I just got back from a ten-day overseas jaunt that took me, first, to beautiful, richly historic Istanbul, Turkey, then to Amsterdan in The Netherlands, and finally to Breda in The Netherlands. (Those of you interested in seeing a few of the spectacular sites from these gorgeous cities, feel free to click on any of the following links, which more or less follow the course of my trip:
I went to Istanbul to hear a rara avis, Kharma's $300k top-of-the-line loudspeaker, the Grand Exquisite. This giant, 1100-pound (per side), D'Appolito point source loudspeaker incorporates everything that Kharma's chief engineer (and chief executive), Charles van Oosterum, knows about making speakers. Charles, lest we forget, was really the first loudspeaker designer to make use of ceramic drivers and diamond tweeters. Though many others have now followed in his footsteps, it is my opinion that he remains the best at wringing the most out of these esoteric drivers. His speakers are seamless transducers, extraordinarily high in resolution and extraordinarily low in box/driver/crossover coloration, and none that I've heard (and I've heard a few Kharmas over the years) is as high and low in either as the Grand Exquisite.
We went first to Istanbul to hear the Grand Exquisite because there are three different pairs of them set up in state-of-the-art systems in Istanbul. The first belongs to Adnan Salihoglu, the warm-hearted man who distributes Kharma (and Audio Note, Japan) in Turkey. You can see a picture of Adnan's setup above:
The other two Grand Exquisite systems in Istanbul (pictured below) belong to two of Adnan's friends and clients:
All three sounded genuinely superb, with perhaps the best stage depth and imaging I've yet heard from a large cone loudspeaker and some of the most lifelike timbre and dynamics I've heard period. The Grand Exquisites give up nothing to their dynamic competition in resolution, frequency extension, soundstaging, dynamics, and naturalness of timbre. They are undoubtedly world-class transducers--the best that Kharma has to offer.
At Kharma's offices in Breda, I got to hear the Grand Exquisites for a fourth time, sounding just as extraordinary as they did in Istanbul:
It is rare (but highly preferable) to be able to audition the same loudspeaker in four different venues. The experience gives you a much surer sense of how the speaker will perform in different rooms. In this case, I can honestly say, that the room was never much of a factor. The Grand Exquisites strutted their extraordinary stuff with equal impressiveness in all four venues, which speaks to the fundamental neutrality of this transducer's drivers and the inertness of its cabinet.
Speaking of Kharma's cabinets, I got to see several of them being made at a high-end furniture factory outside of Breda. Van Oosterum uses unusually dense high-tech materials (formed from compressed paper and laminates to give it just the right stiffness and flexibility) for the cabinet walls of his Exquisite Series speakers. In the near future I'll post some pictures of Kharma speakers under construction.
For the nonce, rest assured that the Grand Exquisite has joined my little pantheon of truly world-class loudspeakers, alongside the likes of MBL 101 X-Tremes, Symposium Acoustics Panoramas, Magico Mini IIs, Martin Logan CLXes, and Rockport Hyperions. That's how good I think they are.
In spite of their size and weight, it is my hope to review a pair in the not-too-distant future and report on them in depth with analog sources in addition to digital ones and my own preferred electronics. Those of you with the inclination and the money (and these days that is a very small few) would be well advised to audition the Kharma Grand Exquisites before making a final decision on your transducer in a state-of-the-art system. It may not be the only truly great loudspeaker in the world, but it is undoubtedly one of the foremost.