This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
- Solidly built
- Great sound quality
- Understated yet luxurious look
- Volume knob is a tad wobbly
- I (and many audiophiles) prefer the ¼" headphone jack over the 3.5mm
- IR receiver is oddly positioned on both the amp and the CD player
I heard the name Roksan when I was growing up in Australia. Some of my friends' parents owned the company's CD player and integrated amps, usually coupled with the Dual turntable, wired with Monster Cables, and set up with Monitor Audio speakers. I never really had the chance to carefully listen to the systems, but I remember wondering why so many people were buying that combination.
Jump ahead 25+ years, and I learned that both the Roksan and Monitor Audio brands are distributed by Pickering, ON-based Kevro International in Canada. So I decided to try and recreate the system I fondly remembered, and asked Kevro to suggest gear that would do so, but that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. They recommended the Roksan K3 integrated amp and K3 CD player ($2,499 each) coupled with the Monitor Audio Studio bookshelf speakers ($1,799 a pair) and their matching stands ($749 per pair) with a pair of Tributaries interconnects and speaker wires. Total cost: about $7,500, plus about $800 for the cables.
Roksan K3 Integrated Amplifier and CD Player
The Roksan K3 integrated amplifier is a classic, one box integrated amplifier with all the inputs you'd want at this price level. It is very heavy at more than 30 lbs., but heavy is good when it comes to amplifiers because it means it includes a good power transformer and solid chassis to block any EMI and RFI from coming into the box.
The inputs include five line level inputs, a Moving Magnet Phono stage, plus aptX Bluetooth. A great feature for home theatre enthusiasts is that it includes a bypass for AV solutions. I love the understated look of the front of the box. My sample is called ‘Anthracite,' but I simply call it "silver."
Outputs are standard speaker terminals, and there is a pre-amplifier output option if you choose to use the unit as a pre-amp with separate power amplification. There is also a headphone out to the smaller 3.5mm jack, which I don't like as I prefer the larger ¼" headphone output myself, since I find it less prone to breaking if accidentally pulled out.
The front menu of the K3 employs the simplicity and functionality that I expect. There is no need to weed through the manual in order to use this unit. It has two "modes" of powering on. There is an actual power on/off switch to the left on the front underside of the box and a "standby mode," which allows you to turn on/stand-by the amp using the supplied remote control. I usually leave my equipment in sleep mode, but 25W for this amp in that mode is too rich for my blood. But it will give you instant best-performance sound without the need to warm it up.
Input switching is simple using the arrow keys; the K3 is smart enough to skip the inputs that are not connected. Bluetooth is selected by switching the Bluetooth button on the far right. It flashes like an emergency vehicle searching for a source: I used my iPhone 8 Plus. The volume knob is prominent and shiny: quite simply, it's pretty. It does wobble, however, which I find cheapens the feel a tad.
The CD player is designed similarly to the amp. Buttons are all consistent in size and look, and laid out in a logical way that makes the player unintimidating for a first-time user. The CD tray is located in the middle as theoretically, that will help reduce vibration, which in turn, reduces reading error. The track display is nice and clean in green with a track calendar shown on the top, right corner of the display. The IR sensor is located in an awkward position on the faceplate, just like the random IR location on the integrated amp. It looks kind of like an afterthought, though it isn't visually offensive. The tray goes in and out with ease, and is unrushed.
Finish quality is typical Roksan: it's a nice looking piece of equipment, and an improvement over other products in a similar price range. The overall feel is luxurious. There are several nice touches too, notably the badge on the top of the unit that generates a satisfying smile.
The remotes are quirky and fun, employing a pill-shaped design rather than the usual rectangular footprint. The design is a bit weird in the sense that I always have to check to see which end is which, but I got used to it within minutes. I chose to use the amplifier remote since it controls the amplifier and the CD player, negating the need for multiple remotes.
Monitor Audio Studio Bookshelf Speaker
Unlike other Monitor Audio speakers, the Studio employs a unique design. The bass drivers are RDT-II (modified from their Platinum PL500-II) in metallic silver, and the speaker cabinet square-ish in design, measuring at 340mm x 361mm x 156mm. It uses rear ported Hive II bass port technology.
The use of a Micro Pleated Diaphragm tweeter (also like the PL500-II) for each cabinet is a perfect match. What's more intriguing is that regardless of which amplifier I use, I measured that this tiny speaker can reproduce frequencies from 58Hz to 24kHz +/- 3 dB (which is considered ruler-flat) in my dedicated listening room. Mind you, the lab test as per the spec sheet mentions 48Hz to 60kHz (- 6 dB), but my room has a different acoustic signature, and my calibrated mic can only pick up to 24kHz. As for the speaker finish, my sample was grey, reminding me of actual studio monitors. They are smudge-resistant, but be careful, they are slippery.
I set everything up together and listened to it as a system.
The integrated amp effectively delivered its rated 140W at 8 Ohms and 220W at 4 Ohms through the speakers. I found this to be more than satisfactory for my 10'x16'x8' listening room.
Playing back any CDs on the K3 CD player through the amp to the Monitor Studio, I found the amplifier to be exciting. The power and emotion from Jackie Evancho's rendition of "How Great Thou Art" from the album Two Hearts and "Ave Maria" from the album Awakening were reproduced faithfully. Of course I used my Charice self titled album and my own recordings for observation as well.
Overall, I found that this combo sweetens the recordings I know inside and out. It appears this can be attributed to the Roksan CD/integrated amp combo, as I got the same sweetness when connecting the system to my PSB Century 300 as well. When I connected the Monitor Studio to my system, I got a faithful reproduction, with only a slight Monitor Audio sonic signature imbedded.
I was impressed with the resolution and detail. I usually use Miles Davis and Judas Priest (a weird combination, I know) when searching for detail, and it was all there, beautiful and mesmerizing. With plenty of power, the soundstage is wide and powerful. "Pour Some Sugar on Me" from Def Leppard's Hysteria album received a reference-level play, and lifted my joyous emotion. Dynamically, power delivery was effortless in more complex pieces such as Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Outstanding is the only word I can choose to describe this combo's performance across the range.
The MM Phono stage input is as good as many high-quality built-in phono stages I've used. The RIAA equalization and cleanliness of the stage are top notch, and tracks from my newly acquired Def Leppard Hysteria 30th Anniversary double 180g vinyl LP sounded the way they are supposed to. (I own various pressings and CDs of the same album with varying masters). As usual, I played the album using my trusty Technics SL-1000 direct drive turntable with Ortofon Blue cartridge sitting on a marble slab in a separate room to reduce vibration and feedback to near zero for the most accurate reproduction. Playing Gloria Estefan's Standards 180g vinyl and Miles Davis Kind of Blue (also 180g vinyl) in their entirety was also sublime.
Using my iPhone 8 Plus connected via Bluetooth, set up with the amplifier was simple and stable. The antenna sticks up out of the back to the right and seems to do the job. I streamed various sources through the Roksan to the Monitor Studio, and it work seamlessly, though I'm not a fan of using Bluetooth overall. Nonetheless, it's a nice-to-have feature for those who would use it.
If you want to listen using proper headphones, you might prefer buying a headphone amplifier, not an amplifier designed to be used with speakers like this one. The K3 does much more than a reasonable job with its headphone output, but the expectation of a one box solution, especially at this price, is unrealistic considering that the price of a decent entry level headphone amp is usually in the $800 area.
This system is excellent, and, as a bonus, is a sight to behold as well. It isn't cheap, but the set still falls within the affordable luxury category. Best of all, you don't need to buy the items all together. From my tests, the Monitor Studios stand out by themselves; and the K3 products, including both the CD player and the integrated amplifier, are very strong contenders on their own as well. Overall, this set-up is a powerful performer for the money.