Review: Odyssey Audio KISMET MONO Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers


Well it happens to the best of us. I sold my Quatro’s to a friend, and as friends will do, he talked me out of my McCormack DNA-225 MAP-1 too. The upgrade path was a pair of Dynaudio C4 MK II signatures, and I decided on a pair of ODYSSEY KISMET MONO amps and I’m STLL working out the pre amps.

This hobby can be frighteningly expensive and some concessions have to be made if you are at all near mortal. The C4 speakers ate most of my budget so to get them sounding good, I had to look ahead at the associated electronics that are available within my budget. I had about six to ten grand to use on an amp and pre-amp. That is close to audio chump change now days.

After a spell with the DNA-225, I knew a good old-fashioned class AB amp could sound darn good. I also noticed that several of you tout the ODYSSEY products, especially the amps, as a solid choice on a budget, but without the budget sound. Yep, I read the SIX MOONS KISMET review and still came away thinking of the amps UNTIL, the price. If you want, go read the technical breakdown of the amplifiers since I won’t try to do better than Nicholas Bedworth has done here;

Wow, I know these are good amps but they still “audio” expensive. I have never talked with Klaus, since I live about 120 miles from Indianapolis in Oxford, OH I called him and asked about the amps. We arranged a one-on-one visit to discuss my expectations.

ODYSSEY is great to deal with since they assemble about everything in the USA, allowing Klaus to custom build your unit based on the expectations in your system. Do you want the latest killer looking KISMET case? If not, you can order the amps in the MUCH cheaper STRATOS cases. I placed my order on a new pair with a striking burgundy anodized finish on the front and top with black left and right heat sink banks (try to find used KISMETS!) and waited.

Eight weeks later, Klaus arrive in person with the two HEAVY amps in his car and we hefted them into the basement. The amps are super nice looking any way you look at them. Super solid materials inside and out. What can these 175-watt amps do? The higher end audio speakers, at least the Quatro’s and C4’s for sure, sound simply dreadful when they are new. The amps supposedly need time to break-in, but that was a small problem, as the C4’s needed probably 200 hours to sound right. No new amp is as bad as a new high-end speaker is.

My biggest issue was to realize that you really don’t want to hear an amplifier at all. Actually, you don’t want to hear ANYTHING at all. Ideally, if you changed components in your system and heard nothing that you play get better or change in the least, that’s about as good as it gets, you now hear the source material only. Every component lets the source material come through as it was intended. That’s not the case in reality.

My experience was that I never really “heard” these amps! What I heard, was four different pre-amps as I tried to decide what “color” I wanted in my system. I’ll never argue what’s “accurate” as this hobby is not accurate. Every component has a sound and no two speakers’ sound alike so which one is right? I have no idea. And it is the same with the electronics. What I do know, is to reach an end goal in sound, you can’t have too many components fighting one another. It‘s like mixing paint. The base sound (tint) has to be pretty neutral to the final color your after, and let the “pigment” do most of the work. If every component was very pigmented, the final color will be hard to consistently achieve, and will vary markedly from source to source. If a component is too colored you may NEVER get the color your after. Try an old pair of JBL L-36’s for instance! Warm, fat, punchy bass and meant to stay that way...on everything.

I didn’t really think about component coloration too much until I went through several pre amps; PASS LABS XP-10, a conrad johnson ET3 SE, and a McCormack MAP-1 and with a McCormack RLD-1 2012 platinum mode on the way. I call this my RLD-4000 as I have about four grand into it!

What struck me about the Kismet amps, is their total neutrality through all of this. They seem to posses very little color of their own. Each pre-amp was decidedly different sounding, and to that degree the amplifiers impressed me.

The XP-10 is super detailed, fast and open sounding, but has lighter lower register impact. The MAP-1 was very dynamic down low and warmer but lacked the incredible detail of the XP-10 as well as it's quickness. The ET3 SE was disappointing in that it had a left channel tube go out as I auditioned that unit. BUT, the Kismet’s conveyed the nuances of that tube slowly going south on me and with a gory and totally unique sound stage. It was as if I had three different speakers. And all I changed was the preamps. The amplifiers had so little color of their own that the preamps were the majority of the sonic pigment.

For an amplifier to allow the level of sonic signature shift that I heard, it has to be pretty darn neutral sounding. What I never heard in a significant level, was harshness or stridency in tone with any combination. Klaus says he will adjust the bias once I settle on my preamp and has cautioned that you can overdo-it. If you hear it right off, it’s probably an “effect” and the bias is too high or low in voltage. So far my ears seem to say it’s pretty decent as is. Klaus says wait four to six months and have him check back.

Am I saying these are totally “white” amplifiers? No, I would have to change amplifiers around to see just how “white” they actually are. What I am saying is that they convey no severe negative coloration that I could discern (wallowy, bloated, fuzzy, harsh, fat ETC). Well, except when I used the failing ETS SE but that’s my point, it WAS NOT the amplifier. But then again we all know an amp DOES have a sound but the Kismet’s are solidly in the “base” color range and not colored pigment. Want bass slam with rock and roll compression to the max? Play Nickel Back, want smooth airy misty sound? Play Carpenters Best of CD. Want deep crisp and dynamic vocals and strings? Play Gordon Lightfoot. Some amps have “signature sound” but I don’t think that would describe these amps and to me that’s a good thing.

The other nice thing about the amps, is that they have a decently open soundstage that never sounded too crimped off. The music was very open front to back and imaged beyond the edges of the speakers. The image was always very solid and realistic in size. OK, this is what the C4's do so tremendously, but the amps have to be able to pass through the information since the speaker can't make it up. The Kismet and C4 II match-up stunningly well.

I tend to listen to folk music where sonic coloration that is veiled, cloudy, fat, misty gets real old real fast. I like my sound color more towards solidity of tone, tightness, open, stable imaging, and with definition (this is NOT bright!). This is why I ended up with the DynaudioC4 MK II’s, they excel in those areas. If it’s in the source material, they will let it through, until you chock it off with a colored downstream component or source material. Even through a speaker as good as the C4 MK II signatures, the Kismet’s don’t let you down. Not too many budget (on an AUDIO scale!) amps can be matched with speakers like the C4 II’s.

Carrying around 15 pound preamps is much easier than 60 pound apiece, or more, amplifiers and I can’t report what I didn’t do. It would be great to shift the amplifiers around to see what base color and sound stage each amplifier really is. I can assure you I don’t think you will say that the Kismet’s have a strong “tint” to their sound and that they follow the preamps in an amazingly neutral fashion. To find a good quality (twenty year warranty) amp that sounds (doesn’t sound?) good seems to be accomplished with the Kismet’s. If you are on a high-end budget, I would strongly shoe these in to an audition if you can as it is worth the “weight” of these two big monoblocks.

The C4 MKII’s speaker isn’t a super hard load to drive, but it isn’t 8-ohms, either. The lower frequencies are really 4-ohms, and what the amp see as a load factor overall. The Kismet’s handle low impedance with aplomb. I listen at about 82-85 dB SPL average and the amps refuse to get to even what I call “warm”. The DNA-225 gets warm! I doubt that even you cat will find enough heat to want to sleep on them. These amps seem to be effortless in dynamics, too, with HUGE capacitor banks to back it up. Kismet’s are hugely versatile partners to speakers within their 175-watt rating. The electronic noise floor of these amps is below audibility so when you run them hard at 90 dB average SPL, you aren’t listening to shot noise between every cut. I did this once and thought I might destroy the house!

So good old-fashioned amplifier design perfected over the years with better and better parts seems to be a really nice way to do things. If you want physical “flash” (the KISMET cases are flashy and more costly) these may not be for you but if you want understated styling that sounds really neutral and allows your source material, to come through you can do very well with this amplifier pair. The price will leave funds on the table for the pre-amp, which I’ve found out are far and away from just a box with switches on it. I’d like to be able to “tune” the overall sound of my system with basically ONE component if I could. I little squirt of color to exactly THIS sonic coloration if you please. The Kismet’s are one step closer to letting me do this.

Associated gear
See my system, C4's on a budget

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Click on the link in, "by Rower30 on 02-27-12" and it has another link to my system - C4's on a budget. I've got my system listed there.

Thankyou for the tip on "Echoes" on 88.5", I'll give it a try. I've noticed that digital FM, while giving you a quiet backdrop, is terribly compressed. Soemtimes the midrange and voices sounds louder than the LOUD passages! The old analog FM stations still sound better to my ear. I'll hate to see them go.
I am getting two fully modified Kismet mono's

I would like to use a tube preamp, any suggetstions

Running Dali Helicon 400s
Great review, and I read every word. You'll get absolutely NOTHING but STRONG agreement from me on the quality of Klaus' amplifiers. I have a modified version of the Statos Mono Extremes with some of the Kismet features (and no, I'm NOT sure exactly where my personal amps fall on the Kismet-->Odyssey Mono Extreme spectrum).

My story is that I basically stumbled on them (Odyssey Mono Extremes) here on Audiogon when my B&K ST-140 started to die, circa 2004. I was still running Paradigm speakers (Studio 100 V3) at the time. The differences between the Extremes (old, green circuit board version--I THINK) and the venerable ST140 were quite striking, so much so that even my non-audiophile wife noticed--immediately--and "authorized" their purchase.

Fast forward to ~1 year ago when Klaus couldn't isolate the source of a noise that the now modified Extremes were making (one monoblock ONLY) and he offered to repair/upgrade, basically AT HIS COST (!), the monoblocks to a Kismet-like level. He said they'd sound "terrible" at first. Well....they DIDN'T! It was obvious from the start, or at least very near the start, that there was more detail without more harshness/graininess. I even called Klaus (he actually allows us weird audiophiles to call him and he talks to us at length--God bless his weary soul) to tell him how happy I was. All this BEFORE they had "broken/burned in" to their optimal sonic performance level.

So, kudos to you for further elucidating the fruits of Klaus' labor. Welcome to "the club" of thrilled and grateful Odyssey Audio customers.