Due to the ongoing lockdown and restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Robert and Daan of PUUR audio, video & domotica had been forced to keep rescheduling what would surely be one of their biggest events so far: the Nieuwjaarsshow (New Year’s Event). Eventually, they came up with a brilliant idea: to carry out the show as planned but for an audience limited to yours truly and with the intention for me to write a report so that readers can still get a nice impression of the show without having to leave their homes.
The equipment lineup consisted of the 24.200 euro Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra Music Server and player running Roon and outputting its signal via an AudioQuest “The Well” AES/EBU cable to the 85.000 euro Goldmund Mimesis 20H DAC. The DAC was connected via an Ikigai Kangai XLR interlink to the 30.000 euro Goldmund Mimesis 37S NextGen preamplifier that connected, with another pair of Ikigai Kangai XLR cables to two Goldmund Telos 1000 mono power amplifiers that retail for 68.500 euro each. The network connectivity was supplied by a Melco S100 ethernet switch with a NuPrime LPS-212 power supply and, finally, all the components were powered by an AudioQuest Niagara 7000 power filter fed from an AudioQuest Dragon power cable. All individual power cables are Ikigai Kangai S. Although the PUUR demo room is quite large and relatively empty, a very good balance between liveliness and damping has been obtained by the use of strategically-placed Akoesta and ArtNovion sound panels.
Ikigai is a new brand in the PUUR portfolio and, I must admit, a brand that I had not heard of before. The cables are hand-built in the Netherlands (not Japan, as I first assumed) from 5N (99.999%pure) silver and 24K gold using what they refer to as a recrystallization process to form a mono-crystal wire inside a dielectric that is separated from the conductors by mostly air.
From Kroma to Kharma
Interestingly, I had heard this exact combination of Goldmund components and much of the same accessories before during the Ultra High-End Show a couple of months earlier with the Kroma Audio Elektra loudspeakers. Do also read that review for the exact details on the system. Given that I have heard the Elektra’s in several other systems over the past few years, my conclusion was all the more telling. Here’s a quote from that review: “Honestly, I can’t say that I have heard any Kroma speakers perform quite as the Elektras do now in this particular setting.”
After the Kromas had returned to the Dutch distributor Robert and Daan decided to use a pair of 45.000-euro Kharma Elegance dB-11 Signatures for the New Year’s Event. These speakers have similar proportions to the smaller models in the range but larger overall, considerably larger, actually, but you won’t really notice this until you see them in the flesh.
Placed on Harmonix RF-999 MT Mk II footers, the Kharma Elegance dB-11’s have a super-de-luxe appearance. Everything about them oozes class and even though their 129-cm height and 47-centimeter width is not inconsiderable, the tapering on top and the curvy shape of the partially Bullet-proof laminate cabinet prevents them from dominating a room. With two 11-inch drivers from the Exquisite-range, this is the largest model in the Elegance range.
Compared to the Kroma circumstances, several small tweaks were made but the amplification part remained unchanged. However, there were changes in two important areas. First, the Antipodes K50 Music Server was changed for a Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra and, second, several of the AudioQuest power cables were changed to Ikigai cables.
Preliminal Listening Impression – From Lumin to Antipodes
After my visit on which the aforementioned report was based, the Lumin X1 streamer was changed for the Antipodes K50. When stopping by for something unrelated, I noticed during a quick listen that this had led to a much more organic sound. It was smoother and richer and considerably more spacious and still every bit as dynamic. It was like a restraint on the saturation and dynamics had been lifted. Regular readers know that I am a fan of Antipodes servers but this was the first time that I had compared one to a Lumin streamer and it was indeed quite illuminating;-)
Preliminal Listening Impression – From Antipodes to Pink Faun
Robert had mentioned on the phone that the Pink Faun server had a warmer, richer and smoother sound than the Antipodes. Since I had reviewed the previous Pink Faun 2.16x server and had compared it to the Antipodes CX+EX, that was not what I would expect. Upon first arrival, during an earlier visit (not for the show) I did indeed notice a warm creaminess but found that the sound was lacking some urgency and incisiveness. Then, it occurred to me that I had heard the same when I reviewed the 2.16x. At that time, I had used a Pink Faun power cable as advised by Jord and the same had been the case at PUUR. After swapping the power cable for an Ikigai the server sounded more articulate and upbeat and we all agreed that was a more balanced sound.
The Antipodes K50 and the Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra have very different presentations and because of this, I’d be cautious to pronounce either server as better. On a technical level, it can be argued that the Pink Faun is more advanced. But on a musical level and in terms of emotional response, I feel that it is very much a matter of personal preference. Although the Pink Faun is clearly tighter, more articulate and more highly resolving, the Antipodes feels much more organic and free-flowing. If it’s resolution that matters most then the Pink Faun is the price choice but if it’s naturalness and organic flow that is preferred then the Antipodes is the one to go for.
For this event, Robert prepared a playlist with 3 hours of various styles of music. What the tracks had in common was that they were all played in 2020 and had provided solace, excitement, or an otherwise profound impression. For instance, Robert had visited the Pukkelpop festival where he had experienced the English band London Grammar. The song “Big Picture” they played reminded him of all the concerts that had been canceled in 2020. And so, it became part of the playlist.
I won’t go into individual descriptions on a track-by-track basis but below I have provided screengrabs of the playlist, in the hopes that this can bring across part of the ambiance.
In addition, the playlist has been made available on Spotify and Tidal.
Let’s start the show!
Before I dive into my listening descriptions I want to make note of how excellent a host Robert is. Every song that he plays is introduced with a mixture of anecdotes and factual information, never dwelling on details but providing just the right dose of commentary. Meanwhile, he brought nuts and other bites and made sure that my glass was never empty. Of special note is something that is often underestimated, is that Robert also adjusted the listening volume ideally for each track.
Prior to my attendance at the Spring Event, I had heard the same system with the Kroma Elektra’s and that puts me in an ideal position to comment on the relative differences. First, I should note that the Kromas cost a whopping 115.000 euro. That’s serious money. Cayetano Castellano, the CEO, assured me that the price wasn’t made up or dictated by markups but comprised largely by how insanely expensive the custom-made Krion material is. For the Elektra’s, the cabinets weigh in on around 100KG per speaker and that is a good indication of how much of the precious material is used. The Kharma Elegance dB11 Signatures come in at less than half the cost and at 45.000 euro they seem almost affordable. Yet, when listening to both, one definitely does not get the impression of listening to loudspeakers in such different price classes. Of course, just as the Kromas, the Kharmas are still priced in the “very serious” region where one expects nothing less than superb sound. And that, the Kharmas certainly deliver. I must say that I find the sonic difference between the smaller Elegance S7 and the big dB11’s absolutely significant. Between the smaller model Kharma and a Kroma Julieta or Carmen, it’s still a matter of taste but I personally feel that the Spanish speakers perform better almost across the board. Between the Elegance dB11 and the Kroma Elektra, however, a similar distinction in pseudo-objective quality is not so easy to make.
The first thing I noticed when hearing the dB11’s is that they exhibit the same kind of polished warmth and lushness as the smaller models. Because I prefer a more neutral sound that took me a couple of tracks to get used to. The Kromas, in comparison, have a fair bit of character themselves but it’s presented differently, not in a polished manner but rather as a “wooden” tonality along with a decidedly solid midrange which can make the speakers appear livelier and more impactful at first. Importantly, however, the Kharmas’ polished character is not limited to a particular driver but actually present throughout the speaker’s frequency range.
An interesting thing to note is that the Kharmas initially come across as forgiving and laidback but are beasts in disguise. The dB11’s can really bring it dynamically and they stay clean and never display any sibilance no matter how loudly the music is playing. Also, in spite of their polite nature, they are actually more highly resolving than the Kromas. The treble is open, airy and fluid yet precise and absolutely revealing but in an always forgiving manner and the same is true for the midrange. Not only is resolution never in question – the speakers maintain their superb definition from the highest highs to the lowest lows. Speaking of which, the bass is truly something else. There are speakers with incredible depth (but below-average PRaT), speakers with amazing precision (but not much depth) and speakers with incredible slam and impact (but lower resolution). The dB11’s, however, do it all. They manage to go extremely deep while being articulate, fast and very precise as well as hugely impactful.
This system as a whole played absolutely uniformly, and consistently on a super-high level. Robert’s playlist was incredibly diverse but it has to be said: the system played everything brilliantly. There is simply no favoring of one musical genre over another. Vocals, Classical, Singer-Songwriter, Rock, Electro and even downright hard-hitting techno, all of it is conveyed with pleasure and authority.
Even though I was, for the most part, the only visitor, Robert pulled all the stops and delivered a show precisely like it would have been, had the showroom been open to the public. This included tasty bites and drinks and, during the final couple of tracks, a smoke machine, and special lighting. While he raised the volume, the room went smokey, and multiple rotary laser-lights created a dreamy atmosphere, Robert played Singularity by Jon Hopkins and if I wasn’t transported earlier, it certainly happened now. Alas-I was too much absorbed in the music that I did not think of taking pictures of this moment and I only hope that my description will convey it.
When Robert finally played Ghost Rider – Make us stronger, at even higher volume, I felt positively blissful when the ambient sounds of the intro filled the entire showroom but when the bass drum kicked in, and kept pounding my chest with incredibly incisive power but absolutely zero edge or sibilance, I could not help grinning from ear to ear.
Here’s a system that does it all, from vocal works and symphonies to full-on rave parties. No problem.
Goldmund Lockdown Sessions – Listen to a selection of PUUR equipment in your own system