A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I did a review of the Odyssey Audio's entry-level speakers, the Epiphany's. I absolutely fell in love with them. They single handedly changed the way I listen to music. At the time, I was at a show where Klaus Bunge of Odyssey Audio fame and fortune snuck in under the Valve radar and set up his solid-state extravaganza. I was seriously impressed. Until that point, I had only read about the Odyssey line and gleaned at pictures and glowing reports about his gear.
When I finally sat down at the show and gave the Odyssey gear a listen, it was like putting on an old, comfy housecoat. Everything about the sound of the Odyssey gear brought back feelings of comfortable familiarity. See, back in the late 70's I converted to solid state like much of the rest of the world. For me, it was high power, bi-polar Spectro Acoustics gear. I happily lived with that gear until the 90's when I got bit by the high end bug again. It just so happens that my old Spectro gear shares the same bi-polar topology as Klaus's Odyssey line, hence the high definition time warp I was feeling.
Back at that same show, Klaus gave me a preview to his (then) new Budget System. It consisted of a passive; transformer based preamp, a medium powered solid-state amp, the Epiphany speakers and his Groneberg speaker cables and interconnects. All you have to do is add a decent source, and you are in business. I was pretty darned impressed with what I heard. Since that time I've wanted to spend more time with the Budget System and my wish finally came true.
For the best part of the last few months, I've been able to play with this very affordable foray into the high-end realm. Before I get into to much detail on how the system sounds, let me run through all of the particulars about what you get for the $1500 Odyssey System.
The Etesian Preamp
The Etesian is a passive preamp. For those of you not familiar with a passive preamp, this type of design uses a transformer to ‘step up' the voltage from your source (your CD player or whatever) that your amplifier sees. One of the advantages (some audiophiles believe) is that you eliminate all of the capacitors, resistors and voltage gain devices (opamps, tubes or transistors) typically associated with an ‘active' preamp. It is believed that these components can color or embellish the sound in some way. In turn with a passive design, the only thing you have left is the pure resistance of the wire and the (unlikely) possibility that the transformer begins to ‘saturate'. Sure, you'll have some inductance and capacitance associated with this type of design but careful engineering of the transformer should place the residual effects of L and C far outside of the audible band.
Getting to the physical aspects of the preamp, Odyssey gives you three sets standard gold plated inputs plus a Home Theatre pass through on the back side of the unit. The volume pot is a nice sounding Alps Blue attenuator. Not sure if you noticed, but those big honkin' knobs on the front of the unit are solid aluminum. The selector switch is extremely easy to move due to the increased diameter of the knob, as is the volume pot. The faceplate is 3/8ths inch thick solid aluminum. The rest if the case is your standard heavy gauge formed sheet metal painted with a black matte finish to help hide fingerprints.
As you can see, Klaus offers something a bit different in his stylings. His super think faceplates come in a variety of different colors. The unit I have here is this cool Red but he also offers the standard brushed aluminum, Blue, Yellow, Green, Black, Purple and others.
When we take a look around the inside of the preamp, the first thing you notice is the PC Board. This is the same board that he uses in opamp based Tempest preamplifier. The PC board is nice and beefy with decently thick traces. The board is stripped of all its active components for use in the Etesian design. The only thing left is a Pi filter to regulate the transformers 15 volt secondary windings which are used to power the switching relays. Klaus has also added a small capacitor (and paralleled diode) used to eliminate the thump you could hear as you switch sources. All of the internal signal wiring is done with the Groneberg cabling. On the underside of the preamp, you'll find nice, Audio Selection Reference rubber feet (from Deutschland) to help absorb some of the structure-borne vibrations in your equipment rack.
The Khartago Amplifier
The casing construction of the Khartago is similar to the Etesian preamp right down to the 3/8ths thick, solid aluminum faceplate. Again, you can choose from a variety of anodized colors for your faceplate. Moving to the back of the amp, you will see a nice, beefy pair of WBT Topline binding posts. Along side of them is a standard pair of gold plated RCA inputs. You also have a standard IEC female plug so you can play with a variety of power cords.
Trolling around the inside of the Khartago reveals again, a well thought layout design. The PCB is nice and heavy with thick traces. As it is with all of the Odyssey designs, this one is based on bi-polar transistors. The Khartago uses four pairs of Sanken bipolar transistors. Each of the transistor pairs is matched to within 1%. There is an adequate amount of heat sinks to dissipate the heat generated by the transistors.
The power supply transformer is more than adequate for the 110 watts of rated output power at 400 VA. The power supply design is a fully regulated pi-filter and uses a single 35-Amp bridge rectifier. As I look a little closer at the parts, there are two pairs of output caps rated at 15,000 uF which have been manufactured for by Odyssey. This gives you a total of 60,000 uF of filtering capacitance for the amplifier. When you look at the surrounding competition to this amplifier, very few companies offer this much power supply reserve at this price point. In turn, you can rest assured that when you start cranking it, the amp won't turn to flubber.
A transistor handles the input gain stage duties. The design of this amp is class A/AB. For the first 5 to 10 watts this amp runs in Class A mode at which point it switches over to Class AB.
Besides the slightly conservative 110wpc of rated output, this amp provides a damping factor of 500. That should be more than adequate to keep tight reins on all but the most demanding of speakers (don't forget to size your speaker cables accordingly so you don't kill the damping factor). All of the internal speaker and small signal wiring (again) falls to the Groneberg line.
The Khartago amp design is based upon the well-reviewed Stratos amplifier. The main differences between the Stratos and the Khartago are the total area of heat sinks and the power supply. Other than that, these two amps are essentially the same right down to their ‘voicing.'
The Epiphany Mini-Monitors
We've just hit on my favorite part of this system, the speakers. Since I did a review of these a few years ago, let me regurgitate some of my old text. The Epiphany's are a two way, rear ported design that utilize 0.75" Seas tweeter and a 5.5" Tang Band woofer. The tweeter is a soft dome and the mid bass driver is doped paper. The crossovers are 3rd order on the tweeter and 2nd order on the woofer. Their crossover point is 4kHz. I snuck a peek inside at the crossovers and the caps appear to be nice film caps (Solens and Bennic) and decent air core coils. There was a standard non-inductive, wire wound and sand cast cement resistor used to in the circuit also.
As you can see from the pic above, the front baffle has a sloped front for time alignment of the drivers. The cabinet is constructed of MDF and comes in your choice of veneered finishes. The pair I have has a black vinyl finish. On the back is the port and single pair of standard gold plated binding posts. Since I've already done a formal review of these speakers, it makes no sense to plagiarize myself.
The Groneberg Cables and Interconnects
The Groneberg cables and interconnects are a standard four-nine's, oxygen free copper design. The dielectric used on the wire is appears to be standard PVC, which is wrapped with a smooth and flexible blue jacket.
The interconnects utilize a nice gold plated RCA connector as you would expect. The speaker cables use a gold plated banana connector.
The Sound (Finally)
After receiving the well packed budget system, I set it up in our spare bedroom, plugged in a cheesy DVD player that I used as a CD player, popped in a CD, hit repeat and let her eat. All of the usual breaks in rules apply here. Don't expect the system to sound great right out of the box. The Khartago needs a decent 100 to 200 hours to smooth out. The passive pre needs about twice that to really open up. Locally, we've got a crew of audio idiots that hang out. We get together on a semi-regular basis, hang out, listen to music, check out each others new gear (or tweaks) and generally have a good time listening to music.
Last Christmas I decided to have a Holiday get together at my place. I happened to have some pretty cool gear in for review so I set a few different systems in several rooms of my house. In one of the smaller rooms, I set up the Odyssey Budget System. As you can see from the picture above, I plopped the system right into a typical spare bedroom (10 x 12 foot). I didn't even remove the TV, I just covered it with a heavy woolen Mexican blanket. I plugged in an old ADC 16/2R CD player as a source. Then I took a few heavy pillows and placed them in the corners behind the speakers to act as impromptu bass traps. I also stuck some throw pillows in the upper corners of the room with thumbtacks to help dampen the room.
Personally, I was amazed at how good the systems sounded. In fact, my wife and I used the system to play Christmas music all through the holidays, it sounded that impressive. When all the guys showed up for our Holiday get together, they seemed pretty impressed with the five (or so) systems I had set up. As the afternoon wore on into evening, I kept noticing fewer and fewer down in the main basement listening rooms where all the ultra-high dollar gear was. Then I overheard one of the guys say to somebody "Man, have you made it upstairs to heard the Odyssey system yet? You need to!"
You need to understand something. Locally, we are a bunch of hard-core tube fanatics. Almost every one of the guys has a fully tubed system, top to bottom. That comment was made by a guy who uses modified Aronov amps, a super tweaked Audio Research pre, a CAL DAC loaded with Black Gates and Tantalum resistors and Merlin speakers. It's one of the finest sounding systems I've heard. For that comment to come out of him means that the Odyssey must have really sounded good. If you've read my old review of the Epiphany's, you'll know that I loved them so much that I bought them. That said, let me try to give you an idea what everybody was raving about.
After the Holidays, I moved the system back down into my main listening room. Rather than using the makeshift ADC CD player, I opted for my AH! Njoe Tjoeb to add a bit of tube flavor to the system. When I listened to this system again, there was just something extremely inviting about it. The sound is huge. I know from living with my Epiphany's for the past three years that they have a lot to do with it, but there is more to this aural equation. First, these little speakers easily dip down into the 40's (in the proper sized room). Then couple the fact that the Khartago puts a death grip on the speakers with it's 500 damping factor, this means you get rock solid bass from this system.
The soundstage that this system projects is better than many, many of mega-buck systems I've heard. The Epiphany's absolutely disappear within the room. There is truly something to this Alain Courteu design. The soundstage projected by the system was easily three to four feet outside of the speakers. Then the sound opens to reveal a depth and placement like few others. From recorded nuances that position themselves buried in the far back corners of the recording studio to the precise placement of the performers during a minimally mic'ed recording, the Odyssey Budget System reveals them all.
Even though (locally) we are hard-core tube heads, each of us fell in love with the sound of his solid-state gear. The Khartago accompanied by the Passive pre and the Groneberg cables made for some fine sounds. The combination did loads of things ‘right'. The timbre of the instruments was quite good. Granted, as tube guys we noticed the reduced harmonics that usually accompanies solid state gear but the $1500 Odyssey Budget System had us in awe of it's price to performance ratio. It was punchy and dynamic without a hint of being ‘slow'. It had nice upper end extension without being fatiguing or sounding too crunchy. Vocals were clean without any nasalness (if that's a word). The music had body, breath and impact without being overblown or veiled.
Do I have any major beefs with this ultra-affordable system? Not at all. Could it do a few things better? Sure. Maybe the pre could be just a bit more open sounding but when you consider it's measly $350 price tag, you couldn't ask it to do any more. The amp could (maybe) use a bit more power reserve or maybe a bit more refinement but again, for $775 this amp is an absolute steal. Besides, if you want more power either upgrade to the Stratos or buy yourself another Khartago and run dual mono's. The Groneberg cables were a perfect mate to this system. Their copper design didn't add to or detract from the sound at all. In fact, they sounded better in this system than my home brew silver copper designs. The Epiphany speakers only lack one thing, the deepest bass. They are a fabulous mini-monitor that will hold their own against speakers costing many times their modest price tag.
In the end, myself and everybody that heard this super affordable system was damned impressed. Not just for the reasonable cost but for the fabulous sound of the music. If you are a fan of solid-state gear, this may just be right up your alley. The Odyssey Budget System is a highly affordable foray into the audiophile scene. I'd have to imagine that if you bought this system, you might never want to upgrade it (with the exception of adding a sub for the deepest of bass).
As I mentioned early on, this system was like slipping on an old comfy housecoat. The bipolar sound coming from the Odyssey Budget System took me back to my solid-state days, except it was better. Not by a little either, it's better by leaps and bounds. Klaus has taken affordable solid-state gear to a whole new level.
If you are in the market for great sounding solid-state gear, I highly recommend giving Klaus (or one of his worldwide distributors) a call. Klaus offers a 30-day, money back in home audition. His amps and preamps come with an unprecedented 20-year warranty. Klaus also offers a full price credit when you upgrade to one of his next levels of gear. Couple all of this with the fact that Klaus is one of the industry's true good guys and you can't go wrong.
I'll end the article with what I kept hearing people say over and over about the Odyssey Budget System. "If I had it to do all over again, this system would be a no brainer."
Please keep in mind this rating system is used to compare the Odyssey Budget System against absolute perfection, or money-no-object system. If you see what you think may be a low(ish) score, it's because there are complete systems that are even more refined but consequently cost considerably more. In turn, I feel I need to leave room in the ratings system to accommodate those systems. While some of the individual pieces are true giant killers, (i.e. the Epiphany's) these ratings are on the system as a whole.
Power: 110 watts into 8 ohms per channel, stereo
Frequency Response: 2Hz to 40kHz
Power Supply Capacitance: 60,000uF total
Current Delivery: 35 amps total
THD: not audible
Damping Factor: 500 continuous
DC Offset : <1mV
Weight : 30 lbs.
Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 4 (WxDxH in inches)
Design: Passive transformer based
Inputs: 4 pairs, home theater pass though
THD: not measurable
Weight: 12 lbs.
Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 4 (WxDxH in inches)
Design: 2 way, base reflex, rear ported
Driver Compliment : 0.75" domed tweeter and 5.5" woofer
Frequency Response: 49Hz to 20kHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Power Handling: 30 to 150 watts
Weight : 18 lbs each
Dimensions: 7 x 11.6 x 12 (WxDxH in inches)
Design: Stranded OFC copper
System Price: $1,500