Diapason Karis Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

Published On: January 11, 2009
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Diapason Karis Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

The Karis has a "fetching midband" and it "adores" vocals which "came through clear, detailed and untrammelled. What lifts the Karis above the pack of most small speakers is that "size-related compromises are only evident if you choose the wrong amplifier..."

Diapason Karis Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

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While there's been no announcement to the effect, nor a banner across the upper corner to indicate it, this is part of a series of reviews. The theme? To find a replacement for the late, lamented LS3/5A. The requirements are simple: the speaker must be small and of high quality (thus eliminating the sub-£99-per-pair dross). Am I expecting ever to find a genuine substitute for one of the 10 greatest speakers of all time? No. But I do hope to find enough quality mini-monitors to ensure that those suffering a dearth of space need never feel cheated. And Diapason's Karis is definitely one which will work in a small room.

By small room, I mean as restricted as 10x12ft; any less would be a prison cell, and for that you have either my apologies or instructions to find a wife who'll let you set up your gear in other than the broom cupboard. While the Karis is very much a speaker with high-end pretensions - it sells for a not-inconsiderable, un-LS3/5A-like £1250 per pair - it does have a specific function which accounts for its topology. Essentially, this is a reduced-scale version of the company's £1995-per-pair Adamantes III, designed ostensibly as the rear and/or side channel speakers for a 5.1 system; the company produces the Kentron as a dedicated centre channel speaker. But Diapason also markets the Karis as a stand-alone mini-monitor, so it's not cheating to assess it outside of home cinema usage.

As we've come to expect of Italian speakers, the Karis is gorgeous, its solid Canaletto walnut enclosure accounting for part of the cost. But all is not well in the eyes of some observers. While I positively drooled over the Karis, one cynical colleague argued that it looks like an in-car speaker had simply been fitted to the front of a box. His response is understandable, for Diapason produced a grille which could easily do time on the rear parcel shelf of any number of vehicles.


Underneath the mesh, which is damped by a rubber ring positioned between it and the baffle, are a 110mm 'polymetilpentene' bass unit and a 20mm silk dome tweeter. The crossover point is 4.5kHz, but the bass unit is 'direct-driven'. At the back of the enclosure are a large port and a single pair of multi-way binding posts. Crucial to this report, though, are the dimensions: 190x260x285mm (WDH). Perhaps more telling is a weight of 4.8kg per speaker - hefty little buggers, they are indeed.

As you'd expect, these are not quite what the SET brigade would covet, given a 6 ohm impedance with a 3.3 ohm minimum, and sensitivity of 87dB/1W/1m. But they do love push-pull tube amps, and have been demonstrated at shows with GRAAF's smallest OTL amp, the GM20. Additionally, they love power, and were not afraid to have their cables connected to the business end of the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300.

As it turns out, the Karis shares one other detail with the LS3/5A beyond minuscule dimensions: it's quirky as hell. One minute, it's impressing you with bass which no LS3/5A could ever approach; the next it's sounding a bit lumpy, one-note or reticent. What emerged - and it is most assuredly amplifier-related - is a tendency to find an optimum level, which in turn influences the lower register behaviour...and it differs from amplifier to amplifier. F'rinstances? With the Nu-Vista 300, the Karis had to be played loud - louder than I find comfortable for more than a few minutes. With vintage Radfords, it worked best at median levels but fell apart when pushed (and it wasn't a case of amplifier clipping; trust me). With mid-level solid-state integrateds - Myryad's T-40, Roksan's Caspian - softer was better. But there are no hard and fast rules, so don't assume that, say, the majority of 50W/ch British integrateds will elicit the same behaviour.

All of which points to one thing: the Karis must be auditioned with the amp you'll be using at home. Better still, it should be auditioned at home, or in a room similar in size to your hi-fi salon. It's not just a case of matching the amp to the Karis vis-a-vis playback levels. When I set up the Karis with the Nu-Vista firing down a 22ft room, all was blissful.

Once you settle on an amplifier - I opted for the Myryad T-40 and T10 C D player for small room mode and the Nu-Vista as above - you'll find that the Karis does everything that LS3/5A haters want from a modern mini: they go loud enough and deep enough to reinforce disdain of the Beeb's baby. What makes the Karis a viable alternative, though, is its retention of one of the traits no LS3/5A lover would sacrifice: a fetching midband.

Are Diapason's designers opera lovers? Dunno, but this baby adores vocals, and it proved its worth in spades when I fed it 'With A Little Help From My Friends' by Big Daddy. The sound spread is wide enough to provide space for the backing vocalists, while the lead vocal came through clear, detailed and untrammelled. Extremely LS3/5A-like were the vocal textures, precisely what made the '3/5A such an ideal monitor in radio stations.

As is par for the mini-monitor course, the Diapason delivers great '3-D', provided they're stand-mounted (24in will do) and sited at least 1ft from the side and back walls. Whatever a rear-firing port seems to dictate in terms of speaker positioning, the Karis needs less breathing space at the back that I expected. What they will not like is shelf mounting if they're closed in at the sides. (Diapason makes wall-mounting brackets which only give them a few inches' clearance. I can't imagine what this does to either the bass or the imaging.)

At this price point - an elevated one, I must say, when there are so many sublime minis below 1k - the Diapason Karis has it's work cut out for it, and not just because of a now-deceased rival. What lifts it above the pack, the wonderful aesthetics aside, are an ability never to sound like a small speaker; the size-related compromises are only evident if you choose the wrong amplifier. Which, I suppose, makes this an absolute treat for mildly-masochistic purists.

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