The weight of expectation around the new Kandy K2 amp must be metaphorically crushing Roksan right about now.
Its predecessor, the Kandy K2, won our Product of the Year award in 2008, missed out the next two years, and claimed our Best Buy honour in 2011 (thanks to a hefty price cut).
So how do you follow that success story? If you’re Roksan, you add Bluetooth, hence the new ‘BT’ at the end of the name.
And while that will be seen as a very useful addition to an already winning formula, Roksan has also sought to make enhancements to the audio, including an upping of the power output from 125W to 140W.
Consider that the Naim Nait 5si packs just 60W, then you start to realise what a monstrous figure this is for a stereo amp at this end of the market.
What hasn’t changed is the external design, which will prove as divisive as ever. Whether you like the mirrored panel on the front or not, the fact is that the white text printed on it is practically impossible to read unless you are next to it.
You can’t tell where the volume is set without getting very close either. It’s a similar story with the remote – who thought grey text on a silver background was a good idea?
The selection of inputs draws more positivity. There are six line-level connections (including one marked AV for those who want to integrate a stereo amp into their surround setup – a step we’d heartily recommend if you’re serious about both), a moving-magnet phono connection and a tape loop.
A single set of speaker terminals rounds-off the back, and there’s a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front.
But back to the audio, and it’s that extra power that proves the most thrilling aspect of the K2 BT’s delivery.
It’s a big, bold and weighty performance and one capable of despatching grand dynamic shifts with consummate ease. It makes for rousing renditions of swelling orchestral scores and heavy metal anthems.
There’s also a degree of punch here that the last Kandy K2 couldn’t quite manage: a precision to the start and stop of each note that combined with that power creates a fabulously forceful attack.
There’s a great deal of detail here too, and the open, engaging reproduction of vocals is a big win.
But not all of the changes to the sonic character are for the better. While individual notes have precise start and stop points, there’s something of a lack of flow to the overall presentation.
There seems to be a bit of a timing issue that means notes don’t link as cohesively as they should and instruments don’t combine to create a truly unified whole.
It means the Roksan is unable to untangle the web of particularly complicated sections of music, and that leaves them sounding messier and more cluttered than they should.
That flaw also combines with something of a disregard for lower-level dynamics to rob tracks such as the intro to The XX’s first album of some of their subtle drama, while The Road soundtrack loses some of the organic, acoustic note decay that makes the raw recording so special.
It’s a bit of a shame really, because while the increase in power has resulted in dynamics that enhance your music’s emotive qualities, the loss of some of the fluidity and subtlety degrades them. Roksan giveth and taketh away.
Unsurprisingly exactly the same sonic traits are in evidence if you switch to Bluetooth. There’s a slight drop in detail and punch, but overall this is a strong wireless performance.
In fact, “strong” is a good word to use in relation to the Kandy K2 BT. The amount of power it has got and the way it uses that to create punch and massive dynamic shifts are very rare at this price, and there are some who will love the amp just for that.
It’s just a shame that some of the old, likeable character elements of the last K2 have been lost along the way.