There are some very valuable lessons that I learned from Symphonic Line, (which, BTW will make a HUGE comeback next year. Stay tuned and learn about the real out of sight performance of their gear), and probably the single most important one is this:
An evolutionary process makes very good designs exceptional. That's what SL did. Keep in mind that the first amp that Rolf came out with as a SL was the RG 1, 27 years ago !!!! Still available today. Just like a 911, take a good design and perfect the hell out of it. Then base all amps on this design, and that is the main reason why SL is so good. (And, also keep in mind that the RG 11 , which is pretty much our amp design, has been based on the RG 1, and has first been introduced in 1986 !!!!! 22 years of heritage !!!!)
Now, we have this great design, which we use in the Khartagos and Stratos'. Over the past 2 years I have been fine tuning it in steps, and lately have been more aggressive about it with the idea of coming out with the Kismet. I guess that you can ask one of the dozen or so owners of the "glass ceiling", which was one step to get there. However, the Kismet is even way beyond this. It's also a no - compromise and cost no object internal upgrade process. Just to throw around some numbers here per amplifier:
-internal TS Premium Groneberg's, about $ 180.
-All WBT top connectors, around $ 300
- All parts upgrades internally except for the transformer around 110 - 120 % increase in cost
- Case is completely machined.
- Total labor (without machining time) per amp when it arrives at the customer is appr. 16 hours +
If you want to recreate the same amp by yourself, good luck staying anywhere near 3-4 K. This is not your typical $ 35. digital ICE module that you can buy from China, that's for sure.
Anyway, I won't have the exact final numbers until the end of the week(machining time is not yet determined), but I am shooting for around $ 2,200 - 2,400 for the stereo, and around 4.5 k for the monos.
The Kismet preamp, which is also evolutionary in that it is based on the Candela taken way up there is also in the same price range. Next is the Kismet loudspeaker. In my opinion, the best product that I have by far are the Lorelei's. I don't think that even a small percentage of you really realise as to how great of a design this is. Then again, as a SL design it is 9 k plus in Europe, so it better be good. Anyway, with the Kismet speakers we are also going bananas with internal upgrades and a wooden outrigger kind of cabinet externally. Cost will be $ 3,200, just a minimal increase.
Finally, the Kismet phono stage. This , of course is brand new, and our in house design. This is the one product that I wouldn't put under a best bang for the buck definition, as all other Kismets still are. this is a unit that you can talk about in absolute terms. And man oh man, does it deliver. Alex can chime in here and give you an overview and some more specs that will make your head spin. To me, it is emotional, dead, and I mean black, quiet, dynamic, and with a superb sound staging. This unit will be at least $ 2500 as a full size, same chassis set up with an external power supply.
There might be some more future products that I would like to do, yes. BUT at this point I don't envision any pure digital products at all. As for myself, I am not qualified for this, to be honest, and this is a very crowded market with many great products. Stick with what you are good at and do it to perfection. So, I would also lose my 800 lbs Gorilla status there and probably couldn't deliver on a bang for the buck promise. On the other hand, who knows what could find it' sway into my hands. Who knows , but right now there are no plans.
So, I have learned that a meticulous evolutionary path is the way to go. This is also the case with all of the truly great products that I admire. Perfection is in the details of fine tuning and tweaking and exploring. Our ears are still the best instruments to find exactly the sound that one is looking for, and that's what I tried to do.
Finally, with a trade in philosophy. So far, we have given our customers a full 100 % value for any up-sales. And as most of you know, our margins are a fraction of nearly all other manufacturers out there, even here on AC . (Don't get me started there) Same thing with the Kismet. I want to have customers feel that they got a fantastic deal, and yes, I am aware of the fact that many people still won't look at our gear because of the price points and the perception of performance only in the big buck segments. Their loss. So, I want to be able to provide this upgrade path for everybody, but probably have to make this on an individual basis. However, you should get between 75 - 100 % of your investment back.
Hope that this helps out some more here. IF !!!!! everything goes ok, I should have the cases ready for the weekend, and I'll try to post some pics.