Kochel K300 Reviews

* By Jean Hiraga, editor - Revue du Son, 3/99

* By Chris Binns - HiFi+ (November, 1999)

* Art Dudley (Listener Magazine - Winter, 2000)

* John Atkinson (1998 CES Stereophile, 4/98, p.65)

* Michael Fremer's Analog Corner (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

* Larry Greenhill (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

* Robert Deutsch (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

Kochel K200 Reviews

* Johann E. - Audio Asylum - July,2000

* Bill Cowen Home - Audio Equipment Review - April, 2001

* Jean Hiraga, editor - Revue du Son - October, 2000

* Roy Gregory - Excerpts from HiFi+ (January, 2001)

* Bob Spellman (owner) - Audio Asylum - March, 2001

By Jean Hiraga, editor - Revue du Son, 3/99

Measuring/Technical Description

The bass driver is a large 12" unit with a six arm frame of cast aluminum alloy with an open center. The extremely light treated membrane and large 77mm coil to handle up to 200 watts. The midrange is a 2" aluminum alloy compression driver coupled to a constant directivity horn enclosure. The aluminum alloy super tweeter uses a ring-like membrane with a vertical slit-phase and a large magnet. All three transducers are perfectly installed in a phased array. The connections are of a professional level.

The passive filter, composed of 13 elements, is a masterpiece that will be the best for a long time. The components are of a rare quality, the air-core inductors are of copper ribbon (Alpha Core) and the internal wire is very high quality 6N Teflon.

Although the formula of back-loaded horn often creates turbulence and rotations of phase which are translated into an irregular responses of phase and frequency response below 300hz. In the case of the Köchels we can observe overall response without any detectable horn colorations even when measured in the middle of semi-reverberation. We also note that on horizontal plane between 0º and 30º, we cannot detect any directivity/beaming and it doesn’t give any sensible timing differences even if we go out on the axis and even with higher frequencies.

Listening Tests

1. Ella Fitzgerald: "Let No Man Write my Epitaph", Track #13

Jean Hiraga: Sure, the extreme bass is light but this is largely compensated by the expressitivity and the frankness of the strokes. There is a pleasant point of extreme transparency in extreme highs.

Robert Lacrampe: Sound reproduction surprises immediately because of the cheerful and live character.

2. Johann Strauss: Egyptian March, Track #2

JH: The Köchel performs very well during this test which is obvious to all. The dynamic to and fro of the string instruments express themselves in a volubility like between two lovers.

RH: The reproduction is exuberant and the musicians seem to feel the pleasure to just play.

3. Mark Curry: "It’s Only Time", Track #1

JH: The deepest bass is a little light but is largely compensated by the transient response which is surprising and underlined by its’ dynamic capacities. This results in what we call the articulation and resolution of the system. The voice of Mark Curry seems to be clearer than usual.

RH: How can’t you be seduced by this spirited reproduction? Strokes have a liveliness and a spirit that drives us to another world of sound. The listening was triumphant!

4. Christian McBride: "Gettin’ To It", Track #5

JH: It is rare to hear contrabasses conjugate one another with so much natural scales and capacity of expressions. We are in another world from dull and excessively softened bass in other speakers.

RH: Although the first octave is shy, this record is reproduced with a surprising realism. The dynamic palette is much larger than other speakers we are accustomed.

5. Mozart: "Fantasy for Piano", Track #1

JH: As on above track, listening to this track is a real treat. The sudden rhythmic development contrasts with the smooth curve of the bass. Each note and each sound has its’ own personality.

RH: The piano sounds literally just there. Even the smallest inflections were translated with a rare realism. In fact, we ask no more questions as we wanted to try other equipment because the Köchel is so revealing.

Overall Comments

JH: The deepest bass is a bit light but quickly is overshadowed by other qualities of the midrange and top octaves which are remarkable.

RH: The reproduction takes us into a universe of sound that contrasts with other products. Once we stepped into this universe, it was difficult to go back and we wonder how we could keep listening to others and allow faults to pass by. The Köchels give a desire to listen to records all over again and even invite neighbors to listen to theirs!

* Dynamics: 9.5/10
* Definition: 9.5/10
* Imaging: 9.5/10
* Tonal Coherence: 9.0/10

By Chris Binns - HiFi+ (November, 1999 )

One of the more endearing aspects of the audio industry is the sheer diversity of available product. Scratch the surface, and there appears to be nothing but black boxes and two-way loudspeakers in wood veneer cabinets. Go a little deeper and thankfully more interesting items appear, until eventually you discover the existence of the strata that contains highly individual, imaginative and sometimes eccentric designs, surviving in their own little niche markets. You can interpret this anyway you like, but amongst these murky depths, passions run deep. They have to, as we are now so faraway from commercial reality that they remain the only possible driving force behind many products. Every now and again something emerges and attempts to burrow its way to the surface, presenting us with a taste of hi-fi extremism in the real world. And you don't get much more extreme than the Köchel K300. In case you hadn’t guessed, it's a horn. There I've said it.

Few loudspeaker design concepts provoke so much controversy and argument. Maybe I am being unfair; but try taking a pair home and see what happens. So what's the problem? Horn loudspeakers are big, They have to be - that's how they work. They have also been tainted with prejudice. Exposure to PA systems and badly engineered product has left people with the impression that they always sound coloured and harsh. So what is the attraction? What makes people want a loud speaker that rates say zero on the domestic acceptability scale, where the average box speaker could score an eight?

In a word, sensitivity. Horn speakers as a breed can be incredibly efficient compared to conventional box designs. Hence their popularity for PA Systems. Where volume is your prime concern, and an extra 3 db equates to a doubling of amplifier power. Horn speakers begin to make considerable sense. I'm sure that a lot of people's prejudice stems from hearing PA systems where a little coloration is unimportant compared to the ability to knock people to the ground at a thousand paces, and that's inside the beer tent. Turn that on its head, and in a domestic system suddenly you can enjoy the benefits of tiny little amps and still obtain sensible levels. And, as any horn enthusiast will tell you, addictive detail, speed, dynamics and sheer scale as well.

Having filled in the background, let's talk about the Köchels. They are the brainchild or one Mr. P. Y. Park, a man who clearly believes that the only way of reproducing the full dynamics of a musical performance is with a horn loudspeaker. Yes they are BIG, wife approval does not enter the equation, because if she does throw you out you could move into one of the Köchels. They are certainly not pretty but in a large room (which, as we will see, they need) they assume the appearance of rather austere 1930 furniture particularly as this pair were finished in an exemplary mahogany veneer.

Designed and built in Korea they are nicely put together and are supplied with a grille to stop domestic animals getting lost Inside. As far as horns go, 97db is not especially sensitive, however, amplifiers with a nominal 10 watts had no trouble in blowing my brains out when I so desired. The bass unit is loaded from the rear; while the mid and top units are compression drivers similar in type to those seen in professional equipment. The rear panel sports a single pair of terminals, which as I discovered later was something of a blessing. I've never had a pair of horn speakers at home so there was a certain amount of excitement at their impending arrival. Translate; I have no neighbours and I was fully intending to behave badly at the first opportunity. Horn speakers go loud, don't they?

My first impressions were of a highly articulate loud speaker somewhat lacking in extreme bass. What there was at the bottom end was fast, controlled and dynamic, with tremendous slam, but with next to nothing below 60Hz or so, That's about the extension you get out of an LS3/5a! Fair enough. With proper horn loading this is what you'd expect from a cabinet this size. But it does cause a jarring visual discontinuity What my eyes told me did not correlate with what I heard; huge loud speaker but no bass. Did I mention that the importers also supplied a sub-woofer? The K250S is designed to supplement the K300's below their cut off frequency. The idea of integrating any kind of sub-bass unit with a horn system struck me as almost impossible. but due to the very sharp rolloff of the main units, the task is made a little easier. Careful experimentation with level and turnover settings resulted in just enough extra weight at the bottom end. Any more and you started to notice a discontinuity. Set just so, it provided enough additional output for the system to approach fullrange. Only you can decide the importance of that extra octave.

My first misconception was soon corrected. Although they do go loud (and how!), a few days listening got that out of the system, and I started to realise that this is not really where they're at. What the Kochels offer you is the potential to handle the full dynamic range of the music. Once I got over the initial excitement of being able to play music at ear splitting levels, and the volume returned to some thing nearing normality, I began to appreciate their real strength; the ability to play music with out compressing the signal, confident in their ability to respond to even the largest dynamic demands. They excel at portraying detail and musical dynamics. Small scale acoustic instruments were presented with the utmost clarity almost as if you were examining them through a magnifying glass. As time passed I felt an intimacy with the presentation of instruments and voices that I have rarely encountered with other loud speakers. This could prove fascinating and occasionally disturbing. The very attributes that laid bare musical detail also exposed differences in, for example cabling, and of course ancillary equipment. So, as I mentioned earlier, it was a relief not to have tri-wiring capability as things could have got very complicated.

One of the attractions of horn speakers is that they offer at least on paper, compatibility with lower powered amplification. As we all know, single ended triodes are highly fashionable, at the moment and would seem to be the obvious partners for the Köchels. I tried several, these included the Wavac 811 (also imported by Wollaton Audio), the Union Research Simply Two. I also used the solid state Pass Labs Aleph 3 whose praises I sung in the last issue. They all sounded very "nice", But the Kochels positively raced ahead - these speakers are extremely fast. Unless the amplification can keep up the speakers will ruthlessly expose their shortcomings. To put it another way the loud speakers were exposing the fact that these amplifiers have a tendency to sound sluggish and rounded.

The majority of listening was done with either my 250 W/ch Primary valve monoblocks or the Laavardin IT (see last issue), either of which might seem an unfashionable partner but they both seemed to provide the speakers with exactly what they needed; speed, control and clarity. The wider you can open the electronic window the better, I know that every loud speaker manufacturer would describe their product as ruthlessly revealing, but I can honestly say that the Kochels are in a different league. The impact and immediacy of their musical presentation can sometimes feel as if it is pinning you to your seat. Not in volume terms you understand, but just with the sheer precision of the delivery.

Contrary to popular belief horn loudspeakers can image. Well, at least these can! They were able to position instruments and voices precisely although they never managed the trick of disappearing in the way that the best small speakers can. Even with your eyes closed you could never ignore the Kochels presence. The sound is always focused on you, the listener and consequently they sometimes don't develop the scale that you would expect from such a large cabinet. It's almost as if the musical event connects so directly to you, that it tries to happen in your room - create if it's a four-piece rock band, not so clever when it involves 120 musicians. To be fair I suspect that this probably indicates that they could do with a bit more space, and I sometimes felt that I was listening a little too close (4 metres).

Playing different types of music on the Kochels was always an interesting experience. As time went on. I found myself gravitating toward small-scale orchestral work and marvelling at the finely etched detail they produced. Every now and again the desire to be uncivilised would surface, and I would keep the lodgers awake by playing embarrassingly old rock music just to remind myself of what it's all about.

But by and large as I have said before, the strength of this loudspeaker lies not so much with their sensitivity, but with natural presentation. Coloured? No I don't think so. Aggressive? Not if you are prepared to invest the time and consideration that any loud speaker at this price level should demand, particularly regarding the finer points of system tuning. My time with the Köchels was never less than interesting, albeit a little frustrating. They never did what my preconceptions predicted. They worked with all the wrong things, and simply spat out the stuff they were supposed to like. Which meant that realising their potential was a long and tortuous learning curve. Likewise, as you have probably gathered, I found their strengths in the areas I least suspected. For a small minority horn speakers represent the only way of listening to music. For others, the mere mention of them provokes at best a pained expression, and at worst downright disgust.

But the Kochels succeed in bridging the gap between the extremes of horn advocacy and the low-colouration school. The very real shortcomings of so many horn speakers are not apparent with the K300's, providing you take the necessary care over set-up.

P. Y. Park has caged the beast without destroying its spirit. Ignore their size(!) and think of them as the most immediate and tactile little speaker you've ever heard. And you'll be a long way toward appreciating their considerable strengths. If you have an environment large enough to accommodate them, both sonically and visually you should certainly listen to them. This really is the perfect horn primer.

Art Dudley (Listener Magazine - Winter, 2000)

For years, people with just enough interest in hi-fi to pick up a magazine on the subject were fed advice that made Neville Chamberlain seem wise by comparison: Amplifiers with similar specifications all sound the same. Digital audio is perfect (and all CD players sound the same). Tubes are obsolete. There are no audible differences between different audio cables. And no matter what the question, the answer is a graphic equalizer.

Then there's the biggest whopper of them all: When shopping for an audio system, spend most of your money on loudspeakers. They make the biggest difference.

The biggest difference? Not hardly, as we say around here. Sure, speakers can account for the most immediately obvious differences in the sounds of our systems. But beyond that, the idea that speakers are the most important part of a hi-fi is as foolish as suggesting that the monitor is the most important part of a desktop computer.

And I'm only the latest guy to say so. Way, way back in the 1970s, the first voices of dissent came from the British hi-fi community: Loudspeakers, they said, are the least important part of a hi-fi system; the biggest chunk of change should go toward the source component-the turntable, the tuner, the whatever.

That's probably closer to the truth. And if some devotees take the notion too far-well, so be it. I'd rather drink good wine from a paper cup than sour milk from a crystal goblet.

But I've come to think there's a middle ground, where most people are served the best. The garbage-in, garbage-out hierarchy is inarguable but then, so is the observation that speakers interact with the room they're put into more than any other component. And rooms vary more drastically than you or I could ever imagine.

And then there's the T-word, which the politically correct "high-end" audio community would have us banish altogether: taste. Even if we try limiting ourselves to speakers we think are neutral (shaky ground at best!), the ones we are left with will nonetheless differ greatly from one another, and in a great many ways: frequency extension at either end of the range, electrical sensitivity, dispersion, power handling, and even such hard-to-pin-down things as the speaker's sense of rhythm, timing, pitch relationships, musical flow, drama, and scale.

I have tried keeping that in mind these past few years, during which time I've surveyed one portion of the industry in particular: speakers that are efficient enough to be used with low-power amps, full-range enough to satisfy the average music-lover's taste in sound, and affordable enough that even I could swing a pair without getting into too much trouble with my wife.

As trips go, this one has taken me all over the darn place-and not always happily. I've been impressed by the iconoclastic Shun Mock Bella Voce (Vol.3, No.3, rated at 4-1/2 stars and 1-3/4 checks) and Alon's great all-arounder, the Lotus SE (Vol.5, No.2, rated at 4-1/2 stars and 2-1/2 checks). I've been pleased to discover for myself those qualities which attract a fiercely loyal following to Lowther drivers and rear-loaded horns (see various back issues for various parts of that story). And any weary traveler who appreciates thrift, conservative styling, and the sound of real music can always come home to Spender, which has been quietly making very high quality loudspeakers of reasonably high efficiency since Hector was a pup.

But this road has a few ruts, the Brentworth Type III (Vol.5, No.3, rated at 1/2 star and 0 checks) being the muddiest I've found so far. Besides which, this long, tedious trip is one that we shouldn't have to make in the first place: Compared to all other speakers, there are too few choices for people who like their amps small and their music unmechanical.

Which brings me-literally-to the Köchel, a Korean loudspeaker with an Austrian name, which is reportedly a hit in Japan, and which has been available here in the US for just a year or so.

Of the speakers mentioned in this piece, the Köchel, is closest to having been created specifically for the single-ended amplifier market. Designer P.Y. Park, a sound engineer who is also a classical music enthusiast,* wanted something that could reproduce lifelike dynamics when used with today's simple, low power tube amps-and that quest led him toward horn loading, a design approach which enthusiasts are rediscovering after decades of neglect.

As Mr. Park sees it, only a horn is efficient enough-and only a horn can go from quiet to loud and back again with great enough ease-to reproduce the dynamics of live music in a home setting. Park's enthusiasm for horn technology goes even further: Setting the matter of amplification power completely aside, he believes that horn loading offers greater freedom from distortion, especially at bass frequencies.

The three-way Köchel builds from the foundation of a 12-inch bass driver, which is rear-loaded with a quarter-wave exponential horn. Though the free-air resonance of the Korean-made woofer is in the neighborhood of 37 Hz, the length and mouth area of the horn are tuned to about 60 Hz: Any lower and the already non-svelte Köchel would have trouble fitting through the door. In a quarter-wave horn, the idea is to select the lowest frequencies you're interested in, then create a folded horn whose length corresponds to a quarter wavelength some 20 to 25 percent lower in frequency; since the quarter-wave of 20 Hz is itself almost 19 feet long, you can see the constraints one faces in making a horn-loaded fullrange speaker of reasonable size.)

The midrange and high frequency drivers are custom manufactured in Europe for Mr. Park, who fine-tunes them in his shop. Both are compression drivers, loaded with cast aluminum horns-with an integral dispersion-enhancing lens in the case of the tweeter. A 13-element crossover conducts traffic between the three, and serves to smooth the impedance curve, which Mr. Park says is fairly flat between 6 ohms and 10 ohms. Overall system sensitivity is stated as 97 dB, though Park suggests the truth is closer to 98 or 99 dB.

The very substantial cabinets-separate boxes for the bass, midrange, and high frequency drivers-are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), braced and damped internally. The mid and tweeter boxes are joined more or less permanently, and together these attach to the bass cabinet in such a way that a molded socket on one mates with a plug on the other, mechanically and electrically. Once installed, the midrange and high frequency horns are said to have just the right degree of physical time-alignment.

The whole shebang stands almost 57 inches tall without spikes, and weighs too much for UPS. The Köchels are available in a variety of veneers, including cherry, mahogany, and oak, but my review samples were done in an attractive, piano-like black lacquer. (And though I've only seen the woodfinish KöcheIs in photographs, I think the black lacquer does the best job of complementing their lines and making the three separate boxes seem more visually integrated.) Overall build quality is excellent.

I'd be lying if I said I had no preconceived notions about the Köchels sound. Superficially, at least, they come pre-wired for prejudgement: Big. Compression drivers. Horns. Made in the Orient. But mostly Big. To paraphrase L.J.K. Setright, the Köchels are an order of pulchritude larger than anything else I've had in my home, and that can't help but affect my thinking.

Audiophiles who are honest with themselves know what that means: We expect big bass from big speakers. What else would we possibly want them for?

Viewed so, the Köchels disappoint. To get much out of them below 45 Hz you will need a good imagination or a subwoofer (the latter of which, incidentally, Köchel has just introduced).

So I'm here to re-educate you comrades You want big speakers because they have the ability to sound big. As in size. As in scale. As in scaring you into thinking you're sitting in front of the real thing, especially when you listen in the dark.

The Köchels are out-of-this-world good at doing that. And because they're efficient enough to be used with 2A3 and 300B amplifiers, they will breathe in and out and make records sound wetly real and unmechanical at the same time as they're doing the scale thing.

The best example comes courtesy of the new Philips recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 with Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic, about which Pat Meanor rightly raved in our last issue. The combination of this recording on a good Naim CD player, with a good single-ended amp driving the Köchels makes some of the best musical magic I've had in my room. The orchestra sounds organic and real, a big living thing that breathes in and out and seems capable of making itself appear alternately big and small, menacing and sweet. All the strings rattle and purr, and there is no mistaking the solo instrument of the opening bars for anything other than a real clarinet played by a living, breathing person.

I could go purple for the next several paragraphs, but the point is that the Köchels are impressive, convincing, and downright fun on large-scale classical music-not only because of their good sense of scale, but also because they are appropriately dramatic, colorful, and tuneful as well. If symphonies are all you listen to, and you either have or you intend to have a SET-based system, you could pretty much stop here.

But I'd like to say a few more words about the specifics of the Köchels' "presentation," and how that affects just about every kind of music...

Like other large-scale horns I've heard, these suggest the presence of musicians and singers in a way that's different from what we usually think of when it comes to "imaging." Precisely etched or sculpted "images" - little people, little instruments-between the speakers are not what you get here. The performers on your recordings sound very real and solid and "there," but they're pretty big, and overall they sound closer to what you hear in real life-which is to say, kind of amorphous. (You could look at this the other way around, I suppose, and say that these speakers lack imaging "precision" - though, to me, that's still like criticizing something for lacking an artificial quality.)

One other aspect of the Köchels' spatial performance deserves attention: Hi-fi guys and gals like you and me will look at these tallish cabinets and wonder, quite reasonably, if the tweeters aren't a little too high above ear level for proper dispersion for seated listeners-and thus "realistic" (but see above) imaging. Heck, I don't know. Maybe. Nothing about their spatial performance on big music bothers me in the least. The only time you really notice anything that might be a byproduct of the too-high tweeter (apart from when you're spending too much time reading audio magazines and thinking about this sort of thing) is on well made recordings of intimate, small-scale music. Yes, when I listen to Doc Watson's live "Black Mountain Rag" while sitting down (hard to do), Doc it sounds a little bit up there. And that's not half so weird as when you discover, at the end of the piece, that everyone in the audience is up there with him. Eli: Big deal.

Back to my preconceived notions. When I first saw the Köchels, I did what I try never to do: I went the pussy route of mentally dividing them into three separate parts-bass, midrange, and treble-and trying to guess what each would sound like. My prediction was that the bass would sound terrific, but the midrange and treble might not be as good, since they use compression drivers-and as all good high-end Nazis know, compression drivers and horns are Unacceptably Colored. [Insert unpleasant image of Fat Audio Guru flapping his arms and making goose noises.]

I was wrong, of course-wrong to do so, and wrong in my predictions.

Are the Köchels completely uncolored? Probably not completely. On some voices I heard trace amounts of a "megaphoning" or "cupped hands" effect-but only because I was straining to hear it, and only then because it's one of the things you nice folks pay me to do. it's likely that the Köchels' response has a few dips in the upper midrange, perhaps where some frequencies are canceled out rather than dispersed evenly from their respective horns. But if the sight of a horn leads you to expect ragged response-or, for that matter, a hard, glare-y sound-you will he "disappointed." From the waist up these are as smooth, silky, and even airy as anything this side of a Quad ESL, if not quite as transparent or, again, nth-degree neutral.

But you'll noticed I skipped around the bass regions-and with good reason(s): This aspect of the Köchels' performance is very much tied to the details of their set-up, especially room placement and amplifier choice (no surprise on either count). And even then even at their best-these aren't quite the last word in bass agility or sheer speed.

At their worst in my room (positioned close to the wall behind them, to maximize deep bass extension) the Köchels were sluggish and boomy on rock records. This was especially true on something like "The Words of Aaron" by The Move which, like almost every other song on their brilliant Message from the Country album, has a really wonderful, heavy-but-McCartneyesque electric bass line. Heard through the Köchels as I first installed them, the song felt and sounded good (thanks in no small part to their good sense of drama, but that bass line was significantly lacking in momentum and overall temporal clarity.

Substituting my 2A3 amps (the Electronic Tonalities Paraglows-as reviewed last issue) for the 300B-powered Audio Note Kit One helped a little: a little more speed and, believe it or not, a little more depth. (I swear, 2A3s make wonderful bass amps, notwithstanding their relative powerlessness.) But there was still a little too much overhang in the 60-100 Hz region.

Eventually I discovered that the Köchels want to be kept as far from the walls as possible. I made significant gains in clarity, speed, and smoothness of response just by pulling them two-and-a-half feet away from the rear wall and a little less than two feet from each respective side wall. The limiting factor in a small room like mine, of course, is the need to keep the speakers a fair distance away from each other and the listening seat-although, as far as the latter is concerned, the Köchels seem to need less room than other horns, many of which don't coalesce or "gel" unless you're a goodly ways away from them. in all, it seems safe to say that the K6chel's performance will only improve in larger surroundings.

Hi-fi's armchair generals, amongst whose numbers I count myself, will poke at the Köchel from all directions: It's too big. It isn't big enough. It should have been made of plywood. The folded horn should be longer. The tweeter is up too high. All well and good: Whether or not I agree with all or some of those observations, the fact that people will be making them speaks to the Köchel's viability, I think-that and the tendency for human nature to pick nits in the face of near misses more so than total flops.

So we're back to the T word. In many ways, these speakers are very much to my taste-especially in the way they manage to draw themselves up and make themselves sound so big. (You've probably seen how a cat can do that if you go after it with a broom or a rake or a big dog on a leash-and if not, I encourage you to go try it right now.) They don't have the Lowthers' startling presence or transparency, and they're not all-arounders in the sense that the well-balanced (and intelligently compromised) Spendors are. The Köchels fortes are fortes (sorry). That and scale. After that, they get the notes right, and the beats pretty much. They are well-nuanced, well balanced from bottom to top, and, I think, at least reasonably uncolored. I'd say that the Köchels are the most neutral full-range horns I've heard, but my experience is too limited for that observation to carry a whole lot of weight.) They're not perfectly suited to every kind of music (or room), but their orchestral prowess is something I won't soon forget. And while shipping costs obviously add to their price here in the US (and so there are at least a few domestic alternatives that can beat them up in the value -for-the-money department), the cost of buying a pair is not out of whack with the musical thrills they deliver.

For classical music enthusiasts with a generous budget and a taste for small tube amps, the Köchels are a must-hear. For everyone else, the elusive affordable, ultra-efficient, full-range loudspeaker remains just that: elusive.

Quality: 4.75 Stars

John Atkinson (1998 CES Stereophile, 4/98, p.65)

"...what I wasn't expecting was the superb sound I heard because of the speakers in the room, the Köchel K300, were very obviously horn loaded. Now, despite what you may have heard or read, I'm not prejudiced against horns. But the Köchel horns, in a system that featured a Miyabi cartridge....., sounded effortless, uncolored and musically communicative. ..... the Köchels get my vote for best sound at CES."

Michael Fremer's Analog Corner (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

Early on at the WAVAC tube amplifier and Köchel horn-speaker room, I was treated to some of the best sound at the Show -- open, pure, and effortless analog via a Basis/Graham combo fitted with a Miyabi MC cartridge ($3995) that uses alnico magnets and "6 nines" (99.9999%) pure copper. All but the arm/table are imported by tmh audio out of Dayton, Ohio. The stunning-looking and sounding $12,430 Wavac LCR-X1 phono section was new, as were some tube amps and preamps that I'm sure tubeman J-10 will cover in his Show report. And if not, why not?

Larry Greenhill (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

Surprising as well was the product handout claim made for the $9995/pair Köchel (K300) dynamic loudspeaker, "The speaker Mozart would have owned. And loved" I had my doubts about this claim, knowing that the Köchel uses compression horn drivers to achieve its high voltage sensitivity of 97dB/W/m. Yet I was wrong - this loudspeaker sounded good. Perhaps it was helped by the driving amplifier, Wavac’s HE-833, a 100W single-ended triode monoblocks. Designed by the late Nobu Shishido, this $50,560/pair amplifier uses a capacitor-free, direct-coupled design with interstage transformers. It has been rated for two years running by Japan's Stereo Sound magazine as the best-sounding amplifier in the world.

Robert Deutsch (HiFi98 - Stereophile, 9/98)

"Sonic Winners" list: Köchels (w/Wavac electronics)

Johann E. - Audio Asylum - July,2000

Part 1: I spent a long time seeking the perfect high efficiency speaker for a single ended triode based system. I think this owner review will probably be of interest to anyone seeking a similar speaker system. I was looking for:

a) Fairly "small" floor space to fit my small room
b) High Efficiency (94dB or higher) and ease of drive
c) Relatively uncoloured sonic performance
d) "Affordable" (US$2K or less, hopefully)
e) and magic.

I found all these qualities within the first fifteen minutes of auditioning the Kochel K200 two way horn loaded speaker at Music By Design in Singapore.

Barely "runned" in, a tad hard sounding, they still won heads and shoulders above "Brand X" speakers- a similarly priced job that I had been listening to (with some pain I might add...) for five months running, and had serious doubts about.

While Brand X was highly efficient (94dB), they were also highly coloured (and FLAWED), and gave hugely varying results from track to track on any given day. It was more than a breath of fresh air to listen out for these artifacts in the K200 and found none from the second I heard them, and even now, three months after I had them in my room.

I had also auditioned the very fine Cabasse Farellas, and while I felt that the Cabasse range is distinctly of a finer quality than Brand X, there really was no comparison to be made there with the K200.

I realize after awhile that these speakers take a really long break in time, and only the last week or so have I heard them as smooth as I had hoped they would be. Now there is NO trace of hardness anywhere. Now there is that fantastic full filigree fit for a music junkie.

My previous speakers were (Stereophile Rec. Component Class B Speakers-Brand), and I had to get something at least as good as "the Stereophile Rec. Component Class B Speakers-Brand" while running off an 8 watt amp...and I m glad to say that the K200 exceeds "the Stereophile Rec. Component Class B Speakers-Brand" in timbral recovery, dynamic slam, transparency, and musical involvement.

Now these speakers are no bookshelf units like the (...), but considering the small room I have (12 by 10), I am surprised that I still have room to walk around in here.["36 - 12" - 15" hwd]

Now, I have to tell you something. The Kochel K300 from the first, is my reference for high fidelity speakers. If the K200 can't facilitate that emotional "tap" (tapping into my soul, my hunger, my need...) that the K300s can, I wouldn't want them, no matter how uncoloured and unflawed they were compared to odious Brand X. I can't afford to part with thousands of dollars just to find out...

I think that if someone has heard and fallen in love with the K300s, the K200 will not disappoint him or her. The K200 retains most of the bigger pair's amazing presence-not that mid treble horn peak-but that sheer immediacy and communication, and a great deal of the exquisite treble sheen and shimmer that the K300s possess, but they're still not quite absolutely there yet. The K300s have the finest high treble range I have ever heard in a speaker of any origin, by the way, and I have heard no other equal them here.

Midrange is where we live where we breathe music, and the K200s shine here, and even exceeded my previous speakers as good as they are, resolving musical lines straight through complex polyphony as I have never heard in my room. From both the humble Rotel 951 HDCD CDP, and the Michell Gyro Dec, I have not heard more off my LPs and CDs ever.

Now, I think listening to music is getting to be a frightening experience for me. I never had that present a system til now. It is actually spooky to have these people without bodies in your room hovering over your mattress as you try to sleep. You know that the entire micro to macro dynamic scale has to be pretty life like for that to occur. I m hearing Joni Mitchell trembling on notes that I have not heard before, honestly.

As for soundstaging...now I have outgrown the compulsive need to sit in a hot spot and try to figure out which instrument or voice is placed exactly where...I would say that the depth/focus/palp factor in holographic terms equal many, many "Class B" rated conventional box and planar designs so highly regarded by the "high end" audio establishment. I have long given up the idea that I could get a symphonic band into my 12 by 10 room, and am pleased to hear James Taylor voice riding above his guitar on the Yo Yo Ma/Edgar Meyer CD, "Appalachian Waltz". I wouldn't call them "soundstage champs", but then I wouldn't call any speaker that strange little name.

And unlike some other horns I have heard, these didn't have that shouty, ringing in your ear distortion. I figure that these are probably the creamiest horns I have ever heard. Save for the Kochel K300-but that is a near miracle in itself.

Personally, I would upgrade my power amp before I comment further on the K200. But having said that, I cannot imagine a more resolving, more involving "small" horn design that I could live with long term. And I am not an upgrader; I had my previous speakers for seven whole years and never felt any genuine need to change-til I heard the Kochel.

Now I have the perfect speaker to build upon. A great deal of the audiophilia nervousa syndrome seems to be dropping away. It's just those NOS tube rolling thing that is hanging me up and I ll get out of that one one fine day...just you wait...yeah...then it's back to the real world for me...yeah...sure...sure...

Part 2: Next up was my Bach solo violin work CD by Lara St John.(HDCD)

Solo violin image size hung in the air like a cloud sculpture. And the tone! I have heard more highly praised/priced horn speakers crumble on solo violin tone. Not the K200/SE300B!

The HDCD filters work! Better than the Edgar Meyer/Mark O Connor/Yo Yo Ma Sony DSD recorded "Appalachian Journey" CD I got.

Not only tone, but expression. These are reproduced so well, it's startling.

"I found the high end more filigreed and fine than just about anything I have ever heard. Ribbons included. No squawk, no honk, no ringing.

In fact throughout the useable frequency spectrum resolution of fine instrumental detail was as good as any cost-no-object state-of-art "duoliths"(monoliths time two) that I've listened to via equally state-artsy electronics. If not better."

(More to come???)

Product Weakness: NO real bass below 50hZ. Largish size for small rooms. And they aren't the K300 :(
Product Strengths: Presence, dynamics, highly resolving horns, fine fine highs, mids and rich, powerful mid-bass. Strings and guitars are there in the room!

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Cary SLP 90/Alchemist Maxim(25w)/Golden Tube SE300B(8 watts)
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Aragon 47K/IPS
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Gyro Dec/SME V/Sumiko BPS/Rotel 951 HDCD Player.
Speakers: Kochel K200(95dB)
Cables/Interconnects: Cardas GoldenCross/VdH 1st/Alpha Core Goertz TQ1/SWG Fibreglass Insulated Silver Speaker Cable/Sonic Art Silver Cable
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz/Jazz-Rock/Small Scale Acoustic/Voice/Choral/Guitar Music/20th Century Classical/Hard Rock/Industrial/Hip-hop/Baroque String Music/Solo Violin/Dumb Movie Soundtracks/Chesky Stuff...
Room Size (LxWxH): 12 x 10 x 8
Room Comments/Treatments: Messiest Room In the Known Universe True Absorption and Diffusion Capital of the World.
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Harmonic Technology AC Power Cord For Power Amp
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

Bill Cowen Home - Audio Equipment Review - April, 2001

Review Summary
Sound "Effortless scaling of dynamic swings"; "width, depth, and layering were all surprisingly good from such a small and wide box"; "somewhat lean…throughout the midrange" and "the concrete-cracking bass factor was decidedly absent, but there was still a good sense of weight."

Features Horn loading makes for high sensitivity; played very loudly via a 10Wpc SET amp.

Use In terms of placement: "Too close to the front wall and the lower midrange and upper bass were a little thick and overripe. Too far away, and the bass lost authority and weight," although the K200s "would produce a deep, wide, and stable-imaged soundstage in just about any room position."

Value "An affordable, attractive, and well-designed horn-loaded loudspeaker."

Horns. The mere utterance of the word sends many an audiophile into animated nostril-pinching gesticulations, normally in a comical attempt to mimic the colorations so often associated with horn-loaded loudspeakers. Unfortunately, such characterizations are not entirely undeserved, as many horn-loaded designs, especially those of aged design and/or poor implementation, resulted in a nasal, honky-sounding sonic character. Luckily for us times have changed. And along with that change come substantial improvements, enough so that such colorations are no longer a necessary by-product of a horn-loaded design. Need proof? Read on.

Details,

The Köchel K200 is a two-way loudspeaker featuring a 1" soft-dome, horn-loaded tweeter and an 8" back-loaded-horn woofer. Rather smallish in stature at 36" high and 13 1/2" wide, it blends nicely into the listening area without dominating the space. The review pair arrived a little beaten up due to the perils of shipping, but not punished so badly as to affect them sonically. The review speakers were finished in a high-gloss black, and the level of fit and finish was excellent, especially considering the selling price: $4500 USD per pair depending on the finish. The K200 is also available (at an even lower price) in a sapelle wood veneer. I saw the veneered version at the last CES, and actually preferred their appearance to the piano black. It was more décor-friendly to me, although that is an entirely subjective viewpoint.

The K200 is spec’ed by the manufacturer with a 95dB sensitivity, an 8-ohm nominal impedance, and a frequency response of 50Hz-20kHz (+/- 6dB). While the K200 is not as high in sensitivity as many other horn-loaded speakers, the final arbiter is how well it will work with the desired amplification and in the room. Two sets of binding posts (for biwiring/biamping) sit in a recessed cup on the back panel. Thin, gold-plated straps are included for jumpering the posts if biwiring is not desired or possible. Removable black fabric grilles run the full width and height of the speakers. Finally, massive spikes are included and help to firmly couple the speakers to the floor, even through thick carpeting like mine.

The K200 was designed by P.Y. Park, the president of Marshall Electronics, which is also the company that manufactures the Köchel line. He has been involved in pro audio for over 20 years, and the K200 is his realization of a smaller, less expensive version of the Köchel K300, currently claiming honors as Köchel's top-of-the-line speaker. Park’s guiding philosophy has been that a properly executed horn loudspeaker is the best way to reproduce music with the lowest distortion, the fastest transient response, and the ability to convey dynamics in the most convincing way. Proof’s in the pudding….

Setup

When I first unboxed the K200s, I was concerned that the inset drivers and wide cabinet would preclude any sort of soundstaging and/or imaging capability. I was wrong. In fact, I was dead wrong, as I found the K200s would produce a deep, wide, and stable-imaged soundstage in just about any room position. To be honest, I didn’t place them directly up against the wall (for fear that the audiophile police would haul me away), but from within two feet of the front wall and even well out into the room, the K200s produced an exceedingly believable presentation of the recorded acoustic. Playing with the distance from the front wall (and the side walls, to a lesser extent) was instrumental only in achieving the best bass presentation. Too close to the front wall and the lower midrange and upper bass were a little thick and overripe. Too far away, and the bass lost authority and weight. I ended up with a placement that was 38" off the front wall, 28" in from the side walls, and toed in slightly -- only slightly. Too much toe-in and the highs could be a little too prominent. Too little, and the center image lost specificity. Things may work entirely differently in your room, but the important point here is that the K200s are relatively easy to place and do not seem to be overly room sensitive.

Sound

The first tune to hit the player was Junior Wells' "Goin’ Home," from Better Off With the Blues [Telarc CD-83354]. The throbbing bass-guitar line that starts out the song came across convincingly, with nice definition and detail. The concrete-cracking bass factor was decidedly absent, but there was still a good sense of weight. As Wells’ voice kicked in, I was immediately impressed with two things: there wasn’t the slightest hint of any nasal or cupped-hands coloration, and there was so much harmonic information that I got one of those "you be there" kind of feelings. As I listened further into this song, I was impressed with the agility and deftness that the K200s brought out of the leading and trailing edges of a note. Transient speed was most excellent, dude. The K200s are superb at their effortless scaling of dynamic swings -- soft to loud in the blink of an eye. This particular quality is endemic to many horn-loaded designs and adds a heaping dose of reality to the reproduction. The trick that the K200s pull off so well is their ability to bring out the good qualities of a horn design without dragging the bad qualities along in tandem.

Associated Equipment
Loudspeakers – Coincident Speaker Technology Total Eclipse.

Amplifiers – AES Super Amp and Cary Audio Design 805C power amps, Wavac MD-300B integrated amp.

Preamplifiers – Cary Audio Design SLP-98, Audio Electronics AE-3,

Phono stages – Cary Audio Design PH-301 Mk 2, Audio Electronic Supply PH-1.

Digital – Audio Electronic Supply CD-1 (modified).

Analog – Eurokit Premiere turntable, Graham 2.0 tonearm, Benz-Micro MC-SCHEU and Dynavector Te Kaitora cartridges, Greater Ranges Neuance isolation shelf.

Interconnects and speaker cables – Coincident Speaker Technology interconnects and speaker cables, Coincident and Cardas Golden Cross phono cables.

Power conditioners and power cords – PS Audio P300 Power Plant, Shunyata Research PowerSnakes King Cobra.

Accessories – Black Diamond Racing cones and Round Things, SolidSteel rack, home-brew sandboxes, Silent Running Audio amp stands (custom for the 805Cs), ASC Half Rounds and Tower Traps, Marigo Audio Labs VTS tuning dots.

As mentioned earlier, I was quite taken with the K200s' soundstaging capabilities. Width, depth, and layering were all surprisingly good from such a small and wide box. Playing several cuts from the Gladiator soundtrack [Decca 2894670942] revealed lots of spatial and ambient information, and layering that was good, if not quite to the caliber of more expensive speakers. All in all, a pretty credible performance in this area, especially at this price point.

Tonally, the K200s have a somewhat lean character throughout the midrange. Joan Armatrading’s "Can’t Let Go" from Hearts [A&M 7502-15298-2] provides a good example. Having heard her in concert many years ago, I can attest that a certain chestiness (can I say chesty here?) stands out in her voice even through the sonic destruction of the recording and reproduction processes. Through the K200s, that sonic trademark was a bit less evident, as some of that vocal resonance was curtailed. Yes, she still sounded like Joan Armatrading, but with a little less gestalt than I’m used to hearing through other (non-horn) speakers. If you’re looking for a warm’n’rosy sound, the K200s might not be your cup of tea.

Finally, if you want to hear the K200s really strut their stuff, toss on a piano recording. The Sonata in B Minor, from Nojima Plays Liszt [Reference Recordings, RR-25CD], provides an excellent example. Perhaps it’s those effortless transient swings, or perhaps the ability to scale macrodynamic shifts with such ease, but I’ve never heard a piano sound so palpable in my listening room. I spent quite a bit of time hauling out every piano recording I had on both LP and CD, and my impressions never wavered. If you’re a piano fanatic, you just have to hear these speakers.

Power

The K200s spent time with three different amplifiers during the review period. The Wavac MD-300B (reviewed here previously) is a 10Wpc, 300B- based SET stereo amp. Most of the listening notes were derived with it in the driver's seat. The Köchels also spent time with the 50-watt Cary 805C SET amps, and finally with the Audio Electronics AE-25 Super Amp, sporting 15 push-pull watts per side from its diminutive stereo chassis. I have to say that the 10-watt Wavac was a natural partner for these speakers -- quick, clear, and offering transparency that was quite beguiling. Enough power? More than enough -- the Wavac amp would drive the K200s well past any reasonable listening level, even in my large room. I tried to clip the Wavac, and was unsuccessful, at least from an audible standpoint. The only nit I could find to pick was that bass lines were foreshortened by just a smidgen, but not something that would likely have been apparent had I not strapped up the nuclear-powered Carys.

A normal person would reason that if 10 watts were sufficient to produce any desired listening level, it would be somewhat pointless to toss in a 50-watt behemoth. But I’m not normal, so I did. And the result was a stronger bass line, a soundstage with a nearly 3-D holography, and an even more effortless jaunt through loud, complex passages. Even with the Cary passing some substantial juice, I could only cause the K200s to show displeasure when things were just way too loud. At normal and even concert-level volumes, the K200s kept their composure without so much as a hint of driver stress or loss of dignity.

Finally, I gave the Audio Electronics Super Amp a spin. Having already chased the neighbors back to their summer home with the max-decibel stints, I was mostly curious about the sound with a push-pull tube amp driving things. Were the Köchels a wonder with SETs, and a miserable disaster with any other type of amplification? I have to say no, maybe even hell no: the K200s driven by this $1500 amp were most enjoyable. Yes, that wonderful SET midrange magic was pushed to the side a little, but the tighter, more controlled bass lines -- that area where push-pull tube amps normally put a headlock on their SET brethren -- was too much fun. Further, nothing got ugly. In fact, for rock recordings, I actually had more of a hankerin’ for the sound with the Super Amp providing the muscle. With blues and classical, the SET amps served up more of the goosebumps. I could live happily with either, and of more universal significance, the K200s can sound quite good with either type of amplification. I didn’t have any solid-state amps of reasonable pedigree on hand to try out, so if that’s your thing, you’ll have to give it a try for yourself.

Comparison

At 2.5 times the cost of the Köchels, my Coincident Total Eclipse speakers are hardly a fair comparison. The Total Eclipses go lower, are more detailed, produce a more layered soundstage, and have a greater sense of body and bloom in the midrange. Nothing surprising or earth-shattering here -- it’s meaningless to attempt an absolute comparison with such a wide price divergence.

Also on hand were the Diapason Nux loudspeakers (review forthcoming). The Nuxes retail for $2499 per pair, so again, absolute comparisons are not particularly valid. Enough already. Which is better? Sorry, but nothing in audioland is that simple, and what may be better for me may not be for you. The sonic differences are easily heard, however, regardless of the amplification used. The Köchels have a faster, lighter, and leaner presentation than the Diapasons. Subjective bass extension between the two is similar, with neither speaker capable of producing earthquake-level sonic shocks. Both speakers, however, bring a surprising amount of weight into the midbass and upper bass, and enough so that a subwoofer may be considered an enhancement rather than a requirement. The Nuxes are more polite in character, offering an ease to the presentation that is kind to most recordings. The Köchels will lay bare more of what is fed them, and serve up more detail. Both speakers have a sweet, engaging treble register, with no screechiness or fatigue-inducing brightness. The Köchels have a little more sparkle and extension, which gives them an airier overall impression. Does this mean that one speaker editorializes the sound more than the other? Well, yes and no. All loudspeakers project a distinct sonic flavor or character, regardless of price. The amount of this character generally diminishes with price escalation, so the real question is how much editorializing occurs at this price level. Unfortunately, that’s hard to answer. Both speakers provide an engaging, enjoyable presentation that serves the music, and that’s what matters the most.

Conclusion

The K200 is an affordable, attractive, and well-designed horn-loaded loudspeaker. With its smallish size and room-setup friendliness, it should be an easy addition to any décor. While incapable of subterranean bass output, the bass that is there is well defined, punchy, and conveys a good sense of weight. Treble registers are light and airy with no sense of edge or brightness. The midrange perspective is somewhat lean compared to non-horn designs, so careful auditioning prior to purchase is mandatory to assure that the K200 aligns with your supporting equipment and sonic goals. Of significant importance, however, is that there is absolutely no honkiness or cupped-hands coloration. In fact, if you didn’t know that the K200 was horn-loaded, you’d probably never guess by listening. Add to that an expansive, detailed soundstage and the ability to play at high SPLs with low-power amplifiers, and you may feel as I do: the K200 is an excellent loudspeaker and one most worthy of your time to audition.

Jean Hiraga, editor - Revue du Son - October, 2000

Jean Hiraga: After listening to various genre of music, I found the K200 to be effortless in reproducing music as it was designed to be highly efficient by the masssive magnet structure used with a very light membrane assembly. The music simply flows out effortlessly. Precise reproduction of high notes of music instruments is noteworthy and the sound stage is very wide and deep. The sound is very dynamic and musically involving and the sound is tonally very well balanced. I did not experience fatigue after extended listening. The frequency response of K200 is not as ruler flat as some of the more exotic and expensive speakers and yet the K200 has a more attractive sound.

Robert Lacrampe: The K200 has a rather uncommon tonal quality compared to many ordinary speakers we hear in normal listening rooms. The frequency response charts of K200 are not as smooth as some of the other so called high-end speakers and yet I could sense the designer's enthusiasm for music by listening to the speakers. The tiny specks in the objective test data simply disappeared from my mind as I was being overwhelmed by the pleasure of music reproduced by K200. Many an ordinary speaker with good acoustic and electrical measurements simply cannot come close to K200's musicality derived from the high efficiency speaker design. K200 is designed for music lovers instead of audiophiles in a strict sense, I assume.

Dynamic Range: 10
Transparency: 9
Soundstage/Imaging: 10
Coherency: 9

Roy Gregory - Excerpts from HiFi+ (January, 2001)

The first thing you need to know about this speaker system is that it doesn't sound like a traditional horn. It is tonally even and both tonally and dynamically consistent top to bottom. There are no violent hot spots and no shelves in the frequency response. In fact, it is rather well behaved and not uncouth.

Played together, the K200/SW200 has weight and power on tap (enough to ripple my bath water when Victoria gave the Gladiator OST some serious stick!). It throws a huge soundfield well away from the speakers, and if they can't match the sheer scale of the K300's, they aren't far behind.

The dragging thuds that open "Wholly Humble Heart" (Martin Stephenson) advance menacingly until the crashing tumble ofthe opening drum cascade.

The Köchels cut right to the heart of the music without dismantling it. Stephenson's lead vocal is immediate and separate, the sibilance slightly emphasized (don't panic, it's on the recording), his almost spoken opening is paced perfectly to integrate with the backing, the powerful swell of the rhythm, the canon and fireworks of the instrumental punctuation. It's a powerful track and these speakers give it to you live and kicking.

Likewise the propulsive rhythm section on "Stand Back" is given free reign. Pace and pitch definition are both spot on, lifting the song and hurling it forward. The Köchels even manage to separate the backing vocals into two distinct contributions, keeping the singers separate whilst their carefully metered contribution stays well and truly together in the great scheme of things.

This is one book you really shouldn't judge by it's cover. Ignore the fact the fact they are horns and simply enjoy them for what they do best - bringing music alive into the home.

Bob Spellman (owner) - Audio Asylum - March, 2001

As a species, we are generally risk averse. But every now and then, we take the plunge and do something a bit wild and crazy. At those times, we are usually reminded why the "safe and not sorry" approach governs our behavior. Audiophiles are a somewhat different lot, driven by certain audio demons that demand experimentation and impulse. And every once in a while, we buy something sight-unseen, sound-unheard, and it turns out wonderfully...so begins my story of the Kochel K200s.

At the outset, I gratefully acknowledge and thank Johann E for being my muse in this adventure. His cogent and passionate reviews and posts about the Kochels strongly influenced me. I did read everything I could search and find on the net, but ultimately, I bought them without an audition from tmh in Ohio, who had them directly shipped to me from Korea. Some preliminaries are in order so you can put this review and my listening tastes and biases into context.

I have been an audio buff for over 30 years and owned and traded many pieces of equipment. I am definitely a tube kinda guy and electrostatics and 2-ways are my preference in more traditional designs, largely predicated on their coherency, soundstaging and imaging. For many years, the only speakers that have truly satisfied and remained in my home theater/living room have been a modified Levinson HQD system. The double-stacked Quads and Decca ribbons form the mids and top and a Signature Music sub takes care of the bottom. The pre is a Joule electra LA100 MkIII and the amps are a CJ 11a for the mids and a Nobis Cantabile drives the ribbons. An ARC EC3a provides the active x-over. I am not rich, but over the years, most disposable income has been channeled into audio gear. Other speakers I currently own include the Kharma Ceramiques 3.0, Meadowlark Shearwaters, Shahinian Obelisks, Avalon Eclipses and an old pair of B&W 801s. Amplification generally are Conrad Johnson or Counterpoint pieces or, occasionally, ARC. Source is mainly CD/SACD with sundry cassette decks and tuners. No vinyl for many years--too much hassle superimposed on the aggravation attendant to tubes...and anyone who thinks surface noise and pops sound life-life has certainly suspended disbelief and may be victims of alien abduction. I love vocals, especially female, enjoy new age, chamber music, some jazz and classical, soundtracks, pop, and anything soothing and melodic (rap and hip-hop have me reaching for the Prozac and Tums)...

[When the hell is he going to talk about the Kochels??!] Soon, I promise. Let me lay out the room and associated gear and we're off...My bedroom is where I do the majority of my listening. It is 16' along the wall where the Kochels are placed, 13' across and 16' high in a slanted cathedral configuration. Two doors, 30" wide and 3' equidistant from the side walls, frame the outside limits of the speaker placement leaving 5.5' in the center where the speakers and a TV must be accommodated. The Kochels are slightly more than a foot wide, leaving about 4.5' between the inner edges of the speakers. They are 10" off the back wall and toed in 10 degrees (yeah, I wish they could be further apart and into the room--no dice). The room is warm and absorbing, with a thick rug, two sets of drapes covering windows and every corner of the room is occupied by furniture that prevents sound energy from collecting in the corners. The bed is positioned between the speakers and a stereo bench is set off to a side wall. Amplification is via a Bel Canto SETi40 and the main source is a Sony 9000ES CD/SACD/DVD player. Speaker cable is Discovery Signature (17.5' runs) and one 2.5m AQ Opal IC connects the player to the integrated. Everything is plugged into a a Marigo Reference line conditioner.

[So dammit, how do they sound?] A few catch phrases will convey their essence. Stunning and immediate, effortless and airy, incredible fast and palpable are my best attempts at a quick snapshot. To steal from Johann, they have a certain touch of "magic", the kind of stuff that makes you stop, sit down and listen in a stereo salon cause you know something special is going on. The highs have shimmer and grace and copious detail. They can sound hard if the source material is recorded hot eg. Celine Dion's latest compilation, Jennifer Lopez, On the 6, and Sarah Brightman's Andrew Webber collection come quickly to mind. But lordy, listen to the triangles in Miriam's Mercy Street or the high frequency content on the FIM IV sampler on any cut, and you'll be smiling and swaying. The mids are unquestionably the most important part of the sound spectrum for most of us, and the Kochels will impress you there, each and every time you listen to them. Despite the other-worldy, ungodly placement, the soundstage is wide and very deep. Voices like Rebeccca Pidgeon on Spanish Harlem or Carla Lother on Roll Away from Ephemera are amazingly life-like and the equal (I'd never thought I'd say it) of the Quads though their perspective (the Kochels) is front of the auditorium/music studio as opposed to the mid-back presentation of the Quads. A week ago I was having the interior of my house painted. After a long day, the painter asked me to play the Kochels for him just before he left. He was immediately transfixed by the sound and asked that I call his wife--he'd be late for supper. He wanted to stay a while and just listen to the music.

Complex orchestral passages are rendered without congestion with precise pinpoint source information. They never sound larger than life like the Magneplanars. The Kochels replaced the Eclipses which I think are among the finest I have ever heard with respect to imaging and resolution. Don't believe those who tell you horns can't image and layer properly. In that regard, the Kochels are the equal or better than any of my other two-way speakers, all of which have something special to offer in their own right.

The bass was my biggest concern before I bought the K200s. There was some controversy in the threads I read. My speakers are only two months old, so they really aren't broken in yet, but they certainly have lots of satisfying and tight bass already. Being only 10" off the back wall I'm sure accounts for some of that, but on the other side, the Bel Canto has never been singled out for stellar bass performance. I have little concern that they will be plenty deep when the drivers loosen up a little and I'd be willing to bet they can and do go lower than 50Hz. They do cartwheels around the Eclipses' bass content already. I find no overhang and truly excellent tonal integration, top to bottom. I have no intentions of springing for a sub (though Kochel offers you one, if you want it).

This review has been shamelessly long, so I will mention only a few other things before closing. The crating was outstanding when I received them. wooden splints around styrofoam in all dimensions, they looked ready for interstellar jump-gating. Jim Ricketts, the representative for tmh was outstanding--very helpful and a true gentleman. He provided excellent service and info before and after the sale. He is a big suppporter of WAVAC for amplification and PSC for ICs and speaker cabling to complement the Kochels. I'll probably switch the PSC for the AQ Opal next (would probably tame that touch of hardness at high listening levels, though simple break-in time might be all that's needed). I'll also spike the speakers eventually (they come with spikes but I'm waiting until tmh experiments and finds the best combo before going that route). My Sony 9000 is a bit upfront is the mids so I'll be trying some other CD players and let you know what happens. You should also know that I had totally written off horns years ago because of certain sonic deficiences (eg nasality , hardness), but recent favorable reviews of the Avantgardes, Beauhorns and Lowthers made me reconsider (deo gratias). The Kochels do not sound at all like horns to me. I love their efficiency and their size is reasonable I bought them in piano black--muy bonita, very high WAF. As I re-read this review, it is pretty damn glowing. Rest assured I have nothing to do with Kochel or tmh and I am not an audio gadfly who gushes over his latest acquisition (this is my first review). But the Kochels are special and worth a listen especially if you're an SET man who needs high efficiency and space is of concern. They are not bargain basement in price, but they must be considered a real value for the $$, considering the price of the competition and their quality. I know I owe Johann and Jim dinner if they ever come to Milwaukee...

Product Weakness: Enormously resolving--be sure everything is up to snuff at the front end. May not be the "ne ultra plus" for bass, but I reserve final jugment until adequate break-in.
Product Strengths: Stunning mids, beautiful airy highs, high efficiency (95 db), relatively small footprint. Outstanding imaging, layering, tonal balance and transient speed.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Bel Canto SETi40
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Sony 9000ES CD/SACD/DVD
Speakers: Kochel K200s
Cables/Interconnects: Discovery Signature speaker cabling, AQ Opal IC
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Everything but rap/hip hop. Emphasis on female vocals.
Room Size (LxWxH): 16 x 13 x 16
Room Comments/Treatments: Warm absorbent room, cathedral ceiling
Time Period/Length of Audition: Two months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Marigo Reference
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner