Two’s Company… Along with the KA M 650s, I also received the matching Karan line-stage, the £7450 fully balanced, two-box KA L Reference. Built into two slim but reassuringly heavy and solid cases, the units share the same terraced front panel and central display area that graces the power amps. Along with the illuminated logo, the control unit gives visual indication of the selected input, while the remote volume control relies on a simple red LED recessed into the face of the large, motorised knob. The remote itself is a circular “hockeypuck” style piece that offers two buttons – one for volume up and the other for volume down. The rear of the unit displays a similar austere functionality. There are four single-ended inputs, all fitted with WBT NextGen sockets (including provision for an internal phono-stage, a £500 option that includes variable gain, loading and capacitance). There are also two balanced inputs. Main outputs consist of a single balanced pair only, although there is a pair of single-ended record outputs too. Apart from the XLR socket to accept the power-supply umbilical and an earth socket, that’s your lot. Although I used the KA M 650s with a range of different ancillaries, including the Connoisseur 4-2 LSE and the Ayre K1-xe, the KA L Reference proved a worthy partner, even in such exalted company. The levels of sheer definition, dynamic range and impact coupled to the absolute stability of the picture it presents put it right at the forefront of classic, solid-state design. The width and rock solid stability of its soundstage it shares with the company’s power amps, along with their effortless dynamics and its imperturbable nature under the most demanding musical excess. If I were to point to weaknesses they’d revolve around the areas of stage depth, dimensionality and instrumental texture – in other words the realm of absolute low-level resolution and intimacy. But those have never been solid-state strengths and are rare indeed, so it’s a bit like complaining that your horse walks on four legs. What the KA L Reference did was deliver musical and dynamic authority, poise and purpose that belied its price. Yes you can have more colour, a greater sense of flow and immediacy. What you can’t have is all that and what the Karan delivers as well, not without spending well over the £10K mark and even then there are no guarantees. All of which makes the KA L Reference something of a well-kept secret, one that performs the neat trick of delivering real detail and separation, access to the recording without dismantling the music or the performance. It is not over-endowed with facilities or operational niceties, remote control or user-configurable displays, all of which probably contribute to its excellent sonic performance. If you want scale and the ability to hear both what’s happening and how, this straightline, fully-differential, two-channel design is a compelling performer. Matching the best of its price peers it (like them) offers its own particular view of events. If you value control and freedom from strain, real dynamic range and a black, black background it’s a view you could travel a long way to better, while the optional phono-stage represents an absolute bargain.