As well as being weighty, the Roksan Kandy K2 units are also impressive-looking.
Whereas the look of most British hi-fi, is probably best described as prosaic, the Kandy's elegant new designs will ensure that they catch the eye on the dealers' shelves.
And the appearance is not just a matter of providing eye candy: the designer has addressed many elements that affect the whole 'user experience' – to use that loathsome expression – including the layout and tactility of the controls and ensuring that the amplifier will provide decent performance from a variety of loudspeakers.
The K2 amplifier has been engineered to 'punch above its weight' and can power loudspeakers that would not usually be too happy being connected to an integrated, even one that claims to deliver 120 watts per channel into eight ohms.
And here is an important distinction: the K2 models should not be regarded as budget high-end designs; instead, Roksan says, they represent high-end designs that have been re-engineered to enable them to be more affordable.
Parts of this remodelling process – such as the revised circuit board layouts – conveniently also produced significant sound quality improvements over the previous, well-received and award-winning Kandy models.
A small point, but one that demonstrates the care that was taken with making these components user-friendly is the position of the mains switch, which is placed within easy reach, but such that it will not easily be operated by accident.
The switch is relocated from the conventional back panel position, which can pose access problems for some rack users and sited on the left-hand corner of the base panel, where it is also effectively out of sight, but easy to reach if needed.We, however, kept both components powered up for the duration of this review.
We auditioned the K2s driving Neat Momentum 4i floorstanders, which are, (despite not being technically challenging) candid, revealing loudspeakers whose performance capabilities demand a musically sympathetic amplifier that can adequately drive and maintain firm control over them.
The amplifier and CD player were supported on Quadraspire Sunoko Vent racks and all cabling was from the chord company.
Starting with a selection of tracks from Radiohead's Pablo Honey CD, the K2 system demonstrates its dynamic balance, deftly contrasting the often fragile quality of Thom Yorke's voice alongside his robust power chords, not favouring either element over the other, but presenting the music as a thoroughly coherent and integrated performance.
This amplifier displays fine control throughout the entire frequency spectrum. The Neat Momentums can be quick to expose any weaknesses in this respect; their isobaric bass arrangement will highlight any flabbiness in the low end and the tweeters can sound rather overexposed if the top end isn't well controlled and smoothly integrated with the mid-band.
Similarly they will take delight in revealing any shortfall in musical coherence, if, for example the system does not render pitch, rhythm and timing information such that the music flows correctly, or if the temporal progression of the music is interrupted by detailing that distracts the listener (which is why listening to a transistor radio can often be more musically persuasive and rewarding than a high-end hi-fi).
The Radiohead CD, which brims with potentially distracting elements that can cause a disjointed presentation, comes across with agreeable cogency and a thoroughly natural flow with all the detail tightly knitted into the music's structure.
The way the system handles bass guitar demonstrates how it can both separate and combine elements: while the bass line coheres and drives the songs along perfectly, it would be easy for someone who was learning that instrument to listen exclusively to that part of the arrangement and in appreciable detail, too.
The same delicacy and openness is apparent on the beautifully recorded Renata Youngblood CD The Side Effects of Owning Skin, where the predominantly acoustic instruments exhibit rich timbre and substance to match the expressive and dynamic range of the young singer/songwriter's wonderfully communicative voice.
Impressing the enthusiasts
Continuing to play independent, minor label discs, the system also manages to display instrumental timbre with fine acuity when differentiating between the characters of the various electric and electro-acoustic guitars on the eponymous Nils Lofgren Band Live CD.
This double album is not spoiled by banks of studio electronics processing all the life and vitality out of the music. The Roksan pairing delights in such recordings, burying itself deeply in the wealth of musical detail they present. It seizes hold of timing subtleties just as eagerly and delivers the sort of performance that will satisfy both the music aficionado and the hi-fi enthusiast.
It's fascinating, having heard Lofgren talk about the problems that he and many other guitarists encounter reining in their enthusiasm and playing in strict time, to hear him getting 'out of the pocket' and pushing subtly ahead of the beat.
And in the track 'Message', the forceful and graphic way the K2 components reveal the contrast between the effects-laden guitar and the pristine cleanliness of the drum-kit and bass is breath-taking: the distortion and delay on the guitar muddying the leading edges and decay of notes while the drums, in particular, punch through the mix with absolute clarity leaving you in doubt about how or exactly when they are being hit.
Even the constant fizz of Timm Biery's ride cymbal reveals distinct pulses that show when it is being struck.
Understated CD player
And playing at front-row SPLs, the K2 amplifier maintains its grip on the Momentums, right across their extensive bandwidth, whether it's Wade Matthews' bass or Timm Biery's drums exercising the isobaric bass drivers or Lofgren's bouncing guitar harmonics working the tweeters.
Similarly the system allows the Naim CD Hands on Heart, of Tim Hugh playing a selection of works on his cello to reveal the wide range of expression, dynamics and tone that skilled hands and a bow can wrest from four strings.
This K2 impresses with the sheer breadth of tonal colour it reveals in his powerful, but understated playing, along with the realistic, appropriately scaled portrayal it creates of the piano accompaniment. Even the Wigmore hall applause sounds completely true-to-life!
In short, the Roksan Kandy K2 system delivers musical delicacy and drama in flawlessly balanced proportion… and for a very reasonable outlay. That it looks so polished and presentable is an added bonus.