Equipment Reviews – Mola Mola Kula Integrated Amplifier and Tambaqui DAC
Introduction – I have previously reviewed the Tambaqui DAC by Mola Mola who are based in the Netherlands and it features again in this review where this time it is partnered with the Mola Mola Kula Integrated Amplifier. The Kula amp retails at £9,990 and the Tambaqui DAC at £8,999. Mola Mola also make a pre-amplifier called the Makua at £7,749 and a pair of half-width monobloc amps called Kaluga at £5,499 each. The Kula amplifier is a full width device (420mm) at 11kg fully loaded and the Tambaqui is half width at 200mm wide at 5.2 kg and both have the slightly unconventional concave front and wavy top casing which has become Mola Mola’s brand design.
As far as I can tell by searching the internet this must be one of the very first reviews of both the Kula Integrated Amplifier and the Tambaqui DAC working together to be written up. I couldn’t find another review of the Kula anywhere, but I guess there must be one out there somewhere if only in magazine print format.
Kula Technology – Mola Mola designed the Kula integrated amp to run in Class D using the Hypex Ncore modules and it outputs 150w into 8ohm and doubles this to 300w into a 4ohm load. These Hypex Ncore modules were designed by the renowned Bruno Putzey’s when he worked at Philips and he has since then refined them to a point where they are becoming more common in very high-end Class D amplifiers. Mola Mola are therefore lucky to have the designer as part of their design team and are making the most of his extensive experience in Class D amplification.
The Kula amp has the option of being specified at point of order with either a Phono stage (MM/MC) at £1,799 and/or a DAC module at £5,999 which is based on the Tambaqui DAC. The version under review had neither option installed. It can be operated via the supplied Apple remote or via a bespoke App for iOS or Android that uses Bluetooth to connect. The standard Kula comes with 6 line inputs, 3 on RCA and 3 on XLR but these are not exclusive and there are small switches on the rear panel that selects between the XLR or RCA pairs, this in effect means that whilst 6 devices can be connected only 3 can be used at any one time, XLR or RCA or a mix of each but this is also configurable using the control App. With the Phono stage module installed this adds a further 2 pairs of XLR/RCA inputs, one for MM and one for MC.
It is also possible to check for and download / install software updates via the App and indeed I did this with the Kula Amp going from version 1.0 to 1.1 and the Tambaqui to version 2.1, all via my iPhone. There is also a Premium remote available at additional cost, £499.
The Kula amp runs only mildly warm even after extended operation, so ventilation isn’t a problem. However, this may change if the DAC module is fitted as the Tambaqui does run hot. I would recommend using banana plugs on the end of your speaker leads for use with the Kula amplifier because the very nice Furutech terminals on the rear of the amplifier are are stacked vertically rather than side by side making a spade connection difficult but more inconveniently the left channel terminals are located far too close to the mains power inlet making spade connection very difficult because the IEC mains plug is in the way. I did manage to connect my spade ended Jorma cables, but it wasn’t an ideal solution. There would be no issue using banana plugs.
Tambaqui Technology – The Tambaqui is a Roon endpoint and can accept PCM data up to 192/24 on S/PDIF and 384kHz / 32bits and quad DSD on USB and Ethernet. It is a single box DAC and has a number of inputs including Optical, S/PDIF RCA, AES/EBU on XLR, I2S over HDMI, USB type B and Ethernet. The Tambaqui does not rely on off the shelf chips and instead uses bespoke algorithms with discrete components designed by Bruno Putzey. So, very much along the lines of what Chord do with their inhouse design but using a very different design solution for the conversion of digital input signals to an analogue output. As far as I could tell the Tambaqui is not currently set up for full MQA unfolding, perhaps this will follow in a later update.
The Tambaqui is also Bluetooth ready and can also be used via Roon to stream direct via its Ethernet input from services such as Tidal or Qobuz (licences needed of course). I chose initially to feed it data from my Innuos Server via USB for this review. The Tambaqui has balanced output on XLR and has both 6.3mm and a 4 pin XLR headphone output located on the rear. There are no RCA outputs, just XLR. Output can be set to 0.6v, 2v or 6v depending upon your choice of amplifier, I used it set at the default 6v. All incoming data is upsampled to 3.125mHz/32bit before being further processed and output reaches 130dB signal to noise ratio which is near the current theoretical limit for 24-bit files.
The Tambaqui does run hot so best to leave lots of room around it for ventilation.
System Components – I inserted the Kula integrated amplifier in place of my Michi P5 Pre-Amp and M8 Monobloc Power Amps fed from the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (used solely as a DAC) using the USB input from my Innuos Zenith / Reclocker and also the optical output from a Luxman CD Player. Speakers were my usual Marten Mingus Quintet with cables from Jorma Design.
Performance – This is a first-class amplifier bringing Class D sound into the 21st Century where it can now compete with and even outperform Class A/B on a level playing field, gone are the hash and brittle sounds that most audiophiles would associate with early Class D, but they might change their mind if they hear what this amp can do.
The Kula amplifier on review was brand new and I would recommend letting it warm up before critical listening, it can sound a bit bright before it has warmed up and a good hour is required before it comes fully on song. This time period did reduce dramatically after the first couple of listening sessions suggesting it was bedding in and a more normal 15 minutes is all that is then required. I would suggest putting 50 or so hours play time on the amp before expecting it to perform at its best and then just a 15 minute warm up time for each use. After it’s run in and warmed through (it actually only gets mildly warm) it sounds much more relaxed, detailed, warm and inviting. The Tambaqui DAC runs much hotter but my test sample had already been well run in and has become one of my favourite DAC’s at any cost. It’s the one I would most likely want to have permanently in my home system.
I listened firstly to some powerful electronic music to test the dynamic range and also to music with much more finesse and involvement to test vocals and instruments. I listened to ‘Electrified’ by Yello and was pushed back in my seat by the dynamic range and capability of this amp. It grabs you and won’t let go but don’t confuse this with something brash or hard because it also has all the textural subtlety of Class A but with the dynamics of the very best Class AB. Listening to ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Annihilation Mix on Tidal) and to ‘Confession’ by Alesso demonstrated the dynamics to such an extent that I felt like the listener sitting in the chair and being blasted by sound in the Maxell Tape advert from years back. This proves that you really don’t needs loads of power to drive most speakers and the 150w on tap here is more than sufficient, the volume control rarely needed beyond twelve o’clock.
Changing to something more subtle I found that ‘Song for Guy’ by Elton John has a sparkling sound running right through the track which the Kula amp picked out with clarity and the piano has the full dynamic range yet natural depth of sound and timbre that you can often only really appreciate if you have one in the room with you. Then I listened to ‘Slow Train’ by Hans Theessink and his guitars and vocals again showed how an amplifier can be both powerful yet subtle at the same time. Giving Joan Armatrading time to do her thing I listened to ‘Willow’ and was entranced by the emotional content her voice brings to this track, it was truly wonderful. Moving to ‘When You Say Nothing at All’ by Alison Krauss, well she could easily have been in the room with me. The vocals and dynamic drumbeats were one of the best I’ve ever heard from this track. It put a smile on my face.
Listening to Colin Blunstone providing vocals on The Alan Parsons Project ‘Old and Wise’ from Eye in the Sky really drew me into this classic track with powerful vocals and instruments that came through with enthralling clarity. As did ‘Looking for Angeline’ by Love and Money where vocals and guitars by James Grant showcased his song writing and vocal capabilities to their very best.
This pairing can certainly do dynamics, probable as good if not better that most active speakers can manage but they also do fine detail with vocals to cry for and will just leave you wanting more not matter how long you have also been listening. Just what is needed in these difficult ‘stay at home’ times.
The Tambaqui DAC helps of course to present the amp with the best source possible and it too should be on your shortlist whether as a stand-alone DAC or as a module built into the Tambaqui at a saving of £3,000. It’s just a shame that the display turns itself off after 15 minutes without giving the user any option to make a choice of their own about displays.
After listening via USB, I decided to connect the Tambaqui to the Innuos Zenith streamer using the Ethernet/Server output from the Zenith. This of course cuts out the USB Reclocker but used this way I felt the Tambaqui presented a slightly clearer sound than it did via USB.
Summary – Most modern systems can create a decent stereo soundstage, better systems can push that outside of the space between the speakers, even better ones can give a sense of front to back depth and a few even give height but very few in my experience can create a truly holographic walkaround soundstage quite like the one generated by the Kula amplifier. Listen to ‘Billie Jean’ by The Civil Wars to get the full 3D effect.
I know from experience that many of our customers won’t consider listening to a Class D amplifier but by doing so they are missing out on the truly first-class sound provided by the Mola Mola Kula integrated amp. It is powerful and dynamic but at the same time subtle and enthralling. The control the Kula exerts over speaker drivers is very impressive but doing this and at the same time remaining sensitive and caring is a feat that Class D has so far eluded. This is Class D Jim, but not as we know it.
Well done Mola Mola this is a very impressive amplifier. Now I really want to hear what their Makua Pre and Kaluga Monoblocs can do.
Very heartedly recommended.
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Bob at Team Nintronics – January 2021