For Roksan’s latest K3 electronics range, head honcho Tufan Hashemi chose a rather different style of finish to grace the front panels. It seems he’s bored of the matte black and brushed silver that is found on the majority of equipment in the affordable arena. He describes these finishes as “somewhat stale,” and I have to agree that this is an area that has long been taken for granted. Roksan has some history in different finishes; it used a Nextel coating on its Attessa range, mirroring on the Kandy and Caspian models and most recently white and black piano finishes on the stylish Oxygene series. For K3, Tufan has chosen shades that are designed to match the neutral tones used for interior decoration of late, the ‘Farrow & Ball Effect’ as it’s known. The K3 front panels have a coarse brushed aluminium finish that’s hand produced by a German metalwork company. It’s subtle but distinctive, and comes in three colours with only slightly confusing names: ‘Anthracite’ is silver, ‘Opium’ a dark brown, and ‘Charcoal’ a very dark grey. The latter has somewhat predictably proved to be the most popular so far… you can lead a horse to water, etc.
The K3 does not supplant the existing K2 models, but sits above them in terms of price and specification, although in the case of the CD player, the features remain almost the same. Unlike quite a few of its competitors, the K3 CD is not attempting to be all things to all men; it doesn’t, for instance, have digital inputs and DAC functions. Instead, Roksan has concentrated on making the best disc player that it can for the money by redesigning the main PCB from the K2 player and using higher quality components throughout. It has also added an AES/EBU digital output, which is a far less compromised means of delivering a bitstream than S/PDIF via coax, and less of a rarity on affordable DACs than it used to be.
The transport mechanism is one that Roksan has built to its own specification, meaning the firm not only enjoys a custom-tailored CD drive but also has a steady supply source – not something that many companies can claim in an age where CD mechanism production is on the decline. Build is reassuringly solid throughout, output socketry is all good quality, and things like the disc drawer operate with a precision that suggests long term reliability. I like the small chrome buttons and clear labelling, but I am less keen on the orangey red on black text on the remote handset. However, with its rounded chrome surround, the remote is good looking and appears to be a solid piece of engineering.
When I started this review, I asked Tufan why the world needed another CD player in what would appear to be the age of digital streaming. He explained, “I feel that there is a certain longevity within the CD format. Being in the industry, it’s easy to forget that ‘out there’, it’s still utilised extensively! There is still a big demand for good CD players both domestically and overseas… Also, let’s not forget that CD is a simple and effective way of listening to music and it still sounds better than any wireless format.” He has a point, and one that undoubtedly resonates with many enthusiasts. There is, however, a button on the K3 handset that indicates Roksan is ready for the future as and when it arrives. It’s marked ‘streamer’.
In the system, the K3 CD takes a while to run in, it starts out sounding hard-edged and cold, but after a few days of spinning begins to mellow out. The change is quite marked, more so than with streaming products or DACs, which suggests there is something about the disc reading process that takes a bit of settling in. Once there, its muscular yet evenly-balanced sound proves very entertaining. I’m not a habitual CD user anymore (I’ve made the journey to the computer audio side, where they have cookies), so it always takes a while to come to terms with the format, but it was immediately apparent the Roksan has a broad tonal and temporal palette with which to paint aural pictures, and it does so with some aplomb considering its price point.
It did get me wondering what a more expensive player would add to the mix, so I warmed up a Leema Antila IIS Eco (£3,295) and was reminded that ‘more’ does equal ‘more’ in the world of CD, specifically lower noise, greater integrity, and better definition of leading edges. Not a fair comparison, but an indication of my expectations as much as anything. The only other alternative I had to hand came from lower down the food chain in the form of a Rotel RCD-06 that appears to be obsolete; I really must update my CD references! Nonetheless it reveals that the K3 is in another league; you can hear so much more realism and detail, the timing is far stronger, and the imaging clearly superior. If you are looking for an upgrade from a relatively affordable player, then the K3 should be on your list.
On its own terms, the K3 has a directness of style that means you get what the musicians were trying to achieve; you may not hear every nuance, but there is more than enough to keep you listening. Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ is rather special when its sung by Tina Turner and played by Herbie Hancock and his band, [River: The Joni Letters, Verve] and here you get a room-filling sound and a very good appreciation of the expertise of the musicians. It’s a lavish recording of a very sophisticated production, that much is clear. The balance is not quite smooth enough to warrant the all-revealing PMC fact.8 loudspeakers I use as a rule and reminds me that source and speakers can be mismatched as easily as amps and speakers. Nonetheless, they reveal a low noise floor in the K3, and the layers of fine detail that are allowed to shine as a consequence reinforce the final result.
Bass is also well served. This player delivers surprisingly tactile bass notes from guitars and drums, as witnessed on the ‘Bass & Drum Intro’ from Nils Lofgren Band Live [Hypertension]. This is delivered with maximum texture and harmonic resonance, as the guitar really growls while the drums shift serious amounts of air – it really gets quite physical. Meanwhile, Gregory Porter is a big man but he has a voice of honey on ‘No Love Dying’ [Liquid Spirit, Blue Note], and the Roksan resolves this with perfect timing and strong vocal imaging. The sound really has shape and presence, which means it gets quite involving, despite the amount of times the song gets played round these parts.
With Beethoven’s Late String Quartets [Alban Berg Quartett (Live), EMI], you are immersed in the lyricism of the work thanks to good depth of string tone and well differentiated instruments. I can imagine a richer rendition, but this captures the spirit well and delivers the interplay between musicians that the piece requires. Searching around for CDs, I happened across the first Dali demo disc, a compilation of well recorded tracks that includes Patricia Barber’s ‘Let It Rain’ [Companion, Premonition]. Her Premonition recordings are all very good, but sadly this is one I don’t have. In the Roksan’s grasp, the track sounds so very atmospheric that it makes me want to explore her back catalogue (and that is not an euphemism). She sounds so sultry and the acoustic guitar solo is really rather good, and the way the guitarist adds a kick drum effect by banging the body of the instrument is top light entertainment. If this is an indication of the album’s overall quality it’s one I need. While I try to resist buying music that is very well recorded for its own sake, it gets very difficult if that music also has an emotional appeal.
Finally, a track that I use mainly for professional purposes is ‘Down in the Hole’, a Tom Waits song performed by John Campbell [Howlin Mercy, Elektra]. This is an exercise in separating bass instruments and voice that the Roksan takes ably in its stride, drawing out the massive reverb and revealing the solidity of the bass guitar. The sonic presentation is excellent in more than just the audiophile sense of the word.
I could go on but you will by now realise that the Roksan K3 CD player is at least as good to listen to as it is to look at. It’s not trying to change the world, rather it was built for anyone looking for a solid and dependable disc player. It is designed for one purpose: making CDs sound good. If you need a DAC or a streamer there are plenty out there, but if you don’t, then there is a lot to be said for buying a machine that’s dedicated to its chosen task.
- Type: Solid-state CD player.
- Disc Types: CD, CD-R/RW
- Digital Inputs: none.
- Analogue Outputs: single-ended via RCA jacks.
- Digital Outputs: coaxial via RCA, balanced via AES/EBU.
- DAC Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz
- Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Harmonic Distortion: < 0.002% @ 0dB, 1kHz < 0.006% @ -30dB, 1kHz < 0.002% @ 0dB, 20kHz < 0.008% @ -30dB, 20kHz.
- Signal to Noise Ratio: < 96dB L&R (IHF-A Weighted).
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 105 x 432 x 380mm
- Weight: 9kg
- Price: £1,250
Manufacturer: Roksan Audio Ltd
Tel: +44 (0)20 8900 6801
Distributor: Henley Designs Ltd
Tel: +44 (0)1235 511166
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