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(Jinro, Tenor, Lamm, solid-state) Amps for Kharma mid-size speakers for mid-size rooms

[We often get questions sent to us by email. Often the answers take a good deal of time to write - and after we respond we hardly ever hear back from the questioner. So, although we have talked about doing this for quite awhile this is the first time that, when the answers seem to be useful to a wider range of people, we will start posting them here. We will keep the questioner anonymous unless requested otherwise.

I originally wrote this presuming the person was not in the U.S….]

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THE QUESTION

Dear Mike and Neli

Reading your web site and audiogon we have very similar taste in music systems. Please let me know your thoughts that will help me with my next system. I have to ask you because

I won’t have a chance to listen to all combinations. I currently have Edolon (older) and CAT JL2. But there was always more music coming from my friend’s Kharma3.2/Tenor 75w OTL.

I think of moving towards Kharma speakers. Not quite sure which system to end up with. I consider following

1. Kharma Mini/Lamm ML2.1
2. Kharma Mini/ Tenor 75W OTL
3. Kharma Midi/ Tenor 300 hybrids
4. Kharma Midi/ MBL 9008 monos

I don’t have enough funds to go for Audio Note Ongaku amps

I really loved Tenor 75W OTL but didn’t have a chance to hear Lamm ML2.1.

Most people who heard both ML2.1 and 75w OTL leaning towards Tenors OTL. Jtinn and Mike Larvin preferred Kharma Midi/Tenor 300 hybrids. Also Tenor support was questionable for these older Tenor models and, on other hand, Lamm support was fantastic.

I will have medium size room, so both Midi and mini will do fine there.

Please let me know what would you choose in my situation?
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THE ANSWER

I imagine that your current system sounds a little too laid back, especially at various frequencies? Much as I love the Avalon speakers, I have not yet heard an amp on them [so far!] that makes have that drug-like sound [would love to try the Ongaku someday :-) ]

The Kharma 3.2/Tenor 75w is a VERY magical combination - especially w/r to midi and micro-dynamics - missing only some slight harmonic color and, of course, some of the authority and fill that a larger speaker usually has. This is a classic system. A direct upgrade is indeed perhaps the Tenor 75w on the Midi - which we have heard but as you might expect there will be some ultimate SPL limitations [and may tax the 75w to the point that it blows up more often, more often than not taking a few speaker drivers with it when it does, as the 75w’s are wont to do].

Which begs the question: what is a ‘medium-sized room’? How loud do you listen? How important is rock-solid bass at high SPLs? Why are you not just getting a 3.2/75w and putting an awesome front end on it with the left over $$$? How would you improve your friend’s system sonically [louder? more neutral? more bass? …]

OK. On to the amps…

* The ML2.1 did not drive the Mini to our satisfaction in a 15×28 foot room [5 x 9 meters] unless you are going for very intimate nearfield midrange nirvana - the speaker may be harder to drive than the Midi, and is definitely harder than the 3.2

* The Tenor 300 hybrids did not have much [any?] of the magic that the 75w OTL did

* The new Tenor hybrid are $$$ and an Ongaku is probably cheaper and definitely makes more music unless you are looking for big, BIG SPLs

* The MBL… Kharma actually does not sound bad with solidstate amps. It will not be like your friend’s system - the sound will be bigger, more room pressurizing [if you know what I mean], more authoritative. But less intimate, less PRaT, less musical, less mini- and micro-dynamics etc…

The Lamm hybrids should be mentioned, they will be a powerful denser harmonic sound - but this may be too much like your current system, albeit a good deal more lively [but just not as lively as the Tenor OTL on the 3.2].

I would pick an Ongaku or Lamm ML3 :-) if I were you and you had the funds. Well, I am of the firm belief that we all have to always be well prepared for the non-zero probability that funds might start falling out of the sky in our general direction. :-)

You might also consider the Audio Note U.K. Jinro ($22K USD or so. It is a copper version of the Ongaku, which uses silver) which will drive the speakers fine - with less resolution [both w/r to detail and harmonics] than the almighty Ongaku but good midi- and micro-dynamics fairly close - but not quite - to the Tenor 75w. And it won’t blow up and is an integrated. This is probably your best choice for a sound similar to your friends but bigger and I might almost say better in every way [I could say ‘better’ with confidence if you milked all the dynamics possible using HRS vibration control, and the right cables and power cords and sources. Especially with the Mini Exquisites which are just oozing harmonic and inner detail]

In the end, on a budget, I would choose the Jinro or the solidstate solution [not just MBL, but Edge, Vitus etc. We made a list on the blog of the better solidstate out there… an older link is HERE] and then tune the living daylights out of the signal you are giving them [i.e. cables and power cords and rackage].

Oh! the Wilsons… The ML2.1 on the Watt Puppies…. Let’s just throw in the Sophia and Sasha in this discussion too. And the Marten Coltane too [I am presuming you are looking mostly at the used market given your selection of possible amps, half of which are no longer being made]. You will have some ultimate SPL issues here too which I do not know will be a problem for you are not. I like these Lamm combinations a lot - although it is a ‘different musical’ than the Kharma/Tenor. It is more stately and sensual as opposed to exuberant and exciting. I think of these as comparing a wife to a girl friend. Both have their good points. [I, personally, did not mean that last sentence to apply to myself, Neli :-O :-) ].

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Hope people find this kind of Q&A interesting…

8 Responses to “(Jinro, Tenor, Lamm, solid-state) Amps for Kharma mid-size speakers for mid-size rooms”

  1. Mike Says:

    [Further Q&A on this topic. Wherein I cheerlead the Jinro a bit - but I really like this integrated amp. It is a killer deal, sounds great compared to un-integrated amps anywhere near its price range, and it can control most speakers out there - unlike just about all tube amps and most solid-state amps (most of which are sloppy when you come down to it)]

    I just realized Audio Note produced Jinro only recently. Have you had an opportunity to listen to this amp for a long time? With all its limitations have you been able to get ‘magic’ out of the system? What do you think about Audio Note Tomei? Also some sites mentioned 27w output and some mentioned 18w - are those different modifications of those amplifiers?

    We had the Jinro here for several months and also have heard it in 2 of our all Audio Note U.K. systems at shows.

    The Jinro sounds as good as the Ongaku, one thinks, until one compares them side by side, at which point one thinks not so much bad things about the Jinro as that the Ongaku is performing miracles.

    Seriously, I think the Jinro is WAY under-priced. It has great control and can drive most speakers very well. It is an integrated. It has great dynamics. It has a good mix of everything else: micro-dynamics, harmonics, tone, etc.

    Perhaps a few more examples will help illustrate the character of the Jinro. Please understand I am trying to be perhaps overly succinct here - there are many subtle things going on in each souind which would take a long time to write - we are talking about general over-arching impressions here:

    On a 100% Audio Note system, in particular on AN speakers setup correctly in the corners of the room, the sound is Very, Very dynamic and lively. Full sounding and room pressurizing. This is a slightly more colorful, much fuller, much bigger but otherwise very close sound to the Tenor 75w OTL on the Kharma 3.2. If one replaced the Jinro with the Ongaku one would have a Lot more color and a Lot more resolution - essentially there would be a Lot of stuff going on in the space between the notes. The Lamm ML2.1, say, however, would have a little more color and resolution than the Jinro, but be much less dynamic - and instead be more intimate. They would all 4 of them have excellent separation.

    On the Kharma, the differences are similar albeit somewhat less stark - the difference in fullerness and biggerness between the AN and the Tenor / ML2.1 is much less, all the rest of the differences being about the same. The Jinro can sound a wee bit more dynamic than the Ongaku because of the reduced resolution - the gaps between major notes are more empty making the notes stand out a little more, which should be somewhat familiar because the Tenor on the 3.2 is somewhat like this as well [sorry for all the ’somewhats’ :-) ]

    I am not talking about the Tenor on other speakers than Kharma - we have heard several of these systems: Tannoy, Talon, etc. and none of them seemed to come off very well at all for some reason.

    This is a long winded roundabout way of getting to the point that ‘magic’, or ‘drug-like sound’, is made of up several things that each have their affect on us in different amounts: micro-dynamics, midi-dynamics and harmonic color/harmonic resolution, plain old resolution, and PRaT being the top attributes, say. Room pressurization and solidity of imaging might be other top contenders.

    It is not that one can’t get magic from any system - it is just what one is used to, one’s preferences, and the desired frequency of that ‘magical’ experience. I get magic from my car’s Bose stereo - just not all that often. :-) But that is OK with me, because I one of those people who thinks I need to pay attention to my driving. :-)

    For my taste, I like a little more harmonic resolution than what the Lamm ML2.1 offers, which is also somewhat more than the Jinro - so I like to have a source with good harmonics with these two amps. Neli on the other hand slightly prefers more ‘plain old resolution’ so she would probably opt for a source with more raw resolution. I think I am now preferring good midi-dynamics more than she does at this point. I am almost crazy fanatic about separation - bad separation becoming a deal killer in terms of just not sounding real enough to me these days - and I know she also needs good separation, but I do not know if she is fanatical about it yet or not :-) . I slightly prefer room pressurization than not - but it is not all that important to me at this time. Etc.

    It is up to you to figure out where you are in this universe of preferences.

    Like I said, most people would not notice a difference if they came into the room and there was the similar looking Jinro instead of an Ongaku - and it would be only in a head to head comparison would they look at you like you were an idiot for not using the Ongaku 100% of the time. So it is a lot about what you are used to, and what your options are, and what your preferences are, and where you want to go.

    The Tomei has a great future, being between these two, but we have not heard it - and how we are going to characterize exactly where it is between these two when we have heard it I have no idea.

    I am told that the unofficial rating for the 211 amps like the Jinro, Tomei and Ongaku is 25 watts. It somewhat depends on the tube you are using. As far as I have been able to tell, their ability to drive a speaker, which they can all do very, very well with really excellent control, is ‘about the same’ for all 3.

    Hope this helps!
    -Mike

  2. Fred Crowder Says:

    Mike,

    This may be a bit premature but have you listened to the ML2.2 and if so, how does it differ from the ML2.1?

  3. Kevman Says:

    Great Q&A! Very informative, keep it up please!

    Have you tried different tubes in the Jinro?

  4. Mike Says:

    Hi Fred,

    We’ve only heard it at CES, neli more so than I, in the Lamm room with the Verity Lohengrin speakers. We should learn a lot more about these speakers [allowing us to work backwards and therefore learn more about the ML2.2, albeit memory is growing dim] next week when a customer is scheduled to get a pair for his Lamm ML3 and Audio Aero LaSource CD/SACD player [and Jorma Prime cables :-) ] system.

    From what we have heard, and from how Vladimir described the differences, the ML2.2 has more air and I think a little more color than the ML2.1, both of which I think are good incremental improvements.

    I can’t help but think of the very few but vocal ML2.0 fans who thought the ML2.1 had a little too high of resolution for their taste [I paraphrase and summarize lots of ranting here]. I think the ML2.2 keeps the high resolution but makes it a little more acceptable to the purists; and the extra air on top goes above and beyond what the previous two versions were able to do in terms of liveliness.

    That said, the ML2.2 is an evolutionary step up from the ML2.1 - they are really fairly close in sound. The ML2.2 is slightly more expensive, 20% or so [approx. $30K to now approx. $37K], but Lamm has not had a price increase for the ML2 in 8 years or so. It has gone from an expensive amp in that time to what can only be called a bargain in today’s somewhat extremely inflationary high-end audio marketplace.

    Take care,
    -Mike

  5. Fred Crowder Says:

    Kevman,

    Please note that I do not own the Jinro, but do own a balanced pair of Kegons and have done significant tube swapping in those. In my case, each change resulted in an audible improvement to the sound, cleaner, more extension at the frequency extremes, blacker background, better dynamics. The single largest improvement resulted in replacing the Electro Harmonics 5U4G which for want of a better description was a piece of garbage. The first stage tube was actually reasonably good and was a NOS. The least improvement came from replacing the output tubes with Western Electric 300B’s. I should also note that you can get fairly significant improvements from replacing the AC cord and isolating the units from mechanical vibration. Mike can speak to this as he has experimented in these areas with the Ongaku.

    Best of luck,

  6. Mike Says:

    Hi Kevman,

    Thanks! Sorry for the delay.

    The short answer is that, no, we were scheduled to try different front end tubes, and different 211 tubes, but time got away from us. The amp did respond as one might expect to various power cords and vibration control stands.

    Back in late November on this blog, Dave Cope said that they got good results using the Raytheon 5687 to replace the GE7044.

    David Anselm, Audio Note dealer over at Almost Live Audio is also supposed to be doing some experimenting… David, any results you want to mention?

    We should be getting more from these two over time, as well as our own results when we get the Jinro back in again. :-)

    Take care, and Thanks for posting,
    -Mike

  7. David Anselm Says:

    Hello Mike,

    I have done a fair amount of tube rolling in the Jinro. I am very pleased with the end result.

    In the 211 tubes I have tried, the stock Shuguang, Sophia, Shuguang Psvane & NOS RCA 211.

    In the place of the GE7044, I have tried the Ratheon 5687,Tung-Sol 5687, and RCA 7044

    In the place of the stock 5814, I have tried Tung-Sol 12AU7, and Amperex 12AU7.

    I tried EVERY possible combination with the above tubes.

    My favroite 2 combonations:

    RCA 211 Tubes, GE 7044, with Tung-Sol 12AU7
    The RCA 211 tubes are worth the cost of admission they are incredible. This combination has great bass, wonderful midrange, and an extended top end, but it is never bright or lean. The music is layered with great tone, their is great energy, but with a touch of sweetness.
    Additionally, sound staging is immense, and open.
    This is my favroite combination by a large margin. I will revisit the RCA 7044 in place of the GE7044 soon, just for “closure” on the tube rolling in the Jinro for me.

    Sophia 211 tubes, GE7044, with Tung-Sol 12AU7
    This is a pretty darn good combination. The Sophia 211 tubes are very good, but I can not say they are nearly as pleasing as the NOS RCA 211 tubes. The Sophias 211’s are the “Koetsu” of the 211 tubes. They are very romantic, pleasant to listen to, but they are not without character. They slightly roll off the treble, and the bass is slightly exaggerated with a mid bass bump. This is a pleasing combination and IMO this combination is ALOT better than the stock combination, just not as good at the above combination with the RCA 211 tubes.

    In my opinion upgrading from the stock combination is a MUST, it is worth the added expense.

  8. Mike Says:

    Wow. Thanks, David!

    Even if you did not try ALL 48(!) tube combinations, getting the amp to something significantly better than stock, with two configurations no less: one with ‘off the shelf’ tubes and one with NOS, is awesome and a real service to audiophiles, Audio Note dealers and us folks who exhibit at shows with the Jinro every so often :-) .

    Take care,
    -Mike

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