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"
O.L.S. Audiotechnology, based in the Netherlands, is known primarily as the manufacturer of Kharma speakers. They also manufacture several complete lines of audio wires. The Kharma Grand Reference is their penultimate offering. "
 

 
Associated Equipment:
Analog
Front End
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Power Conditioning
Accessories

 

 

 

"Tweakers Paradise"

KHARMA Grand Reference cables

 

December 2003

Marshall Nack

Specifications:

Kharma Grand Reference Wire Specifications:
KLC-GR-1a Loudspeaker cable 2 meter $5500

Additional .5 meter $1200
KIC-GR-1b Interconnect cable 1 meter $3500
Additional .5 meter $1250
KDC-GR-1a Digital cable 1 meter $1650
Additional .5 meter $625
KPC-GR-1a Power cable 2 meter $2400
Additional .5 meter $500

Manufacturer Information:

O.L.S. Audiotechnology
Kalshoven 7
4825 AL, Breda
Nederland
Telephone: +31-(0)76-5717010
Fax: +31-(0)76-5714773
Website: http://www.kharma.com/

Distributor Information:
GTT Audio/Video
356 Naughright Rd.
Long Valley, New Jersey 07853
Telephone: 908-850-3092
Email: info@gttgroup.com
Website: http://www.gttgroup.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kharma Grand Reference Speaker Wire


We were sitting around listening to Renée Fleming’s impossibly beautiful voice on the Grammy award-winning CD Bel Canto [Decca 289 467 101-2]. Bruce Fetherling and the guys from Acoustic Dreams had just installed their Ayon Signature speakers with their own home-brew speaker wire. We put on track 10, Bellini’s “Il pirata”, as good a test of big dynamics as any I’ve heard. The orchestra begins softly and grows, and grows some more, until you’re about ready to hit the volume control. Only this time the orchestra didn’t impress us that much, and Renée didn’t sound quite right. So we swapped the home-brew speaker cables for the Kharma Grand Reference. The amazing result was confirmed by all present.

At the same volume setting, the orchestra came in even more softly, and slowly and very smoothly swelled, until it completely occupied the front of my room, just shy of my leaping for the volume control. Renée herself exhibited a similar new dynamic, but on a smaller scale. Her voice played with the melody as before, but traveled freely, seemingly unencumbered by system constraints. Furthermore, there were oodles of air supporting everything. The air, the agile, non-mechanical dynamics, and the high level of transparency, created an almost embarrassing inrush of intimacy and presence. We were all silenced for a few minutes. Then Bruce said he’d heard cable do the dynamic thing before: using an SPL meter at that time he had even measured the increase in dynamic range. Now remember, this is a speaker cable we’re talking about here, a passive device. When reading over this narrative, however, you’d think I was describing a SET amp with uncommonly good dynamics. The Kharma Grand Reference (GR) wires will do this to you: they’ll confound your assumptions and make you rethink the role of cables in a truly high-end system.

Introductions

I initially became acquainted with Kharma cables in the course of reviewing the YBA Passion 1000 mono amps. The 1000s were sounding dark with my wires, since my cable inventory tends to those with extra fullness and weight, so I needed something to lighten them up. Bill Parish, who provided the Passion 1000s and is also the North America importer and distributor for Kharma, said he had the Rx. One evening, he showed up with some demo interconnect and speaker wire. I gotta tell ya, when I saw what he pulled out of his bag, I nearly plotzed and spontaneously laughed for a few minutes. The GR speaker wire is HUGE – about 2” in diameter. The interconnect is about 1” in diameter and bigger in circumference and heavier in weight than either the Golden Sound Red or the Harmonic Tech Magic power cords. But when I heard what that wire did for Renée’s voice, I suggested a full GR review.

When Bill came back sometime later with current versions, he arrived at my door lugging a dolly holding a wooden crate. Inside were a two-meter speaker cable, a one-meter and a two-meter interconnect and a one-meter digital! That’s all there was, and you needed a dolly to transport it! Again, I couldn’t contain myself, and broke into hysterical laughter. That you needed an amplifier-sized crate and a dolly to move some wires was just too far-gone. Indeed, if this was most audiophiles’ first reaction to the GR, what would normal folk make of them? I’m dwelling on this so you’ll be prepared when you encounter the cables.

Build quality

O.L.S. Audiotechnology, based in the Netherlands, is known primarily as the manufacturer of Kharma speakers. They also manufacture several complete lines of audio wires. The Kharma Grand Reference is their penultimate offering.

As mentioned above, the GR line has been revised for the first time in five years. The same model designations are used, but all cables are now cryogenically treated and have cosmetically different plastic end caps and black sheaths. Build quality is impeccable and benchmarks the state-of-the-art. The main reason for the extraordinary bulk is that the large number of conductors (32 pure silver and gold individual wires) is housed in a massive vibration-reducing tube in which they float in individual air chambers. Air is a near-perfect dielectric. The air chambers in turn are sealed in a gel, so each conductor is isolated by air from other wires, and then isolated from most environmental factors by the gel-filled tube. To help support their weight, I try to drape the interconnects along the rack before connecting them to the RCA jacks.

According to Kharma’s promo material, since speaker wires carry bigger
signals, the air-chamber design doesn’t work for them. Something else, which remains unspecified, had to be found. I can tell you, whatever they came up with, combined with the gel-filled tube, makes picking up a cable like lifting weights. The speaker wire contains 56 pure silver and gold individual wires. If your speaker’s binding posts are not close to ground level so the wires can rest on the floor, you must come up with some other way to help support them. The weight of the cable might pull the speaker over or break its binding posts. Fortunately, the protection provided by the gel-filled tube means you don’t have to elevate the wires off the floor.

Sounds Like Life

Here we go again with the acid test. Having just returned from a Town Hall concert featuring the Guarneri String Quartet, I fired up the system. Now, to do a string quartet right is more of a challenge than you might think. The audiophile press is always going on about transients in relation to big decibel events (i.e., orchestral crescendos or loud “thwacks” on the kick drum). The string quartet is not one of those. It presents a narrow band of mostly mid-range frequencies with limited dynamic swings. Bounded by the cello’s open C string at about 65hz and the violin’s top note at about 2300hz, you shouldn’t hear any deep bass or very high treble. (Of course, there are overtones in these regions: I’m talking about the fundamental notes here.) Secondly, from the audiences perspective (and from a well-engineered recording’s perspective), the dynamic range produced by four string instruments goes from almost silence to medium loud: no huge fortes, please. I’ve saved the biggest challenge for last, which is the string tone itself, a well-known hi-fi problem area.

Can the system handle this? A good system commonly misses on string tone and often messes up transient coherency, with some frequencies arriving earlier than others. Dynamics are sometimes exaggerated as well, so that the smaller forte of four instruments comes across like an entire string section. A better system gets the tone and maybe gets the transient, but usually exaggerates the bass, reproducing the cello’s low notes as if there’s an acoustic bass in the quartet.

The GR is the only cable that gets it all correct. Just putting in the speaker cable went a long way to single-handedly fixing string tone and color by providing a wholly convincing overtone complement on this difficult material. There is an absolute lack of the hi-fi emphasis on frequency extremes often found in “exciting” cables. Plenty of detail is retrieved, like the rosiny texture of the strings, but it’s never at the expense of the strings’ tone or the overall picture. A vanishingly low noise level underwrites this high detail retrieval: There’s simply a lot of unvarnished signal coming through, presented in an unaggressive manner. The small scale of the quartet is preserved, and HUGE helpings of air, presence, and natural dynamics make it as interesting and compelling in its way as Renée on the Bel Canto CD.

Check out the vibraphone on Swingin’ and Burnin’, featuring the John Cocuzzi Quintet [Wildchild! MS 06652], a collection of some good, old-fashioned, small group swing tunes. On track two, ‘Broadway’, the guitar enters first, and excites the snare drum, which you hear across the room. Then you’re caught off-guard by the brilliant entrance of the vibraphone. The almost fierce strike of the mallet, the waves of resonance rolling off the steel bars, the decay trails that ring longer and more naturally: all is self-evident. And the tune rolls right along, with you in the audience having a good time. By the way, this is a vintage vibe with iron bars, not a modern instrument that uses aluminum. It sounds different, and that sound is preserved on this excellently engineered disc.

These cables sound like life.

Rounding out the audiophile report card, the GR wires are unfailingly warm and sweet sounding. Tonal balance is grounded solidly in the mid-range, neither dark nor light. As you would expect, the treble is effortless, grainless, very extended, and also special in that it is soft edged and slightly diffuse. Most wires become too focused and pointy in the highs as the frequency and/or dB level increases, changing character and giving an impression of increasing coarseness and stridency. The GR treble never assaults you. This is one reason why images on the expansive soundstage breathe and are fluid in a natural way, not locked tightly in focus. As far as perspective goes, the GR wires situate you in a comfortable mid-orchestra seat.

In the area of body and fullness there’s realistic bloom, but no fat. If anything, it might be a little leaner than neutral. This characteristic is key to the GR’s expressiveness, enabling the clarity that lets you hear all those little nuances and details and the huge quantity of air. It also means these wires mate best with full-bodied components. Avoid lean-sounding gear. It’s been several months since I reviewed the YBA Passion 1000 mono blocks, but the guys still talk about the sound I got when I connected the Passion 1000s to my EgglestonWorks Rosa speakers using Kharma GR wires. The Rosas and the 1000s are both full sounding, and this was a match made in heaven.

Grand Reference Power Cord

The GR AC power cords arrived late in the audition. They are about the same girth as the interconnects (that was a relief: I was afraid they would be closer to the speaker cable), but more flexible. Again, class A+ construction. What occurred when I inserted the GR PCs made me think something had happened to the digital bit-stream to fill in the gaps between the bytes. Texture became less granular, more analog-like and the stage seemed more continuous from left to right and front to back. Instead of isolated individual images, the musicians appeared to be occupying the same space and time, the same stage. The grey sound of some CDs was gone and new colors appeared.

Burn-in took the usual 100 or so hours, accompanied by the usual tonal shift from dark to the final state, which was tonally in between the Golden Sound PCs: darker and more full bodied than the Blue, but lighter and less weighty than the Red, and also lighter than the Harmonic Tech Magic PC. This translates into the Grand Reference PC being probably the best mate for source level gear (front-ends and pre-amp) that you’re going to find.

Conclusion

Upon first glimpsing the Kharma Grand Reference cables most people’s reaction is incredulity at their bulk. Lacking an appropriate response, laughter probably comes next. But laughter always turns to awe and admiration after the first A/B demo. There’s nothing subtle about the wholesale gains in presence and air, let alone natural dynamics. The audience for these cables will be the audiophile with an upper-end system who is familiar with cable effects. Be prepared to have your assumptions challenged. You want to feel like the musicians are in the room in a realistic, unforced manner? Given a suitably full-bodied system, which will almost certainly contain tubes, the GR cables are your ticket.

I put Kharma Grand Reference cables in a class of their own: nothing else I've heard sounds like them.