Kharma Elegance dB7 Signature Loudspeakers
Singing In Elegant Musical Colors
For quite some time now, I’ve been on a journey seeking a replacement for my long-time reference Piega C-10 Limited loudspeakers. As fine as they can be, especially with that wonderful ribbon midrange/tweeter, I simply got the itch to check out what is available and something with the latest technology. In terms of my musical tastes – I listen to a wide range of music primarily jazz, including contemporary, traditional and classic. This includes both vocals and instrumental arrangements as well. I also enjoy good R&B, gospel, fusion and much more. As such – I prefer loudspeakers that that provide a reasonable full-range presentation and particularly with high quality bass.
As things would have it, one day I got a call from the ST guru Clement Perry, regarding my interest for reviewing a pair of loudspeakers. Needless to say – my curiosity meter jumped up and my immediate response was…..“OK, I’m all ears, please tell me more.” I then learned about the arrangement underway to secure a pair of loudspeakers and specifically on my behalf. The loudspeakers in question would be coming from a highly reputable company to which I quickly said – “that’s outstanding, count me in.” At that point, it was revealed that the loudspeakers were made by Kharma International and that I would be receiving one of their newer models – a pair of two-way floor standers. I was further reassured that despite my preference for larger, three-way, full range loudspeakers, that these particular loudspeakers would impress me. At this point – I simply gave in and suggested we make it happen.
Brief Background – Kharma International
For those who have been around the high-end audio scene for some time, the name Kharma likely isn’t new although you may be wondering where they’ve been in terms of their presence in the U.S. market. The person behind the formation of Kharma International, Netherlands, is founder Charles van Oosterum. Prior to Kharma, van Oosreum had his own loudspeaker company where he developed a line of speakers called Oosterum Loudspeaker System. It was during these earlier experiences where van Oosterum acquired his knowledge and experience working with ceramics in his loudspeaker designs. Years ago, Kharma was best known for their unique line of loudspeakers called Ceramigue. This particular model featured drivers with ceramic diaphragms designed into the membrane. That was then and this is now.
Today, Kharma has refreshed its loudspeaker series including the Elegance line. In this line, there are various models starting with the S7 retailing at $18,000 to the top-of-the-line dB11-S retailing at $54,000. Beyond loudspeakers, Kharma also produces cables, electronics and various loudspeaker applications including surround sound. The specific loudspeakers for this particular review are the Elegance dB7S model, priced at $31,250 retail (herein dB7S). The dB series feature double bass driver units and the S designation (i.e., Signature) represents the upgraded solid silver for internal wiring. Beyond the Elegance line – Kharma’s next higher priced (and higher performance) line of loudspeakers is called Exquisites. Beyond that – Kharma’ s top echelon loudspeaker models are known as Enigma Veyron and Exquisite.
The Long Journey – Loudspeakers from Amsterdam to Minnesota
In order to get the review process started, the next order of business for me was to get in contact with the appropriate representative for Kharma International. My initial contact was very engaging and helped get this review project off to a great start. From that point, things started moving quickly with arrangements made for a pair of the speakers to be shipped to me directly from the factory located in the Netherlands. Even though there was a slight delay dealing with customs, finally the dB7S's were released and a delivery date/time was established. On the day of delivery, I was confronted with two fairly substantial wood containers that encased the dB7S's. Fortunately I was able to solicit the assistance of a good friend to help get things moved to my listening room.
The task of removing the dB7S's from their outer protective shells was relatively straight-forward. As I went through the process of unpacking each, without question – this was some of the best and most effective packaging I’ve seen over many, many years of reviewing. Specifically, the inside layers of protection, surrounding each speaker, was truly outstanding and highly effective. This consisted of solid foam panels and various other types of material and in layers. I was definitely impressed and reassured that the loudspeakers had survived their long ordeal getting from the Netherlands to my home in Minnesota.
First Glance - They Look Marvelous
Once I was able to retrieve each loudspeaker from its sturdy outer case (and inner protection), what I witnessed was an absolutely gorgeous finish with a level of craftsmanship that was truly superb. The finish was impeccable with a beautiful shiny luster. The color was a dark gray with deep purple hue and a slight metallic finish that was visually very appealing. Additionally, the dB7S own a rock solid feel with a rap of the knuckles revealing no vibration or hollowness. These babies looked the part and appeared to be ready for prime time. Another very nice touch as how each loudspeaker had rings magnetically attached around each of the drivers giving them a clean look without any screw holes or other obvious connectors. As expected, each loudspeaker also comes with its own grille. For all my listening – I left the grills off for ultimate performance. Beyond that – I simply love the way these particular speakers look with their drivers exposed. It definitely enhances their overall appearance.
Taken directly from the website, below is a detailed description of the dB7S cabinet and finish:
This dB7 has an unique polygonal shaped cabinet for optimum phase behavior and minimum group time-delay. Besides, the cabinet is made of 35 mm high density MDF to increase the neutrality of the cabinet and is equipped with advanced acoustic damping materials to absorb the energy in a wide frequency range.
The beauty of the new Elegance dB7 is shown by the many small details. First of all this speaker has trimmable luxury rings around the drivers, which hide the mechanical screws of the driver. Moreover the speaker is accentuated by many chrome details like the logo plates on the front and side, parts of the completely redesigned SDSS-stand. Not to forget that also the back side of this speaker is designed in perfection and shows the true dedication of Kharma.
The dB7 has also a new improved grill, which is made detachable by embedded magnets to really have the freedom to adapt the Elegance dB7 to your own style. With grill, the Elegance gives an elegant and luxury feeling, where the dB7 without grill shows the beauty of the new composite drivers without actual showing that a grill could be attached.
Starting at the base of each dB7S loudspeaker, there is a very attractive and sturdy support with four separate feet including spikes. This arrangement provided a very solid, stable platform for the loudspeakers. Another unexpected treat were the special shiny chrome discs that are intended to fit under the spikes. These discs are perfect for coupling the loudspeakers to floors with hard surfaces and will prevent damage particularly to finished wood flooring. In my case – my flooring has carpet with a thick pad over a concrete slab. Based on experimentation in my system, I found the loudspeakers to perform best without the discs. As such, I preferred them connected directly to the floor underneath. One other advantage of these discs is that they are also reversible and when placed under the spikes - it makes moving the loudspeakers around (i.e., on carpeted flooring) relatively effortless. Needless to say – as I was a one-man crew for getting the loudspeakers into position in my reference system, this was a most welcome and well thought out approach.
Other cosmetic matters for the dB7S’s physical appearance included a chrome logo on the front lower section. Additionally, each loudspeaker had a chrome strip tastefully placed midway up on each side with the word Elegance included. On the backside – there is a reflex port, with shiny chrome flange, that is flared in design. Below that is the company’s designed binding post with a knob that is used to tighten down both the positive and negative posts. For this particular model, the dB7S's connections are designed for single wiring only. Additionally, this arrangement is designed specifically for spade lugs with no provision for Banana plugs I personally found this arrangement to work very effectively allowing me the ability to tighten the loudspeaker cable connectors quite easily.
Spec-wise, the dB7S is two-way, floor-standing design featuring two 7” mid/bass drivers and a single 1 x 1 inch true Beryllium dome tweeter. In terms of specifics regarding this special 7” driver, I learned that Kharma refers to it as their Omega Composite 7 driver (KCD). This is a completely new driver and due to its proprietary design and materials, the cost is higher than previous drivers. According to Moulton, the overall speed and performance characteristics of this particular driver are quite special and that I would likely be very impressed at how well it handles its business. These loudspeakers also included thicker upgraded silver internal cabling, better damping material and treated terminal panels.
Going From Good Sound to Very Good Sound – The Challenge
Considering that this particular model were brand new when shipped from the factory, I held my expectations in check. In fact, there were no surprises when my initial observations were anything other than sheer joy. What I experienced early on was a slightly bass heavy sound that was loose and thick in the lower frequencies. Additionally, the sound through the middle registers was somewhat closed in and the highs were not at all open. From that point, I basically ran music signal at a moderate level continuously through the dB7S's for several days. Fortunately, the sound went from the proverbial ugly duckling to something not quite like a beautiful swan but at least, to a level that was much more acceptable. The bass started firming up, the midrange fleshed out and high frequencies started opening up nicely. However, I could tell that the sound just wasn’t quite up to its full potential.
It was at this point when the Kharma rep, who had already been planning a visit to my place, decided to change his schedule and move his travels up much sooner than originally planned. In a nutshell - this visit was beyond anything that I had expected resulting in a significant level of improvement in the overall performance of the dB7S's. The masterful approach to analyzing the sound of my listening room, by the representative, with both his ears as well as the various tools he brought along for this visit was quite impressive. Additionally, I quickly became very much aware of this person’s extensive knowledge, experience and skill regarding loudspeaker setup. Included in his tool kit was a laptop, microphone (with a stand), sine-wave generator and I believe a sound pressure meter. His technique included a signal sweep of my listening area in order to observe and analyze the overall sonic characteristics of my room. It was truly fascinating to watch this process. Our combined efforts focused on achieving the best in terms of imaging as well as overall bass response. The latter involved achieving a smooth overall response that would provide both excellent extension and control. Needless to say – I was most appreciative to receive this type of expert assistance. Similarly, Kharma dealers typically have skilled personnel available to assist their customers achieve optimum loudspeaker setup as well.
Clearly, what we discovered was a big "Ah Ha" moment. Initially, I had simply placed the dB7S's in exactly the same spot as my reference Piega loudsspeakers. However, with these being a ported design (vs. a sealed box type of the Piega), the way they coupled to my room was noticeably different and impacted their performance. Our efforts to analyze my listening room involved moving the loudspeakers back and forth, then rearranging them from the side walls, including angling them in and out as well. Throughout this process, we took turns listening from the sweet spot and shared our feedback with one another. Finally, we arrived at a spot for each loudspeaker being ideally situated. Fortunately – this process was like magic and the results were essentially transformational and definitely far beyond anything I would have ever imagined possible. Just remember – the room is always a major factor in achieving the best sound possible from your system. In my 16’ wide by 22’ deep listening space, final placement for my loudspeakers were - 5’6” from the back wall to the tweeter, 3’ from the side walls to the center of the loudspeaker (angled in slightly) and finally 8’ apart from center to center.
Let the Music Take Control
OK, OK – so you really want to know how music sounded through these dB7S's, not just test tones from a sine-way generator. Right? In a word – they sounded fabulous. And what I mean is that these speakers not only did the many things that audiophiles often strive for including, but not limited to, such things as imaging, openness, detail, bass, power, dynamics and good extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum, but they were also immensely engaging as well. As a result, I became acutely aware of the emotional content of the recorded music and realized how these speakers managed to reveal the way in which the artist’s performance was intended. Music simply flowed and provided an heightened illusion of the real thing. Overall – the sound coming was very cohesive, spatially open, organic, tactile and with an excellent neutral tonal balance.
Recording after recording, including a wide range of musical genres, as I listened intently and intensively, I remained continually impressed with the overall performance of these wonderful transducers. Not only were they capable of disappearing, they also managed to simply get out of the way allowing the music to very convincingly place the performers right in the room. The sound wasn’t forward or thrust in my face nor was it recessed and laid back. Instead it had lots of presence and immediacy and sounded wonderfully natural in perspective. Listening to jazz vocalist extraordinaire Al Jarreau on his recording titled “Accentuate the Positive,” the level of intimacy of either selection titled The Nearness of You or Lotus was quite intriguing. The degree of finesse was portrayed with intricate inner weaving of vocals along with enchanting background sounds from the band as well as from background singers. The Elegance dB7S’ delivered the sonic goods, particularly in the midrange with those special KCD Omega Composite mid/bass units, and brought forth musical authenticity that allowed me to sit back relax and soak it in.
Switching over to one of my favorite R&B jams, the recording titled “Urban Hang Suite” by the artist known as Maxwell, the Kharmas revealed an abundance of these subtle nuances buried in this recording and in a superbly convincing and musical way. From the throbbing bass lines to the silky smooth vocals with jazzy and sensual lyrics to various enchanting background sounds – the dB7S's rocked and performed well beyond what their size and dimensions would suggest they are capable of doing. Another excellent recording, this time by jazz pianist Mary Louise Knutson on her debut recording titled “Call Me When You Get There,” the selection titled I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face presented her piano in a strikingly clear, open, organic and quite realistic manner. I’ve listened to this recording many times and with the Kharma DB7 Elegance loudspeakers – I quickly appreciated even more the artistry and what this wonderful recording provided. In addition to the wonderful midrange, the acoustic bass on this recording was full, organic, tactile and juicy. Similarly the percussion was very alive, detailed and delivered in a powerful but pristine manner.
I can also assure you that my listening pleasure and enjoyment extended to recordings as varied as the sensational gospel group Fairfield Four, on their recording titled “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” and the selection titled These Bones or the outstanding orchestral recording by Eiji Oue on his wonderful recording titled “Ports of Call.” In terms of transparency and their ability to provide a high degree of inner resolution, I found that the dB7S's were very much like a chameleon. In this regard, they quickly took on the character of whatever the source was. Additionally, any change in either cables or electronics was instantly revealed.
Another interesting aspect of the sonic performance of the dB7S was their speed, control and agility. Clearly the new 7” mid/bass drivers developed by Kharma were doing their job and providing excellent transient response. While listening, once a note was struck, the leading edge and trailing transients became very much a part of the whole sound. One of the benefits of a high resolution speaker system with this type of capability for rendering transient speed accurately definitely enhances the overall listening experience. With the Kharmas – this characteristic seems to fall right into their sweet spot. The initial transient attack and leading edge of notes is very accurately captured along with the decay lingering correctly in space as you expect to hear from a live instrument. During one particular late-night listening session, and with my nephew visiting from out of town, he became totally captivated by how there was so much more information available to recordings that he was already quite familiar with. He commented over and over on the way notes seemed to simply hang in the air and gently fade away. Definitely a new experience for him and his comments were very consistent in terms of describing the speaker’s ability to put forth what was embedded within the recording.
Beyond this – what the dB7S's also do so well is how they provide a very linear, coherent sound. It is seamless and with a very appealing neutral tonal balance. Again, no part of the audio spectrum is prominent. The bass, midrange and highs are in relative proportion to each within the full frequency range. During my time with these speakers – there was no boom or bloat in the bass – just a solid, controlled, dynamic and organic presentation. Additionally, the articulation in the bass is really quite good and provides an opportunity to clearly follow bass lines with relative ease. Through the midrange – these speakers really shine with a clear, open, see-through quality that is rich, organic and very revealing. Good recordings are presented in a very honest, wholesome manner that quickly gives an illusion of the real thing. Lesser quality recordings are quickly revealed for what they are and these are not speakers that will gloss over their poorer quality to make them sound better. The higher frequencies sing sweetly and freely with the appropriate ring and shimmer when called for. There is good air with no exaggeration in this region and no beaming as you might suspect from a Beryllium tweeter. Additionally, both the midrange and high frequencies provide a sense of delicacy, air and openness and is attractive and addictive at the same time.
By now I’m sure you get that my assessment of the dB7S loudspeaker is a very positive one: hopefully you understand why I give them such high marks. What they do is actually considerably more than I expected and to a large degree what I would easily call them overachievers. In terms of this assignment – perhaps Clement Perry knew something that he simply didn’t want to share with me in advance and left it to me to discover on my own. In this regard – I owe him a big thanks for the opportunity and also many thanks to the folks at Kharma International for designing and producing a most wonderful loudspeaker. Bottom line – the Kharma Elegance dB7S is a loudspeaker to be reckoned with.
My enthusiasm (and admiration) for the Kharma Elegance dB7 Signature loudspeaker has grown steadily since they first arrived at my home. This is a loudspeaker that offers so much performance for the size of the package, that I was completely surprised and taken by their sound. For all intents and purposes, the dB7S's have captured my musical fancy as well as the many others who have visited and heard them at my place.
In terms of pricing, the dB7S's are clearly expensive and fall into a category where there is a fair amount of competition including size, overall styling and cosmetics. I would love to see them at a price-point where more audiophiles, and musical lovers, had greater access to them. However, in my opinion, with the very high quality workmanship coupled with their superb sonic performance, these speakers actually represent a solid value. They do so many things right and have so few areas where I believe they need any significant improvement that their price-to-performance ratio is a different issue than often times is the case. Basically I simply, and thoroughly, enjoy listening to music with these speakers and find it hard to imagine them being gone from my place any time in the near or even distant future. Yes I said it – these babies are keepers!
Dimensions with the special feet included:
§ Height – 39.8”
§ Width – 14.09”
§ Depth – 23.07”
§ Weight – 94.6 pounds
· Frequency range: 29 hz – 30 kHz
· Efficiency: 88 db, continuous power handling of 150watts (300 watts peak)
· Maximum SPL: 110 db
· Impedance Rating: 4 ohms
Price: $31,250.00 retail (U.S.)
Name: Kharma International
Designer: Charles Van Oosterum
Address: Kalshoven 7 - 4825 AL Breda, the Netherlands
Tel: +31 7657 150 10
Web Site: www.kharma.com
U.S. MARKET / DEARLERS
See website for specific contact information at: www.kharma.com/world-of-kharma