CES 2017 Loudspeakers $20k and Up
I’m going to start on the 35th floor, where Kharma was showing its beautiful, four-way, seven-driver (one 1" diamond tweeter, two 2" diamond mid/tweets, two 7" Omega-F carbon-fiber midranges, and two 11" Omega-F carbon-fiber woofers in a D’Appolito array), $437k Enigma Veyron EV-2 floorstander with ported, CNC-milled, “bullet-wood” enclosure, I heard this same speaker sound fabulous in Breda just two weeks before the show, driven by Kharma’s own electronics; here it was being driven by Lamm Industries ML2.2 monoblock amplifiers, LL1.1 Signature linestage preamp, and LP1 Signature phonostage, and sourced by EMM Labs digital and a refurbished EMT 927F turntable with SME 3012-R tonearm and Ortofon A95 cartridge. All cabling was from TchernovCable. The sound was lovely in timbre, very spacious, and fuller in the power range than what I heard in The Netherlands, but also darker in balance, less finely detailed, considerably lower in energy, and lacking the very deepest bass compared to the sound with Kharma’s own gear. While Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances [Reference] had gorgeous string tone and tremendous stage width and depth (signal virtues of the Veyrons), the bass was also a little too full with some slight vagueness in imaging (which could have been room effects). All in all, this was a beautiful but relatively low-res, low-energy presentation vis-à-vis Breda.
Still on the 35th floor and right next door, Kharma was showing its $225k, five-driver (one 1" diamond tweeter, two 7" carbon-fiber Omega-F midranges, and two 11" Omega-F carbon-fiber woofers in a D’Appolito array), three-and-a-halfway Exquisite Midi Grand floorstander with ported, CNC-milled, bullet-wood enclosure. Driven by Lamm Industries wonderful ML3 SET monoblocks, LL1 linestage, and LP1 phonostage, and sourced (once again) by EMM Labs digital and EMT/SME/Ortofon analog (cabling was from TchernovCable), the Exquisite Midi Grands had terrific impact on piano and tighter bass than the Veyrons. Though not quite as liquid or refined in the treble as the more expensive Kharmas, the Midis were still pretty damn beautiful-sounding, reproducing the winds and brass on the “Liberty Fanfare” from Winds of War and Peace [Wilson] with dark, rich tone color and excellent grip and impact on that big bass drum. For whatever reason, the Midis had better image focus than the Veyrons, though their stage was not quite as big as that of the other Kharma system. They were better defined in the low end, for sure. This was a superior presentation, and the system sounded even more lifelike on the third day of the show, on a Prestige mono LP of Ben Webster’s tenor sax, which was reproduced with gorgeous timbre and considerable realism.
Best of Show (price no object)
Well, that depends on the music and the instrument(s). For solo voice, the Wilson Audio Alexx with D’Agostino electronics and dCS digital. For piano, the Magico M3 with Constellation electronics and source For guitar, the Wilson Audio Alexx again with Nagra electronics and tape player. For saxophone, the Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand with Lamm electronics and EMT/SME/Ortofon. For exceptionally realistic imaging, the Rockport Atria II with Nagra electronics and AMG/DS Audio DS 002 source. For overall soundstaging and three-dimensionality, the MBL 101 E MkII with MBL electronics. For musicality and easy listening, the YG Acoustics Hailey with Nagra electronics and Brinkmann turntable/cartridge. Take your pick. There isn’t a loser in the bunch.