Odyssey Audio Etesian
Preamplifier and Khartago Stereo Amplifier
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,
Bunges 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 Odysseys Etesian
preamplifier ($350 USD) and Khartago two-channel power amplifier ($775).
The Khartago power amplifier is 18"W x 4.25"H x
16"D and weighs a little over 30 pounds. Odyssey rates the amplifiers 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; its not
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 Odysseys overall design scheme, they
arent the smoothest preamp controls Ive 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
Khartagos power switch, the Etesians is hard to reach when the unit is
installed on a rack. Theres 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 models price and Odysseys overall design philosophy, which seems to
be: offer the best sound for the least money.
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
For most of my listening sessions I stuck with the Rotel CD
player and Quad speakers.
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 Symphonys recording of Strausss 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 Wanderers 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 Ive
Duke Ellingtons Piano in the Foreground [CD,
Columbia CK 87042] highlights Ellingtons piano playing in a trio with drums and
bass. Listening to "I Cant Get Started," I noticed some drum parts I
hadnt 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, Id say the Odyssey pair was near the top of what
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 Souzas voice with great realism.
Romero Lubambos 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 Lubambos slow playing on "Trocando em Miudos"
was exceptionally clear. These recordings of Souzas voice sounded faithful to the
concert Id 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. Im a sucker for alternative versions of songs I admire, and these two CDs
provide lots of enjoyment. "Tombstone Blues" gave me the soundstage Id
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 youve listened recently to the Chill
channel on Sirius satellite radio, you couldnt 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 wasnt on other
discs. The electronic percussion and noises on "Dont 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 its 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.
The Odyssey Khartago and Etesian were the first solid-state
amplifier and preamplifier Ive reviewed for GoodSound! in some time. I tend
to prefer tube equipment, but the Odysseys leapt ahead of most of the tube gear Ive
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 Ive 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
My favorite use of the Khartago was when I connected the
Rotel-Benchmark combo directly to the Khartago using the Benchmarks preamp controls.
This preampless system sounded fantastic, and I think showed off just how well the
Khartago could perform. If youre 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 Ellingtons
piano had better timbre and percussion was more holographic. The Strauss albums
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; Ive
added them to the list of products I recommend to friends and acquaintances.
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 Ive used. You can get a preamplifier with a lot more
features for probably double the Etesians price (Anthems TLP-1 comes to mind).
Each user will have to decide whether its 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. Odysseys 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 wont
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