Milan Karan made his name in electronics in Serbia even before he got involved in audio, by being able to fix difficult or obsolete medical equipment for which no spare parts were any longer available. Black-box solutions, where the function of non-existent or damaged examples is recreated, were the order of the day. Necessity is the mother of invention!

As it happened, the Serbian importer of Dutch Alisun UV tanning benches, who was also a serious hifi entrepreneur (Vox),  met Milan Karan and a few years later the first KARAN stereo 100 Watts per channel integrated amplifier was born, recognizable by its flat front and in-line, led input indicators.

Dejan Veselinovic from the TNT Audio site wrote the first English language review, which was so lavishly positive that it initiated the first orders from outside of Serbia. 

When I ( Zoran Filipovic of Hermes Netherlands) wanted to buy reference speakers back in 1999,  I wound up auditioning Mr. Karan’s full reference system in his home town of Novi Sad in Serbia.

I have to admit that I was not too enthusiastic when I drove from Belgrade ( where I was born, before settling in Holland more than thirty years ago ) to Novi Sad for the demonstration, because I already knew that a lot of small-time local audio enthusiasts in Serbia had been trying to turn lead to gold by using inferior components and by making compromises because of limited budgets and parts availability.  I mistakenly thought that this Mr. Karan in Novi Sad might be one of them !
I met him in his 5th floor apartment and was immediately impressed. He was a huge man with unbelievably gentle manners who patiently showed me his whole reference system where the only component that he had not built himself was the CD transport. The speakers alone weighed 270 kgs each, with enormous side-mounted JBL woofers resonating at a frequency as low as 14Hz. But this was not all ! A seriously sinister-looking set of enormous mono blocks looked no less imposing in that relatively small room !

And then the music ! The Firebird Suite performed by the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra literally shook the fundaments while keeping each instrument acoustically audible within the larger group. When I opened my eyes, Milan was smiling at his little son who was conducting Stravinsky, and I felt I was immersed in a wonderfully idle moment of happiness. 
Hifi in that apartment was not a rack of merchandise, but a kind of family emotional stove !

Technical talk followed, with minute disputes about the nature of  the skin effect of the gold plated copper printed boards, but there was one thing which struck me most: everything I saw on that first visit looked like a finished product ! Nothing looked like a messy prototype. Indeed, most Slavic folk do not care much about details so long as the “big picture” is in focus. But Milan Karan was a very notable exception ! But there was something else unusual about him, the son of a German mother and a Slavic father: his  deep, even mystically religious understanding of musical emotion was juxtaposed with his absolutely clear and masterly simple manner of finishing his components ! The emotion of the Slav and the logic of the German had come together in one man !

I bought the first integrated KAI180 amplifier ( with the first new front that is still a standard design today ) just as a comforting toy while waiting for my KAL Reference and KAS450. Needless to say, I started importing the amps here in Holland and Belgium and delivering components to KARAN ACOUSTICS, from aircraft grade aluminum, to military grade semiconductors, acrylic fronts, display glass, even hex screws.

During that blessed period around the turn of the last century, a small team of people were happily involved in helping a project become a legend !

Then came a story of curiosity and the cat:  the Serbian dealer contacted the UK dealer in seeking access to local printed media, as most continental audio magazines have a fairly limited subscriber’s base. It turned out that the UK dealer, who came last in an already established project, had begun calling himself Karan’s ‘worldwide distributor’ !  This may well have been an example of ingrained “imperial thinking,” but it was also far from being true ! 

It took some time, but HERMES NETHERLANDS was eventually able to establish itself as the official importer and dealer for KARAN ACOUSTICS in the Netherlands, France, Western Germany and Scandinavia. In the interim, however, there was a period of time during which it was not fully clear to consumers who the official KARAN dealer really was !  Enough gossip, but the information above should serve the purpose of explaining to puzzled Karan owners in Western Europe what happened and why the first question they get  when making an inquiry is the serial number of their gear !

In any case, what comes out of the Karan units is so comforting that any bad memories from the past are quickly dispelled when they start playing !
More and more ‘normal’ people  – not only hardcore audiophiles – are now able to enjoy its legendary perfection. 

Of course dealers exist to bring products to the public, but in this case there is another reason why they are really necessary. If Milan Karan were burdened by having to answer all enquiries that were pouring in, if he personally had to sell and to service his products to consumers all over the world, he would not be able to devote his sensitivity and genius the way he does to the cause of the product itself. The system that is now in place allows him to pursue his work as the designer, engineer and producer of KARAN ACOUSTICS equipment in a perfectly stress-less environment, something that very few people can afford these days. This way his customers have the satisfaction of knowing that the equipment they are using can only be the product of concentration that was brought to focus within a state tranquility, rather than something else that has been contaminated by pressure and compromise.
In the last twenty two years as KARAN’s importer for the BENELUX, France, Western Germany and Scandinavia, I have covered hundreds of thousands miles promoting the KARAN brand by bringing components to prospective customers for home audition and by picking them up free of charge afterwards, only to discover that used units are sometimes being sold in Holland and Belgium as new ones by unscrupulous audio ‘colleagues’ !  However, thanks to checking the serial numbers with Milan Karan, we have been able to trace the ‘movement’ of units through the years.  It is a rather impressive list !

I feel a great sense of being involved in the evolution of a noble and beautiful idea. My Serbian roots have a lot to do with the Karan story , quite apart from my personal  audiophile history of mixing, matching and comparing that goes back now for at least 36 years ! 

Sometimes the real reward is measured in “emotional units’ – which are, of course, unmeasurable !

our firsts :

The first integrated amp we ordered in 2000, with the then new type enclosure, used till 2020:

The first silver integrated amp and the first blue display was ordered in April 2003 from Utrecht, Holland:

The first massive copper integrated amplifier made for Hermes Netherlands in May, 2010

As we write, there is ongoing work being done in the KARAN lab on digital-source acoustics. KARAN ACOUSTICS has shared its expertise with some other companies as OEM, and a joint project is in the works developing a three-phase amplifier ! The problem is that only a limited number of these new units bearing the exclusive KARAN name can be produced in a year, owing to the fact that the five-man production team in Novi Sad is constitutionally allergic to being rushed !  The only really continuous sound in the KARAN workshop is that of the old, trusty espresso coffee machine, which produces a very different kind of perfection all its own !  But be warned ! As the coffee machine hisses and bubbles, the waiting list continues to grow !   

Zoran Filipovic

A long….