Kharma Exquisite-Midi speakers? Let’s chat, shall we? Pour yourself a glass of Jenever, Advocaat, or a koffie verkeerd, and grab a handful of Klene Zoete Koopvaarders. We’re diving deep into delectable Dutch treats!
This was the easiest and the hardest review I have ever done. Yes, these speakers cost $85,000. And yes, they are worth it, if you can afford them. See? Easy! But a speaker of this price and quality needs to accomplish two tasks. First it needs to justify its price to a serious buyer, and second it needs to offer performance that allows it to stand above its competition in its price class and/or offer something unique—and at this level there is stiff competition, indeed.
A bit of history. Named from the word “karma,” meaning all the energy and effort you give shall be returned to you, Kharma International was established in 1993, and has long since established itself as a luxury brand in the audio community. With its least-expensive speaker hovering just below $20k and its most expensive one priced around $810k, you would expect hand-built quality, exotic materials, bespoke parts, and exceptional performance—and Khama has never once failed to deliver on all fronts.
Kharma’s owner and lead designer Charles van Oosterum believes in the principles behind extracting what he terms “the Kharma particle,” defined by him as the theoretically smallest audible phenomenon that the human ear can detect. By 1997 he had come upon the classic Kharma polygonal enclosure, designed to optimize phase behavior and minimize group delay. That original Ceramique speaker line matured into the current Elegance series. Charles’ enclosures prioritize an absolute reduction in vibration and internal energy. This concept led to the creation of the Exquisite line, implementing high pressure laminate (HPL) in a multi-layer construction, CNC’d and adhered in vertical plates to dampen mechanical vibration to almost zero. By absorbing and damping all internal and external vibrations, Charles gets closer to the purity of the recording and gets ever closer to his “Kharma particle.” In 2000 JV penned a review of the Exquisite Reference 1B, which was featured as the cover story of Issue 125. Shortly after, Charles began using diamond tweeters in his Exquisite line, and launched his cable series in 2003. By 2005 he had begun production of an electronics line to match the quality of his speakers and cables. Over the next 10 years Charles and his team continued to revise and add to the Exquisite line, and in 2015 they released the culmination of 22 years of pushing the envelope, the Enigma Veyron series (Enigma Veyron 2D, review forthcoming by JV). The Veyrons utilize Kharma’s newest Omega-F drivers and thick, five-axis-CNC’d, bullet-wood panels.
When discussing the model lines with Charles, he told me that each series expresses similar performance capabilities, with each step increasing bass output, room energy, and scale. Moving up the brand line also gives you increased articulation and resolution, or the capacity to correctly reproduce the smallest detail (back to the “Kharma particle”).
The Elegance series is the absolute best he can do, on a budget. They are beautifully finished, beautifully built, and of very high quality, but as Charles said, “There is [still] room for improvement.”
The Exquisite series was Kharma’s top of the line until 2015—the best possible product during its reign and limited only by what was technologically available. The Enigma Veyron remained only a possibility in Charles van Oosterum’s mind until materials and manufacturing allowed it to finally be realized.
With regard to resolution and fine detail, Charles explained that the smallest Exquisite will outperform every Elegance model, and the Enigma Veyron 5D will outperform every Exquisite. Budget, taste, and the ability of the speaker to properly energize the room determines which model in which line to select. Some may prefer the delicacy of the smallest Enigma over the big image and power handling of the largest Exquisite.
The current Exquisite line includes the miraculously petite Exquisite-Midi reviewed here (officially called the XQ-MD-2.1-S), the Classique, and the Midi Grand. Initially using Accuton ceramic midrange drivers in his Exquisites, Charles eventually designed his own Omega-7 midrange driver. Currently, a 1″ concave diamond tweeter and 7″ Omega-7 midrange are the heart of the Exquisites. Nomex/Kevlar woofers, varying in size and configuration, are also used in all models. The Exquisite-Midi has two 8″ Nomex woofers; the Classique uses one 12″ Nomex woofer; and the Midi Grand has two diamond tweeters, two Omega-7’s, and two 11″ Nomex drivers in an elegant vertical D’Appolito design.
The Omega-7 midrange is a 7″ driver with an underhung magnetometer system, utilizing a short voice coil within a long, high-magnetic field. The cone is a Kharma-developed carbon material that is insanely light and stiff. As Charles explained to me, “the real specialty of these cones is that they have optimized shapes (think rings like ripples in a pond) that push material resonances to higher frequencies. They also attain ultra-rare super-high 960GPa (gigapascal) stiffness, identifiable by the necessity to divide the cone area into parts because the individual carbon-filaments are so stiff they would otherwise break. This pushes first breakup patterns to even higher frequencies.”
Think in simple terms: Phase inconsistencies and distortions due to a non-rigid driver, along with ringing/resonance within the frequency range that the driver is assigned to, result in poor performance. This is why the “ideal” driver is stiff and light and resonates outside of the assigned frequency range it is asked to reproduce. It’s also why so many people don’t like the sound of improperly implemented ceramic, beryllium, and diamond drivers. In other words, no energy should get lost in resonances of the cone within its bandwidth. Charles goes on to explain the transition from ceramic to bespoke carbon drivers. “Because of our long heritage with mastering the ceramic cones, I wanted the next cone to really outperform the ceramic ones in many ways. The ceramic cones always needed electrical corrections with notch-filters to dip out their first break-up modes. We don’t need such notches with the Omega-7 driver.”
The Classique uses a single 12″ woofer along with the tweeter and midrange. This design is essentially a two-way with an internal subwoofer. The Classique’s Omega-7 has no low-pass crossover and its low-frequency output is controlled; by tailoring the volume of the 7″ driver’s compartment, the Q, resonance frequency, and roll-off are fine-tuned. The Midi Grand essentially turns that entire idea upside down and doubles down to increase output, sensitivity, and resolution. The Exquisite-Midi’s lower woofer crosses over at 100Hz and the upper woofer crosses over at 300Hz.
The Exquisite-Midi is staggeringly compact for its level of performance. At 40″ tall, 12″ wide, and 20″ deep (not including stands), its 180-pound weight hints at the quality, density of materials, and complexity of its construction. The combination of high-gloss black and high-gloss wood finishes with gentle curves screams fine craftsmanship and luxury. As with a Ferrari or McLaren, every line is purposeful and graceful. Every curve and seam is masterfully executed and finished. Tap on the top and all you get are sore knuckles and all you hear is a dull thud. The cabinet is designed, inside and out, to get out of the way of the music and to optimize phase behavior and minimize time delay. I will stay away from the great debate over which speakers are truly time and phase coherent, and which say they are and aren’t. Nor will I address whether time or phase coherence is more important. What I can say is that this speaker is among the most phase and time coherent transducers I have ever heard—at least to the extent I credit myself for being sensitive to such things. Speaking of coherence, the proximity of the four drivers lends itself to amazing driver integration, which is easily affirmed by listening. The crisscrossing support structure on the speaker’s base employs 1″ threaded spikes and 3″ floor plates. The 1″ threads allow for easy adjustment of the Exquisite-Midis’ 180-pound mass, and the 3″ floor plates permit relatively easy movement for setup. Around back are two pair of Cardas clamp-style speaker posts. Banana-terminated cables need not apply—they won’t work, period. Embrace the spade.
There is a small switch below the binding posts that allows internal switching from single-wire to bi-wire connection. This is a neat feature, although I’m not sure exactly how the swap is accomplished. There is also a large rear port with significant flair (geometric, not personality). I found that the flair helps to make setup much more forgiving, and the speakers did not take a massive amount of time to find their favorite spot. Bass integration into my room was a breeze, not a battle. I found myself frequently caressing the top of the speaker, and staring at them. These speakers simply could not be better designed, better fabricated, or better finished for their size and footprint. The only other diminutive speaker I can think of that has a similar level of fit and finish in this price range is the Marten Coltrane Tenor.
A sip…. A bite…. A feast…A connection…
How to describe a speaker that has practically no sound of its own? Did I mention a hard review? I’ll stick to my reviewer A, B, C’s. The Kharma Exquisite-Midi offers high-frequency reproduction on a red velvet pillow with gold rope accents. Don’t misinterpret that to mean it is soft and mushy. The diamond tweeter doesn’t sound like a diamond tweeter. In fact, it sounds like nothing. It is neither shrill nor bright. It does not ring. It does not…anything. What it does is convey everything it is assigned to reproduce with a sense of grace, refinement, and detail that simply reflects what was recorded—and nothing else. The presence of voice and instrument is not as much a reproduction of reality as reality re-experienced. The air between and around instruments is conveyed in the way it is in a live venue. Edges of attack and decay are dictated by the instrument itself, not by the recording. Midrange reproduction has the speed and resolution typically found with ribbons and stats, yet maintains the proper dynamic intensity of cones. The speed of the midrange driver allows the mid and tweeter to keep pace and rhythm seamlessly. I identified the faintest hint of romanticism in the midrange, giving it a sense of body and soul; yet, it was neither warm nor dark in color, as I have heard some describe Kharma’s midrange. The texture of instruments is palpable, as if you can feel it with your fingers if you gently caress the air. Timbre is honest and true to the recording, and has depth of structure. There is an uncanny ability to resolve the smallest detail, while never overemphasizing any particular region. The two 8″ woofers equal the speed of the midrange and tweeter, and allow the speaker, as a whole, to become a single cohesive device of propagation. The depth of pitch to which the woofers extend effortlessly is impressive, while still sounding clean, tactile, and harmonically palpable. In fact, if the Midis are placed too close to the front wall, bass could become overwhelming, which is frankly an accomplishment for such a petite speaker. I was mesmerized by its reproduction of tympani and the complex textures the Midi conveyed on the deepest notes of the double bass. Again, it was as if I could gently reach out and touch the reverberations in space.
If I could use one word to describe the Midi, it’s resolving, yet without becoming analytical or anywhere close to sterile. If I were to throw a criticism out, it would be one that Charles defined while explaining his model lines. The Midi, although offering prodigious bass output with no loss in fullness or depth of extension for a speaker of its size, does lack true impact and slam—an overwhelming sense of visceral connection, if you will. I admit as I write this, that I find that sense of physical involvement a rarity in smaller speakers. I can assume that moving up the Exquisite line would offer that sense of palpability. Alternatively, what the Midi does do so well is scale and dynamic contrast, from the quietest violin notes to the most dramatic fortissimo. The subtlety and refinement is there; the music is there; the tonal structure is there; timbre and texture are there. Nothing is overdone, underdone, exaggerated, lacking, incorrect, or distorted. The Exquisite-Midis do what I would expect an $85,000 speaker to do, in a very flexible and aesthetically pleasing form factor that asks little of the room.
Speaking of form factors, I am obliged to report that a 40″-tall speaker, even if meticulously set up and canted, does limit stage height. Imaging extends far beyond the speakers left and right, in one of the deepest and most natural stages I have ever heard. Image density and localization are natural. But performers always felt just a touch low in height. Eventually, I placed the speakers on some Symposium shelves I have, which not only raised stage height just right, but also tightened bass response even more (and these speakers had clean, taut bass to begin with). If the design of the speaker raised the drivers 3–6″ higher (depending on your listening seat’s height), the believability and involvement of the Midi’s overall presentation would increase from incredible to gobsmacking! If I owned these speakers, I would find a way to give them a little boost, keeping in mind that my room is a snug 15′ x 18′ and that I typically sit around 8–9 feet from the speakers. I think a bit more distance from the speakers might allow the Exquisite-Midis to raise stage height without the need for high heels.
There is a moment at the beginning of Danse Macabre, just as the first notes are playing, where the hall is more palpable than the performers. There is the bustle of seating, and a gentle cough or two. With the Midi’s I found myself more annoyed by the rude audience than usual. The sense of being there and being a part of it all was simply wonderful. Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good,” a song that has great personal meaning, brought me to tears. The texture of his voice and the power in the song swept me back to a moment I treasure. And “Grandma’s Feather Bed” by John Denver made me reminisce about being a 12-year-old boy and suffering through a John Denver concert because my Dad just loved listening to him play the guitar (my Dad’s been gone for over 20 years now). I mention all of this to convey to you, without using the audiophile’s dictionary, how the Exquisite-Midi became about emotion to me. I found myself seeking out special songs; songs that meant something to me personally. I found myself reconnecting to moments in my life defined by music, moments that I wanted to relive. And the Midi’s did that for me. I realized what Charles’ “Kharma particle” was, what it means. It means connection. Connection to the music. Connection to my memories and my past. Connection to moments so dear to me that they overwhelmed me once my system gave me access. It wasn’t a they-are-here or I-am-there moment; it was more about my heart and my soul being fulfilled. I know how corny that sounds, but isn’t that what this crazy hobby is really about?
I have a hard time processing that a product of this quality of craftsmanship and performance has six models above it. Yes, it’s name is apt, as these Midi’s are truly Exquisite.
You, the reader, will fit into one of three major categories as you read this article. Category One are those of you who cannot afford these speakers, but are fascinated by reference products and just love reading and learning about stereo equipment. Category Two are those who can’t afford them new, but are reading this review several years into the future and considering a secondhand purchase. Category Three are those who can afford them now and are utilizing this review to narrow their search to a special few speakers to audition and/or purchase. Of course, there is the “other” category of readers who will skim this article and shake their head at a speaker that cost more than most cars.
To those in the first group, enjoy the read and the photos. If you have a chance to hear them at a show, I strongly suggest you do not miss the opportunity. To the second group, I can only say that these speakers will, now and forever (even when replaced by a newer model), represent among the best performance for their size ever designed and fabricated. And to the wealthy audiophile who is reading this now, I can say comfortably that if you bought these and never even tried listening to anything else, you would be elated and never feel the need to replace them. The only two caveats would be if your room required a larger speaker to properly energize it, and if your curiosity got the better of you and you just had to hear Kharma’s higher-model lineup, the Veyrons. To the “others,” you need to realize that these cost-no-object products allow the manufacturers to stretch their legs and come up with state-of-the-art designs and technologies that eventually find their way into more affordable products—for you. But, to be honest, there are way more buyers out there for this ultra-expensive gear than anyone thinks or believes—the same buyers who are purchasing a Porsche GT3 RS, Ferrari F8 Tributo, McLaren 720S, or $180k tourbillon watch.
Which brings us back to our original requirements. As a reference-level product, the Kharma Exquisite-Midi is a pure luxury item. Considering the quality of its parts, design, fabrication, and materials—and of course its spectacular performance—it certainly justifies its price to a potential buyer. Does it offer performance that is at or above its competition in its price class, or offer something unique? Yes. For so many of the reasons above, yes! The Exquisite-Midi is a world-class speaker whose size offers flexibility others can’t come close to (acknowledging the few caveats I mentioned above). Combine that with its breathtaking performance, and it’s an absolute highest recommendation from this reviewer. I am already tearing up at the thought of packing it up and saying goodbye.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Four-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Recommended amplifier power: 250Wpc–500Wpc
Frequency range: 23Hz–90kHz
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Maximum SPL: 113dB
Drivers: 1″ diamond concave tweeter; 7″ Kharma Omega-7 midrange, 8″ Nomex/Kevlar woofers (x2)
Dimensions: 15.35″ x 39.88″ x 25.47″
Weight: 180 lbs. each
4825 Al Breda
+31(0)76 571 50 10
Analog source: Lyra Atlas SL cartridge, VPI HW40 turntable and arm, Manley Steelhead phonostage
Digital source: Laufer Teknik Memory Player MP64, Light Harmonic DaVinci 3, Naim Uniti Star
Preamplification: Pilium Alexander preamplifier, Lamm Industries L2 Reference preamplifier
Amplification: Pilium Achilles stereo amp, Lamm Industries ML2 SET monoblocks, Manley Neo-Classic 500 monoblocks
Integrated amplification: Dartzeel CTH-8550 model two, Octave V80SE with Super Black Box Integrated, Musical Fidelity TriVista, Naim Uniti Star
AC Power: Dedicated Square D 125 amp panel w/10 gauge runs to each outlet, Furutech GTX-D-NCF rhodium outlets, dedicated circuits for each outlet, Environmental Protection EP-2750 ground filter on each circuit, EP-2050 surge protection/waveform correction
Power conditioning: Shunyata D6000, Richard Gray 400S, Torus RM20BAL
Support: Adona SR4 & Nemisis ALGC racks, Symposium Ultra shelves, Symposium Rollerblocks 2+ doublestacks, HRS Nimbus, Shun Mook Giant Diamond Resonator, IsoAcoustics Gaia 1 & 2, IsoAcoustics Orea Bourdeaux
Interconnects: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream 1.0m XLR, Analysis Plus 1.0m Micro Golden Oval XLR, Shunyata Anaconda S 8.5m XLR, Cable Crystal Connect Reference Diamond 1.5m RCA phono w/ground cable, AudioQuest Wind 7m RCA, Wind XLR 1m
Digital cables: Light Harmonic Lightspeed 20G USB, AudioQuest Diamond 0.75m RJ/E Ethernet, Diamond USB A-B 5m, Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB, Empirical Audio 1.0m SPDIF
Speaker: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream 2.0m (spade to banana), AudioQuest William Tell Ag 8′ (banana to banana), Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval 2.0m (spade to spade)
Power: Shunyata Z-Tron NR 15 amp, Shunyata Z-Tron NR 20 amp, EnKlein David 15 amp, Clarus Power Hi-Current 15-amp
LP cleaning: VPI