Canton Karat Reference 2 DC loudspeaker Page 2

Since I picked up our April 2000 "Recording of the Month," Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, first on CD (Reprise 47620-2), then on the Bob Ludwig-mastered DVD-A (47620-9), I've been listening to a lot of the Canadian singer. Recorded at Air Lyndhurst in North London, Both Sides Now presents Mitchell working through a collection of standards in lushly orchestrated arrangements that sounded suitably rich via the Cantons. Her sexy, smoky voice—the huskiness indeed courtesy of her years of smoking—sounded a little smokier than I remembered from the Mission Pilastros I reviewed last month, but the Karat Reference 2 DCs shared with that English speaker the ability to hold separate and keep distinguishable low-level instruments in the mix, even when others are playing loudly.

For Joni Mitchell to explore the jazz vocal repertoire so successfully should come as no surprise to anyone who appreciated her reading of "Summertime" on Herbie Hancock's 1998 George Gershwin tribute (Verve 314 557 707-2). Again, her voice on this cut sounded smoky through the Karat References, but it also sounded superbly articulate, as did Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo. The Cantons reproduced Ira Coleman's double bass not only with plenty of weight, but also with an excellent uniformity, notes neither jumping forward nor sounding recessed.

Of course, Joni Mitchell was also taking her listeners into improvisational voyages almost a quarter century ago, on Mingus, her tribute to Charles Mingus (Asylum K53091, LP), which in turn reminded me that it had been too long since I'd played 1980's Shadows and Light (Asylum HDCD 704-2). What a band she put together for this set: Michael Brecker on tenor sax, Pat Metheny on guitar, Lyle Mays on keyboards, Don Alias on drums and percussion, and the incomparable Jaco Pastorius on fretless Fender Jazz Bass. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is included, of course, but what a joy the jamming is on "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines."

Joni scats and spirals the vocal line over initially brushed drums and a walking bebop bass line in which Jaco uses every technique in his immense arsenal to explore the song's changes. Toward the end of Brecker's Coltraneish solo, with Alias switching to sticks, Jaco boogies up the B-flat scale in 10ths, adding so much to the tension that, after a couple of choruses and a brief coda, there is nowhere for the music to go other than to stop. Which it does.

This was musical magic. The Karats' effortless dynamics—both macro and micro—superb clarity, and generous but well-defined presentation of the kick drum and Jaco's bass all helped raise the music's emotional temperature, and allowed me to join in the involvement shared by the musicians. However, this track did reveal a touch of excess treble energy in the Cantons' balance, the tenor sax and snare drum sounding a little too fierce and cymbals a bit too hissy.

Jaco also appeared on Mitchell's Don Juan's Restless Daughter (Asylum HDCD 701-2), his awesomely detuned C (32Hz) announcing the transition from the "Overture" to "Cotton Avenue." The Cantons reproduced Jaco's bass in full measure, with the evenness of tone I noted above. But again, Joni's voice occasionally sounded a bit thinned on top, with slightly more lower-midrange formant apparent than I'm used to.

Of course, these are old recordings, and it's perhaps unfair to demand that a speaker cover up what might well have been a slightly heavy hand on the treble EQ. And the Karat's high frequencies were superbly free from grain. Despite my feeling that the top two octaves were balanced somewhat on the generous side—as I said, cymbals could sound slightly too hissy, with less of a burnished sheen than is ideal—violins did not sound wiry.

With recordings that had been made with audiophile sensitivities in mind, the Karat's lack of high-frequency grain allowed instrumental tonal qualities to come over in an extremely convincing manner. Yuri Naumov's nine-string guitar on "Sneaky Blues," from his self-recorded Guitar Stories CD (2001, YN03, available from, was recorded with the very neutral-sounding Earthworks microphones and sounded about as uncolored through the Cantons as I have experienced. (Well, no, I have not heard any other nine-string guitars, but there are commonalities shared by all acoustic guitars.)

Of the Canton's midrange I have nothing to say, other than to note that it shares the treble's effortless clarity without being disturbed by discontinuities and colorations. It could sound a little polite, however.

The low frequencies were extended and powerful, the warble tones on Stereophile's Test CD 3 being reproduced in full measure down to 32Hz. Useful energy was still apparent at 25Hz, but there was nothing to be heard at 20Hz. The 2 DC did not boom, but there was plenty of energy present in the upper bass—music's "power region." When there were low frequencies present—as in the excerpt from Elgar's Dream of Gerontius on Test CD 2, where the bass pedals of Ely Cathedral's organ are used to underpin and reinforce the harmonies at the grand climax—it spoke with authority.

The Karat References produced a big sweep of sound on well-recorded orchestral recordings. Our "Recording of the Month" for June 1998, Elgar's Enigma Variations and In the South overture with the Bournemouth Symphony under George Hurst (Naxos 8.553564), was reproduced with the appropriate majesty and with a clear window into the inner voices, the latter so important to Elgar's scoring. And when the melodies are restated by the brass, the Cantons accurately reproduced the "blatty brassiness" of the trombones, as Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt refers to the instrument's characteristically spiky and asymmetrical waveform, which needs both treble bite and plentiful energy in the lower midrange to sound correct.

However, the bass drum and double bass in the Elgar did tend to "woof" a little more than they did with the similarly priced Wilson Sophia, which actually put out more low-frequency energy. This appeared to be associated with narrowband cabinet resonances between 150Hz and 200Hz.

When I asked what a pair of the well-engineered Canton Karat Reference 2 DC costs, I expected to hear considerably more than "$10,000." The Canton's smooth but somewhat treble-forward balance will work better in larger, well-damped rooms than in small, sparsely furnished spaces. The speaker will also benefit from being used with high-quality source components and electronics. When those conditions are met, the result should be very satisfying music. With its powerful-sounding low frequencies, clean and grain-free highs, coloration-free midrange, high sensitivity and dynamic range, and stable, precise stereo imaging, the Karat Reference 2 DC easily justifies its flagship position in Canton's range.

1723 Adams Street NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 706-9250