I wonder to what extent my own personal taste influences me when I write about a product. It would be great to be able to come to each and every review with a mindset free of preconceptions and leanings toward a particular style of musical reproduction. In fact I am always intrigued when I speak to friends and they tell me they do or don’t like a component or a system because they prefer this or that type of sound. If I were to allow myself that particular luxury many of my reviews would last no more than a few lines. I guess that my own home music system exposes my particular prejudices more than words and I also have no doubt that those subliminal influences lie deep within and I will never be able to shake them completely, no matter how hard I try. We are all victims of our own tastes. There is always a period of adjustment for me when I assemble a previously unheard system for a review as well as a new learning curve which helps me resolve what I am hearing with the need to wring every last drop of performance from the component in question and to feel satisfied that I understand what it is doing and that I have given it every chance. The nice thing is that this involves listening to music throughout the process, initially to set the thing up and then to (hopefully) enjoy it. I am not really sure how other reviewers go through the process only that it seems obvious that some obviously take infinitely more care than others. Every experience offers the chance to listen and learn in a different way and from a new perspective.
What became clear, as soon as I plugged them in was that, being a fan and full-time user of Focal’s remarkable Diablo, certainly meant that Audioplan’s Kontrast V was going to need a period of readjustment at my end. The clarity and fine sense of musical resolution and transparent dynamism that the Diablo brings is coupled with delicacy of touch and given a suitable system (no small feat in itself), excellent involvement. It is like walking a tonal tightrope and never falling off. And it is certainly true that the beryllium tweeter and its low crossover point makes most speakers sound dull in comparison at first listening. So, substituting the Audioplan in essentially the same position as the Focals had occupied soon left me realising that a period of re-training the good old ear/brain interface was going to be necessary and this is always best accomplished by sheer listening time. But, even from those initial sessions, I understood that this was a speaker with some very engaging qualities. As the days passed I delved deeper. They found themselves on end of the very excellent Vitus SS-010 integrated amplifier and Burmester CD-001 CD player all linked together with Vitus Andromeda cabling. Like many speakers the Kontrast V comes equipped with bi-wire connections capable of accepting 4mm or spade terminals. Unlike the majority of those designs though, these really do improve the sound and I would strongly recommend that you take advantage of them. I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Audioplan’s own very interesting LS 16 Mk11 speaker cables in this configuration and they reinforced the positive benefits that bi-wiring brings. I’ll avoid that particular detour for the moment but intend to return for a more in-depth look at their cables and power conditioners in the near future. Audioplan have been ahead of the game with regard to cabling for many, many years and along with Naim Audio, were one of the first to extol the importance of consistency throughout the system.
The Kontrast V sounds an attractive proposition almost wherever you place it and because of this I can imagine many users just leaving them there, but there are huge benefits to be had by spending time to get their siting absolutely perfect. Physically this is helped no end by the fact that Audioplan reject spikes in favour of the explicitly named anti-spikes which mount each corner on an adjustable (delrin?) fitting. Even if you think you have thing optimised I would suggest that, whenever you are setting up a pair of speakers or re-configuring your own system, you employ a tape measure and a friends ear to measure the distances exactly and for toe-in a cheap laser is invaluable. Be precise! The Kontrast V must be absolutely level (in fact add a spirit level to the above list). I started with the equilateral triangle set-up but, so strong was the soundstage, I ended up using 1 to 1.1 where the distance between them was 10% greater than the distance from the tweeter to a centrally positioned ear. I also employed just a few degrees of toe-in. This, along with the distance to the rear wall, is going to vary from room to room and will also be system dependent, but I cannot emphasise strongly enough the huge benefits that this fastidious approach brings to this speaker as it moves the performance and musical focus to another level completely. There is a very useful chapter in the manual covering this as well.
This speaker is the result of constant evolution and has its ancestry in the Kontrast models of the early 80’s. The latest version is a tall, slender, angle-shouldered bass/mid reflex cabinet with a separate, softly decoupled ‘floating’ tweeter enclosure on top. Audioplan uses a modified Audax woofer unit with an amorphous membrane in the lower cabinet and designer Thomas Kuhn is very specific in his material choice here. Too light and you get speed but loose bass precision and too heavy and there is too much self-damping. It’s a delicate but critical balance. There is also the question of integrating this unit with the modified 27mm fabric-domed Scanspeak tweeter, a design aim which has been admirably achieved I think. There is a lot of inner constructional detail in the bass cabinet. A separate resonance chamber is incorporated internally to shape the speaker’s response, forming a labyrinth aimed at passing bass energy at the correct level, while a slot port is mounted at the very bottom and as far from the driver as possible to optimise energy transfer into the room while. This cabinet within a cabinet also features varying damping panels, though Thomas always tries to use the least amount as possible. Deciding where to place the damping and in what quantities would seem to be the trick here if that thick, one-note, ponderous bass often found in large cabinet/small driver designs is to be avoided. Both cabinet’s walls are 21mm thick and each houses its individual crossover. Everything, from the gauge and shape of wire to the custom-made pots and capacitors are painstakingly selected, and vibration isolation is also high on the list of priorities. Many components are also potted.