Roksan Kandy KC-1 / KI-1
Reviewed in issue 208
Vibrant style and big bangs for your buck from Roksan's object lesson in building a one-name CD-amp system:
Kandy pulls together several important attributes as neatly as the drawstring of a marbles pouch. Perhaps its smartest move is looking a lot more expensive than it is. The combo comes in at fifty quid under the grand, yet for presentation and build quality (and this is not an exaggeration) it isn't embarrassed by the most expensive pairings in the group. The way these things are put together is positively Botham-esque and the thought and finesse that's gone into the remote puts all but Marantz to shame.
As for eye appeal, the Kandy duo can legitimately claim to have the drop on its rivals. It isn't so much the 'line and form' aspect of the design that stands out - neat and distinctive as it is - but the harmonious and symmetrical way the two boxes match. Control ergonomics are beautifully simple, too.
And then, of course, there's the colour. The colour purple in this instance. It's a bit silly (hi-fi needs an injection of silly), it's a bit iMac - chose from blue, yellow, purple, green, pink and gold - and it's largely beyond the reach of would-be critics. How can you seriously stick the knife in an amp for being purple without coming across as po-faced?
In fact, purple's fine. Seriously. Everyone who saw it liked it, some more than the silver boxes lining the walls of my listening room. You'd be surprised how easily it melds with its surroundings (so long as they're not bright orange, of course).
The final trick up Roksan's sleeve is to fuse a very grown-up spec with a delightfully junior price. The amp leads the way here with a somewhat Mickey-taking (in the context of this group) 110 Watts per channel. It's able to punch this hard because Roksan splashed out on a monster toroidal transformer then backed it up with twin pairs of MOSFET output devices per channel, mounted on meaty internal heatsinks. Otherwise, the circuitry looks simple and straightforward with discreet transistors in the power amp section and a smattering of op-amps elsewhere.
Of the seven inputs available, one is switchable to work as either line or phono (MM), which is an intelligent enough compromise. All input switching is handled by relays and the volume control is motorised.
The CD player uses a Sony mechanism-suspension package (more expensive Roksan machines have in-house suspension), a Burr-Brown 1710 D/A converter and NE5532 output op-amps. The circuit has six regulated power supplies taken from a single toroidal transformer with separate windings for the analogue and digital circuits. The only socket conspicuously absent is one for a headphone jack. Both optical and electrical digital S/PDIF outputs are supplied.
Rather running against the grain of the group, the Kandy amp has the measure of its CD sibling. To be honest, the CD player isn't a masterpiece. Plumbed into the AVI reference amps, it clearly lacked the refinement and smoothness of the best in the test and could occasionally sound a touch ragged and over-exuberant. No shortfall of zest, drive and enthusiasm, though.
Yet, with the Kandy amp doing its bidding, matters took a dramatic turn for the better. If system synergy is the Holy Grail of this exercise, the Roksan combo found it. Still not the last word in refinement or finesse, the Kandy duo sounded big, authoritative, dynamic and, well, just plain interesting.
It's an odd sort of compliment being 'interesting' but, for me, it's the Kandy pairing's ability to deliver the event - the music, the performance, the acoustic, the production - that makes it so satisfying. It's very much a case of musical literacy winning out over hi-fi mechanics. There are more transparent sounding combos in this group, but few that swing and boogie so well. This is a tactile, explicit style of music making it's hard not to fall for.
A perfect example of synergy in action. The Kandy CD player is no great shakes but it combines with the beefy amp to play a blinder. Sonically clearly more than the sum of the parts, visually ahead of the game and the least expensive package on test, this really is a Best Buy with knobs on.
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