Are the new Kralk AudioTDB-12 loud speakers as good as my first listening impressions suggested? I recently heard the TDB-12 at the North West Audio Show – that's the north west of England. It's a great show and venue; typically there are few new product launches but Kralk Audio brought their imposing new TDB-12.
Along with many others at the show I was impressed with the sound of the TDB-12; it provided one of the best sounds at the show. Given that these speakers retail for £1,200 ($1,600) I just had to get hold of a pair to give them a thorough listening to.
Kralk Audio have been operating since 2012. The man behind the company is Alan Clark – Kralk is sort of Clark backwards – Alan started building speakers aged 12 and have been building speakers for over 40 years. Kralk make a wide range of speakers to order and I must say their pricing is very competitive indeed. The full range of speakers is made in-house in the Kralk Audio workshop. Kralk even wind their own air-cored inductors allowing them to control quality and availability. I viewed several items of manufacturing equipment which included a CNC machine.
Unloading the speakers from my car was no mean feat, at 50kg each they are on my limit for carrying. I was a little sore the morning after so I suggest a two-man lift would be advisable. The box and driver configuration may be very traditional but the drivers are modern from Monacor, P.Audio and MNC. The bass is a paper with an accordion suspension. The mid driver may look plastic coned but it's actually a coated paper cone. The tweeter is a bullet type from MNC. The crossover is relatively simple (that's good!), it's 12dB/octave at 800 Hz between bass and mid and 6db/octave on the tweeter at 6400Hz; so that 2nd order and 1st order.
The speakers are quite large at 99cm high and 38cm wide and deep (including small stands). They are 8 Ohm, a really useful 96.5dB/W/m sensitivity and go deep covering 28 Hz to 20 kHz. Unusually they have high and mid frequency level controls permitting -16 to +3db adjustment to tailor the sound for specific rooms. The speakers are bass reflex ported.
Before I talk about what I heard from the speakers in my system we'd better discuss the elephant in the room. Like elephants these speakers are big and imposing. They are not the biggest by any means but they make their visual presence felt. Some environments will be a great match for these speakers, modern rooms (such as the Kralk demo room) or even warehouse style come to mind. You can judge from the photos whether the looks will gel with your decor. Like I say though, they are imposing; they look as though they mean business and believe me they do!
The power amplifiers were controlled via a Bent Audio AVC-1 which uses the superb Dave Slagle transformers. For sources I mostly used the Allo USBridge feeding the Ciunas ISO-DAC and I naturally used my beloved turntables – Garrard 301 and Trans-Fi Salvation. The music room was 18 x 15 foot with a 10 foot ceiling. The room was somewhat larger than the Kralk demo room in which the speakers worked well.
And Now For The Music
Nancy Griffith's "Lone Star State of Mind" had a strong bass line with good detail and power which did not in any way overpower the mid-range. Again guitars were really lifelike too. As for Nancy's vocals, they were close the best I've heard from much more expensive speakers. I found that the speakers just love to play loudly; they go loud with zero signs of distress; this isn't surprising given their sensitivity and high power handling ability.
Switching to jazz I was intrigued to find out whether the speakers were a one-trick rock meister. Oscar Peterson / You Look Good To Me is one of my standard test tracks with well recorded double bass and of course Oscar's piano. Double bass was powerful and tuneful with excellent harmonics creating a fabulous natural sounding acoustic. Piano was every bit as well reproduced as guitar was with previous tracks.
What was starting to dawn on me was that all the music I played whether studio recorded or live had a live vibe and bounce to it. The bass alignment Kralk use endows a very bouncy, foot-tapping, infectious quality. What I was hearing was really very enjoyable. Even though I was in “analytical review mode” I was drawn into totally enjoying the music.
Sonny Rollins / Moritiat; Sonny's sax sounded so impressive, it filled the room and indeed the rest of the house. Box ticked – they do jazz! Playing The Beatles track My Guitar Gently Weeps interpreted by Karen Mok, I found the slight glassiness which is sometimes apparent with this track was absent. Again this studio track had a live vibe to it. Moving onto a live track; Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton / Corrine Corinna, this is always a tremendously vibrant track and of course the TDB-12 did it proud. Live, bouncy, fun and loads of atmosphere. Music and enjoyment simply leaps from the speakers, it was like audio sunshine.
The TDB-12 were made for the next track I played – Genesis Live / The Knife and likewise Pink Floyd / Money. I was a student again, the tracks sounded much fresher to me than I'd expected. Another Pink Floyd track but this time the very different St Tropez – the effect was to bring out the care free jauntiness of the music. I played albums by Rodrigo y Gabriela, St Germain and many more. Jazzy techno music was another great match. I tried some classical music such as Adagio for Strings, Barber and Bernstein versions; the differences between them were every apparent with the Barber version being more intense and emotional.
Hopefully you get what these speakers do so very well. Much depends on the presentation you want from your system. If you are a hardline Audiophile wanting pinpoint imaging where you can analyze a recording to death – the death of enjoyment – then perhaps look elsewhere. The speakers have a good soundstage and imaging though there are some speakers which will clinically expose recordings to a greater extent, think more about musical structure and flow with the TDB-12. The details are all there, it's just that the speakers don't force them at you. With the TDB-12 I found I was more drawn to the overall piece of music than focusing on and analyzing specific instruments. The music being played became the sum of its parts rather than something to disassemble and analyze.
I ought to mention speaker positioning. The speakers work fine close the rear wall, i.e. just an inch two from it but if you pull them out 18 inches or so the sound becomes more spacious. The level controls for the tweeter and mid-range are very useful for dialing in the balance you prefer and to account for room characteristics too.
Rolling The Changes
I wasn't expecting my 300B single ended triode monoblocks to be a good match for the TDB-12 but how mistaken I was! The speakers were still in party mode but now there was greater intimacy and an improved sense of timing for individual instruments. Running through the previous tracks I'd used I found the 300Bs brought improvements; hardly night and day but a useful extra character which I enjoyed all the more. Even Kraftwerk / The Man-Machine pumped out visceral bass from a 300B SE amplifier – what's going on? The speakers must be a really easy to drive. Tube SE amplifiers don't often cope with more complex bass driven music. No problem here... at all.
Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther Theme" is a fun track but one which has strong bass which can sometimes overpower it. The bass prowess of the TDB-12 came to the rescue with a superbly balanced rendition with a great bass foundation. The story was the same across several genres. So time to move on again.
Next was a Quad 306 with modern components installed as part of a Dada Electronics upgrade. Without going into blow-by-blow detail the upshot is that the sound was more explicit but with less bass authority than both the Class D and 300B monoblocks. The mid-range was just a trifle thin for my taste too. It was still a good sound but for me the synergy wasn't quite as it could be.
Back to tubes with the Bastanis Panettone EL84 SE amplifier at around 2.5 Watts of output. I had little in the way of great expectations, yet as this amplifier has done previously I was surprised when it worked so well. Unless I wanted truly loud playback, would say what I've found with the 300B monoblocks was replicated here with the EL84s plus a little more atmosphere in addition. If anything Kraftwerk bass was even tighter and treble as a touch clearer and cleaner.
Hooking up the Temple Audio Bantam One integrated Class D amplifier resulted in a more easy-going sound than with the 70W monoblocks which were more incisive. With the TDB-12 the more easy going Bantam One sound gelled better in much that same way as did the two tube amplifiers.
The final amplifier to be used was another vintage one; a Philips Black Tulip 380. This is a 1980s 100W power amp which was possibly the last foray of Philips to crack the higher end of the hi-fi market. The amplifier was designed in Japan and uses a circuit topology which looks modern by today's standards for a Class A/B amplifier. It's well-built too. The results with the Black Tulip were pleasing; it was rich sounding if not quite as intimate as the two tube amplifiers. There was a little less deep down inner detail too but the sound was really rather good.
My preference in terms of amplifier matching for the speakers is for a neutral to slightly rich sound. Some modern amplifiers possess forensic levels of detail and can sound a little lean in the mid-range as a result. Whilst that sound won't grate with the TDB-12 I don't feel it would let them blossom to their full potential. It's great not needing many watts to drive the speakers, this opens up the world of low to mid power amplifiers where you can focus on quality rather than watts.
If you are looking for loudspeakers which draw you to focus on musical enjoyment via the structure and flow of the music then you must consider the Kralk Audio TDB-12 loudspeakers. These speakers will put a smile on your face and get you moving to music like few others can.