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K.I.C.A.S. Caliente

Posted

Pros: Excellent sound from an affordable solid state amp

Cons: Would be better if there was one model with a "Caliente" switch; I don't like wall warts

I received a PM from Oriel Mendelovitz, who is the founder of Purity Audio, asking me if I would like to review his K.I.C.A.S. headphone amp. It looked to be an attractively made amp, and being a discreet design and not using op-amps, it seemed to be value-priced, so I decided to give it a listen. Information can be found here: Purity Audio

The amp is pretty simple – one set of RCA inputs, one ¼ headphone output. It lives in an attractive but not overly fancy metal black case. It uses an outboard “wall wart” power supply, which, all things being equal, I prefer not to see. But the amp is really excellent sounding, and so I ended up being able to forget all about that small issue.

Oriel specifically asked me to use a high end source to test the KICAS. So I used my Denon SACD player in addition to my normal iMod >VCap dock set-up. I also briefly used my analog rig. Headphones used were primarily the Denon D5000, with short stints with all of my other home headphones (see sig).


First, a glamour shot:





The short story here is that the KICAS sounds TERRIFIC. It’s incredibly enjoyable to listen to. It’s highly transparent, very detailed without being bright, and really eminently musical. The mids are nice and lush but still VERY transparent. The midrange on this amp is actually a real joy. I was very impressed. It may be important to note that my KICAS was the “Caliente” version, which is supposedly “tube-like” in its voicing. I don’t think it quite sounds like a tube amp, but it definitely has a really enjoyable midrange presentation. Female vocals were incredibly well served. Sharon den Adel’s haunting vocals from Within Temptation’s “”Jillian” were spine-tingling.

That album also has some very deep bass on it, and the KICAS really DOES kick ass down deep. It has very controlled, VERY deep bass. I mean really wicked deep bass. Honestly, no amp I have ever heard rivaled the bass I could get from the D5000’s like the KICAS. It bettered even the Blue Circle SBH and Meier Audio Opera in this regard! I was stunned. The CONTROL that the KICAS exerted over the D5000 and DX1000 was really something to hear. Highly impressive.

On top, the amp is detailed but not at all bright. It may lack just the tiniest bit of top end air and extension versus the Blue Circle SBH, but this never detracted from the music at all, and in some cases I am sure would be a benefit. The KICAS was clean as a whistle too, with no treble grain. The cool instrumentation at the beginning of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s take on “Sitting Here in Limbo” was very well rendered.

The soundstaging was very good, but here it was not the equal of the SBH. The soundstage was enjoyable, stable, and believable, but it wasn’t as deep or wide as the SBH or my better tube amps. Nonetheless, it was engaging and convincing. That is wasn’t better than my amps costing 2-3 times as much is no embarrassment! Its soundstaging was certainly quite good. This is where perhaps the extra money does buy better performance.

In addition to the SBH, I also compared it to the Travagan’s White, While the White is very good indeed, has more features and is $100 less in price, The KICAS delivers better sound. The KICAS simply sounds “higher end”, in all of the good ways – more detailed AND smoother, and with an overall higher level of transparency and musicality. This isn’t to take away from the White – it’s a very nice little headamp and has a nice built-in DAC. But the KICAS Caliente is a level above.

In spite of the maker’s description of the Caliente as tube-like in its sound, I found it only a touch warm of neutral, and this was very welcome, and never at the expense of transparency or believability. I basically consider the amp to be neutral, but it certainly isn’t bright. Anyone with slightly bright headphones would be wise to get the Caliente version – if you have super-warm headphones already, I would advise sticking with the regular KICAS.

While the KICAS has plenty of gain, it did not have so much that the volume control was unusable, like many amps, and I found this to be a huge plus. I could actually use the first half of the volume control. It has no issue driving any of my headphones though, including the 600 ohm Beyers.

So what do we have here? We have a $399 solid state home headphone amp that proves once and for all that you can get a good home amp for not much more (or in some cases less!) than a portable amp, that delivers much better performance, and in fact delivers performance that rivals much more expensive amps. The KICAS Caliente is incredibly easy to recommend, and in fact, is such an easy recommendation it’s hard to be enthusiastic enough about it. This level of performance for the money is really a pleasure. Nice job, Purity Audio!

UPDATE: auditioning of KICAS non-Caliente (regular) version

Oriel at Purity Audio was nice enough to send me a regular KICAS (non-Caliente version) to audition. The plan was to compare it to the Caliente side-by-side, but this was not to be, as unfortunately I loaned my Caliente to another head-fier who has vanished with my amp

I did spend some time listening to the regular KICAS, though, and from memory I will say that I was quite surprised that it sounds much more similar to the Caliente than I expected. The regular KICAS is still very smooth, nicely detailed, with an a very neutral, even sound. It is neither bright, nor bass-deficient. Just as I found the Caliente not to be overly warm, I do not find the KICAS to be overly lean, or even lean at all. It's smooth and pleasant to listen to.

In almost every way the KICAS and Caliente sound very, very similar. Without being able to do a direct comparison it's almost impossible to define exactly how much difference there is, as I am certain that the difference between the two is quite subtle. If one has slightly lean headphones, it makes sense to get the Caliente, and conversely the regular KICAS would be the way to go if one has warm-ish headphones. But in neither case is either Purity Audio amp so colored that matching is all that critical. I enjoyed both versions with all the headphones I tried.

Posted

Pros: warm sound while remaining transparent, great bass, simple design, solid build quality

Cons: slightly bland looking, coloration may not suit all headphones

I have had this amp for a few months, and I really enjoy it.

 

The Caliente (and the KICAS as well, I suppose)  feels like a quality product, which it is. It's true that the amp looks quite bland, but I think it's a nice, "no BS" design that just sits there and does its job. The volume knob turns nice and smooth, and the power switch "clicks" nicely. The housing has a very unified appearance, and feels bulletproof. The amp is powerful enough to drive any conventional headphone.

 

The sound is what really sets this amp apart, though. The Caliente adds a layer of depth and realism to the soundstage. But by far, the most noteworthy feature of this amp is the powerful bass, which is delivered with aplomb and hits hard. The warm sound signature complements my K702s nicely, preventing them from sounding too thin while preserving their detail and clarity. As for the middle frequencies, guitars and vocals have a natural tone, never sounding cold. Highs are not overshadowed either, and come across clear and crisp. Keep in mind that although it has a bit of a bass boost, the Caliente's coloration is not overbearing at all; I never thought the sound was too warm with any of my headphones. That being said, though, I don't have any notoriously bassy headphones, nor am I a basshead.

 

Despite the recent arrival of several strong-performing amps from South Korea and China, I believe the Caliente can ably compete among them, as an amp for listeners who want a slightly warm sound. The bass showed some bloom at times, but it's excusable at this price point. Unlike some desktop amps, the Caliente only gets slightly warm after an hour or so. Also, Oriel is a great guy to do business with; he's courteous and responds quickly. At the price their amps are going for now, Purity Audio should definitely be on the shortlist for people looking for an amp for a few hundred dollars. The Caliente was a good value for $400, but it's a steal for $229. Note that since Purity Audio is a Canadian company, the prices are all in Canadian dollars.

Posted

Pros: compact, powerful, simple design, smooth performance

Cons: wall wart power supply, DIY apearance (alright for some)

The caliente is a really solid entry in its price range for a solid state headphone amp.

I would venture to say it performs a bit above its station, at $399 Canadian.

 

The sound is smooth yet powerful, and the volume knob is just perfectly tuned with the amp.  There's plenty of power on supply, and the amp drives 600 ohm cans without stress.

 

The Caliente is the "warm" sounding sister amp to the standard K.I.C.A.S. model (stands for "keep it clean and simple").  And i can detect just a hint more warmth and bass impact than perhaps would be there with a neutral amp.  And the sound is all the better for it in my book.

 

I'm really pleased with this amp, and would recommend it to anyone seeking a slightly warm sounding amp at this price point.

 

Posted

Pros: Build quality, sound, power, simplicity

Cons: Simplicity (for some)

The KICAS from Purity Audio is a very clean and capable sounding solid state amp that's been spiced with a touch of tube-esque warmth. 

 

KICAS (Keep It Clean And Simple) says it all. 1/4" headphone out, power switch, a pair of RCA inputs, and AC power input. That's all you get, and the guys at Purity proved that's all you need.

 

This one has excellent synergy with my Grados as well as the SM64s. The RS1's sound very punchy and dynamic (even more than normal) with sibilance only on poor recordings. Separation is very natural and coherent. This amp may not be the most neutral, but it certainly doesn't do anything weird to the source. Music is presented very naturally (I'm very reminded of the Colorfly C3's kind of sound - lush, rich, and organic).

 

I've heard it only briefly with some higher impedance cans like the ZMF V1 and HE500. The amp powered both with ease and from my brief time with them, both cans responded well to it's "just-north-of-neutral" presentation.

 

I would certainly recommend this amp to anyone looking for a do-it-all amp solution that specializes in simplicity yet gives a rich musical sound. 

Posted

Pros: Great value on second-hand market

Cons: Not eligible for FOTM status any more

Snared one of these second-hand largely on impulse.  Best (and one of the lesser expensive) impulse I've had on Head-Fi!

 


 

The above "review" was a late-night effort when all I was really trying to do was add the KICAS to my equipment list, but Head-Fi automatically pops up a box inviting you to write a review of each item you add to a list, so I tossed off a couple of casual lines and went to bed.  Now I realize that the way Huddler (the software platform that powers Head-Fi) works, this is going to be at the top of "recent reviews" for awhile and be displayed on a good many dynamically-generated pages, so I'll try to expand a bit on the previous effort by the light of day since this will draw a few eyeballs until subsequent reviews push it out of the headlines.

 

First a disclaimer: I really shouldn't be reviewing equipment at all, because it is entirely about relative comparisons, and I simply don't have enough experience with contemporary high-end headphone and digital audio gear to make those kinds of comparisons.  I used to sell analog-only high-end equipment in the 1970s and 80s, so I have some sense of what good sounds like, but have very limited exposure to the components featured on Head-Fi, so anything I say should be taken with that caveatt.

 

That said, I was very impressed with the KICAS amplifier, given that my Sennheiser HD650s had only been powered by lesser equipment like a Maverick Audio D1 and A1 and and Indeed 6N11 single tube/mosfet hybrid amp before getting the KICAS.   Given that $20 of my $180 purchase price went to great, quick shipping from the Head-Fi-er I purchased it from, a lot of my enthusiasm probably stems from the value side of the acquisition.   Most discrete headphone amps that seemed to be good quality matches for the 650s were out of my immediate budget, so getting something so affordable that sounded so much better than what I had heard before was exciting.

 

The KICAS is now a three-year-old design and out-of-production while the Canadian folks who make up Purity Audio are on sabbatical before they resume business with a new line of amps.  My unit has jumpers inside so you can switch between the "Caliente" mode (gentle lower-bass EQ boost applied) or the "normal" mode, and it was shipped in the "normal" mode, which I may leave it in for awhile, since I discovered it is not trivial to open the well-designed case to change the jumpers.

 

There have been plenty of reviews and impressions written about the KICAS on Head-Fi, which I researched for the first time the night I saw the for sale listing and then went ahead and made the purchase.  "Reviewer Pontificus" (love that title) Skylab raved about it (principally from a value perspective); others have been less enthusiastic.   But I am happy with it.  My previous experience in high-end audio in the analog-only days gave me a personal prediliction toward solid-state as opposed to tube amplification, and the KICAS has the qualities I associate with a good solid-state design: clarity, detail, good extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum, and a very low noise floor, which contributes to a greater sense of dynamic range to my old ears.  The volume potentiometer is quite useful through its entire range, and is smooth and quiet.  Like Skylab, I am not crazy about external "wall-wart" style power supplies, but the KICAS designers have implemented it so well in terms of sound quality it is hard to hold this against the amplifier.

 

Bottom line: If you are on a budget and looking for a good amplifier for a relatively low price, the KICAS continues to hold its value and is now quite affordable as a lot of owners are moving up to more recent products.  Amps tend to be a more "mature" technology than DACs and transports, so getting a product that is well-proven even though it is no longer being made is a nice way to save yourself some coin if circumstances dictate.

Posted

Pros: Nothing specific

Cons: Collapsing soundstage, dark, can't drive many headphones properly

This amplifier didn't drive my ER 4S earphones properly neither my AT M40fs! May be it's a synergy issue, but I'm not sure, at least nobody complained of ER 4S being hard to drive! The sound was too dark for my taste, with a collapsing soundstage (compared to my Onkyo receiver) and very poor extension in the highs and lows but the mids were good. I used it with my Marantz CD5004 connected by Blue Jeans RCA cables and this combination was awful! I guess the dark Marantz is not the best combo with the dark caliente. In the end I think there are many better choices than the KICAS Caliente for the price range of $300. May be it works fine with the AKG K701/2 but never tried it with those cans.

Posted

Pros: extremely simple.

Cons: not powerful enough to drive HD650.

I got it directly from the manufacture in Canada.  The price is above that of its Chinese competitors. The sound quality is OK but not very powerful.  I love the shape of this amp though.

K.I.C.A.S. Caliente
Description:

Our current flagship model(s) are the K.I.C.A.S. and Caliente Headphone Amplifier. The K.I.C.A.S. and Caliente employ a single ended, standard RCA/Phono input at the back and a single ended, ¼" phone jack output. It offers both high current output rates for lower impedance headphones, but also has enough voltage to drive higher impedance headphones (up to 600 ohms rated impedance) with ease. K.I.C.A.S. and Caliente are designed primarily for modern dynamic headphones (impedances from 25 to 600 ohms rated impedance, with an efficiency of 96 dB/mW or better).

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