Kaiser Acoustics • Chiara Loudspeakers

by Roy Gregory | August 11, 2013

© www.theaudiobeat.com

Isn’t there a well-worn business maxim about avoiding overcrowded markets? Let’s face it -- you don’t get much more crowded than the loudspeaker market, and what isn’t immediately obvious is that the further up that market you go, the more crowded it gets. That might seem counterintuitive, but stop for a second and work it out. How many companies offer $1000 loudspeakers? Lots, right? But then there are lots of potential customers to buy all those various models. How about $10,000 loudspeakers? How many customers are there for those? By the time we reach $25,000 the air is getting pretty thin and so are the crowds. Yet how many companies offer speakers at around this price level? Start a list of those companies and you’ll need a pretty big sheet of paper. Now limit your appeal even more by going small with your product and it should become pretty clear pretty quickly that there are only two ways you are going to crack that particular problem and, if you are a start-up, being the established market leader isn’t an option, which means that you’d better be doing something pretty special or very different if you want to have any chance of surviving.

Kaiser aren’t exactly a start-up, with two previous well-regarded models to their name, but they’ve definitely been flying under the radar as far as brand recognition goes. Which makes their third loudspeaker model, the pretty but pricey stand-mounted Chiara, either an interesting or suicidal proposition. Looking at the established competition from the likes of Magico, Raidho, Crystal Cable, et al. -- let alone more affordable offerings from the likes of Wilson and Focal -- the Kaiser crew have got to be very brave, very confident or maybe a little of both.

Any fool can buy a few off-the-shelf drivers and bolt them into an identikit cabinet, which helps explain why there are so many loudspeaker companies and designs out there. These days it’s not even that difficult to make them look different to the crowd (and let’s face it, a lot of them definitely sound different), but there’s different for different's sake and different for a reason. There’s no doubting that the Kaiser Chiara is different; the question is, do the differences matter?

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Chiara's cabinet is of an unusually complex, facetted construction. The use of non-parallel walls isn’t exactly new, nor is differential wall thickness. But take a look at the Chiara’s enclosure and you’ll notice that in this case the execution is remarkably thorough. The cabinet itself flares outward towards the rear, while the larger side panels have a pronounced diagonal ridge running top to bottom, stiffening them and varying their wall thickness. None of the faces are parallel, with even the top and bottom faces sloping significantly. All those angles suggest a production nightmare. Now rap the cabinet walls -- gently -- with a knuckle. The dull thud that results tells you just as clearly as the sharp pain in your knuckles that this isn’t MDF. In fact, it doesn’t just feel solid, it feels like it’s built like a tank -- one of those big, heavy ones that rumbles around on tracks. Which is no great surprise, because it has. Tankwood is a material much beloved of the German hi-fi industry, with a number of turntable plinths and other products appearing, all constructed using the material. First developed as an outer-layer armored coating for AFVs (hence the name), Tankwood might not be quite as hard as steel, but it disperses energy far more effectively. Think of it as harder than aluminum but without the ringing. It’s dense and extremely hard to machine, which is why it tends to get used in slabs. Kaiser are the first company I’m aware of that have constructed entire cabinets from the material and certainly the first to construct anything as complex or requiring the precision manufacturing that goes into the Chiara's enclosure.

But then Kaiser is no ordinary loudspeaker company; perhaps I’d better start at the beginning -- which is a good few years ago.

Keeping it in the family

Kaiser have been in the woodworking and furniture trade for over 60 years, evolving into the current business that specializes in large-scale architectural acoustics projects and bespoke furniture designs -- everything from massive, multi-dimensional textured or "waved" walls to the sort of huge, one-piece organic reception desks that grace chi-chi hotels, looking like giant, brightly colored seashells discarded by some playful behemoth. Rehearsal rooms, concert halls, lecture theatres and boardrooms: all have received the Kaiser touch -- along with trade stands at motor shows and even more eclectic spaces.

It’s work that demands precise machining of massive elements, parts that must fit together seamlessly -- and it depends on the most highly automated "woodshop" I’ve ever seen. Most of us are familiar with CNC machines: large, box-like structures the size of small MPVa with a well in the center capable of accepting something the size of a mono amplifier. The Kaiser factory has a CNC facility capable of carving something the size of a panel van from solid! When it comes to wood or wood-based materials, they can chop, shape, fabricate and finish pretty much anything, with enough veneer, paint and laminate options to make your head spin. The materials might be traditional -- at least they might start that way -- but make no mistake about it, this is high-tech engineering and Kaiser are right on the front of the curve. When I observed that they are the only loudspeaker company that machines cabinets from Tankwood, perhaps it might have been more accurate to suggest that they’re the only loudspeaker company that can! Which helps explain why the company could even contemplate a cabinet as intricate, precise, complex and demanding yet elegant as the Chiara’s.

But that’s just the top box. Despite appearances, the Chiara is actually a one-piece design, the speaker enclosure permanently fixed to its pedestal stand. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a lot more to that stand, with its mirror-imaged, tapered top and bottom plates, than meets the casual eye. The careful sculpting ensures that the variable-thickness mantra is extended, especially where the MDF stand meets the underside of the speaker cabinet, but what of the curved and tapered vertical "blade"? Contrary to appearance, this is also a complex structure, containing three dispersive labyrinths to help dissipate broadband mechanical energy generated by the drivers. Sourced from Vertex AQ, Kaiser’s partner in the Leading Edge project (which has itself resulted in a range of remarkable racks and acoustic panels), this is proven technology, yet once again, it is the first time it has been applied to a complete speaker cabinet. With acoustic couplers linking the incredibly rigid speaker enclosure directly to the composite upright/labyrinth structure, the result is to create a hugely effective mechanical ground for the system as a whole. Or, to put it another way, the Chiara thinks that its cabinet structure -- not its volume -- is physically a lot bigger than it really is. Just like Dr. Who’s Tardis, it’s a lot smaller on the outside. As we’ll see, that’s not just clever; it really is a difference that matters.

In fact and in many ways, the really interesting thing about the Chiara is how much it tells us about the relative importance of the cabinet in the small-speaker equation. Cast your mind back over the other equivalently priced models in our extended mini-speaker survey (the Raidho C1.1 and Crystal Cable Arabesque Mini) and you find interesting parallels and contrasts. The Crystal Cable speaker uses advanced gas-dynamics and FEA modeling software to look at what happens to the cabinet, the gas it contains and how the two interact. The result is a remarkably controlled enclosure, a behavior clearly reflected in the speaker’s character and performance, musically devoid of edge or false emphasis, remarkably fluid and fluent when it comes to shape and phrasing. The Raidho is almost a case study in driver development, the same cabinet and stand having graced the C1, the C1.1 and now the new (and soon to be reviewed) D1. Each advance in driver materials and technology has wrought very real improvements, yet it is remarkable how the essential character of the speaker, the way it leans on the leading edge and dynamic energy of a note rather than its tail and harmonic evolution, has remained almost unchanged.

The Kaiser speaker shares some apparent design themes with those two models, but don’t be deceived -- it’s very much its own master. So, at first glance, you might take in the ribbon tweeter (apparently similar to the one used by the Raidho) and the same Scan-Speak 150mm (6") Illuminator laminated-paper bass-mid driver as seen in the Crystal. But there the similarities end. The tweeter is the Mundorf unit (Raidho’s is built in-house and is in reality a planar-magnetic more than a pure ribbon) while the bass-mid driver is loaded by a substantial, rear-facing, mass-loaded, Scan-Speak Illuminator auxiliary bass radiator (ABR). The rigidity of the Crystal’s aluminum cabinet is another point of similarity, although the machined metal facets lack the self-damping that makes Tankwood so appealing. But both speakers rely on creating a super-rigid enclosure that is then coupled to a dispersive stand structure -- even if the Crystal’s differentially dimensioned acrylic columns perhaps lack the technological sophistication found in the Chiara’s labyrinths.

Kaiser take the approach to its logical extreme, creating a cabinet that doesn’t just lack parallel surfaces and consistent wall thicknesses, but unnecessary voids or apertures too. The speaker’s crossover is built onto a Tankwood spine that is itself connected to its own acoustic labyrinth, the whole assembly then being potted in resin and mounted on the base of the cabinet. So, apart from the drivers, the only things that penetrate the enclosure are the two wires that join the crossover to the terminals at the base of the stand -- and even these apertures are supported by the sculpted top plate of the stand itself. Meanwhile, threading the wires through the labyrinths in the stand helps prevent mechanical energy passing from the enclosure into the speaker cables and back to the critical electronics in the driving amplifier. Finally, to ensure that the stand doesn’t become a blind alley for energy, Kaiser offers Stillpoints Ultra SS feet to couple it to the floor. Although technically an option, I’d consider these a necessity -- and you will too once you hear their contribution. They also allow you to level the Chiara -- which is easier said than done, given that every available surface is angled. I ended up with a small plate securely taped to the underside of the stand base, protruding just enough to support a small spirit level. Another option would be a small platform that could be clamped behind the terminals, and I’d love to see Kaiser offer that as a standard feature.

Not surprisingly, the attention to detail lavished on the cabinet extends to the fit, finish and electrical aspects of the design. The construction and presentation of the Chiara are absolutely flawless; you may like its slightly angular and purposeful appearance or you might not -- but you won’t be able to fault the surface finish, whether it’s a satin paint (white in the case of the review pair) or a beautifully executed veneer. Cabinets can be satin or high-gloss finished, while the stands are delivered in satin as standard, although I’d guess that anything is possible. The review pair featured a carbon veneer on the sloped baffle, complete with a carefully contoured "well" to time-align the tweeter. The immaculate paint (or veneer) extends across the rear face of the speaker. When looking at the Chiara, the term furniture-grade finish takes on a whole new meaning.

Inside the cabinet, the crossover features a veritable who’s who of audiophile componentry, while the potting process that turns it into a solid block ensures that the internal volume is precisely correct. The Mundorf tweeter and Scan-Speak driver and ABR pretty much speak for themselves, and the Chiara is way past the "what you use" and well into "what you do with it" territory when it comes to audio performance. Rest assured, the componentry and drivers won’t be a limiting factor. Any perceived shortcomings in the speaker’s performance can be squarely laid at the feet of the conceptual design and implementation.

Take a deep breath. . .

Now that we’ve finally reached the point where we discuss the Chiara’s sound, there are a couple of points I’d like to make straight off -- because they establish the frame for all my other observations.

First, this is an unusual but not unprecedented design. The Swiss Pawel/Ensemble PA1 compact monitors paired an even smaller, aluminum-foil sandwich-coned bass-mid driver with a rear-mounted KEF B139 ABR that populated virtually the entire back panel. Pairing such a small driver with a large ABR offers both attractive possibilities and potential pitfalls; risk-free it isn’t, so carefully measured compromise is the order of the day.

Second, and partly as a direct result of its chosen topology, the Chiara is one of the most musically engaging small speakers that I’ve ever used.

By now, if you’ve been reading the different installments of this particular small-speaker odyssey, you will probably have reached the conclusion that, more than almost any other area of audio, small-speaker design is all about choosing and embracing your selected compromise. For each design, it is possible to identify its chosen (or involuntary) compromise -- and extrapolate the speaker's personal appeal from there; in the final analysis it’s always a product’s strengths that make it attractive, but its weaknesses that ultimately exclude it. The Chiara is no different in this regard, except that its particular compromise is more practical than musical; it either will suit your situation or it won’t -- but if it does it’s well worth investigating. As I’ve already suggested, running such a small bass-mid driver with a large ABR delivers a sense of scale and, done properly, a sense of dynamics and life that often escapes small speakers, which generally achieve one or the other -- life or scale. It makes it an addictive proposition for the compact-speaker designer, one that delivers on its promise as long as you don’t overdrive that diminutive bass-mid unit.

Let’s take a lesson from history. If we discount the bizarre Snail sub/sat system, Sonus faber started life with two models, the boxy Electa and the far more elegant Electa Amator. The latter, with its slim, deep cabinet and contoured baffle cheeks, still rates as one of the most attractive (and potentially startling) compact designs ever. Pairing the legendary Esotar tweeter with a mass-loaded 7" bass driver, all built into an inch-thick, solid-walnut cabinet with a rear-facing port that looks like its dimensions should be expressed in artillery terms, produced a diminutive speaker with remarkable claimed bandwidth. The rub came in terms of efficiency and the amplifier load it presented. Put simply, the Electa Amator had an almost insatiable appetite for power. Underdrive it and the deep bass disappeared while the treble became detached and shouty. But dump enough power (and I’m talking Audio Research M300 monos at full chat) into the little monsters and the whole thing pulled together, delivering serious dynamics, scale and alarming wallop. Remarkable, but at a heavy, heavy price -- both monetarily and in terms of the threshold level required to achieve those results.

Look a little further up the range and you’d find the Extrema, another stand-mount, but this time with a much larger cabinet and a large rear-facing ABR. Easier to drive than the Amator, the Extrema was harder to control, a better speaker in many ways, but it simply couldn’t take the power or levels that the smaller speaker thrived on. Too high a level and the bass-mid driver started to heave around like a jelly on a spin dryer. In order to play it loud you needed an amp with an iron grip, which in those days pretty much throttled the music before it even reached the speaker.

The Electa Amator II also adopted the conventional bass-mid driver coupled to a rear-mounted ABR, and it’s interesting to note that although it was considerably easier to drive it never achieved the same popularity or mythical status as the original. Now we have the Chiara and yet another take on this established format. Why will the Kaiser succeed where so many others have failed? Partly because the rest of the audio world has moved on significantly and partly because, if designing small speakers is a study in the art of compromise, the Chiara is a little masterpiece. As with the Extrema, you cannot overdrive the Kaiser speaker, ultimately limiting its use to less-than-massive rooms or levels (to an extent the two balance each other -- the larger the room, the less the potential volume achievable), although it was capable of generating surprisingly convincing results in my listening room as long as I didn’t expect full orchestral levels. But, like the Electa Amator, it achieves a remarkable sense of scale and substance -- without that speaker’s crippling electrical demands. What makes the Chiara so satisfying is the completeness of the music it presents along with the way it lets it breathe, that elusive quality that brings recordings to life. Whether or not you could (or should) live with the Chiara is down to purely practical considerations. If you listen really big and really loud, then this isn’t the speaker for you. But anything short of that and you might be surprised by just how holistic and engaging this speaker can be.

Several factors have played into the Chiara’s performance. Speaker systems in general have become far more efficient, a trend that has placed new emphasis not just on system sensitivity but on simpler crossovers and the tidier out-of-bandwidth behavior they demand from drive units. The Chiara adopts a light-touch approach to its crossover, combining the best available components with minimal subtractive elements. The bass-mid unit runs wide open at the bottom end, for maximum extension, relaying on its laminated and pleated paper cone to behave itself. The small, efficient driver is essential to achieve a seamless transition to the ribbon tweeter, and again the Chiara delivers. The contribution of the aluminum-coned ABR is beautifully judged, and the speaker suffers neither threshold issues nor level dependence, staying remarkably consistent right up to the point where you push it outside its comfort zone. Even here, first warnings are visual rather than sonic, with the bass-mid unit displaying obvious agitation.

But the real secret to the Chiara’s success lies hidden in the construction of its cabinet and stand. The combination of that rigid, fast cabinet enclosure with the incredibly efficient and dispersive exit path provided by the stand means that you hear a lot less of this speaker than with almost any other I’ve used. It joins the likes of the KEF Blade and Wilson Benesch Cardinal in terms of its lack of sonic thumbprint, which should come as no surprise, given the comprehensive engineering and technology involved. Without that mechanical foundation, the care and attention lavished on the crossover, drivers and bass alignment would be severely undermined. Why does the Chiara succeed where ultimately those Sonus faber designs failed? Because its cabinet is so much more sophisticated than simple solid wood, delivering the platform required by the more efficient drivers and lower-loss network. How can I be so sure? Because the one other flaw in the Sonus faber designs was their lack of rhythmic articulation, their slightly clumsy grasp of tempo and changes in pace. People tend to think of cabinet effects in terms of coloration or diffraction, but actually the slurring of time cues and intermodulation effects are musically far more intrusive, blurring and in same cases destroying the patterns and relationships within the music. You want more recent evidence? Look at the way the Crystal Cable Arabesque Mini excels when it comes to shape and phrasing, its performance devoid of exactly the timing issues that can bedevil the Raidho C1.1.

. . .and let it go!

Time to play some music. How about Tosca’s Suzuki In Dub CD [G-stone 012]? This jazz/trance/dub fusion is all about layered rhythms and shifting, interlocking tempi, samples introducing stabbed urgency mixed with fluttering synths, all laid over deeply pulsing bass lines. It’s exactly the kind of complex, broadband signal that should drive a speaker like the Chiara into a muddled, rhythmically jumbled and musically destructive meltdown. Instead, the little speakers thrive on the multitude of textures and rhythms, perfectly capturing the way the different tempi play off each other within the mix. The soundscape is vast, spreading way beyond the outer edge of the cabinets, with easy, unforced spatial separation of each strand within the mix. It’s not just wide either, but steps away from the cabinets completely, an independent soundscape within the room. But most impressive of all is the fact that there’s no sense of curtailed bass. Now, I know that there’s almost subterranean low-frequency information on this disc -- and I know that the Chiaras aren’t reproducing it -- but it just doesn’t seem to matter. There’s no obvious cutoff or shelving in the bass, and those deep, grunting synths have more than enough weight and substance to satisfy, more than enough shape, pitch and texture to deliver the drive and momentum the music demands. Just listen to the way the dZhihan+Khamien dub version of "Busenfreund" transitions from its gently meandering, trance opening into upbeat dance rhythms, the different layers in the mix building and transforming the track like a living, breathing thing. A remarkable effect, given the entirely synthetic nature of the beast.

This ability to capture the music’s pulse is crucial to the Chiara’s appeal. It lets the music breathe, bringing the performers that much closer to becoming a credible, living presence in the room. If it can capture the inner heartbeat on dub/trance, how about actual singers -- how about a legendary vocalist like Ella? The familiar up-front vocal on Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (CD [Verve MGV 4001-2]) is big and bold yet also intimate and full of the emotive inflection and effortless engagement that Ella brings to the popular songs. Her phrasing and vocal control are masterful, but what’s really impressive is the way that you simply marvel at her delivery, forgetting the speakers entirely. That is down, in no small part, to the separation (in depth) between her and the band. Even on this mono recording, there’s no mistaking the sense of distance or relative position accurately portrayed by the Chiara. On tracks that open with or feature single-instrument accompaniment, like "I Get A Kick Out Of You," the spacing and shape to the guitar might almost have you thinking that it’s a stereo disc you are listening to. Play "You Do Something To Me" and the solid horns, full of energy and impact, are perfectly poised against the slow, beautifully paced smooch of the bass, measured but never leaden or turgid. This ability to play convincingly deep without the extra padding so many speakers rely on is key to the musically communicative, agile and tactile performance of the Chiara. Bass that’s at the right pitch and has the correct weight and pace is essential to a truly seamless midrange and treble. Pump up the bass and what seems initially impressive will quickly start to drag.

But it’s not just that the Chiara gets bass notes in the right place and plays them at the right time. It also gets a sense of air around them that gives them shape and direction. Walking bass lines are easy to follow, while the sort of bass arpeggios that so often underpin orchestral works are full of weight and intent. Take Starker's famous opening of Dvorįk's Cello Concerto (LP [Mercury SR90303]). I can forgive a little bit of ultra-low-frequency confusion (when compared to genuinely full-range speakers), with placement and separation of the timps in particular getting a little hazy, but after that first big tutti, the vibrant ascending line that appears in the bass keeps the piece alive, and the Chiaras capture its shape, texture and energy beautifully. Starker’s cello is solid and over-voiced as usual (that’s the nature of the recording), but his bowing is poised and fluid, so that you know the hesitations are intentional accents rather than the system or speaker tripping over itself. This is never more obvious than in the Concerto’s final movement. It opens with a staccato, almost bounced-bow underpinning from the basses that offers the perfect backdrop for the unfurling of the full range of orchestral colors, the tone and texture of each instrumental group readily identifiable. The repeated use of hanging chimes shows the tweeter’s delineation (its definition of individual strikes, their tonal brilliance but lack of edge or glare) and integration (the fact that they stay anchored at the rear of the orchestra, rather than take a huge step forward). The most technically demanding of the three movements, it serves as a perfect showcase for Starker’s mastery of tone, technique and phrasing as he draws the full expressive range from his instrument, drawing the listener closer and closer, so crucial as the music starts to die away towards the finale, until all that remains are the soloists' sustained notes, holding together the faint echoes from across the orchestra, which will ultimately explode into the final crescendo.

Too many systems and speakers lose their way, unable to hold the tension so dependent on the perfect pacing of the slower and slower, quieter and quieter closing passage. It’s a bit like watching a slow bike race, waiting for the riders to put their feet down or fall off -- only the Chiara never does, holding the performance perfectly poised right to its conclusion. If musical lines and phrasing are obvious strengths, don’t for a moment think that the Chiara lacks for note-by-note definition. Ultimately the tweeter might lack the sheer substance of the Semisphere design used in the Wilson Benesch Cardinal, but its sense of air and lightness of touch are never less than lucid, its contribution never less than connected. Just as clean, natural bass is a precondition of a credible midband, properly integrated and unexaggerated treble is crucial to proper timing and placement of notes.

A work like the Dvorįk brings another question into focus: What amplifier should you pair with the Chiaras and what influence does it have over how hard you can drive them? I spent some considerable time driving the little Kaiser speakers with my Jadis JA-30s, but as beguiling as the results were in our smaller room, there was no ignoring the benefits of more power and a larger space. But what sort of power? With a range of options available I rang the changes, coming to the firm conclusion that what these speakers really like is quick and clean rather than warm and wooly. After all, there’s no point banishing sluggish bass and intrusive boxiness from the speaker if you reintroduce them with the driving amp. The clean, crisp delivery of the 150Wpc AvantGarde XA proved a perfect foil, the 220 OTL watts of the Berning Quadrature Zs better again -- at a price. These are both exceptional amplifiers, but that’s what I mean by quick and clean; any slurring or sluggishness upstream and the Chiaras are perfectly capable of revealing the system’s character, warts and all. It’s the price you pay for any speaker that’s at least as coherent as most electronics, but then that’s exactly the speaker you want if your system is really to scale the heights of musical involvement and communication. The Kaiser isn’t an unforgiving speaker, and I never heard it sound bad; it’s just that the difference between good, really good and exceptional is a difference that matters. A case in point is the variable damping facility on the Quadrature Zs. Given the design of the Chiara, you might expect it to benefit from the highest setting of the three-position switch. But no -- that squeezes the life and breath out of the music. The middle position restores the fluidity and expressive freedom that make the speaker so engaging and listenable. It’s an apparently small thing, but it equates to exactly what I described above -- the difference between good and exceptional, bypassing really good completely.

The Chiara’s cabinet, its absence of boxy coloration or positional cues that lead the ear back to the speakers, allows the music to exist as a distinct, separate entity. But it doesn’t define the acoustic space as precisely as much bigger speakers. Soundstages tend to fade towards their edges rather than reach sharp boundaries. Again, this is only to be expected; this is a small speaker and you need serious extension to map side and front walls. Yet, once again, the speaker manages to convince and what you don’t hear you don’t notice, partly because the instruments and voices have such natural body, shape and texture that they draw the ear and hold it. Although this is the smallest speaker in Kaiser’s three-model range, it is the first to take the cabinet engineering and particularly the use of internal labyrinths to such lengths. It will be interesting to see what happens if the same rigorous approach is applied to the floorstanders. The results could be very special indeed.

Sitting back

Discussing the Chiara with Chris Thomas, a listener who relies on speakers this size, I was struggling to explain exactly why it is I find this speaker so satisfying. It suddenly dawned on me that, unlike that old cliché, the speaker that sounds much bigger than it is, here we have a speaker that sounds like a bigger speaker. Think about that and it’s not quite as dumb as it first seems. The Chiara is not the world’s smallest speaker to be sure. Nor does it have the sort of thunderous bass that marks out the audio world’s pocket battleships. Instead, it has enough scale, enough bass and enough presence that it presents music much more in the manner of larger speakers than its pint-sized brethren. There’s none of the almost clinical transparency and focus that characterized the early WATTs or the Magico Mini, none of the laser-edged precision that you get from a Raidho D1. Instead this is a more holistic, all-embracing presentation, one that re-creates the musical performance as a single, distinct entity, rather than a discrete kit of parts. I think that has as much to do with the Chiara’s natural sense of flow, its unforced sense of pace and timing, the convincing way in which it handles the extremes of bandwidth and acoustic space, not by faking them but by simply going as far as it can in as linear a fashion as possible. This might be Kaiser’s baby speaker, but it sounds all grown up to me. This isn’t a little speaker that sounds bigger than it is; it’s a little speaker that shares many of the strengths that make big speakers so musically rewarding. If you get that distinction, then you’ll get this speaker.

As I suggested earlier, the Kaiser Chiara is an object lesson in the benefits of good cabinet design. By eliminating flaws or affects that we normally accept and live with, it liberates us from having to listen past them, liberating the music in the process. Of course, there’s more to a good speaker than a good cabinet, and the Chiara has exploited its firm physical footing to finally deliver on the promise of the small-box/ABR format. It offers far greater scale and substance than a speaker like the Ensemble PA1, none of the constipated rhythmic clumsiness or insatiable drive demands of the Electa Amator; and unlike the Extrema, it is easy enough to drive and control that its performance potential is entirely achievable. That’s not to say that it is all things to all men or an easy date. This speaker demands careful matching to its driving amplifier -- in terms of character rather than power delivery. Overly warm or romantic amps that are generally used to paper over the cracks in other speakers will sound sluggish and bloated on the Chiara. Lucid and uncluttered are the order of the day -- or maybe the shape of things to come. Credit where credit is due, it was Avalon that first started building speakers that consistently imposed less character on the music than the driving electronics, but since then others have joined in, with this Kaiser speaker being the latest example to cross my path. These designs might make demanding partners for existing amplifiers and systems, but they also offer a direct path to musical greatness, if you only follow it. There are speakers that are smaller or louder, more detailed or etched, but few are as simply, graphically honest.

The Kaiser Chiara is a beautifully balanced design. Slightly bigger than most stand-mounts and certainly taller, it sounds significantly bigger still. It delivers enough bass and enough scale, enough substance and body, to be truly satisfying whatever the music. P.J. Harvey or P.J. Proby, Ben Webster or Benjamin Britten, this is a speaker that won’t just rise to the musical challenge, it will step right out of the way and wave it through. Its limitations are those of volume (both level and the size of the room), but they are readily understood and examined in the context of your own space and system. The beauty of the Chiara is that there are no hidden pitfalls, no nasties lurking in the hidden corners of its performance -- what you hear is what you get. That makes it easy to assess and easy to set up and optimize, at least compared to the competition. Just don’t be suckered by nice when you can try a little harder and have amazing.

I started with one maxim and I’ll finish with another: Less box means more music. The Kaiser Chiara eloquently proves that point.

Price: €16,220 per pair with standard semi-gloss finish.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.

Kaiser GmbH
Hanzing 1
D-94107 Untergriesbach
Passau, Germany
+49 (0)8593 9389110

Setup and technicalities

The Chiara is far easier to drive than its 87dB sensitivity and 4-ohm load suggest, but whilst small amps will do the trick, the benefits of greater power and control are obviously apparent when it comes to listening. One hundred or so watts are a sensible target, although you might get away with less -- if they are of good enough quality. I’ve enjoyed excellent results with a Storm Audio integrated amp and the idea of the Lavardin IT is also an intriguing proposition. Bandwidth is quoted as 40Hz to 30kHz ±3dB, and for once I’d say that’s realistic.

I used the Chiara in both of my rooms -- its fit and finish easily passing muster, getting it past the bouncers on the door to the lounge. In both cases front-wall spacing was absolutely critical to proper bass timing, balance and integration. Toe-in was minimal and despite their height (1160mm -- 46") I found that positioning the speakers vertically delivered the best results. The crossovers are single-wired and the terminals (possibly the nicest I’ve ever seen, and another indication of the sheer attention to detail that’s gone into this speaker) are located at floor level, so requiring no extra cable. No grilles are provided, but the Mundorf tweeter has its own fabric cover and is far enough off the floor to escape most children or pets anyway.

-Roy Gregory

Associated Equipment

Analog: VPI Classic 4 turntable with JMW 12.7 tonearm, Lyra Titan i and Dorian Mono cartridges, Zu Audio Denon 103 cartridge, Nordost Blue Heaven tonearm lead and Tom Evans Audio Design The Groove+ phono stage, Nordost Odin tonearm lead and Connoisseur 4.2PLE phono stage.

Digital: Wadia S7i CD player; dCS Paganini transport, DAC and uClock; Wadax Pre 1 digital control unit. Krell Cypher CD/SACD player.

Preamps: Avantgarde XA Pre, Connoisseur 4.2, Siltech SAGA C1 Control Amplifier.

Power amps: Avantgarde XA Power stereo amp, Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks, Jadis JA-30 monoblocks, Jeff Rowland 725 monoblocks, Siltech SAGA V1 Voltage Amplifier/SAGA P1 Current Amplifier, VTL MB-450 III monoblocks.

Integrated amp: Storm Audio V55 Vertigo.

Speakers: Crystal Cable Absolute Arabesque.

Interconnects and speaker cables: Complete looms of Nordost Odin, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream or Ultra from AC socket to speaker terminals. Power distribution was via Quantum QRT QB8s or Crystal Cable Power Strip Diamonds, with a mix of Quantum Qx2 and Qx4 power purifiers and Qv2 AC harmonizers.

Acoustic treatments: As well as the broadband absorption placed behind the listening seat, I employ a combination of the LeadingEdge D Panel and Flat Panel microperforated acoustic devices. These remarkably simple yet incredibly effective acoustic panels have become absolutely indispensible when it comes to hearing what the system is actually doing.

Accessories: Essential accessories include the Feickert protractor, a USB microscope and Aesthetix cartridge demagnetizer, a precision spirit level and laser, a really long tape measure and plenty of masking tape. I also make extensive use of the Furutech anti-static and demagnetizing devices and the VPI Typhoon record-cleaning machine. The Dr Feikert PlatterSpeed app has to be the best ever case of digital aiding analog.

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