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Kharma Elegance dB11-S Loudspeaker

Kharma Elegance dB11-S Loudspeaker

Evaluating loudspeakers at trade shows is difficult. Not only are the hotel rooms sonically challenging, but the associated system elements are often unfamiliar. However, some setups are able to overcome these obstacles and            really shine. Such was the case at the 2014 CES. Along with my colleague, Jonathan Valin, I was really impressed by a system featuring Kharma’s electronics, cables, and new Elegance dB11-S loudspeakers, and gave it my “best-of-show” accolade. I was particularly taken by its superlative performance on demanding piano recordings. I wondered how the Elegances would compare with the sound I heard at CES across a wider variety of music. Fortunately, these beautiful speakers, finished in a sumptuous chocolate-brown, have been ensconced in my listening room for several months. And I can tell you that they fare very, very well.

Kharma’s innovative Elegance dB11-S loudspeaker is not only easy on the eyes—and a 2014 winner of the CES Innovations Award for outstanding design and engineering—it’s also a delight to the ears. The largest model in the company’s Elegance line, it features a highly advanced magnet system to reduce driver distortion. The dB11-S utilizes a beryllium tweeter designed by Kharma in association with Danish driver manufacturer Scan-Speak. What I first noticed about this beryllium marvel was that, unlike many tweets made of that material, it did not sound bright. While it could sound slightly dry on occasion, it did not produce any nasal overtones, stridency, or ringing. Indeed, when the dB11-S was driven by Constellation Audio electronics, the highs were extended and incredibly pure. This helped the dB11-S achieve a level of harmonic truthfulness that was first-rate. The rich timbre of woodwinds, massed strings, voices, guitars, and percussion approached what one would hear at a live performance in a great concert hall; indeed, lifelike timbre was one of the major strengths of this formidable speaker.

Kharma’s remarkable Omega 7 driver is the heart (and soul) of the speaker. It is the brainchild of Charles van Oosterum, designer and Kharma CEO who has long been known for his pioneering work with ceramic drivers (he was the first to employ them in reference-quality loudspeakers). With the Omega 7, Charles said he was looking for higher reliability than ceramic cones provide, so he initiated a long-term development project to create a better cone, starting from a proverbial blank slate. He wanted a driver of optimized shape with great stiffness, transient quickness, and no audible resonances. Instead of utilizing a carbon-fiber sandwich for the diaphragm, Charles eventually decided upon a midrange cone made of strands of the highest-quality, strongest carbon fiber available. According to van Oosterum, this approach was “much more costly but led to less smearing.” The shape of the Omega 7 was optimized using finite element analysis, resulting in a driver with “near-perfect behavior.”

What distinguishes the Kharma S Series is the quality of the ultra-high-grade carbon fiber—a rare material only found in some of the more exotic Formula One race cars that is reportedly stronger, less resonant, and lighter in weight than any comparable fiber on the market. It is “the closest you can get to a pure diamond [driver],” according to Charles. The S Series also uses ultra-pure silver wiring throughout, and my local Kharma dealer, Michael Woods of Elite Audio Systems, told me that Charles evaluated more than 200 different samples of silver cable before selecting the one he liked best for the dB11-S. (Kharma also offers its own pure silver cables and interconnects, using the same silver conductors.)

This extremely natural midrange driver, fully engineered by Kharma, may be the best I’ve heard in any loudspeaker. It combines terrific quickness and fine detail retrieval, along with a richness that the marque’s previous ceramic midranges lacked. The harmonics are more natural, with higher resolution and better-defined layering. What is surprising is the midrange driver’s impact on bass performance; it seemingly helps the bottom octaves to sound cleaner and less colored.

The dB11-S’s remarkable tweeter/midrange combination will really appeal to lovers of female vocals. For example, Kiri Te Kanawa’s soprano was breathtaking in its sonic purity and naturalness in “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” (“You now have sorrow”) from Brahms’ A German Requiem with Solti and the Chicago Symphony [London]. Massed strings and voices were also so beautifully portrayed I found myself transfixed by the music, similar to the way I feel at a great live performance.

The Elegance dB11-S uses two ten-inch aluminum woofers made especially for Kharma by Scan-Speak that produce thunderous, extended, and articulate bass. During one of my first listening sessions, I actually got up from my seat to check to make sure that my REL G-1 subwoofer was turned off—a real-world testament to the dB11-S’s stunning bottom-octave performance and clout. Here’s one reference-quality speaker that delivers full-range sonics entirely on its own, without the need for a subwoofer (or two). Moreover, it avoids the coherency problems that plague many systems using subs or separate bass towers; the transition between the Kharma’s four drivers is virtually seamless.

The deep bass of the dB11-S extends into the low-20Hz range, which not only gives music a solid foundation, but also aids in the reproduction of spatial cues. I have never heard the Rutter Requiem [Reference Recordings], for instance, sound more realistic on any reference system. Voices and instruments were rich and natural, and floated within space in layers like those you would hear on a concert stage. The deep pedal tones of the organ were also beautifully rendered. The overall gestalt was mesmerizing!

Listening to Ravel’s orchestration of “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition [Mobile Fidelity/EMI] was equally thrilling. On dynamic peaks, there was seemingly no compression. The Kharma’s ability to negotiate huge dynamic swings was amazing. On Reference Recordings’ excellent new SACD of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, I sprang from my seat to turn the volume down—not because the Kharma couldn’t handle the fortissimo, but because I thought the neighbors might complain.

The dB11-S has a relatively modest footprint for a system that produces such a big, dramatic sound with such powerful, articulate, and extended bass. Its polygonal cabinet shape is similar to some of Kharma’s previous Ceramic Series designs. With its softly rounded curves and internal damping, this beautifully sculpted enclosure is highly effective in minimizing resonances. The front and rear baffles are made of highly compressed layers of bulletwood, a very stiff material. (Clearaudio uses “Panzerholz” very effectively in several of its turntables, including the Innovation Wood that I reviewed quite favorably a few years ago. This material is so dense that it is employed in the floors of some tanks to stop projectiles. It has natural damping which not only aids bass definition, but also helps make the box disappear.)


Kharma’s integral Spike Disk Suspension System (SDSS), described in Neil Gader’s review of the Elegance S7-S (Issue 254), not only couples the speaker rigidly to the floor, but also provides space under the speaker to enhance bass performance.

The attention to small details in the dB11-S is phenomenal. For example, the floor disks into which the SDSS spikes fit have optional inserts made of diamonds. The speaker cable clamping system is also highly effective and easy to use—and it provides a very secure connection for spade lugs in either single or bi-wired configurations.

Soundstaging is also among the formidable strengths of the dB11-S. On Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba/The Pines of Rome [Reference Recordings], the orchestra was layered on a broad, deep stage; imaging was precise and extremely stable; and the sound of massed strings was “to die for.” There was not a hint of stridency. Indeed, the timbre of all instruments, from woodwinds to strings to percussion, was spot-on, with a wonderful sense of air.

The luscious harmonic richness of the Elegance dB11-S does not come at the expense of fine detail retrieval or transparency, nor does it blunt or soften the leading edges of transients. For example, massed strings in Debussy’s Iberia [RCA/Classic Records] still had plenty of bite, as they do in a live performance, but there was no added shrillness. While Mercury recordings might not have sounded particularly lush, one could better appreciate the mastery of the Robert and Wilma Cozart Fine recording team without being driven out the room.

This Kharma’s outstanding attributes really come together on demanding recordings of solo piano. When I listened to Hyperion Knight performing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata (Op. 53) and Stravinsky’s Petrouchka on a nine-foot concert grand piano [Wilson Audio], there was no compression on very loud dynamic peaks and hard transients, the bass had realistic weight and extension, and the leading edges of transients were reproduced with outstanding clarity and without any smearing. One could literally hear the hammers striking the strings! The sound came closer to my own concert grand piano than any other speaker system I have had in my house, even outdistancing my previous reference for solo piano, the wonderful Raidho Eben X-3.

The Sheffield Track Record demonstrated the Kharma’s superlative deep bass, explosive dynamics, and lightning-fast transient speed, capturing the full impact of rock instruments. This baby can start and stop on a dime without any acoustic overhang, as evidenced on The Sheffield Drum Record. I typically don’t have the patience to sit through extended drum solos, but I was so engaged by the performance through the dB11-S, I could have listened far longer.

Because the Kharma dB11-S is such an outstanding speaker, I really had to scratch my head to find any minor faults. While the bass is powerful and extended—typically most welcome on powerful orchestral music, piano recordings, and rock—it can occasionally seem slightly overblown on smaller-scale jazz recordings, such as on the standup bass in Freddie Hubbard’s The Body and Soul [Impulse]. It may be that I’m just not used to hearing this much high-quality bass on familiar recordings, but the effect can be ameliorated somewhat by careful loudspeaker positioning and by using a high-quality amplifier, such as the Constellation Centaur or Kharma’s own electronics, to control the woofers. The midrange and tweeter drivers are so incredibly fast that the aluminum bass drivers can occasionally seem to lag ever so slightly behind them, producing a smidge of thickness in the midbass. On the other hand, this helps gives the speaker an appealing romantic warmth, which I prefer to a more analytical, sterile presentation.

Obviously, I was really taken by the superlative performance of the luxurious Kharma dB11-S. To think that the company makes an even higher-performance loudspeaker line boggles the mind! Perhaps the Exquisite Series will use Kharma’s breakthrough stranded carbon-fiber driver technology on its bass drivers, too? In his CES report, JV suggested that the dB11-S was one of the great speaker bargains in the ultra-high end, and I absolutely concur. It certainly offers a compelling and musically satisfying alternative to many upper-tier designs and is highly recommended.


Type: Three-way, bass-reflex floorstanding loudspeaker
Drivers: One 1″ beryllium tweeter, one 7″ Kharma Omega 7 midrange, two 10″ aluminum woofers
Frequency response: 21Hz–30kHz
Sensitivity: 89dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Maximum SPL: 115dB
Dimensions: 18.5″ x 50.7″ x 31.3″
Weight: 176 lbs. each
Price: $54,000

Kalshoven 7
4825 Al Breda
The Netherlands
+31 (0) 76 571 50 10

Merrill-Williams 101 turntable with Tri-Planar U-II and Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge; Modwright-Oppo BDP-105 digital player; Constellation Audio Virgo, MFA Venusian (Frankland modified) and PrimaLuna Dialogue Three preamplifiers; Constellation Audio Centaur amplifier, and PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP monoblock amplifiers; Magnepan 3.7i and Quad ESL-57 (PK modified) loudspeakers; Silver Circle Audio TCHAIK6 power conditioner; Shunyata Research Alpha Digital power cable, Nordost Valhalla interconnects and power cords, AudioQuest Niagara interconnects and Metro speaker cables, etc.

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