There’s a sense of focus here in spadeloads, but this is a two-way focus thing; it causes you to focus your attention on the music and in turn it pulls the music into tighter focus. Continuing with the optical analogy until it’s firmly dead from overuse, this is a wide-angle field of view, not a close-up (or macro) viewpoint. The KA L takes in the music qua music, not as a series of notes to be carefully analysed. Yes, the close-up detail is there if you want to, but this is not the sole purpose of the KA L. It’s more intent on delivering a musical performance in its entirety than forcing you to study the playing of the second viola.
Perhaps the best description is one of a Zen-like calm over the face of the KA L. Nothing perturbs the pre-amplifier and anything that approaches the product is reflected perfectly. So you can put just about everything you can think of through the pre-amp – whether it’s smooth sounding Wes Montgomery guitar solos from the early 1960s played softly, or Turandot at full wig-out levels. Everything is in its right place, nothing seems lost or altered and the sound is remarkably unsullied by the experience. This bestows on the sound a profound sense of ‘right’ that comes along but rarely. The late, lamented Pink Triangle PIP was one such pre-amplifier. This is like the PIP, but with more bass and no batteries to break down at a moment’s notice.
When you start reeling out classic old pre-amps that were indescribably good 20-years ago and still fondly remembered today, you know the KA L is on to something good. In fact, to some extent, it may even be ‘better’ than the bigger brother. I’ve only limited experience with the bigger Karan – the two-box KA L Reference – but there are strong similarities between the two. In many respects, the one-box KA L is the more approach-able of the two; the KA L Reference is ultraprecise, ultra-detailed, ultrafocused… all of the things the KA L does, but more so. So why ‘more approachable’? Because the KA L has a wider comfort zone. It will not tear a bad recording limb from limb. I suspect this might be a ‘PRaT’ thing: both KA Ls are very good at keeping time – even crazy modern jazz time signatures – but where the KA L Reference is so focused on delivering the absolute last stretches of detail in the bottom octaves, the KA L just seems happy to let nature and rhythm take its course. More research – and a lengthy direct comparison – is needed In fact, a lengthy demonstration is highly recommended here. Its honest approach is not an immediate hit and even the highest of high-enders can sometimes be swayed by more up-front ‘bling’ products. This is the antithesis of bling. It’s a calm, collected and smart pre-amp choice, which will give listeners decades of pleasure. Perhaps that’s why Karan is not better known – second-hand Karan products are almost unheard of because the owners are so reluctant to sell them on. On no account take this the wrong way, what follows is a wholly positive statement: it’s hard to be impressed by the Karan KA L. Which is just how it should be. This pre-amplifier never draws attention to itself, whether through its sonic actions or some mercurial fit of electrical pique. It simply plays music, letting you enjoy the sound all the more. That it’s softly spoken is a better statement of long-term quality than any sonic fireworks. There are precious few products so ‘intelligently’ designed.