To understand the Kroma Audio Julieta and floorstanding Carmen sibling requires a bit of history. Their creators are Javier Millan, a self-taught designer whose personal system, according to girlfriend Amber, had become a go-to destination for Granada-area sound pilgrims over the last 30 years; and who had already done a number of OEM projects for various audio firms; and his close friend and owner/publisher Miguel Castro of Hifilive, Spain's most popular hifi magazine. When the latter acquired a pair of Japanese Kiso Acoustics HB-1 speakers from Cliff who besides Vibex also operates a hifi import shoppe, he and Javier were blown away. Eventually Miguel suggested that the two of them ought to try and build a speaker similar to the tiny Japanese box from Takamine Guitars. They simply wanted lower bass and higher dynamics to suit modern music, larger spaces and higher SPL. This kicked off a roughly 3-year project which culminated in what became the Julieta and Carmen loudspeakers.

Enclosed in chemically bonded solid Krion enclosures, each Julieta contains an inner structure of wooden resonators and reflectors which Javier tunes by ear and hand one speaker at a time. Two rear ports of Canadian pine and cedar respectively, one 4mm thick and the other 10mm, one tuned to 42Hz and the other to 37Hz, are crafted from bona fide tonewoods by a local luthier.
With Javier.

As is true for Martin Gateley and his soundkaos speakers, the quality and precision of the tonewood selection and execution are critical to the final performance. Here we see Miguel's friend, the Granada guitar-making maestro...

... turn one of the Kroma Audio ports.

With the interior Krion walls lined in Cliff's viscoelastic, Javier begins to tune each box with proprietary tonewood reflectors cum resonators (these parts are not the ports). This is a time-consuming process in the artisanal tradition. It is reserved to just Javier. Hence Krion Audio—by intrinsic design—will always operate as a small-volume quasi custom boutique. As Javier might put it, "wood is a living thing. It responds to its environment. This includes the energies you put into it by yourself. So one must be patient and respectful to follow the wood's lead". This perspective extends to letting the completed speaker settle into its final destination. The carefully tuned wooden parts must relax and acclimate to their new environment just like a traveling piano won't ever sound right after just being uncrated and wheeled on stage.

Again like Martin Gateley, Javier and Miguel eliminate as much metal from their speakers as possible to minimize vibrational pathways and eddy currents. Where for his Skiny16 model, Martin replaced his widebander's metal basket with a Panzerholz frame, the Julieta and Carmen use thermoplastic Reny screws to mount their Danish Hiquphone 3/4" gold-infused fabric dome tweeters with shallow waveguide and custom 6.5" ScanSpeak Revelator mid/woofers. Krion's hardness allows threads to be machined right into it without metallic inserts. Javier's unconventional crossover sits in the hermetically sealed chamber of the stand and is potted in an organic compound. Whilst using very shallow slopes, his are no common 1st-order series or parallel types. He merely divulged that their hinge sits at 2'600Hz.

Basic specs for the Julieta are Duelund, Mundorf and NOS filter parts, 6Ω nominal impedance, 90dB sensitivity, 50kg weight for each box/stand assembly and dimensions of 100 x 29.5 x 41.5cm HxWxD. The Carmen doubles up on the mid/woofer, increases efficiency by 1dB, doubles the weight and measures 128.5 x 29.5 x 42.5cm HxWxD. The retail pricing for the monitors will be €30'000/pr and €45'000/pr for the floorstanders. The Krion can be other colours as can be the decorative wooden inserts. Or, the speaker/stand assembly can just be Krion. The customer decides.

Armed with a CD I'd burnt for the occasion, with a heavy focus on Flamenco to honour our hosts, I had opportunity to use it in Miguel's personal system where we heard the Carmen fronting another Ypsilon system with an MBL player as transport into a Nagra HD DAC with output MPS power supply. Cables here were by Javier.

Where the hotel presentation had suggested potential, the mature and permanent not temporary install at Miguel's demonstrated it in full bloom. This was emotionally gripping instantly involving sound at a very high level, indicating that the Julieta would be capable of the same if not more. As such, I was eager to throw my hat into the ring for a review sample. Javier and Miguel agreed to visit us in Ireland later in the year to help set them up and explain more about the design.

With Ivette translating—Javier speaks no English—I already grasped that his approach is unusual*. Inside an ultra-quiet rigid hard box crafted of bonded Krion without any screws operates a secondary box (which isn't a box but assemblage of specific wooden parts in an undisclosed geometry) that injects living breathing qualities which a dead box bolted together of aluminium panels for example wouldn't possess.

When I asked Javier how he knows when he has hit the it—the perfect wood tuning for an individual speaker—he was hesitant to say. Swearing us to secrecy, he then did describe the process. Suffice to say, if you consider just where the Julieta is made; and that the final outcome is music; you might intuit the method to fill the gap. The same goes for the exact potting compound for his crossover; and the filter's function. Cliff who is technically astute doesn't understand how it works.

Korean importer Houyoun Kim's wife Haechung Suh in our audience is a Juilliard-trained concert pianist. Not being familiar with her instrument in a Flamenco setting, we played her the "A Ritmo De Berza" track from Dorantes' Sur album. This and other tracks at Miguel's place really went under her skin. It reminded me that those of us trained on musical instruments relate to hifi not primarily or at all on sound but emotional persuasiveness. This requires properly tuned heart strings so the music not hifi can play us.

A writer (reader?) and his artist wife.

In gastro terms, it's the difference between presentation, taste and nutrition. One can have a fabulous meal in a hole-in-the-wall joint, off paper plates and throwaway plastic cutlery. One can have a disappointing meal in a fancy setting where the chef goes to town with his on-plate assembly. And, one can have a meal that's not only prettily presented and good tasting but which leaves one feeling energized and revitalized because it was very healthy and nutritious. In the end, food presentation comes a very final third. Even taste is secondary to food's primary function of rebuilding and sustaining our bodies on a cellular level. With music, emotional communion is paramount. Good sound lives somewhere between presentation and taste. It's nice to have but not fundamental to musical enjoyment. If one can get the musical equivalent of all three—nutrition, taste and presentation—that's what high-end hifi is or should be about. Suffice to say, Miguel's system delivered on all three. Guapa!

* Corian-type speaker enclosures per se have come before. Phil Jones' Platinum Audio Solo Signature box combined Corian and Avonite. Today's Crystal Cable Minissimo is machined out of a solid block of a German version of Corian. Kroma Audio's contribution is to combine such a dead box with living innards to give it soul if you will.