Original Text:
Sweet Sweet Kandy I have long maintained that it makes a lot of sense to consider the system as a whole rather than gambling on individual components.

Equipment Reviews  
April 2012

Roksan K2 System


Richard Austen

 
Specifications:

K2 CD player: $1,575

K2 amplifier: $1,575 (integrated), $1,225 (stereo)

K2 TR-5 speakers: $1,575 (Piano Black), $1,665 (Rosewood)



Manufacturer:

Roksan

URL: www.roksan.co.uk

U.S. Distributors:

Gold Sound (Southwest)
Acoustic Image (California)
Stereo Types (Northwest)
Kosmic (Northwest)
Sound Approach (East Coast)
 


Sweet Sweet Kandy

I have long maintained that it makes a lot of sense to consider the system as a whole rather than gambling on individual components. What do I mean by gambling on individual components? Well if we assume that all components in a stereo system have a sonic signature or “voice” then it stands to reason that some voices will work together better than others. Indeed, you could take lesser voices but together generate more harmony than putting better individual voices together that are out of sync.

I am not suggesting that the mix and match to stereo building can’t work, or can’t yield superior results; however, for that to be successful it is important to have a wealth of experience to know exactly what a component is likely to offer your system before shelling out large coin on said component based on reviews or forum posts (in which most of the advice is coming from people who have never heard your stereo in your room).

So what advantage does the system approach to buying a hi-fi stereo provide? Well first and foremost you know what the company’s sonic aesthetic. Sure an amplifier maker may claim they believe in Neutrality and Accuracy but that is meaningless since so many makers claim this is their goal from SET makers to kilowatt Solid State makers, from manufacturers making single driver open baffle cabinets to the makers who believe in small speakers as a point source to those makers who believe more drivers in massive cabinets is better.

So enter Roksan. Roksan has been around since 1985 when they came out with their very well regarded Xerxes turntable. I suppose a comparison to Linn may not be out of line since arguably both companies are known mainly for their turntables, and both companies make complete stereo systems. The K2 or Kandy 2 system is Roksan’s current entry level system consisting of an integrated amplifier, one box CD player, and a set of TR-5 two way standmount speakers. Roksan also makes their own interconnect cables and speaker cables though this review is sans cables.

DAGOGO Review: Roksan K2 System

Why is listening to a system important? For starters I came across Roksan’s system (with their bigger floorstanding FR-5 loudspeakers (reviewed by dagogo’s own Sandy Greene: http://dagogo.com/View-Article.asp?hArticle=384) while living in Hong Kong. I was surprised at what I was hearing – a system that wasn’t fatiguing or grainy or generally thin like so many solid state based systems. The dealer, T.H. Yu of Elephant Holdings, has some serious top end tube amplifiers from Audio Note and Einstein at serious price tags. With space at a premium in Hong Kong, dealers have to be selective of what they carry in order to keep the lights on. T.H. noted that Roksan serves the music on a budget. After listening to Eva Cassidy’s “Live at Blues Alley” and a couple of my own discs I was surprised by the valve qualities the system provides – and even some goose-bump factor that frankly is rarely achieved in most systems.

When one thinks of 125 watt SS integrated amplifiers and speakers using ribbon tweeters the word “warmth” doesn’t usually come to mind. And this is why it is important to audition a “system” so you have an idea of what the manufacturer is after in music reproduction. Indeed, many years ago I auditioned a prior Kandy amplifier in a mix and match set-up and wasn’t too impressed. And unfortunately such systems can place blame on the wrong components.



Kandy for Christmas

In Hong Kong the holiday season has Chinese New Year following closely after Christmas, so T.H. Yu was able to send me his demo gear. This is nice because it saved me from the break in period. While I can’t comment on break-in for my review, it should be noted that the Roksan has a short 30 hour recommendation for their loudspeakers which isn’t onerous compared to many other manufacturers.

The well used amp and CD player arrived along with the elegant and very well built and finished speakers. Indeed, the speakers are pure class all the way through and while Roksan may not be noted for their speakers they should be because they’re genuine stars. I will get to them later but be prepared.

The K2 amp and CD player are a little hard on the eyes and won’t win any beauty contests. They’re both brushed aluminum affairs and understated. The CD player is solidly constructed with a front loading mechanism that seems fairly robust, and which reads discs quite quickly. The display is small and hard to read at a distance, though you can read the track number well enough. Around the back the player offers well spaced analog outputs and three digital outputs including Toslink, Balanced AES/EBU and coaxial. The supplied touch screen remote, which takes 4 AAA batteries and is quite heavy, is quite impressive and has a matched brushed aluminum surface (nice touch). It deserves a few words here from their manual.

The LCD display & the hand set will turn on as soon as the batteries are inserted. If the handset is left untouched for 90 seconds, it will automatically turn off the LCD to save battery life. The handset is equipped with a motion sensor and thus will ‘wake up’ as soon as it is picked up. The Back Light will only come on when the back light button is pressed and will stay on during operation. Back light will turn off automatically after 10 seconds if none of the buttons are pressed.

The remote control also controls the partnered integrated amplifier, and it took me only a short time to adjust to the way it functions. I had to remember to push the Amp/CD button on the remote to control volume, and then the same button to switch back to operate the CD player. The remote is well built and the buttons are nice and big and easy to read. After owning a few surround receivers, I was very happy to be able to use this one without earning a Master’s degree in computer science to figure out how to press play. If I can do it, I am betting anyone can. The fact that I didn’t need the manual to get it going is always nice.

The K2 amp is a powerhouse for integrated amplification, being rated at 125 watts into 8 ohms and 190watts into 4ohms. There are 5 line level inputs as well as a MM phono stage (naturally) and a switchable bypass input as well as pre-out for subwoofer (or for using an external power amplifier). Also included is a headphone output. I referred to this as a powerhouse but granted, this is coming from a guy who owns a 10 watt Audio Note Single Ended Pentode (SEP) tube amplifier. Still, I can’t imagine owning speakers that will need this sort of power (and the Roksan speakers proved not to either) but if you do have such speakers then the Roksan Integrated won’t disappoint, and you need not worry about a lack of headroom for the vast majority of loudspeakers.

DAGOGO Review: Roksan K2 System



K2 TR-5 Stand Mount Loudspeakers


The audio industry is littered with smallish 2-way standmounts in the $1000 to $2000 price range; generally speaking, I am not a fan of such speakers. I often find that their supposed advantages over floor-standing speakers such as driver integration and lack of cabinet noise are exaggerated. The TR-5 certainly has the usual stand mount speaker limitations. For example, bass is good for a standmount speaker in this price range, though they won’t plumb the depths like (for example) a number of Dynaudio’s offerings. Bass here is down to around 45hz, but it does seem weightier than most providing above average body to drums and piano. As with most solid state run systems the sound seemed better at higher levels.

Placing the speakers on Audio Note K speaker stands filled with sand/shot and using blu-tak to attach the speakers to the stands, they were well coupled without movement. The speakers are very well finished and seem a significant cut above the usual loudspeakers in this price range, thus adding a heightened sense of value for the dollar. Further to that sense of heightened value is the unusual ribbon tweeter mated to a 5 inch paper woofer. High quality connectors on the back allow for bi-amping or bi-wiring.

DAGOGO Review: Roksan K2 System

The TR-5 is a surprising bit of deliciousness in a sea of bland lifeless mediocrity. To reiterate – the bass won’t plumb the depths that some other speakers do ( such as my Audio Note J loudspeakers), but what they do right is to live up to the promise of the entry level high end standmount loudspeaker, and that is to communicate the musicians’ message in an utterly non-fatiguing fashion. Fatigue is an interesting audiophile buzz-word. Most people think that brightness in a system causes fatigue. And of course they are correct. A bright loudspeaker can be highly bothersome but fatigue can also be caused by disjointed sound. One reason many people gravitate to single driver speakers, full range panels, and small two-way designs is so they can hear a system that doesn’t sound like a bunch of drivers in a box. Such systems may not be “bright” but over time they can generate fatigue because they often sound artificial when the listener is reminded constantly of the tweeter operating in isolation of the rest of the speaker.

The TR-5 surprised me because most speakers with the biggest problem around driver integration in my experience are those that use very different driver materials such as metal tweeters with paper or polypropylene woofers. Hybrid panels often get criticized for this “separated” sound or lack of cohesiveness. Well that problem doesn’t exist here. Driver integration is remarkably well done. I don’t say this in the context of a $1500ish loudspeaker I say this against any two way loudspeaker I’ve heard. Roksan’s team has teamed these drivers to be in complete sync with one another. This alone sets them apart from, and arguably ahead of, their competition. Indeed, the TR-5 sounds more in step than considerably more expensive speakers such as the B&W N805.

And while I noted that the speaker doesn’t have quite as much bass depth as other standmounts in this class, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of those standmount speakers such as those from Dynaudio and Totem have impressive bass depth but they also tend to smear the mid band somewhat causing a sluggish presentation that increases the out of step presentation. The energy seems to linger longer in their cabinets creating a boom and sizzle quality. Not the TR-5. The paper woofer keeps up with the ribbon and bass has solid start stop action in busy passages, but retains enough warmth to make the lower notes of piano seem fuller bodied than one would expect from the size of speakers. One more point about bass – good bass costs money. The reality is that if bass is of primary concern you can always add a subwoofer or look into Roksan’s FR-5.



What about Cavities? Err caveats?

DAGOGO Review: Roksan K2 System

With many speakers in this price and size class the tendency is for a somewhat boom and sizzle presentation, because the maker needs to standout against similar looking speakers from the competition. They try and get that extra bit of frequency at both ends of the frequency spectrum. This impresses on quick auditions but becomes tiring over long sessions. Roksan avoids the problem largely because they’re selling audio reproduction, rather than selling boxes solely to increase market share.

So the answer is “no,” there are no cavities here but nothing is perfect. The treble is crystal clear and offers exceptional detail. Transient response is a cut above virtually everything I’ve heard in this price class. Cymbals have an appropriate amount of crash and horn instruments are extended without annoying ringing or overshoot. However, on Sophie Milman’s 2004 self titled album, I did detect some occasional sibilance. I also noted this on several other albums across genres: from Madonna’s Like a Prayer to Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.” I have noted these problems in the past with ribbon designs and solid state amplifiers. The result is an open clear presentation but with it a slight hyper-detailed presentation. To be clear, however, I was never put off by this presentation as I have been with other ribbon designs. Roksan has managed to walk a fine balance without going too far over the edge. And again – I am used to listening to my Audio Note J/Spe speakers mated to an exceptionally high quality integrated amplifier in the Audio Note OTO, components that retail for at two to three times the price. My home system simply possesses a more organic three dimensional body to the music than the K2 is able to generate.

What Roksan has done here is something that the vast majority of similarly priced systems just don’t manage to do, and that is to not bash you over the head with what it is doing wrong. The best budget systems lie by omission. In other words, what they lack is not readily noticeable until you hear something better. More expensive systems can (though certainly not always do) offer more of everything from attack and decay to bass weight to resolution. But for many, this system will be enough to satisfy on all fronts. It is all day listenable (and more importantly, enjoyable), it offers a superior treble band that is extended and crystal clear, if not perhaps as dynamic or powerful as some, and bass is taught without a lot of overhang.

There is some mild coloration in heavier passages where I felt I was hearing the box, but this is true of every other standmount speaker I’ve heard in this price range, and this system still managed to do Respighi “The Pines of Rome” (Reference Recordings) surprisingly well with far greater dynamics than other notable standmounts in this price range (such as the Totem Model One or B&W 705).

As I finish this review listening to Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Vol 1 (Naxos 8.550045), I can say that Roksan understands more than a thing or two about the phrase “value for the money.” Roksan offers a complete system that gets music across without fatigue, with an impressive amount of finesse and articulation, as well as solid dynamics. Minor issues aside, I enjoyed my time with this system. Solid state systems that sounds good to a tube guy are few and far between – Roksan’s K2 system is one of the few.