Natalie Merchant was first up. “Peppery Man” is a great track for judging stage depth and width as well as the system’s ability to reproduce the sultry sounds of with tuba and guitar. So far so good. Check, check, and I forgot I was reviewing…. Oh yeah, check.
We moved on to Witches Brew with Dance Macabre, Op 40, followed by “Gnomus” from Pictures at an Exhibition—both classical pieces that excel in dynamic scale and gravitas. The room exploded with spectacle. The black background—a specialty of well-done Class D—added to the subtlety and refinement. (It takes superior reproduction to capture the low rumble of the London Underground passing beneath Kingsway Hall during the recording.) Low frequencies blossomed but never overwhelmed.
We twisted and turned through my usual selections, as I came closer and closer to a conclusion. At one point, we invited Frank over for an At the Sands experience. Bill was a generous host and Dean and Sammy sat back with us while Ol’ Blue Eyes and Count Basie wove their magic. This system loved brass, and Basie’s band delivered. Frank’s sultry voice lifted into the air and filled the space between the speakers. Again, I forgot I was reviewing as I was swept into the moment. Everything was wonderfully conveyed with nothing for me to find fault in.
I passed the control back to Bill as we concluded, curious to see what he could chose to show off the system. Arne Domnerus’ Antiphone Blues was his first selection. The stage opened wide and a curious combination of saxophone and organ filled the room. I could immediately see why he chose this piece: The front-to-back depth was miraculous, and the saxophone was reproduced with a natural sense of ease, power, and bite that’s hard to get right. The organ ground with complex layers of harmonics and texture, conveying not only the scale of the recorded venue but the delicacy and technique that flowed from the performer’s fingers.
Then we switched gears to de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat. Flute and piccolo danced on their bright edges, never pushing over into painful glare. There was a proper sense of leading and trailing edges on all instruments, along with a dynamic range that wove a tapestry of music that conveyed reality. The Kula conveys reality.
So, what was that conclusion I mentioned at the start? Well, I was wrong. Although the Kula is certainly more than capable of taking on the role of second or office system; it can just as easily slide over into the big seat and run the main event. I wanted for nothing while listening and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. And Bill has not, in fact, lost his mind. What he proved to me was that the Kula can, comfortably and without strain, run with a pair of almost $50k speakers. In fact, I would imagine the Kula would scale even higher if challenged with more expensive speakers. In my view, with all the money saved on external components, power cords, and interconnects, the Kula could “justify” buying the Haileys. But that is up to you to decide.
If I were to reach to find a criticism, it would be that there was a bit of extra bloom to the central midrange. It was a subtle effect, and I could not determine if it was coming from the Kula, the cables, or the speakers. It wasn’t obtrusive; I would call it a subtle flavor as opposed to a failing. But there you go. It’s not perfect…
Can the Kula offer the level of performance that the Audionet Humboldt in the room next door offers? Of course not. Should it? Of course not. The Humboldt is a statement component. But the true question is, does the Kula have anything to apologize for? And the answer is a resounding no. And does it give you more performance than it should at the price it’s being offered at? On the basis of my brief audition, I would say it’s a huge value for the money, and certainly worth auditioning.
Inputs: 3 RCA and 3 XLR
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Distortion at maximum signal level (THD, IMD): not measurable, estimated around -150dB Bandwidth >200kHz
Gain range: -70dB to +15dB
Gain resolution: <1dB, better than 0.2dB over normal listening range
nCore Amplifier Section
200Wpc @ 8ohm, 350Wpc @ 4ohm, 600Wpc @ 2ohm
Unweighted SNR: 128dB
Distortion (THD, IMD): <0.003 % (all frequencies and power levels)
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Output Impedance: <0.003 ohm
Damping factor: >4000
THD, IMD: not measurable (estimated -140dB)
Bandwidth: Up to 80kHz (apodizing response)
DAC inputs/outputs: AES/EBU (XLR), optical (TosLink), USB Type B, Bluetooth (SBC, AAC, APTX, LDAC) Ethernet (Roon only)
Supported formats: PCM up to 384kHz /32 bits (>192kHz and >24 bits via USB only) DoP and Native DSD up to quad speed (USB only)
Optional Phono Section
Input noise (mc): 0.35nV/rtHz
Input noise (mm): 0.9pA/rtHz
Sensitivity: variable from 30uV to 5mV
THD, IMD: not measurable
RIAA conformance: +/-0.1dB
EQ: 72 equalization curves switched in the analog domain