Roksan Kandy K2 integrated amplifier

Besides my 20th wedding anniversary and the 15th anniversary of Listener magazine's first issue, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Roksan Audio Ltd., easily one of the most innovative design and manufacturing firms in British audio. Before Roksan came upon the scene in 1985, none of us had ever seen a loudspeaker whose tweeter was isolated from its surroundings by a sprung suspension. Or a commercial phono preamplifier designed to fit inside a turntable, just a centimeter away from the tonearm base. And who among us could have guessed that the Linn LP12's hegemony—among flat-earthers, I mean—would be broken by a turntable from outside of Scotland? Yet the Roksan Darius loudspeaker, Artaxerxes phono stage, and, above all, Xerxes turntable accomplished those things and more, to the genuine surprise of nearly everyone—and to the benefit of our industry at large, as other firms took those ideas and ran with them.

Though no less radical at heart, Roksan's director of research and development, Touraj Moghaddam, has in recent years applied himself to more modest creations. The affordable CD player. The affordable tuner. And that most ubiquitous of all Brit-fi products, the sheer Englishness of which is exceeded only by miniature hot-water heaters, suit jackets with side vents, and mushy peas: The affordable solid-state integrated amplifier.

That last in particular. Yet even when Roksan makes a modestly priced all-in-one amp, it tends to be more than just a me-too thing, something made only to fill a price point or to keep dealers from selling another company's widget. Thus we have the latest from Roksan's entry-level Kandy series, the K2 integrated amplifier ($1925), which sets out to beat the competition with better-than-average styling, an integral phono preamplifier, and altogether superior sonic performance—or so Roksan would have us know!

At a time when most other audio firms, even Linn and Naim, have conditioned us to expect integrated amps without phono stages, Roksan's inclusion of same in the Kandy K2 may be that product's greatest technical distinction—which, I suspect, is fine with Touraj Moghaddam. "I don't understand why it should be difficult to buy an amp with a phono section," he says. "A friend of mine from [England] who's living in New York called to tell me he needs to get his record player out of storage: 'There's so much vinyl here,' he says!"

Moghaddam's dedication to vinyl can also be seen inside his new amp, where phono gain and EQ stages are built into the single main board rather than existing as plug-ins. Expectedly, op-amps feature prominently throughout the K2's preamplifier section, doubtless for gain and buffering chores. But the output section, which Moghaddam says is derived from that of Roksan's more expensive Caspian amplifiers, uses two MOSFET pairs per channel, with those devices mounted to a combination heatsink and RFI shield of remarkably high quality and surface area for such a relatively affordable product. The same holds true of the K2's Noratel toroidal mains transformer—an unusually large and costly part for this price range—as well as the power supply's good-quality filter caps and fast-recovery diodes.

In common with most modern integrated amps, the Kandy K2 incorporates a logic board and a series of relays for source selection and other switching tasks. Most of those functions are addressed via miniature pushbuttons on the K2's front panel and a remote handset—the latter also addressing a motorized volume pot of the usual sort. The handset offers pushbuttons and a touchscreen for controlling all functions, with additional switches for controlling a Roksan Kandy or Caspian CD player or tuner, should the owner have such a thing on hand. For its part, the K2's main power switch is a chunky rocker on the amp's bottom plate, near the front-left corner.

Installation and setup
I tried the Kandy K2 in two rooms of different size, driving loudspeakers that represent a considerable range of sensitivity and impedance characteristics: Quad ESLs, Audio Note AN-Es, Wilson Audio Sasha W/Ps, and Large Advents (see "Listening" elsewhere in this issue). I used my own 6m pair of Auditorium 23 speaker cables in all installations, and didn't experiment with aftermarket AC cords or accessories of any other sort.

The Roksan's phono section offers a standard 47k ohm load and just enough gain for a moving-magnet pickup: the perfect setup for someone who prefers moving-coil cartridges, but who also believes that they sound their best only when loaded by a step-up transformer instead of an active gain stage. That's me all over.

Given my lack of enthusiasm for volume controls that rely on pushbuttons instead of rotary knobs, I preferred using the K2's front-panel controls to its remote handset. But in either case, the control arrangement is somewhat convoluted. The first step in powering up the K2 is, of course, to activate the mains rocker on the bottom plate, in response to which the amp goes into Standby mode, with its logo illuminated red and an LED labeled Mode lit up in green. To play music, the user must briefly press the Mode button, located on the front panel almost as far as possible from the Mode light, in response to which the Mode light turns from green to red, and one of seven input LEDs also lights up red. Another brief poke of the Mode button turns the Mode light amber and mutes the K2—but only by 20dB. To return the amp to Standby mode, you press and hold the Mode button for more than a second, in response to which the Mode light turns green and the input light goes out.

The handset controls work differently. There's a Mode button on the touchscreen area, but it doesn't put the K2 in or out of Standby mode—that job is relegated to a separate Power button, labeled with the universal circle-and-line pictograph for such a thing. The handset's Mode button works only after the Power button has been used to bring the amp out of Standby, in which case the Mode button is actually a Mute button—though, again, it provides only 20dB of attenuation. But—the handset does have a Mute button in its touchscreen area, in response to which the playback is silenced completely and the Mode light turns amber, but blinks instead of remaining steady . . .

Roksan Audio Ltd.
US distributor: May Audio Marketing
2150 Liberty Drive, Unit 7
Niagara Falls, NY 14304
(800) 554-4517