April 2001Köchel K200 Loudspeakers
by Bill Cowen
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 speced 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. Parks 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. Proofs in the pudding .
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 didnt 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.
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 wasnt 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.
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 Armatradings "Cant 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 Im used to hearing through other (non-horn) speakers. If youre looking for a warmnrosy 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 its those effortless transient swings, or perhaps the ability to scale macrodynamic shifts with such ease, but Ive 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 youre a piano fanatic, you just have to hear these speakers.
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 Im 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 didnt have any solid-state amps of reasonable pedigree on hand to try out, so if thats your thing, youll have to give it a try for yourself.
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 -- its 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, thats hard to answer. Both speakers provide an engaging, enjoyable presentation that serves the music, and thats what matters the most.
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 didnt know that the K200 was horn-loaded, youd 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.
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