Kharma Divine 2A Loudspeakersby Greg Weaver
Like our own inimitable Todd Warnke, who reviewed the Kharma Ceramique 2.0 back in January of 1998, I had been totally taken by the sound that I heard in the Kharma room at the Show. And though Trevor himself dropped off the Divine 2As at my listening room in southern Maryland back in late June of last year, my move to the greater Chicago area in September and subsequent responsibilities arising from the new position there have kept me from them -- until now. My apologies to Trevor, and to you, our readers, for the Divine 2A speakers are fine music makers.
Sherman, set the way back machine for...
The Divine series and all the rest of the Kharma line are the brainchildren of Charles van Oosterum. He founded O.L.S. (Oosterum Loudspeaker Systems) while he was studying electronics at the University of Eindhoven. His particular areas of focus included electromagnetics and electromechanics. His initial loudspeaker experiments were begun with no other goal in mind than to finance his further experiments with different designs and driver concepts. As with anything good, word of his successful designs spread.
By 1984, O.L.S. was a successful manufacturer of systems for consumer and professional use in Holland. In 1992, an audiophile invited van Oosterum to listen to some music on his existing system. After many hours of listening, this fellow turned to his guest with a challenge. Although the system this audiophile had assembled was quite good, he wanted something approaching perfection. It just so happened that Charles had a computer design of a system that was "in the works."
Intrigued, the fellow commissioned Charles to build the system, with one very important proviso: if he liked it, he would pay for it, otherwise he wouldn't. Charles went ahead and built what was to become the Grand Enigma System -- one of the largest and most exclusive high-end loudspeakers ever made. This 12-ton system is fully active, with 30,000 watts of amplification, and equipped with 24 ultra-high-efficiency planar-magnetic high-frequency units, 24 15" low-frequency drivers and 48 6" midrange drivers. Assembled in a specially prepared subterranean listening room of over 45,000 cubic feet, it is said to present sound with incredible dynamics and limitless power, easily reproducing live concert levels at a distance of 10 meters. Thus was the inadvertent birth of the highest-priced speaker system in the world at a cool $1 million. Sheez, and you thought you had some big money invested! Needless to say, Charles was paid well for his work.
By this time, O.L.S. had gained a reputation for affordable high-performance speakers as well. Spurred on by his success with the Grand Enigma, Charles launched Kharma, a new high-end brand. The first Kharma speakers were the Divine series, which met with enough success to lead to the development of both the Ceramique and Exquisite series.
The first thing that you notice about the Divine 2As is their truly unique shape. They are like two ellipses, with one intersecting the other at right angles to the firsts center. This is a very functional shape and provides for a stunningly seductive appearance. They are likely to grace any listening room, regardless of decor. They do not have the common visual affront representative of many other more typical "box" speakers, looking more like some kind of statue or totem than a loudspeaker. My review speakers were supplied in a dark mahogany finish, but the line is available in walnut, maple, black cherry, steamed beechwood, black and an African agnegre. The top and bottom plates are aluminum, with the top plate bearing the Kharma logo. The rear ellipse, forming the back of the cabinet, is black. Three taped holes in the bottom plate accept the supplied spikes, allowing for extreme ease in leveling. I wish that more companies would take this three-point approach, as the troika scheme is much easier to level than any four-point system you will ever encounter.
The Divine 2A is one model shy of the pinnacle of the Divine series, which is Kharmas first step-up line. It is a two-way speaker utilizing a 1" Morel silk-dome tweeter with a vented pole piece and damped rear chamber. A single 6" Audax Aerogel mid-woofer with phase plug is front ported to the room via a 4" throat situated near the bottom of the front baffle. The drivers are supplied signal via a serial crossover with the flex point at 2kHz. The cabinet, in addition to utilizing its completely unique shape to tame reinforcement within, is claimed to be further damped by the use of four different types of material for controlling both airborne and structure-borne resonance. Efficiency is 89dB (1W/1m/dB) with frequency response given as 30Hz to 25kHz. The Divine 2As present an amplifier with a nominal 8-ohm impedance. Tipping the scales at 103 pounds each and with a suggested retail price of $4499 a pair, they are surprisingly less massive than the 48" height, 14" depth and 15" width would suggest, given their functional and stylistic compound-ellipse shape.
To my thinking, the only real negative to the outward design of this speaker is the lack of a good five-way binding post. And while Im on the issue, two sets for bi-wiring or bi-amping probably wouldnt hurt either. Instead, the speaker offers two vertically placed, non-standard-spaced, 1/4" female banana receptacles, situated with plus below minus and located about an inch from the bottom on the apex of the rear ellipse. The use of a rather unorthodox set of connections completely eliminates the use of a standard dual-banana plug, and further limits the user by necessitating only banana connections. To my knowledge, only Linn founder Ivor Tiefenbrun maintains the superiority of the banana connection over the spade. As most of my cables are terminated with spades, this forced me to use Monster Cable X-terminators in order to hitch my amp to these babies, introducing yet another unnecessary "junction" in the already critical loudspeaker/cable interface. I found this to be a major shortcoming in such an otherwise well-executed design.
One small point for those of you out there that, like me, prefer to remove grilles to see the goods. DONT! Though Trevor himself removed one of the grilles for my own edification, and for the purpose of a photograph, I must insist that you refrain from doing so. As the grille is a pre-shaped curved metal form, any slight deformation while removing or reinstalling it can be catastrophic. Though I never once did anything untoward to the grille while it was off, it proved to be impossible to restore to its original seat and appearance. Because it has become misshapen, I have had to apply small amounts of Fun-Tak to keep it from vibrating and resonating at certain frequencies, and it has never looked as beautiful as it did upon arrival. It is good, however, that I was able to remove that one grille because during run in, I noticed a very distracting resonance coming from the woofer of the nude speaker with certain low frequencies. It turned out that the midbass driver was actually loose in its mounting, requiring me to tighten all four of the screws that held it to the baffle. Though I have now been effective in taming all of the grille resonance through repeated removal and retreating, it has become sadly deformed and looks considerably less than perfect. As I write this, I am awaiting a replacement grille.
Knowing that my review queue was settling down, the Divine 2As were broken in as the front speakers in my video system for their first 200 or so hours. What I heard from them in this hostile environment was alluring, so much so that at the earliest opportunity after break-in, they replaced the much more daunting-looking Von Schweikert Research VR-4 Gen. IIs in my primary listening room.
I think the first thing that spoke to me of this speakers gift was its remarkable balance of timbre. It is immediately apparent that there is an inherent rightness to the voice of the Divine 2A. From about middle C and upwards, in particular with piano and strings, the Divine emulates its name. One run through of the Classic Records reissue of the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole [RCA LSC 2456], featuring Henryk Szeryng on violin and the Chicago Symphony, is simply not enough, so beautifully does the Divine 2A re-create the violin.
There is a life given to piano works that is uncanny. The musings of Ivan Morevec playing Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major [Via VAIA 102] or Vladimir Horowitz playing Chopins Fantaisie Impromptu, Op. 66 [Sony SK 45818] are accomplished on a heightened emotive level, rarely leaving any doubt as to the feelings or expressions being rendered. The challenging voice of the piano, whether vigorously struck with the explosive attack of felt hammer on string or delicately brushed to a mere whisper, was actualized with a near haunting degree of reality. This spirit of presentation seemed to further enhance the rendering of the mood of the music, and not just its corporal existence.
The human voice is presented in a most vital manner. Listen to the self-mockery of Tori Amos on Little Earthquakes [Atlantic 7 82358], the wile of Ricky Lee Jones on her eponymous debut [Warner Brothers BSK 3296] or the passion of Sarah McLachlan from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy [Arista ARCD 8725], only to find them all equally exposed and presented. Neil Youngs anger and irony from virtually any of his works are laid bare for any that care to listen. Thomas Dolbys acerbity and satire on Aliens Ate My Buick [EMI E1-48075] have never been so obvious. Stevie Ray Vaughans constrained angst on Absolute Analogues wonderful 180-gram remastering of Couldnt Stand The Weather [Epic 25940] becomes a sheer visceral assault on the listener.
The uppermost registers are handled beautifully -- that is the only way I can describe them. There is an ease and spirit to them that just captivated me and all who have heard the Divine 2As in my room. They are articulate and detailed without being at all etched or clinical. Yet there is the feeling that there is nothing left unrevealed. The sheer totality of their rendering of cymbals, triangles and other things metal, are there with air, detail, focus and a kind of warmth that you get used to hearing from real bronze.
One thing that initially captivates the unsuspecting listener about the Divine 2A is the ease of its overall presentation. Just a bit on the laid-back side of neutral, these speakers candidly play music. I was very pleased by whatever I chose to throw on, be it polycarbonate or vinyl. There is such a grace here that it almost defies description. But detail is also here in abundance. The Divine 2As ability to wrestle nuance from chaos and present it delicately and spaciously is one of their more significant attributes. Though I feel the Divine 2A shows its best face with purely acoustic material, it is no slouch with electric rock, blues or jazz.
However, the Divine 2As are not perfect. The first deficit I detected was just a bit of an over-ripening of the lower midbass. This can provide a slurring of some double-bass or bass-guitar solos. This trait may well have been designed to be so, as the bottom octave is unrealized. Though the spec sheet says they play to 30Hz, there was a very rapid roll off below about 40Hz in my room. Having grown accustomed to the full pressurization afforded by my VR-4 Gen. IIs when presenting the lowest octave, I couldnt help but be distracted by the omission of the same on works where I have come to expect it.
As I have mentioned, the lowest register, while hinting at enough real bass to provide thorough enjoyment from all but the most demanding music, just isnt there. This seems to have the odd effect of minimizing the stage somewhat and preventing the proper re-creation of the space and size of the venue in which the original material was recorded. The time and expense necessary to seamlessly pair the Divines with a coherent subwoofer would be well advised for those organ and soundstage fans out there. Dont take this as damnation; it is very difficult to faithfully re-create that lowest octave.
The second weakness I uncovered was a slight loss of microdynamics. One of the best tracks I know to test a speakers ability to re-create this difficult attribute is "Fade To Black" from Dire Straits On Every Street [Warner 26680]. At 1:02 into that track, Mark Knopfler says "Bet you already made a pass ." The explosive "P" sound of his breath assaulting the microphone when speaking the word "pass," when re-created faithfully, literally pressurizes the room for just a fraction of a second. Alas, though the Divine 2As played the pop of the air hitting the mic, they did not re-create that concussive pulse that should race through the room.
Aside from these two relative shortcomings, I think one of the best ways to sum up these speakers' sound is to make an analogy to vacuum tubes. The Divine 2As have that wonderful, lush, warm and inviting flavor that the best tube equipment offers. On the whole, these are wonderfully adroit speakers, ones I could easily live with. But my affinity for soundstage reality, their slight emphasis in the lower midbass (in my room at least) and their steep roll-off under about 40Hz conspired to keep them from unseating the current champion (and recently orphaned!) Von Schweikert Research VR-4 Gen. IIs. While certainly not inexpensive, these speakers bring the true joy of the music to the listener. The Divine 2As are engaging speakers that communicate the message of the music so well that I would urge anyone who is looking for an elegantly handsome speaker that just plain makes music to seek them out before making any final decision.
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