Kharma Midi-Grand Ceramique 1.0 loudspeaker Page 4

When I ran my (admittedly primitive) frequency-response test on the Midi-Grands using the 1/3-octave bands on the old Sound Check test CD (gold, SPCD 15), produced by Alan Parsons, I was only somewhat surprised by what I found. Outside the frequency extremes, the overall response was impressively flat and free of peaks or dips. The response was ±2dB from 500Hz to 10kHz, except for a +4dB reading at 3.15kHz. That's probably the flattest response I've measured over that wide a bandwidth.

From 500Hz down to 20Hz there were the usual lumps and bumps related to room interactions, with a +4dB rise at 400Hz, +3dB at 315Hz, +2dB from 250Hz down to 100Hz, a +6dB rise at 80Hz, and +4dB at 50Hz, 40Hz, and 31.5Hz. I probably could have improved the low-frequency smoothness by moving the speakers farther out in the room, but the sound would then have sounded subjectively thin. The in-room response was +2dB at 25Hz, and while I heard the warmth suggested by the low/midbass response rise, I never would have expected such a strong response at 25Hz based on listening to music.

No wonder the Midi-Grand was so smooth, detailed, resolving, and yet easy on the ears. It was subjectively free of nasty peaks and resonances throughout the critical midband, and my primitive measurements confirmed what I heard during the two-month audition period. A bit of warmth in the midbass was also predictable, along with a gradual rolloff in the extreme highs.

Two Months of Sonic Bliss
Now that I've taken the poor thing apart, I'll put the Kharma Midi-Grand back together and try to explain that it's a brilliantly balanced, superb-sounding loudspeaker that's not for every taste.

Take tracks like "Join the Band" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub," from Little Feat's live album Waiting for Columbus (LPs, Mobile Fidelity MFSL-2-013). "Join the Band" begins in an echoey stairwell of Washington, DC's Lisner Auditorium, the band then walking toward the entrance to the stage. A stereo microphone setup picks them up in the distance and follows their movements. They warm up singing a cappella, take a few hits on a joint, and enter the hall as the muffled crowd noise explodes into full-range fury. The musicians poke at their instruments in a quick warmup—including drummer Richie Hayward hitting his kick drums a few times and bassist Kenny Gradney plucking a few ultra-low notes—while an announcer exhorts the crowd to welcome the band. "Fat Man in the Bathtub" begins with various handheld percussion instruments, including a cowbell struck by a drumstick, plus the drum kit. Then the rest of the band kicks in, including a juicy analog synthesizer, an electric piano, and Lowell George's Fender Stratocaster and vocal. There are some explosive cymbal crashes and some very deep electric bass riffs on this track, and while the miking is fairly close, the recording does a great job of subtly capturing the sound of the large Lisner venue.

The Kharma Midi-Grands easily and clearly delineated the confines of the area the Feat walk through on the way to the stage, but obscured somewhat the focus of the bandmembers walking together. When they enter the Lisner proper, the size of the space literally exploded in all directions—I felt as if I was in an enormous hall. As the band begins to play, the images were so large and spread out that I felt as if I was standing very close to the stage. But while I could hear incredible detail in the cymbal splashes and handheld percussion, and the placement of the instruments on the stage revealed the exact location of each in three-dimensional space with breathtaking authority, and the harmonic integrity of the instruments was fully delivered, the Rice Krispies weren't on the table. That is, the "snap, crackle, pop" of the instruments were subtly softened. When Hayward smacks the cymbals, there was a dynamic jump—the tweeter's superb resolution and incredible transparency let me "count the rivets," but the crash lacked "event impact" and percussive snap—which is the point of his hitting the cymbals in the first place. The same thing happened on the bottom, where the Midi-Grand got everything correct about the kick drum except the impact of the kick.

These may sound like annoying subtractive flaws, but the combination of the slight softness top and bottom and the rich midrange and expansive soundfield resulted in a beautifully balanced, seamless, incredibly transparent picture my ears could sink into with relaxed assurance. The Kharma Midi-Grand was the Docker of large loudspeakers—it offered a "relaxed fit." A cognac rather than a Tequila kind of speaker, but drawn so carefully as to not obscure subtle but important sonic differences.

Such differences are those between Classic Records' original 180gm LPs and the same titles recently issued on 200gm Quiex SV-P, which are completely flat instead of having the usual raised rim. (The raised rim allows more effective coupling with the turntable platter and produces a richer tonality with less etch and glare, though the stampers are the same ones Classic used originally. Those who complained about the original issue of the Reiner/CSO Scheherazade being a bit thin, however detailed, might find the new pressing just right.)

On Classic's reissue of Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's musically and sonically exquisite Rough Mix (highly recommended), Townshend's closely miked voice was delivered with detail and intimacy intact, even if the cowbell seemed to have an absorptive coating that prevented it from "popping" as you'd expect it to in concert, and a gritty, sandpaper-like percussion instrument I've never been able to identify [sandblocks?—Ed.] was somewhat smoothed-over for my tastes. But when I played either an original RCA Living Stereo or Classic's reissue of the Heifetz/Munch/BSO recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto (RCA/Classic LSC-1992), the sound was hypnotic and luxurious, convincingly communicating Heifetz's subtlest musical gesture.

The Rest of the Picture
Rated at 91dB sensitivity and with a nominal impedance of 4-8 ohms, the Kharma Midi-Grand should be relatively easy to drive. I had no problems with the solid-state Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, the tubed Music Reference RM-200, or the Halo/Parasound JC 1 monoblocks (review in the works), which produce 25W of class-A power and 400W in class-AB. I even drove the Midi-Grands with a Dynaco Stereo 70, but if you know the sonic signature of that amp, you know that was a match made in hell!

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