choice: Hovland, Karan Acoustics or Jeff Rowland?
have long followed your reviews from the days of HiFi+ along with your pursuit of
high-quality power amplification. Im wondering if you are able to put in context for
me your appraisal of three amplifiers I am considering on the used market. They are the
Hovland Stratos, Karan Acoustics KA-M650 and the Jeff Rowland Model 625. Your reviews of
each amplifier have been very positive, and all amps have at one time or another featured
as your references in your own system. Looking back, how would you rate them in
am using an Audio Research Reference 3 (I did not care for the sonic palettes of the
Reference 5 or 5 SE). Cabling is mostly TARA Labs Air series, and Im primarily
running an analog front-end (SME 'table/'arm with Benz LP-S cartridge and Herron VTPH-2
are a good question! I'm currently running 1990s-vintage Hales System 2 Signatures (which
have taken a lot of beating). They bear some resemblance to your favored Living Voice
Avatar OBXR speakers: DAppolito two-way with external crossovers -- very neutral and
quite transparent, though a bit overdamped in the bass (but not terribly efficient and dip
to below 3 ohms at 80Hz). Planned replacements are KEF 207/2s or one of the Verity Audio
curious to also know if you think the big Karan amps provide better sonics than the
smaller KA-S180 or just more "balls." My aim here is for amps that are not
overly analytical or "in your face," but great at ambience retrieval and
you ever hear the Halcro amps?
on writing, Roy. After chucking out most of my old hi-fi magazines, I kept the classic TAS
and HiFi+ issues.
amps you mention are individually superb; as you mention, each has spent considerable time
in my system at one time or another. However, context is everything and once you start to
factor in the demands of the speaker, specific circumstances and the wider system
considerations, differences definitely start to emerge.
the Hovland Stratos. These are some of the best amps Ive ever used, but also
possibly the most elusive. I reviewed them when they first appeared and at the end of the
review tried to buy a pair, only to discover that the company had folded. That means two
things: there are very few Stratos out there and they are somewhere between difficult and
impossible to get serviced. At least one serious listener that I know (an ex-Hovland
distributor) is still using the Stratos -- and his stable includes some pretty impressive
options -- but you need to consider the practical implications of ownership and the
possible risk of total loss on your investment if they go US on you. I love this amp, but
Id hesitate to invest myself or recommend that you do so.
Jeff Rowland Model 625: the only stereo chassis on your list, and a physically smaller amp
than the other two as well. The 625 should be both more affordable and easier/cheaper to
accommodate (half the rack, support and power-cord requirements). That makes it the budget
option. However, despite its generous power rating, the 625 is not so happy with difficult
or unusual loads (see the KEF Blade review for more on this). Thats where the
speaker choice comes in. My experience with Hales designs is limited, but as I recall they
were both low in efficiency and an awkward load. Were you using something like a Focal
Scala v2 or a Vandersteen, Id have no qualms at all. But with Hales and some
uncertainty over what will replace them, Id suggest that the 625 isnt the
ideal choice in this case.
brings us to the Karan KA-M650s, last but by no means least. The smaller Karan
monoblocks (theres also the massive KA-M2000) is a classic solid-state power house.
It will (probably) drive a small car up a hill and is utterly unflappable. What makes it
particularly interesting is that it doesnt suffer from the rhythmic constipation and
clumsy dynamics that afflict so many such designs. Instead, it is a fluid, articulate
performer, long on resolution, locational precision and definition of the acoustic space.
It will have no problems with the Hales electrical demands and will make the most of
their wide bandwidth. The KA-M650 is a significantly more capable and more musical
performer than the '180, largely as a result of the increased bandwidth and control. This
improves dynamics, transparency, timing and dimensionality -- all of which help prevent
the '650 becoming too stilted or analytical.
lets consider your preamp. The Audio Research Reference 3 is a legendary performer
and rightly so. It throws a huge and vividly colored soundstage, with great dimensionality
and fluid phrasing. More rounded and a little softer (especially at the bottom end) when
compared to the later iterations, it has an enduring listenability and a smoothness that
are often translated as "musicality." Thinking back, for many years Audio
Research preamps were paired with Krell power amps -- to considerable musical effect.
Given that both the Reference 3 and the KA-M650s mark huge advances in performance over
those earlier products, I suspect that the pairing will be just as efficacious, but the
results will be even more impressive. One word of warning, though: just with those earlier
pairings, the DC-coupled power amps (or rather the speakers connected to them) will not
take kindly to the switch-up/warm-up behavior of the tube preamp, so always let the preamp
stabilize before switching on the power amps.
the Halcros: yes Ive heard them and theyre not for me. I found them flat and
sterile and the harder/wider bandwidth the speaker load, the greater the tendency became.
Id use any of the three amps you list in preference. -Roy Gregory
Qkore or Denali?
must say I was somewhat surprised by the supposed improvements brought about by the Nordost
Qkore grounding system. Are you saying that you experienced the aforementioned
improvements even though you were plugged into the Shunyata Denali 6000T and 2000T? Shunyata has been the benchmark in
lowering noise and backing it up with science and repeatable measurements. Can you
had the Shunyata Denali units listed with my other equipment, because they are a reference
that I use often. However, for my review, I used Nordost's Quantum power products with the
Qkore system. I did this for two reasons, First, I wanted to keep the "loom"
aspect intact, because I was using a full set of Nordost Odin 2 interconnects, speaker
cables and power cords. Also, in order to get the review finished and online quickly (Qkore debuted at the Munich High End show in May), I decided not to
muddy the waters by using Qkore with power products from other makers, although Nordost is
unequivocal in recommending this.
my sonic impressions of Qkore, it's important to keep in mind that it addresses ground
noise specifically; the hot and neutral are not affected and they are exactly what
Shunyata Research does address with its Denali products. So while Denali and Qkore are
mutually exclusive, they are also able to work together toward a greater sonic whole.
add me to the reader list. Thank you.
been added. To join TAB's reader e-mail list and find out about new articles
first, send e-mail to email@example.com.
E-mail us your questions,
concerns and suggestions. We won't reprint every letter, but we will answer them all.