Powerfull, precise and just simply magnificent!
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing KARAN products over several years now; however, until this review, it’s been limited to only audio shows and distributor showrooms. Most recently, October 2022, I heard the new KARAN Acoustics Master Collection – specifically, the LINEa Preamplifier with external power supply paired with POWERa MONO amplifiers, driving Vimberg Tonda D loudspeakers. This was in a room hosted by Wynn Audio, the North American distributor of KARAN, that was demonstrating this set-up at the Toronto Audio Fest. I was so smitten by the gorgeous sound I heard that I praised this room as Best at Show.
This most recent listening experience had me reach out to Wynn Audio with the hope to quench my thirst for getting a more intimate KARAN encounter. Fortunately, Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio, agreed to provide the all-new KARAN Master Collection POWERb amplifier for this review, just released in the 1st half of 2022, this is its 1st North American review! As well, just so that I could get a taste of the full KARAN experience, Wynn also provided the matching an also rather new LINEb preamplifier.
The KARAN Master Collection POWERb and the POWERa amplifiers incorporate new performance and design elements that make them the very best amplifiers that KARAN has ever produced. The POWERb uses superlative passive and active components, including custom ones, and improves on its former models in every way. Ensuring optimal handling of the audio signal, KARAN uses circuit boards with a copper thickness of 75 to 100 µm on all layers. These electronic boards are decoupled and isolated fully from the unit chassis.
State-of-the-art Sanken RET (Ring Emitter Transistor) bi-polar output devices are employed with zero overall feedback and all stages of amplification are pure dual-mono, fully differential balanced, with high transient speed, and DC coupled in class-A operational mode, with no capacitors in the audio signal path. The new POWERa and POWERb now use much larger, yet ultra-quiet toroidal transformers combined to a larger bank of capacitance, delivering significantly greater power reservoirs. New and enhanced innovative circuit topology is also now employed in this latest and greatest Master Collection of KARAN amplifiers.
The two most significant improvements incorporated into both POWERb and the higher spec’d POWERa are first, a completely new main chassis and second, the introduction of Karan Acoustics’ first proprietary, in-house designed Line DC (mains) Conditioner.
The new chassis – effectively minimizes and eliminates mechanical resonances of various components inside the chassis, with increased mass and choice materials. The front, rear and top panels have increased density and thickness. A unique use of a solid CNC-machined piece of special aluminium as a single piece unibody heatsink for the output devices, provides the highest non-resonance improvement in the POWERa and POWERb amplifiers. In addition, these new Karan Master Collection amplifiers sit on Critical Mass Systems – CS2 supporting feet (three CS2M –1.5 feet), which are purported to completely isolate and ideally balance the amplifier from the supporting surface.
The all-new KARAN Line DC (mains) Conditioner – ensures effective and efficient treatment of all unwanted DC artifacts from the mains supply that could otherwise degrade operational and sonic performance. KARAN’s all-new DC (mains) Conditioner, serves to eliminate such undesirable DC voltage, without any restriction on current/voltage flow from the mains supply (providing 3x maximum amplifier demand/60A) and no ill effect on amplifier sonics. An on/off switch also allows users to directly compare the effect of the conditioner.
The KARAN POWERb is a fully differential (balanced) dual-mono stereo power amplifier. It provides a stereo set of balanced (XLR) inputs, as well as unbalanced (RCA) inputs. Input impendence is 30 k Ω, with an input sensitivity of 2.0 V/RMS for maximum output. Gain is 30 dB with a rated power output of: 2 x 450 W / 8 Ω; 2 x 800 W / 4 Ω and 2 x 1,350 W / 2 Ω. Within the POWERb are 2 x 1,500 VA toroidal transformers and 180.000 µF of capacitance. The frequency response is 20 Hz to 20 kHz, +/-0 dB; (DC to 300 kHz, -3 dB) with distortion rated at: 0.03 % (THD) / 0.03 % (IMD). The signal-to-noise rating is superb at > 120 dB (unweighted). The dimensions of the POWERb are: 19.8” (w) x 11.5” (h) x 20.5” (d) with a back breaking 81 kg/178 lbs, making it the absolute heaviest and largest amplifier I’ve ever used. Thoughtfully, KARAN ships its components in extremely hardy solid wood crates with form fitting foam inserts.
Build & Aesthetic
The KARAN POWERb amplifier is undeniably a work-of-art visually with truly impeccable build. Simple lines are complemented by gentle curves and radiused edges that feminise its austere and masterful form. You will notice the gentle rearward sweep of the front panel’s cheeks from centre to outer left and right that serve to put the centre vertical black glass display panel appropriately to the fore, as it elegantly presents the KARAN name and company logo, aglow in royal red. The bottom left and right outside edges gracefully curve upwards, not only adding to the amplifiers stylish appearance but also serving to provide an easier surface for lifting.
The top panel is worthy of comment, with its attractive stippled ventilation pattern and deeply engraved KARAN brand logo. All panels have a microbead blasted finish that is silky smooth to the touch, while all panel seams are most impressively fine and tight, in keeping with the finest of construction. Stiff does not do any justice to how the panels of the POWERb feel, which also applies to the top panel, where lesser manufactures tend to skimp. This top cover itself is affixed with 8 Allen screws that are virtually invisible, hidden within the venting and something that would go missed without the manual to tell you they exist.
Connectors and switches are all located on the back plate and include two separate IEC 15A sockets with two rocker power switches, left and right, a true dual-mono design that calls for the use of twin power cords. WBT binding posts are provided for speaker cable hookups and along with a pair of Neutrik XLR connectors there is a set of single-ended RCA jacks. A centre on/off rocker switch is provided for the built-in Line DC (mains) Conditioner.
In my setup, engaging the conditioner resulted in the most subtle smoothing of the uppermost audible frequencies. Perhaps others would find a greater effect, as my listening room does have a dedicated 20A power circuit for amplifiers with a Furutech GTX-D NCF(R) AC receptacle, providing inherently low noise. I do salute KARAN for building such power quality assurance into its POWERb and adding the convenience of a switch to allow users to directly evaluate its results.Setup
I evaluated the KARAN POWERb amplifier with my Dynaudio Confidence C2 Signature loudspeakers with my Bryston BR-20 hooked up to the KARAN LINEb as a DAC/Streamer, running tracks from Tidal HiFi as well as via my Rega Apollo CD transport. The recently reviewed Furutech Power Reference III power cables that were in my possession, delivered power to the POWERb. Audio Sensibility Statement power cables, XLR interconnect and speaker cables were used, as well as a Zavfino Fusion XLR interconnect between the LINEb and POWERb.
Before I dive into the KARAN POWERb amplifier, which is the focus of this review, I must tell you about the KARAN LINEb preamplifier that was provided as its mate. The LINEb is absolutely in keeping with the aforementioned build, aesthetic and quality of the POWERb, bearing simplicity and sophistication. Functionally, with just two immense control knobs on the front for source and volume, using it was a joy. The LINEb called out a liquid-like quality in music. Cymbal splashes sounded effervescent, with a silky quality. There was a general sense of ease and finesse, which allowed me to deeply appreciate the ebb and flow of the music. Dynamics were delivered with ponderous impact, while bass frequencies were smooth, controlled and never lean. The LINEb is proficient at revealing the soundstage, whether small or immense, it could deliver depth, width and even height and with its ultra-black backgrounds revealed elements in a holographic manner with great separation. No spotlighting or exaggeration but a truthful and lifelike presentation. I did compare the LINEb with my own Bryston BR-20. Somewhat unfair, as the BR-20 with its integrated DAC/Streamer eliminates a key interconnect. Yet, this comparison only served to make clear how transparent the LINEb was – allowing all the essential detail to be heard, while delivering unimpeded imaging. It turned out that the biggest difference between the LINEb and the BR-20 were in their presentation. Whereas, the BR-20 possessed more edge definition, airiness, attack, and bass texture, the LINEb provided softer edges, natural detail, a feathery upper treble and greater bass heft, and fluidity.
On Daft Punk’s Game of Love track, the elastic nature of the bass notes took primacy with the LINEb over the transient definition that the BR-20 drew out. Drums though slightly more textured with the BR-20 was a little less weighty and svelte than the LINEb. I stand convinced that the LINEb is an exemplary preamplifier with a propensity for finesse and musical beauty.
Let me start by saying that the POWERb, even during its initial couple hundred hours of operation, was immediately convincing of its grace. Most evident was its smoothness across its bandwidth, providing a very balanced and harmonically complete sound. Top to bottom, there was nothing that jumped out and nothing was out of place. The primary impression I got was that of understated confidence, control, composure, and scale, combined with an ever-present inner warmth. The POWERb is not an amplifier that seeks attention for itself – most unlike a small yappy dog that barks to make its presence known, the POWERb stands assuredly akin to a Great Dane. Music is handled with aplomb, regardless of the current demands of the track or the challenge presented by the loudspeakers. There is a captivating density to the sound the POWERb produces, painting music not with watercolours but rather in the luxuriant deep and rich colours of oils. And the strokes, those are as painted with fine brushes, revealing intricacy and detail in a most realistic manner.
Is it powerful? Like its name suggests, it is most definitely POWERful. It delivers current without any apparent restriction; the sense of flow, smoothness and headroom remaining present regardless of volume level. I’m not sure what one could throw at such a surefooted amplifier to throw it off its heels but this, for me, was an impossible task, within my medium sized well-treated 13’ x 18’5’ x 7 ¾’ room. The POWERb was able to scale music within soundstages as large as I’ve ever been able to achieve in my room, while maximizing image separation across totally black backgrounds. However, though a masterful amplifier, it is also able to play quick and nimble, for instance, listening to Dexter Gordon’s, Scrapple from the Apple off the Blue Note CD, Our Man in Paris – you hear the quick play of Dexter’s tenor sax sounding spright and agile, while possessing the brassy warmth and fullness of a live performance. The same too was the handling of the upright bass strings and drums, the POWERb handled the notes with their quick succession without any sense of delay or sluggishness. Yes, the POWERb is a big (almost 178 lbs) and powerful (800 Wpc / 4 Ω) amplifier that also sounds big when needed but is also agile and fleet-a-foot. It is a very well poised amplifier that keeps up with music and preserving pace, rhythm and timing (PRAT).
I was able to hear Annie Sumi live a few years back, at a small intimate venue and was taken by her music immediately. This young Canadian vocalist has a wonderfully sweet voice to match her endearing personality. Giving listen to the track, Eye of A Rose from her album in the unknown, you most easily and clearly perceive the sense of an outdoor space and that of a parting subway train on the opening of the track. The delicate guitar strings played with all the details of their sinew delivered, along with the resonant body of the instrument. Annie’s voice, as portrayed by the POWERb was most corporeal – dense and solid yet with all the shading and nuance of her vocal technique well revealed. The track sounded glorious on the POWERb, enchanting in fact, drawing me body and soul into the music. As delicately as the POWERb presented these elements, when the boom of the war drum began to strike it did so with girth, depth and thump that served as a clear reminder of the POWERb’s capability and prowess. Not only did the POWERb play the track capably but it also did an amazing job of expressing the emotion of the music – conveying the mystical, enthralling, and poetic melancholy of the song.
On the Conversations album, by Vincent Bélanger & Anne Bisson, the track Fly Away presents a vocal piano arrangement that provided insight on the timbral realism of the POWERb. Listening to this track through the POWERb proved it adept in rendering both human voice and piano. Here was Anne’s voice hauntingly alive with no distracting artificiality. The tone, timbre and percussive expression of the piano, its body resonating and expressed with size and scale made it manifest within my room. The harmonic richness of the instrument combined with this accurate tone also carried with it a scintillating glow that was nothing less than enthralling.Conclusion
A realization, the KARAN POWERb was not only excelling in the best qualities of solid-state amplifiers, such as bountiful power, control, headroom, wide-bandwidth, and low distortion but it was most capable with many of the best qualities of tube amplifiers, including true and beautiful tone, texture, body, inner warmth, glow, and holography. In so doing, the POWERb conjures realism and stunning beauty from recorded music.
Is the KARAN Master Collection POWERb amplifier expensive? No doubt it is. It’s not an amplifier that many might be able to own nor even hear in a private setting but for those who get the chance, they will surely recognize how special it is. The POWERb is an amplifier that delivers lifelike scale and solidity with understated confidence and surprising serenity; an amplifier capable of consistently interpreting natural warmth, harmonic complexity, and beauty within the music. With such an amalgamation of ever so desirable qualities, the KARAN Acoustics POWERb is both beauty and beast.
POWERb stereo Amplifier
Price : 43 000 $ US / 55 000 $ CA
Warranty : 5 years, transferable
Price : 29 000 $ US / 37 100 $ CA
Warranty : 5 years, transferable
Manufacturer: Karan Acoustics
Distributor : Wynn Audio,
T. : 647.995.2995,