So, just how do the 650s stack up against their bigger brothers. The pragmatic answer is that without some seriously wide bandwidth speakers and prior knowledge of the 1200s you’ll probably never know. It wasn’t until I reinstalled the massive Nola Pegasus (now in updated Signature guise) that I started to become aware of if not the limits of the 650s performance, then at least the boundaries of their envelope. Compared to the bigger amps, they lose little if anything in terms of spatial definition, scale or stability. They float bowed bass notes with an impressive lightness of touch whilst reproducing low-frequencies with pitch authority and power when demanded. But there is an undeniable something about the bigger amps, a range of texture, an absolute quality to their reproduction that leaves you never questioning what they deliver, never looking for more, trusting that what they deliver is what’s there. Playing the Gorecki 3rd Symphony with its repetitive bass phrases and measured tempo, the 650s offer an achingly beautiful performance, but in absolute terms they don’t deliver quite the same intimacy of texture or separation of individual instruments. It’s not even a question of information, more of feel and given the speakers to do it the 1200s do feel more real – albeit at a price hike of £10K.
But don’t be overly concerned. If you can afford a pair of Avalon Isis you can afford (and will want) a pair of 1200s to go with them. For mere mortals with less demanding speakers the 1200s won’t be worthwhile over the 650s. I never thought I’d describe a £15K mono-block as the real world choice but in so many ways that’s exactly what it represents. Its near perfect balance between the conflicting demands of musical freedom and dynamic control make music convincing through its stability, natural colours and perspectives, compelling for both its perfect tempi, fragile delicacy and awesome power. The Karan 650s pass effortlessly from micro to macro, without a ripple to the acoustic environment, an Audi RS4 to the 1200s Bugatti Veyron. They represent almost affordable excellence if you are prepared to stretch, performance that’s useable and seriously rewarding.