GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published December 1, 2005

 

Odyssey Audio Etesian Preamplifier and Khartago Stereo Amplifier

I’ve met Klaus Bunge, the man behind Odyssey Audio products, at two audio shows, and both times he struck me as someone truly committed to his products. Some manufacturers have a standoffish attitude at trade shows. Some seem to avoid the public altogether, appearing only if someone with press credentials stops by. But Bunge engaged everyone in discussion and seemed truly passionate about the products he offers.

Odyssey sells direct to the consumer through their website, www.odysseyaudio.com, and Bunge’s friendliness is evident there as well. Potential customers are encouraged to call to discuss their purchases to ensure that they get the best products for their needs. Buyers get a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 20-year warranty that is transferable to a second owner.

For this review I was sent Odyssey’s Etesian preamplifier ($350 USD) and Khartago two-channel power amplifier ($775).

Description

The Khartago power amplifier is 18"W x 4.25"H x 16"D and weighs a little over 30 pounds. Odyssey rates the amplifier’s power output at 110Wpc into 8 ohms. The clean front panel is a thick metal plate with only a small LED in the middle, the word "Odyssey" above it and "Khartago" below it. On the rear are a power switch, power-cord receptacle, one pair of inputs, and a set of speaker outputs. The amplifier has a simple, no-frills appearance; it’s not eye candy.

Like the Khartago, the Etesian preamplifier is 18"W x 4.25"H, but is only about half as deep at 8.25". The front panel is dominated by two knobs: volume control on the right, input selection on the left. While the knobs’ unusually large size is in keeping with Odyssey’s overall design scheme, they aren’t the smoothest preamp controls I’ve used. The input selector, in particular, was a little clunky. On the rear are four clearly labeled line-level inputs, a single set of outputs, a power-cord receptacle, and a power switch. Like the Khartago’s power switch, the Etesian’s is hard to reach when the unit is installed on a rack. There’s probably no reason not to keep it on at all times.

It would have been good had the Etesian included a subwoofer output; a good number of people seem interested in systems comprising two small bookshelf speakers and a separate sub. However, the absence of a sub out is understandable given the model’s price and Odyssey’s overall design philosophy, which seems to be: offer the best sound for the least money.

Review system

During my time with the Odysseys, I hooked them up to a variety of equipment and they always performed admirably. I used them with a Rotel RCD-1070 CD player, and with the Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter using the Rotel as a transport. The loudspeakers were Quad 21L and Axiom M22ti.

Odyssey supplied pairs of Groneberg speaker cables and interconnects; I always used the latter for the preamp-amp connection. I used the speaker cables for some trials, but because of their length, I had to swap in my own Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval as well. For the source-preamp connection I used Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In interconnects.

For most of my listening sessions I stuck with the Rotel CD player and Quad speakers.

Listening

I remember my grandparents’ RCA Living Stereo LPs from when I was a kid, so it was with a feeling of nostalgia that I put on Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony’s recording of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra [BMG Classics 61389-2]. I was presented with a wide soundstage in which instruments had definite locations in space. The sound in the midrange was very clear, but as things soared into the highs in track 9 (Night Wanderer’s Song) or on cymbal clashes, I felt that it began to lose some definition. In track 6 (Of Science), which begins with some deep notes, I also felt that it fell short of the best bass definition I’ve heard.

Duke Ellington’s Piano in the Foreground [CD, Columbia CK 87042] highlights Ellington’s piano playing in a trio with drums and bass. Listening to "I Can’t Get Started," I noticed some drum parts I hadn’t heard before, which indicated that the Odysseys were getting all the details right. The drumming and interplay between the instruments when Duke comes in during "Cong-Go" is a good place to examine microdynamics, and I was pleased with what I heard. Getting a piano to sound just right is hard to do, and the Odysseys reproduced it accurately. In its price class, I’d say the Odyssey pair was near the top of what I’ve heard.

I recently heard Luciana Souza in concert, which gave me a real-world reference to use when listening to her newest disc, Duos II [Sunnyside SSC 1142]. The CD includes duets between Souza and various guitarists playing Brazilian music. The Odyssey pair rendered the guitars and Souza’s voice with great realism. Romero Lubambo’s guitar playing on "Muita Bobeira" was fast and complex; I heard just the right timbre during each of the different techniques Lubambo used. The decay of guitar notes during Lubambo’s slow playing on "Trocando em Miudos" was exceptionally clear. These recordings of Souza’s voice sounded faithful to the concert I’d heard the night before, catching every inflection of her slightly dry sound during the workout of "Sai Dessa." Unlike on the Strauss disc, instrument and voice were well separated and distinct from each other.

Even when I was younger and listening only to noisy things such as Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubauten, I loved Bob Dylan. His latest release, No Direction Home [Columbia C2K 93937], contains previously unreleased music from 1959 to 1966 and is a companion release to the Martin Scorsese film of the same title. I’m a sucker for alternative versions of songs I admire, and these two CDs provide lots of enjoyment. "Tombstone Blues" gave me the soundstage I’d come to expect from the Odysseys, and had me grooving along right away. The drums and acoustic guitar in particular seemed to have rock-solid images, and the percussion (it sounds like a tambourine) had very distinct "clinks" throughout. The thoroughly bluesy version of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and "Visions of Johanna" gave me more of the same and passed my completely subjective "rock out" test: I was singing along and tapping my toes. That tells me the Odyssey had no trouble getting the pace and rhythm of the music just right.

The Brazilian Girls, who are not Brazilian and only one of whom is female, have produced one of the best electronica albums this year, Brazilian Girls [CD, Verve Forecast B000322902]. If you’ve listened recently to the Chill channel on Sirius satellite radio, you couldn’t help but hear their "Lazy Lover." I got the deepest bass out of the Khartago during my whole review period on tracks such as "Home" -- deep and present in a way it wasn’t on other discs. The electronic percussion and noises on "Don’t Stop" and "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" had great tone and a real holographic presentation -- strange, given that the sounds were likely made on a computer and never existed in a physical acoustic space. Maybe it’s because electronica artists consider the soundstage to be another instrument they can manipulate, but I found that this and other electronica releases seemed to love the Odysseys.

Alternatives

The Odyssey Khartago and Etesian were the first solid-state amplifier and preamplifier I’ve reviewed for GoodSound! in some time. I tend to prefer tube equipment, but the Odysseys leapt ahead of most of the tube gear I’ve heard recently. I wish I still had the Onix SP3 integrated amplifier ($699), which I reviewed in September, to directly compare with the Odysseys, but based on my notes, the Onix is the only other amplification I’ve had for a GoodSound! review this year that I liked as much as the Odysseys. Someone looking around this price point should consider both and think about their own biases.

The combination of the Benchmark DAC1 and Odyssey Khartago amplifier raised the performance of my overall system much higher than the Etesian-Khartago pairing. My biggest reservation about the Odyssey pre-power combo was that it got soft at the extremes. The highs were sharper and more precise with the Benchmark, the bass tighter, though soundstage depth seemed to diminish. The Benchmark DAC1 ($975) is much more expensive than the Etesian, but you get a lot of features for the money.

My favorite use of the Khartago was when I connected the Rotel-Benchmark combo directly to the Khartago using the Benchmark’s preamp controls. This preampless system sounded fantastic, and I think showed off just how well the Khartago could perform. If you’re looking for a no-frills, high-performance CD playback system, this was a very impressive combination.

When I compared the Odysseys with my reference, the Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier ($2695), I was immediately aware that a lot more money can get you more performance. When I played Brazilian Girls, for example, the bass was more controlled and the separation of instruments was better. Duke Ellington’s piano had better timbre and percussion was more holographic. The Strauss album’s soundstage depth improved (though the width remained similar), and the whole picture was smoother. Still, I got great performance from the Odysseys for a great price; I’ve added them to the list of products I recommend to friends and acquaintances.

Conclusion

I was pleased with the performance of the Odyssey components, especially the Khartago power amplifier. The Etesian worked as well as any preamplifier at its price that I’ve used. You can get a preamplifier with a lot more features for probably double the Etesian’s price (Anthem’s TLP-1 comes to mind). Each user will have to decide whether it’s worth the extra cost.

I have no doubt that the Odyssey combination can offer users years of musical enjoyment, and the components are backed by a company that seems committed to its customers. Odyssey’s 20-year warranty evinces both pride in manufacturing and loyalty to customers. A generous trade-in program that gives customers credit for their current Odyssey gear means that if users want to upgrade, they won’t have to take a loss on the second-hand market.

Good performance, good prices, good service: Klaus Bunge should be proud, and consumers should be very interested.

...Eric D. Hetherington

Prices of equipment reviewed


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