Kharma Midi-Grand Ceramique 1.0 loudspeaker Page 3

Sweet, Rich, Problematic Bass
Many speakers—some big, some small, some front-firing, some side-firing—have delivered excellent bass in my room. But no matter what I tried, I couldn't get satisfactory bass performance from the Kharma Midi-Grands. I understand why Bill Parish had trouble deciding where to place the speakers in my room. Out in the room, the transition from midbass to midrange was cleanly rendered, but the low bass had all but disappeared and the sound was thin. Pushing the Kharmas back toward the front wall increased the low-frequency response but added a subtle layer of midbass warmth without improving the low-bass definition, articulation, or impact, which remained kind of soft and slightly underdamped.

No matter what amplifier I tried, solid-state or hybrid, the bass lacked solidity, punch, and definition. Extension measured strong below 30Hz, but it didn't sound strong. Kick drums sounded soft, electric bass too warm and rich to be convincing, yet both were rhythmically coherent and in time with the rest of the music—the loss of ultimate bass definition never detracted from the rhythmic drive of any type of music. When the Rockport Antares were in the room, they delivered impressively solid and well-focused bass with good low-end extension. Still, designer Andy Payor was somewhat disappointed by the weight limitation and inhibition of the Antares' full bass potential in my room. I had expected that would also be the case with the Kharma, but for whatever reason, nothing I tried solved the problems in punch and definition, though changing speaker cables helped somewhat.

When Parish set up the Midi-Grands, he used Kharma's own python-thick, biwirable KLS Grand Reference silver-gold speaker cables. Then he began switching out my interconnects for Kharma's. The more he did, the warmer, softer, and more bloated the bass became. After listening with the Kharma speaker cables for a few weeks, I replaced them with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8. That made a major improvement in bass definition and focus. Replacing the long run of Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway II further improved the sound.

My system was not suited for Harmonic Technology's Pro-Silway interconnect or Magic Woofer speaker cable. But the Analysis Plus, which is not expensive (less than $900 for an 8' pair), brought much-needed clarity, focus, and overall transparency and cleanness to the sound. I haven't yet tried the Analysis Plus with my reference Audio Physics—they arrived while I was reviewing the Kharmas—but based on this, they show a lot of promise. I did most of my listening with Analysis Plus in the system.

Bass is so quirky and room-dependent an aspect of speaker performance that I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the Midi-Grand's inherent ability to deliver tight, punchy bass, other than that it didn't do so in my room. A bass-player friend of mine came over with a favorite CD. While he was mighty impressed by the overall sound, his final comment was, "Where's the beef?" I told him he'd maybe find his red meat in a bigger room, one more hospitable to the Midi-Grand's requirements.

Admittedly, it's presumptuous of me to second-guess such an obviously talented and successful designer. Still, I wonder why Charles van Oosterum put the Midi-Grand's bass driver so high up on the baffle, thus limiting its reinforcement by the floor-boundary.

Onward and Upward
Above the low and midbass, the Kharma Midi-Grand offered impressively seamless sound, with a rich, almost creamy, but expressively detailed "no-fault" midrange free of obvious unwanted artifacts or colorations. Instrumental touch and textures were rendered with palpable presence and smoothness, which is one reason these speakers so easily disappeared. It's what I heard in that room at HE2002, and what helped that system get my vote for "Best Sound in Show." The transition to the Focal tweeter was subjectively seamless, the smooth-sounding high frequencies resolving layer after layer of information without etch, glare, or strain. Having heard this drive-unit sound thin and tizzy in so many other applications, I was pleasantly surprised by its effective yet unobtrusive performance here.

I wonder what van Oosterum feels he gains by removing the titanium tweeter's ceramic coating. Lowering its mass would allow the dome to move more quickly, which should add resolving power—and, sure enough, the Midi-Grand tweeter's overall transparency, and ability to delineate hall reflections and place them properly in space, were second to no speaker I've heard. That was one of the Midi-Grand's most impressive feats; it seemed to reveal small bits of significant musical and spatial detail on every well-recorded disc I played, without imparting mechanical or metallic artifacts.

When you remove such a coating—placed there by the manufacturer to damp the dome's resonant frequency—you risk exciting the resonance the coating was intended to suppress (footnote 1).. However, I heard no evidence of hardness, brightness, grain, or etch—quite the opposite, in fact. This led me to believe that van Oosterum has dealt with suppressing the tweeter's first breakup mode by gently rolling off the upper limits of its response. For while the Midi-Grand's top end was delicately drawn, highly resolving, and ultratransparent, it wasn't as airy and extended as some other tweeters I've auditioned. Tape hiss noticeable on some familiar recordings seemed suppressed, and recordings I know to be excruciatingly bright were tolerable—the brightness was sort of "intellectually" but not "viscerally" present. Because of that, I wouldn't want to use the Kharma Midi-Grand as a reviewing tool, even though it was otherwise ultradetailed and revealing in the critical midband.

Footnote 1: Thinking about this, the oxide "ceramic" costing is stiffer than the underlying metal substrate so will push the resonance higher in frequency than helping to damp it.—John Atkinson
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