Like many of my audiophile friends, we’ve all got a special thing for a certain high-end product and I’ve always had a my eyes on Kharma loudspeakers. Manufactured in Holland, Kharma is well known for their impeccable cabinet design and superb sounding loudspeakers. In my experience (at trade shows until now), the Kharma sound has always been one that incorporated a sublime balance with transparency and musicality. I describe their sound as rich, full-bodied and detailed – without unwanted artifacts or colorations. That may sound like any high-end loudspeaker. True, but to my ears, most systems at shows don’t touch me like the Kharma has.
Kharma lost its visibility here in the USA, but I have been able to enjoy them at the High-End Munich show for the past few years. I was particularly impressed with their newest model in the Elegance line called the dB9-S. I gradually would spend extra time in the Kharma suite getting to know it better: listening and but thoroughly enjoying it at the same time. This time around, I liked it so much, decided to personally request a review sample. Vivienne van Oosterum, the company’s marketing manager very graciously agreed.
The Elegance collection is the successor to the acclaimed Ceramique line of high-end loudspeakers from Kharma. The Ceramique loudspeaker line was introduced in 1998 and the use of ceramic-based drivers reflected the name of the series. During the past few years Kharma has been busy researching new technologies on how to improve the brand and set a new standard in sound reproduction. Recently the Elegance dB9 was launched with the Kharma Composite driver replacing the ceramic drivers from the earlier Ceramique line.
The subject of my review is the signature version of the dB9, called the dB9-S, introduced with Kharma’s new Omega 7 series drivers for the midrange that includes an extra cross-section for internal wiring (silver). The shape of the cabinet is the unchanged with respect to its predecessor, the Ceramique series. It is a unique polygonal-shaped cabinet with optimal phase behavior which purports to improve minimum group delay. The drop-dead gorgeous cabinet is made of 35 mm high density MDF to increase the neutrality of the cabinet and is equipped with advanced acoustic damping material. However, the beauty of the design has been improved upon; a new Spike Disk Suspension System stand (SDSS-stand) has been specially developed for the Elegance series. This new Elegance series stand is made of composite materials, but is attractively contrasted by a shiny black piano finish against heavy-duty chrome feet. The new improved detachable sleek grill covers give completes the attention to detail and the overall beauty. Of course, I did the real listening with the grills off (personally, I just like looking at the drivers). The dB9-S is smartly finished. For example, there are no driver screws visible as each driver sports a thin outer ring that covers the screws. Also, the chrome logo plates on the front and the side give really give it a certain appeal. New connectors have been specially designed for the new Elegance series, equipped with the Kharma Binding Post system for the Elegance (KBPS-EL) which offers great contact pressure and user friendliness. The attention to detail shown in the dB9-S is a direct reflection of Charles Van Oosterum’s perfectionist approach to loudspeaker design.
The dB9-S is a three-way full range loudspeaker (26 Hz-30 KHz), that utilizes the latest technology drivers: one 1” true beryllium tweeter; one 7” Kharma Composite Omega 7 series driver and two 9” special aluminum woofers. Kharma states “the midrange driver is equipped with a new cone technology developed by Kharma. It consists of ultra-high-tech rocket science/formula 1 based carbon fiber, created for a setting with optimized behavior for the best possible sound. A finite element analysis with an advanced computer system helped to develop the ideal shape with near perfect behavior for a 7 inch driver.” All Elegance series enclosures are equipped with advanced acoustic damping materials to absorb the energy in a wide frequency range.
As I have noted, Kharma is known for its attention to detail; even the packaging is superbly thought out. I live in a high rise apartment building in Battery Park City Manhattan and all deliveries are left with the concierge. I was expecting a shipment from the freight forwarder and thought to myself “I better get extra help”. When the shipment arrived I was surprised to find out that the dB9-S were packed cleverly in a flight case with wheels so essentially this made it a breeze getting them up to my apartment with no help. Perhaps, as should be expected and at this price level, Kharma works very hard to maximize the purchaser’s ease and their pride of ownership.
When you buy a pair of Kharma loudspeakers, the retailer will install them in your home and optimize/fine-tune them for that particular space. In my case, Ricardo Reyes from Musical Artisans provided this service. When I first received the dB9-S loudspeakers, I placed each speaker where my reference Conspiracy loudspeakers were (at about 8 ft apart and 10’6” from my listening chair). This leaves them about 6’ from the front wall and a 3′ from the sidewalls. I enjoy listening with a slight toe-in as well (considering the close proximity to the sidewalls). My room is tuned with ASI’s acoustic resonators and sugar cubes along with the amazingly effective IPC Acoustic Energizers. I used my reference Jorma Designs Unity cables in this review as well as my newly purchased Thrax Dionysos preamplifier along with my long-time reference Karan Acoustics KAS 450 amplifier.
Right out of their flight cases the dB9-S speakers impressed me with right amount of detail, low-end authority and transparency: an overall non-mechanical quality. This particular review pair had been fully burnt-in prior to their arrival. This gave me permission to listening critically almost right away after only a few days of settling in. At the one week passed, Kharma setup man Ricardo Reyes paid me a visit. Reyes, who has over 20 years experience with setting up systems under his belt, went right to work. I was impressed with his knowledge of how to rightly setup the dB9-S’s. He also appears to have a good ear. He placed two long strips of masking tape at a 90 degree angle to one another where he felt the speakers should be according to layout of my room. Reyes rolled each speaker back and forth first, and then from side to side, until he was confident that they were close to their optimum position. He tested them by ear with familiar music he brought along as well. It was easy to slide the speakers around with the spike feet disk, without damaging my wood floors. All told, it took Reyes the better part of a half-hour to fine-tune the speakers into my room. In the end the dB9-S loudspeakers ended up approximately 8’4” apart and about 11’6” from my listening chair and about 5’ from the front wall and slightly toed-in. Now the dB9-S’s were really singing, and Reyes complimented my setup.
Listening to the dB9-S was very involving and satisfying with all types of music. The dB9-S rendered music brilliantly,delivering a transparent and resolved midrange and a treble presentation that was outstanding along with an exceptional richness of overtone and proper timbre. One of my favorite selections is Tschaikowsky Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, op. 33 (DG 413 819-2) performed by the master, Mstislav Rostropovich and the maestro, Hertbert Von Karajan conducting the Berliner Philarmoniker. Through the dB9-S’s, Rostropovich’s performance sounded harmonically and texturally compelling as I can recall. Subtle details of pitch variation and bowing texture were displayed with spot on accuracy. The sheen of the bow across the strings conveyed the resonance of the wooden body, and there was an appropriately focused and sized image with an exceptional tonal and textural purity. At the same time, the dB9-S’s preserves the playing of the soloist and the integral balance between the cello and the orchestra superbly.
The dB9-S top-end was clean and open, yet free of any sort of edge and/or grain. Solo violin tends to be the perfect acid test that reveals the quality of a loudspeaker’s reproduction – especially in the high-frequencies – regardless of the hype that might surround some new driver technology. Getting just the right sheen on the string without excessive edge and brightness is always a tough challenge. Listening to J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (EMI 749483 2) performed by Itzhak Perlman, gave the violin a lighter and airier feel and balance rendering it with a remarkable sense of resolution of inner detail. At the same time the violin’s sound is richly textured and silky smooth with no trace of edge or whitish character. This is no small feat, and largely due to the impeccable quality of the beryllium tweeter. The dB9-S’s top end was clean and open, yet without ever sounding edgy or mechanical. It was never dry, shouty or sterile. Just beautiful music!
Women’s voices were thrillingly presented but never disembodied through the dB9-S loudspeakers. Lately, I’ve been listening to this one particular vinyl recording of my favorite female vocalist, Sarah Vaughan’s fabulous recording Send In the Clowns (Pablo Today 2312-130). I dimmed the lights and sat back in my listening chair and rewarded myself. The dB9-S’s are great at disappearing, they vanished completely like a mini-monitors. Image focus was highly precise with properly sized and the sense of space between images was excellent. It was such a joy to sit back and listen to Sarah performing as if she were there in front of me in a live venue. Sarah’s soulful style voice was rendered sensuously and it was positively addictive. The overall sense of space, immediacy and the solidity of Sarah’s voice proved very captivating through the dB9-S’s.
Whether this quality comes from the exceptional cabinet build or the high -quality, low distortion measurements behind its new drivers is a mystery. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two. But the quality itself is unmistakably there and the Kharma dB9-S have no problem showing. The integration between the drivers was also outstanding. The dB9-S also has a top-to-bottom coherency that allows it sing with one voice. The dB9-S’s are very low in coloration and distortion and high in transparency without ever sounding analytical or threadbare. They sound great with whatever I threw at them (as long as I fed them with high quality upstream signals). Yet, the dB9-S isn’t analytical or ruthlessly revealing. Despite the crystal-clear transparency and high resolution, the dB9-S is musical.
I love listening to symphonies and a true full range loudspeaker must be able to reproduce symphonies with grace, power and finesse. A symphony is not an easy task for any loudspeaker to render properly. It’s very complex, yet at the same time very delicate, requiring lot from a loudspeaker and the ancillary equipment. The given transducer must be able to reproduce full frequencies from top to bottom and the dB9-S’s ability to play full orchestral music is quite outstanding.
I auditioned the dB9-S’s with two other tube amplifiers; the Audio Note Kondo Kagura (SET 55W), and the Focus Audio Sonata integrated amplifier (36W). The Focus Audio Sonata drove the dB9-S surprisingly well, although it didn’t come close to taking advantage of its dynamic potential or bass performance as did the Karan or the Kagura monoblocks, but then I didn’t expect it to. However, I was very impressed with the Focus Audio Sonata’s performance. The Kondo Kagura really allowed the dB9-S’s to shine in every way. The Kagura took it up couple of notches and showed me just how much better they could perform. Driving the dB9-S’s with the Kondo Kagura, was a magical experience. Its reproduction of timbre, natural decay and three-dimensional soundstage is pretty spectacular.
The Kharma dB9-S is without question a truly exceptional loudspeaker in its innovative design, exquisitely finished cabinet and its stellar performance. I really enjoyed my time with the Kharma dB9-S loudspeakers. The longer I listened, the more I appreciated them. The dB9-S’s ability to get out of the way and embrace the music will remain unforgettable. The KharmadB9-S’s are highly recommended!
Driver-Arranagement: One 1” True Beryllium tweeter; One 7” Kharma Omega 7 driver; Two 9” Aluminum woofer
RMS Power: 250 Watt
Program Power:500 Watt
Frequency range: 26 Hz – 30 KHz
Nominal Impedence: 4 Ohm
Efficience 2.83V/1m: 89 dB
Maximum SPL: 113 dB
Dimensions Including Stand: (WxHxD) inch 16.14 x 40.98 x 23.86
Headquarters & Kharma Factory
4825 AL Breda, the Netherlands
Tel.: + 31 76 57 150 10
Fax.: + 31 76 57 147 73
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