Where we pore over JV's CES 2014 show report

Its about time for our traditional microscopic sifting through the CES 2014 show report from JV. It is over at TAS:
JV’s $20K speakers on up.

Or is it.

This year JV says he is doing something different. He only reviewed a handful of rooms, what he feels were the best, and it is really unclear whether this is all there is of his show report or what.

After reading the report in depth I now think ‘this is it’ and that JV did not have a lot of time at the show, nor time to spend on the report.

Still, I find we are in broad agreement about many of the details of the sound in most of the rooms, but sometimes not so much about what the details signify in the bigger picture. For example, we both feel that the Magico S1 and S3 systems are sounding more musical than systems with most previous Magico speakers. But he sees this as a conscious move by Magico to make more forgiving speakers in order to reach a wider market, and I see it as [and sincerely hope that it is] just an improvement in efficiency of the speakers that allows for more musical amplifiers to be used with them.

Given the set of rooms that JV actually heard [with the proviso that we did not hear the big Focal speaker room], I think we would agree with his rankings except to put the Cessaro Chopin speaker room ahead of the MBL room.

We posted a four part CES 2014 show report with many rooms JV did not cover.

Focal Grande Utopia EM speakers on VAC electronics

We did not see nor hear this room. Must have made a mistake traversing the rooms – a lot of the signs look exactly the same… ? Kind of miffed about it. Let’s just move on…


MBL 111F speakers on their new midline Nobel Line electronics

JV thought this was the 3rd best of the show. It was OK, but compared to their top of the line gear they usually show with, I thought it was missing a little of that sparkle [air], some of the harmonic color [typically quite good for solid-state], and the micro-dynamics. The liveness was not quite there. Still good – still MBL – but a more reasonable sound at a more reasonable price.


Perfect8 Technologies’ $375k The Force speakers on VAC electronics and Walker turntable

JV thought this was one of the two best systems and goes into some detail about the sound. Note that his choice of the top two systems both had VAC electronics. I also have noticed that the price of VAC has gone up a bit since the last time we looked at their gear. It is no longer ‘reasonably priced’ [sorry if I misled people saying it was].

JV starts with saying that [paraphrasing] “….the Perfect8 speakers [and sometimes the Scaena speakers], are the only two speakers to ‘disappear’ – the Perfect8 also reliably disappearing in the bass….”

[Excuse me while I have a little bit of a WTF moment here...]

[OK. Thanks for your patience]

The speakers did disappear pretty nicely, we do agree on that.

JV again: “Even the great Focals, and they were great, sounded more like “box speakers” than this astounding ribbon/cone system”.

Well, considering that these Perfect8 speakers are not box speakers, it will of course be true that all box speakers will sound more like box speakers than they do [unfortunately, big speakers like the Focal, Wilson, Rockport, etc. who lay on the cabinet thickness in the attempt to make them 'more better' fail especially badly at not sounding like box speakers. Kharma and Von Schweikert do better. Open baffle hybrids like the Nola also do well. And, of course, the speakers using aluminum and carbon fiber do particularly well at not sounding like box speakers - even though they all, you know, actually ARE box speakers.

He just goes on to say that he really enjoyed the sound without any further detailed analysis. Our opinion is detailed in Part I of our show report already posted. The short and sweet, is that the overall sound was just a little too wishy washy in the mids and discontinuous in the soundstage and other tiny little things that would just niggle us to death.


Kharma Elegance dB11-s speakers on Kharma electronics

JV ... "so-called Elegance Line". Made me laugh. I so relate to the waste of valuable brain cells required to keep up with all the manufacturer product category names and their incessant changes.

JV: Historically, Kharma speakers... " leaned toward the analytical side. Super-detailed, super-fast, to some listeners they seemed to gain their phenomenal speed and resolution at the price of naturally rich timbre (particularly in the bass and the all-important power range). In this regard, they were reminiscent of certain early Magico loudspeakers (or, more properly, vice versa)."

Analytical? Yeah kind of [also read this as 'transparent to upstream gear']. So that is why we all put tube gear on them [he mentioned the need for rich timbre?]. Typically Lamm and Tenor. Match made in heaven and some of the great amp / speaker pairings in history. Seriously, do you want your ‘musicality’ to be built into the speaker, and you are kind of ‘stuck’ with that sound for as long as you have that speaker? or do you want your speaker to be transparent to upstream gear so that you can have a variety of sounds for your system, depending on upstream gear? Just askin’.

Newish Kharma speakers are designed for solid-state gear [specifically theirs, naturally] . One of the most musical solid-state driven amp / speaker pairings you can buy.

Like early Magico??? Sorry, JV, I just can’t quite get there…. this is so bizarre and we’ll have think about what exactly he means by this.

JV: “particularly in the bass and power range…” Wish we knew what the ‘power range’ was. The frequencies with ‘punch’? The ‘punchables?’

OK, we agree with much of what he said here about the sound…. though I am personally at a loss as to what exactly to attribute the change to.

JV: “…has gained much, much richer tone color (particularly in the bass and power range) at no apparent cost in resolution of transient speed.”

This room has certainly gained all this with respect to last year’s system at THE Show. Looks to be about the same upstream gear [Sorry. Just in one of those slacker moods].

JV: “(without much of the bite in the treble that I still hear, depending on source, from all beryllium tweeters)”
:-) You go, JV. Big dark secret… *exposed*. So many people love these tweeters with some kind of misplaced obnoxious emotional fury. They are just tweeters with problems like most other tweeters, you guys. More than their share, I think, sometimes.


Magico S3 speakers on Vitus electronics

JV: “Its new speakers, the Q7 in particular, have a warmer overall balance, bespeaking richer, denser, more natural color in the power range (which is, IMO, one of the chief keys to a loudspeaker’s appeal)”

This is not my sense of what is going on at all. They are first and foremost much easier to drive than the previous Magico speakers for the most part. Reportedly, the Lamm ML3 at 32 Thor-blessed watts drive these speakers. If we [and we did] call those previous speakers soulless, it was not because the lacked ‘natural color’ or were ‘lean’. It was because a) they were so hard to drive that the notes were flattened out [anti-bloom] with attenuated attack and decays that made it artificial and boring sounding and b) the hugemongous amps required to drive the speakers were by their nature cold and – well, they had issues.

So, making the speakers more efficient would, by itself, result in the same differences JV attributes to a conscious decision on the part of Magico to make their speakers ‘more appealing’. I hope they did not make the speakers, essentially ‘sweeter’, because, well, we like speakers that are transparent to upstream components, not ones that walk all over the signal with their own sound.

JV: “the S3 actually took this kinder, gentler Magico balance a step further, without losing much of Magico’s trademark low-level resolution or transient speed. ”

I’d like to hear the S3 on a different system before I can really place these sonically in the Magico speaker family – but I think that JV is right that Magico took a step further, but that it was too big of a ‘step further’. Missing too much of the eager midi-dynamics and inner-detail that the S1 would have had in the same room, that was my impression of the sound in this room.

JV: “Soulution’s new $65k 711 stereo amp and $55k 725 preamp made my ears water and my hands shake with lust”

Hmmmmmmmmmm…..

Soulution’s signature sound has not changed re: these new components, at least from what I heard.

JV goes on to talk a tiny bit about several rooms.


$40k Cessaro Chopin two-way front-loaded horn loudspeakers on Electra-Fidelity A3-500 300B amplifiers

JV: “were as void of horn colorations and as “of a piece” as any horn speaker I’ve heard”

If this is all he gets out of listening to horn speakers, trying to hear horniness and integration issues, then he is missing out on a f-load of what goes into making a good sounding music reproduction. Much better dynamic envelopes of the notes and a natural excitingness that other designs can usually only look at in envy. Hello?

We liked this sound quite a bit as seen in our show report a few posts back. If you want to talk about integration issues [i.e. "of a piece"], then lets talk about JV’s choices for 1st and 2nd best of show this year. No? We could go on but I think you see how JV’s pre-conceptions about horn speakers kind of prevents him from writing as adroitly about them as he does about other kinds of speakers.


YG Acoustics’ superb new $45k Hailey speakers

JV: ” a little compression on hard transients at very loud levels aside, were in the running for Best of Show”.

I heard lots of compression on everything. Something was wrong here, and looking forward to hearing these at the next shows.


$100k Zellaton References speakers

[I had no idea they were this much. I had assumed... something much less].

JV: ” …despite a little lightness in the bottom octaves, managed to dig out more detail …”

I just thought they were more musical and transparent than expected, but had been evaluating them with respect to an expected price of around $20K. Oops.

Did you notice that JV did not say anything about the two SoundLab rooms, the two Lamm rooms, the Acapella room, nor the Marten room? Did he, uh, just figure that Mike & Neli were going to cover those rooms [even though we have not been dealers for SoundLab for years and have been quiescent about Acapella ]?

Highly conspiracy-thinking-ish there Mike…. [... or... is... it? :-)]

Anybody else still getting sticker shock at each and every one of these shows? Holy Great Recession Batman. There’s some weird jujus going on in dealership land, too, and can’t help but think what the high-end audio industry does best is embarrass itself with respect to the general public.

OK. Well… on to the next show. Which is, like, tomorrow right? ;-)

CES 2014: Most Interestings of Show (part four)

[Similar to the RMAF 2013 show report - we will put the politically correct version for all ages and levels of audiophile, along with well over 1000 photos, over on Ultimist - and we will put the more opinionated report here on the blog, which we will call 'Most Interesting of Show', for people who are focused on Pursuing the Ultimate Music Experiences.]

There were actually quite a few rooms this year that we thought were interesting. Interesting sometimes due to an intriguing pairing of different brands of gear together and sometimes due to interesting sonics, and there were also a couple of exceptional sounding systems as well.

In no particular order:


Kharma Elegance DB11S speakers on Kharma electronics and cables, dCS digital

I wasn’t happy with Kharma’s room last year at THE Show. It was cold and analytical. Not Kharma-ish at all.

This year’s room at the Venetian was way different. That old Kharma excitingness was back.

I have spent a lot of time trying to quantify and qualify this sound and what makes it different. It is definitively more exciting than most other speaker sounds [I used to compare it to how one feels about one's girl (boy) friend versus how one feels about one's wife (husband) - and I know none of us have girl (boy) friends, of course, but I think we can imagine just what that would be like just fine ;-)].

Is the midrange and upper bass slightly more dynamic than the rest of the frequency band? Are the mids more harmonically rich? I don’t know, but I do like it; although to hear it best I kind of have to sort of turn my mind’s ear and point it toward the 6th dimension [I don't know how else to describe this].

Anyway, a bold sound, a little too much for the room but it worked much of the time. Very dynamic and powerful, especially in the upper to mid bass. Very harmonically rich and engaging. Uneven and not very linear top to bottom, however, and a little wild. But it was fun and exciting, so I liked it, especially in the context of the show where a lot of systems sounds are, whether good or bad, just plain boring.


Theorem Imaging Science speakers on Lampizator electronics

These guys are so infuriating. We only got a very little time to listen to these before they drug us over to the next room to see their smaller system that was not playing any music. Argh.

I think this system is interesting because it did sound pretty darn good. Maybe they do wonders with cross-overs but I suspect it is the fact that the cabinets are made from granite and are so inert and stable that there is not much box coloration at all. And this is seemingly very, very important if you want to elevate your playback into state-of-the-art territory. All of the energy for each note goes into the note and not into warming up and vibrating some large chunk of wood or fiberboard or composite material. Lots of good separation and dynamics. Speakers that start with an aluminum, granite or perhaps carbon fiber cabinet enclosure have a real advantage over those that do not.

The harmonics also seemed quite rich [but not too rich] and musical as provided by the Polish Lampizator company.


Lamm ML3 amps, LL1 linestage, LP2.1 phono, LP1 phono on Verity Lohengrin II speakers with Kubala-Sosna cables and HRS (under the TechDAS turntable) and Kanso rackage

We have a friend customer who has the ML3 amps on these the latest Verity Lohengrin II speakers [with Jorma cables instead of Kubala-Sosna and Audio Aero La Source front end, all on RixRax equipment racks with Harmonic Resolution Systems M3x isolation bases under everything]. His goal was [more or less] a sound that was always musical and never aggressive, otherwise with as high a resolution and as much accuracy as possible. That system succeeded wonderfully for him. He could spend 2 or 3 times as much and get something better [IMHO] but, heck, this is pretty gawd darn expensive already.

As I sat in this room and heard how much of the wonderfulness of the ML3 amps was not getting through to my ears, I still thought our friend bought the right thing… for him. But for me? I want to hear that amp. I know it to have wonderfully detailed and subtle harmonic and dynamic transitions that add so much [for me] to the music. And more.

But the speakers, and to some degree the cables, and perhaps even the unfamiliar Kanso equipment rack, were softening up the sound enough that I did not feel as engaged here as I did in previous years, or even as much as I did in the Lamm M1.2 amp on the Wilson Alexia speakers room next door.

[Vladimir Lamm swapped back and forth between the LP2.1 phono stage (which debuted this show. yes we have photos on the inside of the chassis to be posted on Ultimist) and the more expensive LP1 Signature phono stage, several times by using the two tonearms on the TechDAS at the same time [say what? this was fun]. With two very slightly different cartridges it was a little bit of a Fuji apples to Braeburn apples comparison, but the short and quick is that if you didn’t hear them back to back (the more expensive LP1 being smoother, less grainy, and just more of that good old analog wonderfulness) you would think you were already listening to the LP1 when it was in fact the less expensive LP2.1 all along (the original LP2 has been a giant killer among phono stages here at the Fed, at least until you get up into the $20-$30K range of the competition).]


Acoustic Zen Crescendo Mk. II Speakers on Triode Corp electronics

It is funny [or not] when I read the better show reports and how they report on these rooms setup by Acoustic Zen and Triode Corp at all these shows. They point out something like that they heard a slight issue with the sound of a part of one of the tracks they played here. Ah, then this, they imply, can’t be best of show then.

What this really says to the perceptive reader who reads a lot of these things and thinks to themselves a little bit is that, hey, these rooms are such reliable performers, and it is so boring to keep awarding them the accolades they deserve, that they will dig deep down and find something [anything!] wrong so they do not have to put them somewhere on the BOS list yet again. The Lamm rooms experience this same thing.

Show reporters get so bored with seeing the same things each show [most of the gear, the setups, the people... it is all 98% the same from show to show] that they need to mix it up once in awhile and pick someone else as BOS, someone else to talk and rave about. And heaven forbid that they bore the readers [equals less traffic equals less ad revenue] by talking about the same old boring rooms that sound good, that perform well, each show after show after show.

And the speakers are only $18K? And the electronics are actually fairly reasonably priced?? BO-ring. Can’t get any more boring than this. Show reports got to be exciting wiiiild stuff, man…

They played music here. It sounded like music. It did nothing egregiously wrong and got a lot just right. It was immensely enjoyable. Like freaking always.

Well, I guess [and after all I am kind of a show reporter too...] I am also a wee tiny bit bored :-).

Yah, you know, each show it is the same… I can’t ever afford to spend a lot of time here [and this is what sucks about being a show reporter who actually goes to all the rooms (otherwise you have prejudged the show before you even arrive! Having decided what is best by the choice of what rooms you omit even visiting)]. You know I have to go and check out all those other rooms…

*sigh*

CEs 2014: day 3, 4


WAVAC on soundLab. surprisingly, one of the, if not THE, best sounds of the show.


Perfect8 on Walker Audio and VAC


Kharma is finally back with their characteristically energetic sound.


Lamm on Verity Lohengrin speakers.


Lamm on Wilson Alexia speakers. First time I have heard the bass of the Alexia sound anywhere near what one would expect from a Wilson speaker

Heart and Mind Ratings of Common High-end Audio Gear

In order to help describe what we think are the key differences between the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On and Lamm ML3 amplifiers we came up with semi-subjective rating that has to do with how much the characteristic sound of the amp appeals to one’s mind versus how much it appeals to one’s heart.

We will now try our hardest to apply this same approach to all sorts of other gear. However, it seems like perhaps a change might be useful here. Instead of just rating things based on a simple HEART < ----- > MIND scale we will instead try and rate Heart and Mind separately, on a scale from 0 to 10.

One reason why these kind of ratings may be really useful is that people who like the quality of the sound to affect their Heart really hate sound directed at their mind. And visa-versa. Really hate. Spending lots of time to let everyone know how much they hate a particular component or system when what they are really saying is that they do not like the fact it is Mind-centric (or visa-versa).

Mind-centric sound is often called ‘sophisticated’, or ‘high resolution’ or having ‘lots of inner detail’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘cold’.

Heart-centric sound is often called ‘emotional’ or ‘involving’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘warm’.

[NOTE: real world values are very fuzzy and depend heavily upon the music played and system the component / cable is in, and, for Audio Note components, the tubes used]

Name Heart Mind
———– amps ———–
Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On amp 10.0 7
Lamm ML3 amp 8 10.0
Audio Note U.K. Kageki 2A3 amp 9 4
Audio Note U.K. Kegon Balanced amp 8 7
Audio Note U.K. Kegon amp 9 6
Lamm ML2.2 amp 7 7
Edge NL10 amp 5 8
———– speakers ———–
Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers 4 10.0
Kharma Mini Exquisite speaker 9 8
Marten Coltrane 1 speaker 4 8
Marten Coltrane 2 speaker 6 10.0
Acapella Triolon Excalibur speaker 8.5 7
Wilson Alexandria II, XLF speakers 6 8
Wilson MAXX III speakers 5 7
Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers 5 4
Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers 5 5
Audio Note AN/E SEC Signature speakers 7 7
Sonus Faber Stradivarius speakers 7 4
Sonus Faber Extrema speakers 8.5 3
———– cd players ———–
Audio Aero Capitole Mk. II CD player 8 4
Audio Aero Capitole Reference CD player 8 6
Audio Aero Capitole LaSource CD player 9 7
Emm Labs CDSA CD player 6 7
Emm Labs XDS1 CD player 7 8
Esoteric K-01 CD player 4 8
Audio Note Level 5 digital 11 7
Audio Note Level 4 digital separates 8 7
———– cables ———–
Nordost ODIN interconnects 7 9
Nordost ODIN speaker cables 7 8
Tara Labs the Zero GOLD 7 7
Nordost ODIN power cords 9 8
Nordost Valhalla interconnects 6 6
Audio Note Sogon cables 8 4
Audio Note brown PALLAS interconnect 7 9
Audio Note black PALLAS interconnect 7.5 4
Stealth INDRA 4 7.5
ELROD classic (average) 6.5 4
ELROD new (average) 7.5 6
Pranawire (average) 9 4
———– preamps ———–
EMMLabs PRE2 preamp 4 6.5
LAMM L2 preamp 6 6
Audio Note M9 preamp 8 5
Audio Note M10 preamp 9 7
———– phono preamps ———–
Audio Note M9 phonostage with S9 step-up transformer 10 7
Lamm LP2 phono preamp 6 5

Rated 0 to 10 and we are assuming they are in a system that really shows off their capability. There are a lot more components and things we can rate, but this is hopefully a decent start.

OK. You all know this is just my Wild Eyed Opinion. But I think most people would agree that the relative values here are close and in proportion to what we experience when we listen to these things.

There are, you know, components with a value of 0,0 and we won’t point fingers but it is an interesting state of affairs for those that own them. The more educated we are about the REAL comparative performance of our gear the less chance end up with stuff that is not what we are looking for.

From this table, one can see why the Gaku-On amps on the Coltrane Supreme speakers was such a significant system. Even though the ML3 on the Supremes was awesomely intense and deeply subtle, the Gaku-On on the Supremes whacks ya, you poor defenseless listener you, over BOTH sides of the head. A roller-coaster ride to wheresoever the music takes you.

This kind of pairing of opposites works well for the most listeners, I think. Like the Edge NL10 amps driven by the Audio Aero Capitole player – it entertains both sides of the brain. On the other hand, there is something kind of special about well-balanced components, components who heart-centric rating is close to the mind-centric rating.

It seems, looking at things here, that some gear uses either some warmth and/or dynamics and/or well-integrated micro-dynamics to appeal to the Heart.

Q&A: The Marten Coltrane Momento speakers (versus Kharma speakers)

[These Marten versus Kharma questions are very popular. I try to answer each one of these a little differently, to hopefully allow people, over the course of all these answers, to paste together a more accurate picture of the two 'house sounds'.]

THE QUESTION

I’m curious to know how the Coltrane Momento’s have worked out? I have only seen one review of them (which was very positive), but they seem to have been brought to market rather quietly – as compared to the hoopla of the Supreme several years earlier. Have you had any in your shop for audition? If so, how do you like them? Anything glaringly right or wrong?

Finally, in general terms what kind of soundstage do Marten speakers tend/aspire to create? Small focused or expansive?? (for lack of any better descriptors at this moment…)

I like the look of these speakers – simple to hook up, simple footprint….but apparently with some great components and considerable thought all on board.

THE ANSWER

Yeah, I guess statement products [the Supremes] do receive a lot more hoopla than the penultimate [the Momentos] – and perhaps because the Momentos are comparably priced to so many other speakers these days, they just don’t stand out like the Coltrane Supreme speakers do? All just speculation on my part – but I do agree the buzz has been rather muted (undeservedly so, IMHO).

No, unfortunately we have not had the Momentos in the shop. We heard them extensively at CES last year, loved them [sounded just like we expected them to], and we were actually interested in purchasing that particular pair, but another line [no, I'm not telling which one :-)] we carry had a hiccup and we decided we just could not swing it at that time. And, now, of course, we are planning on moving the shop, so getting another big speaker just does not seem like the prudent thing to do at this time. [We periodically try to actively sell the Coltrane Supreme speakers so that we can get a pair of Coltrane Momento speakers for awhile - as you may have seen on this blog - only to later think this would be nuts and we can't live without the Supremes. Kind of an emotional issue here at Audio Federation.]

The Momentos sound similar to the Coltrane Supreme speakers – which we love – and in some instances may be more convenient [2 speakers instead of 4, no external crossover box, and like if, say, you wanted to use an integrated amp like the Audio Note Ongaku to drive them - the absence of an outboard amp (which the Supremes have and the Momentos do not) simplifies things a bit]. Let’s get to your next question, which allows us to talk about these speakers in context, the context being another great set of speakers :-)

>> Hello again – I also wanted to ask about the Marten’s: generally speaking how are they voiced relative to Kharma (a brand that I’ve some experience with)??

* The Marten sound is more determined by upstream equipment and setup than is the Kharma sound. (i.e. the Marten is capable of having more different kinds of sounds than the Kharma)
* The Kharma sound typically creates a larger soundstage and bigger sound, all else being equal [although this is changing with the new Coltrane 2 and maybe the Momento as well]
* The Kharma sound is typically more overtly detailed in the midrange and lower treble [though I think this is changing with the newer Kharma black label drivers] than the Marten sound
* The Marten sound has a blacker background and is more revealing of subtleties than the Kharma sound

One way to look at them is that the Kharma is a party speaker, exuberant, exciting, invigorating, … and the Marten is a truth speaker, beautiful, mind-mucking, deeply insightful…

Please understand I am somewhat exaggerating the differences to help you understand their intrinsic character …. They are both capable of doing all these things quite well.

Hope this helps!

(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....]

—————————————–
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?
————————————————–
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…

Kharma news from Munich 2010

[Neli is still torturing me. But eventually she will relent :-) From the snippets I have heard - Kharma now has 2 speakers above the old (~$260K) Grande Exquisites and one immediately below.

Kharma has indeed added some new loudspeakers to the Grand Exquisite line. Above the Grand Exquisite are the Grand Exquisite Extreme ($390K), and the Grand Exquisite Extreme, Limited Edition 25 ($520K), the ultimate realization of the Grand Exquisite.

Kharma has also introduced the Midi Grand Exquisite ($145K), smaller cabinet suitable for a (somewhat) smaller room. These were the ones shown in Munich.

Kharma now makes their own ceramic drivers, the Black Label series (and so no longer use the old Accuton/ Thiele & Partner ceramic drivers - which have been exceedingly hard to come by lately). These new drivers have membranes that are black in color.

This fall, Kharma will introduce the new Elegance line. One of the smaller Elegance loudspeakers, configuration similar to the 3.2.2 CRM, is shown below. These use a new Kharma-designed and developed carbon fiber driver and a new (also Kharma-designed and developed) beryllium tweeter. Pricing for the new Elegance speakers is still being set.

Corrections to this summary, and pricing, and labeling of the photos will be forthcoming... right Neli? :-)]
A quick note on pricing. Kharma’s pricing in Euro has remained remarkably stable over the last years. Prices here are based on a conversion rate of 1.30 USD / 1 Euro, which is either … an insane opportunity, or the new normal.

Looking into the Munich show room from the outside …

wish we were able to attend, we are so happy to have these pictures sent to us from Kharma …

First glimpse inside.

These are the Midi Grand Exquisites, with the Exquisite Sub (active, 18″ long throw driver) and the new Exquisite MP-1000 mono power amplifiers.

Side view of the room, RixRax Grand Hoodoo and a pair of Exquisite Mini with the new black label drivers (more below).

Kharma owner and chief designer, Charles van Oosterum, with the new Elegance 3.2.2, with the grille on. Grilles are now mounted magnetically.

Rear of the Elegance 3.2.2, in Aubergine. The port is reminiscent of the Exquisite Mini. Note the removable back panel.
These loudspeakers can be made active by changing the binding posts to signal cable connectors (XLR/RCA) and mounting one of the little Matrix amplifiers inside.

New Kharma beryllium tweeter and carbon fiber mid/bass driver.

‘Elegance’ series badge on the side. Cabinets and cabinet finish look quite similar to the CRM 3.2/3.2.2.

Streamlined Elegance series stand with floor protectors.

This is a nice reminder that we should always level our loudspeakers …

Another nice view of the big Munich system with the Midi Grand Exquisites, the new MP-1000 mono amps ($52000), and the Exquisite sub ($32,500).

Closeup of one Midi Grand Exquisite. Makassar veneer with piano black finish. Nice view of the dual diamond tweeters, and of the new black-label ceramic midrange drivers.

Even nicer view of the Makassar …

Beautiful view of the Exquisite Mini (what a lovely, lovely loudspeaker, sonically even more than visually), with standard Walnut trim and the new black label drivers. Since the speakers are not playing, the diamond tweeters have got their little magnetic protective grilles on.

The MP-1000 with carbon front panel.

Best view of the front end. Top shelf, Metronome CD transport. Second shelf, prototype/beta version of the new Kharma PA-1000 preamplifier (expected $39000), third shelf is a DAC from Audio Note Japan (thanks Metralla) KSL-DAC. And, on the bottom shelf, what I think is the power supply for the Metronome.

Happy listeners ….

Kharma 3.2fe loudspeakers

Our Kharma Mini Exquisites have found a new home, and in exchange we have a nice pair of black Kharma 3.2fe speakers.

Kharma 3.2fe speaker
The Kharma 3.2 are a little skinnier, and not as deep, as the Mini Exquisites, and so it is even more fun to look at this system where the Edge Electronics NL Reference amps are almost as big as the speakers.

Kharma 3.2fe speaker

Kharma 3.2fe speaker

Kharma 3.2fe speaker
The 3.2 speakers do not have the diamond tweeter – and not quite the fit-and-finish of the Mini Exquisites [and remember, ours had the wood caps - oolala!].

Kharma 3.2fe speaker
The 3.2 speakers are easier to drive, and have less finesse, not quite the ultra-high resolution, and not quite the authority of the mini exquisites. At one-third the price on the Minis, their price performance kicks patootie in the high-res 2-way with more than decent bass speaker marketplace.

Kharma 3.2fe speaker
The single binding post, not being in a recessed cavity, unlike the Minis, might be easier, or it might be harder, to attach to a bi-wire speaker cable. Neli has not given me an earful, so I assume easier :-)

Photos from downstairs

Just a few odds and ends… OK. Yes. Audio porn. While it still gets through those parental filters.


The Kharma Mini Exquisite.


The Audio Note Kegon Balanced from the front


The Audio Note Kegon Balanced from the side


The Marten Coltrane, showing off its bottom port.


The Audio Note E/SEC Signature speaker with 8 hand rubbed coats of lacquer, in MADRONE burl with piano finish .


A closeup of the finish.

How Much Fun

We have so many things in the queue … so many things lined up to try, that it gets a little overwhelming. The exact sequence of things gets a lot of discussion and seems to be updated on an almost hourly basis.

We have:

1. Compare the charged ELROD powercord that has been on the Nordost ViDar cable burner to a charged ELROD that has not been on the burner – i.e. How does the ViDar affect performance? We already did the cold (uncharged) Vidar’ed ELROD compared to the hot (charged) un-ViDar’ed ELROD. [Note, ELRODs take about 3 days or so to charge up their capacitors]. While this was ijntersting, and we will report on it, not being the brightest bears in the woods, we finally realized that this was kind of confusing [I bet you are confused, too, by now :-)], overloading the charged versus uncharged test with the Vidar’ed versus un-Vidar’ed test.

I said it was fun. But it also requires a degree in Research Methods… apparently.

2. Compare the Kegon Balanced with the old high-gain Kegons. We can do this on the Kharma Mini Exquisites – which we anticipate will show that 1) … well, let’s not make any predictions [see, I'm getting smarter. Maybe there is hope...]. But the Kharma is actually quite hard to drive, especially the bass – especially if you want that big open Kharma sound [Kharmas always sound exciting and delicious and big, but not always that room pressurizing wrap-around that many people crave like hot butter on potatoes].

3. Compare the Nordost ODIN speaker cable to the Jorma Design PRIME speaker cable on the Marten Coltrane Supremes. This will be… well, there may not be a winner. I expect the ODIN to be more dynamic, which the Supremes love, and the PRIME to be more detailed, which the Supremes love. But for all I know I am getting it exactly backwards. That’s what shootouts are for. Proving it one way or another [at least with respect to the equipment we have here - we do try to perform part of a shootout on a completely different system to make sure that out results more or less reflect the general case].

4. Compare the Kharma Mini Exquisites to the Audio Note SEC High Efficiency Signature speakers. OK, yes, completely different… but both are 2-ways and, well they were the same price but now the Minis are $60K [seen the dollar lately?] and, well the AN speakers are… we’ll know when Neli gets the price list out [uh, oh, she's gonna smack me when she reads this... I am already bracing for the impact... hurry up and finish this so I can delete it before she sees it :-)]. I expect the Kharmas to be more detailed and the AN more dynamic. Duh. AN is almost horn-like and Kharma has that legendary midrange resolution. But what else will we hear?

5. Compare the M1 phono stage to the Lamm LP2 phono preamplifier. OK, Neli thinks this test is stupid too… but I want to hear the difference in character between the two. We’ve had a number of other inexpensive and expensive phono stages in here, so this is not all THAT outrageous.

6. Compare the old EMM Labs CDSA to the new one with the upgraded transport and feet. We should be getting close to getting 700 hours on the new CDSA soon now, one would think [I don;t have a little 700 hours cooking timer on it or anything].

7. Oh yeah, we still have to do the interconnect shootout where the signal is quite large, between the preamp and the amp. We actually point to a system periodically and say ‘oh, this would be a convenient time and configuration to perform the aforementioned test’ [well, we don't use the word 'aforementioned' in casual conversation, sorry]. But do we sit down and do the shootout? Noooooooo. It does take about 6 or 7 hours of focused concentrated listening, so it is hard to find the time. But soon….

8. We want to compare the high-power ELROD powercords to the low-powered ones on the Lamm ML2.1. At what point to low-powered amps draw high-power? Just what IS the difference in sound between the two?

9. I am sure there is a 9. And 10….

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