review KAI180mk1 at TNT-Audio.com May 2001
comparison KAI180mk1 vs. McIntosh MA7000 at Sonic Flare April 2009
review KAI180mk1 at Soundstage October 2010
review KAI180mk2 at What HiFi( UK ) 2011
review KAI180mk2 at What HiFi( UK ) 2013
review KAM2000 at 6Moons.com ( France ) May 2014
review of KA Ph Reference phono pre at Audiotechnique Hong Kong, issue 399, December 2014
review of KA Ph1 single chassis phono stage at HiFi+ issue 130, December 2015
A personal evaluation of the Karan KA S400 power amplifier
…as listened to by Marcus ( Sweden )
These opinions are based on a couple of weeks of living and listening to the Audio Aero La Fontaine, Karan KA S400, Sonus Faber Futuras, Yter & Goldenote cabling and a Nordost/Quantum QX4 in my own home and system. My room is a medium sized living room (approx. 25-30 square meters) which tends to be quite "lively" rather than damped.
What I'm looking for in a system
Basically, I want to create the illusion of "real voices & instruments in real space". This means lifelike and natural dynamics, timbre, transparency, resolution, texture, definition, body etc. in a believable holographic space. In different words, I want a system that draws you into the music emotionally first and foremost, but which will also satisfy during a more intellectual and analytical examination… I mostly listen to small scale acoustic and/or vocal music, but also classic and electronical occasionally. My system also doubles for movie soundtracks.
I've been using Esoteric C-03+A-03 pre- and power amplifiers, as well as Absoluta pre- and power extensively in the same system. I've also heard a lot of different amplification partnered with Sonus Fabers over the years; Krell, ARC, Spectral, Holfi, BAT, VTL, Pathos, Moon etc…
The Esoteric A-03 poweramp is a quite traditional Class-A design with a rather transparent and sweet sound, but not powerful enough to drive the Futuras which clearly limits dynamics, resolution and soundstage in my room and system.
The Absolutas are extremely musical and emotional amplifiers with a sweet, warm, dynamic character partnered with a huge soundstage which is quite forward. "Tubes on steroids" to put it simply (the preamp is a hybrid design, where the monoblocks are SS).
And then came the Karan KA S400…
A local dealer recently told me that "Karans are hard to sell because most people believe them to sound like nothing at all…" My own conclusion, related to this statement and based on my own experience is simply that Karan basically don't have any real, distinct or unique character that the listener can easily have a clear opinion about. I've heard similar statements as the above regarding other amplifiers on the market as well, famous for being extremely natural; Lamm, Berning etc. Some might say that these are amplifiers for the mature listener. They won't immediately impress you with their rapid dynamics and "speed"(Spectral), incredible "slam"(Krell) or intimate texture and bloom(VTL) etc. In a way Karan holds all of these qualities, but again, it doesn't… Even if Karan won't floor you from the first note, they might convince you in the long run. That's what happened to me at least. After about two weeks of listening(coming from the Absolutas), I was actually ready to send them back. After another two weeks, things had slowly started to change…
Instead of having its own distinct character or personality, Karan lets the character of the music and the personality of the performer shine through, trying its best of not getting too much in the way. Even though the Karan are not utterly analytical to these ears, they manage to let all details and texture within voices and instruments come through, vibrating in free space towards a black, silent background in a very natural and organic way which never becomes tiring with the risk of causing listener fatigue. Personally, I'm looking for both a highly transparent and resolved system where you can hear every tiny detail and the finest nuances, as well as a highly musical involving system which lets the music flow and breathe in a way that makes your head forget about hifi, but instead letting your heart enjoy the ride. Also, I want to be able to listen and enjoy all kinds of music within my collection(good or bad production wise…). That's a very fine balancing act...
Karan is not totally without character though(nothing is). On a scale from bright to dark, I would place the tonal character of Karan slightly towards the darker side of the spectrum. This is something I prefer though in relation to the opposite, as it gives the impression of some added authority, weight and body. The opposite(i.e. a brighter presentation) usually makes the impression lighter and perhaps a bit more open and airy. Also, the soundstage is somewhat limited and laid back, especially compared to a typically tube based design(again, coming from the Absolutas). Personally, I (used to) wish for a soundstage that manage to stretch itself further out in all directions partnered with a slightly more forwardness to the presentation. But, the longer I listened to the Karans in my own system, the more I started to realise(and enjoy) this "limited" soundstage, as it seemed more natural and true to the source material. This amplifier don't exaggerate. Why should it? Also, I wouldn't call the Karan sweet, I'd call it honest(i.e. revealing) This calls for some carefull matching imo, where some tubes somewhere in the system and/or cables that manage to be transparent and open, as well as being smooth, might be the answer that takes the edge of things. The Audio Aero source helps slightly in this regard(even though I find it more revealing than earlier designs) as well as the character and musicality of the Sonus Fabers and Goldenote cabling. Again, it's a very fine balancing act...
I can't wait to get the KA M2000 monos and to experience what they can do. I also believe that there are improvements to be made to my listening room, where added diffusion might be able to improve soundstaging and smooth out the slight hardness - which are the two main shortcomings experienced in my system and room