into ukuleles as their heritage simply can’t be beat. I keep hearing KoAloha is very loud though which appeals greatly to me as I most often jam with guitar players. I also love the crown headstock. 🙂

  3. They all sound great so I’d have to choose based on other factors like playability. Short of a trip to HMS a personal comparison is not likely. 🙁

    1. No way I’ll ever get to actually go there and try all three, so I appreciate the recording, but I’d also have to know how they feel, as they all sound great! A non-issue, really, as I can’t afford any of them (or justify the expense involved)–maybe in 15 years or so, as a retirement gift to myself…

  4. Wow, just like what most of the people say here, the KoAloha sounds the best for me… then the Kanilea! I’ve had a Kamaka and Kanilea before, but it just wasn’t the sound I was looking for, so hopefully next year I can save up for a KoAloha.

  5. I always thought Kamaka was the best (since it’s been used by so many professional ukulele players), but here seems like KoAloha has just broke that thought. Superb resonance and loudness!

  6. I love the Kamaka’s classic curves and open woody sound, even though both the Kanilea and KoAloha did have possibly richer tones. Yet If I was plucking some blues and gettin’ dirty, I just might opt for that woodiness of the Kamaka. The openness can provide a nice bite sometimes. I’ve been swayed by lovely curves in the past though!

  7. This was great! Throw a Ko’olau into the mix and string them all up re-entrant Worth medium clears and I think you’d have the ultimate showdown! I believe strings are a big factor in sound too and the Kamaka stock strings sound night and day different compared to others.

  8. There is really no clear cut winner. I have no preference to which K model I have, I would love any one of them!

  9. I have listened repeatedly and I feel the Koaloha sound came to my attention remarkarably fuller to me. I have a Kamaka six string white label and a Kanilea KT-1 Premium Tenor and both has a very awesome sound. I never owned a koaloha tenor but now will want to have it on my wishlist. now. The video you have was awesome to hear the K brands all in one video to compare. It seems my ukulele collection of G-Strings, Anaole,Pono,Hinano,Kamaka and Kanilea will find room for a koaloha. Aloha Uncle Mike. I knew Mike Aratani briefly at my visiting the Haleiwa Shop and I pray he will find peace among the Stars over our Islands. He was very nice and a humble man.

  10. The one I prefer is the Kamaka, it’s the more classic in both look and sound. The Kanile’a has a lot of deep and beautiful basses to me, it’s a great modern sounding instrument. However no one can beat the look of the KoAloha. 🙂

  11. Wow, these are all exceptional. I expected to like the Kamaka the best but I must say the KaAloha has the cleanest sound to my ear and looks great.

  12. I really wish a Koolau had been put into this comparison. I think they sound terrific too! But I can only imagine how these K tenors fly off the shelves. Getting three in one room is probably hard enough!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks Laura. Ko’olau wasn’t available. But they are different. These three companies have around 20 builders and Ko’olau has 2, so they’re rarely available and mostly build in the higher price custom range.

  13. MGM did a similar test for me one day at HMS. He had me turn my back and played each of the tenors. He sent me on the path to a Kanile’a Super Tenor I eventually purchased. Thanks yet again, Mike.

  14. I don’t own any of these K brands (yet), but I keep being drawn to the Kanile’a for the warm sound. Someday…

  15. It’s such a personal call, but after listening to hundreds of others, the KoAloha is still my fave. I also agree with D. Travino that strings are quite significant. The last time i changed them on my KoAloha tenor, i went through three different brands before finally landing once again with worth medium clears. The KoAlohas just sing with worths… with a surprising amount of sustain and resonance. Fabukeless!

  16. My wife own a Koaloha soprano and I own a koalana concert and a kamaka tenor, beside other nice ukes. The sound of Koaloha ukes are bright and loud. It fibre string is soft and very user friendly : p

  17. I listened on a set of Bose headphones, and there’s is something “extra” about the tone of the KoAloha that puts it over the top. The Kanilea was also quite lovely, but the KoAloha has the edge, for my money.

  18. I now own the Kamaka and KoAhola tenors. Both purchased from HMS. Beautiful sound, service and setup. Incredible ukuleles from the best shop.

  19. I personally play a Kanile’a tenor and love the sound, it’s so bright and warm. Listening to the video, the Kanile’a and Koaloha seem to have a very similar bright sound, the Kamaka sounds a bit less bright to me. Personally, I’d go with a Kanile’a or Koaloha over the Kamaka.

  20. The Koaloha is my favorite. I have been fortunate enough to play a KCM-00 and I’m blown away by the quality and bright beautiful sound.

  21. I’ve personally played all three tenors and although all with exceptional quality and sound, I just love the KoAloha!

  22. I have been longing for a quality Tenor Uke and comparing the 3-K choices available.
    Listening to the three Ukes played together helps narrow the selection process.
    Thanks. I love the clear bright tones of KoAloha!

  23. I am really a newbie in the ukulele world, but to me the KoAloha sounds a little bit more clean on the high tones. But I think that, at the end, it is a matter of personal preference because all of them are fine instruments.

  24. Wow. Great instruments! I loved all of them, but I think if I had to choose a favorite it would have to be the Kanilea. Keep up the good work – we LOVE Hawaii Music Supply here in Idaho!

    1. The Kamaka produced a more “traditional” sound that was very appealing, but it did not project as much resonance to my ear. The KoAloha sound was very bold, almost overpowering, but did not project the complexity of sound as clearly as the other two. The Kanile’a projected richer tonal qualities, and with them articulated a cleaner sound for me. There are no “losers” here, but my ears give the brass ring to the Kanile’a Tenor.

  25. I had my heart set on a Kamaka but now I have changed my mind. I hate the look of the KoAloha but it had the cleanest sound without any overtones ringing through.
    Just goes to show that you really need to use your ears. I wonder how the playability varies in feel on each of these.

  26. The Koaloha sounds fantastic!!! The Kamaka was lifeless by comparison to the other two IMHO. The Kanilea seemed brighter, but less rich or full. But I know trying to describe sound differences can be challenging and everyone’s taste in what sounds good is different.

  27. Seriously people think you’re really going to make a choice based off of listening like this?

    I played 3 different Kaniel’a tenors where I lived and they all were different! Why? Because each one’s Koa wood was slightly different, that’s the beauty of a high end I instrument,
    each one will be different!

    In person I have played Ukes from all 3 makers! And they’re always different!

    Listen and play them in person to see, hear and feel the differences, not some internet video!

    1. Post
      Author

      Well sure, if you can.
      Each maker builds differently and has a distinct voicing that you can hear in these and all their koa tenors. I have played enough of all of them to close my eyes and hear which one is which. And that’s all we are trying to share. Of course holding and playing an instrument is the ultimate way to experience it. But hey, this is just another data point for those not able to try in person, and hopefully better than nothing.

  28. This might not be a fair comparison, but I recently bought a Kamaka concert – only to trade it in for a KoAloha tenor- I LOVED the history of Kamaka but it was a bit flat and went out of tune often. The KoAloha, even though it’s a little rougher made plays beautifully, stays in tune and just feels right. Again, two different sizes being compared.

  29. I first listened with JBL LSR2328 Studio Monitors, and then again through Audio-Technica MTH-M50 Monitor Headphones. All 3 sounded excellent, but in my opinion the clear winner was the KoAloha. It simply sounded bigger and more complex than the other two.

    Thanks for the excellent comparison!

  30. IDK, listening through a nice stereo (Preamplifier and amplifier separates) This seems to be a great endorsement of the Kanilea. The Kamaka sounds sort of muted in the high end and the Koaloha sounds very nice, but just not quite as rich as the Kanilea. Just my $.02 worth.

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