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Munich in New Jersey

I’ve always wanted to go to the Munich High-End show. But with the world on lockdown and the Munich show outright cancelled, I accepted an invitation from Bill Parish of GTT Audio to attend his version of Munich at his home/showroom in NJ. What was on display was a special world premiere of the Mola Mola Kula Integrated Amplifier ($13,800) with built in DAC and Roon endpoint ($8200) and built-in phonostage ($3000)—that’s $25k all in. Bill chose to match the Kula with the well-reviewed and all-around exceptional YG Acoustic Hailey speakers ($46,800) with Kubala Sosna Elation! cables completing the system (one power cord at $2000 for the first meter and $500 for each additional meter, and one set of speaker cables at $1500 for the first meter and $700 for each additional meter).

 

Before I get into specifics I had two impressions as I sat down: First, with any integrated, especially one as physically diminutive as the Kula, this would make an exceptional second system or office system; and second, wow, $47k Haileys on a $13,800 base price integrated—had Bill lost his mind?

 

About the size of the average CD player, wearing a chassis that matches the rest of the Mola Mola family’s curvaceous lines and style, the Kula is simple, elegant, and refined. If you’re looking for bling, pizazz, or wow factor, you’ll have to turn it on and connect speakers, because the Kula is dressed in formal wear, not gold chains and furs. Two upgrade cards are available; a complete Tambaqui DAC and Ethernet renderer with Roon endpoint and a fully adjustable phonostage that can service both your mm and mc needs with a wide array of gain settings and EQ curves. An nCore Class D 200Wpc into 8 ohms stereo amplifier rounds out the package with a more than sufficient selection of user programmable single-ended and balanced inputs.

 

Ewald Verkerk, sales and brand manager of Mola Mola, was present during my three-hour visit. He sat there like a kindergarten student on parents’ night waiting for his mother to see his dry pasta art for the first time. Ewald was beaming with pride and exploding with excitement to share his newest creation. Bill wore his usual poker face, with just a tiny smirk, as if he was holding a royal flush and waiting for his opponent to say he was bluffing.

 

Bill handed me the Roon iPad controller and sat back, waiting for me to inflict upon him, Ewald, and his system whatever struck my fancy. They had decided to keep the demo digital-only to show how simple a system this could be—internal renderer and Roon endpoint, DAC, integrated, and speakers. I’d have called it an all-in-one instead of an integrated amp, but I thought Ewald would punch me in the nose.

 

I adjusted the volume from the iPad app and heard a quiet series of audible clicks as the volume ascended to my selected target. A small light in the dial indicated just where the volume is heading, and when it got to its destination there was a subtle and exquisite dimming. This technology added nothing to the sonics, but bespoke a sense of style and luxury that more expensive components should take note of.

 

 

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.

 

Specs

Linestage Section
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
Bandwidth: >50kHz

 

Optional DAC
SNR: 130dB
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

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