|Krell F.B.I. (Fully Balanced Integrated) Integrated Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Friday, 01 December 2006|
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I started with a simple yet revealing recording, Elvis Presley’s Elvis is Back (DCC). This album contains Elvis’ rendition of “Fever” which, while being one of my favorite renditions of this song, is also very well-recorded. I could easily hear the minute details from Elvis’ cufflinks to the various background noises. At the same time, the FBI did not get in the way of the music coming through. Elvis’ voice and each of the backing instruments were solidly placed within the appropriately-sized soundstage.
Robbie Robertson’s self-titled album (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity) followed Elvis and provided the FBI with a workout with a larger and more complex soundstage. “Fallen Angel” opens up with a subdued bass line that was portrayed with the right balance of detail, control, power and rhythm to create a sound that was tight and powerful, yet not overly controlled and analytical. Both Robertson’s and Peter Gabriel’s vocals were well-textured and defined within their own space. The track “Sweet Fire of Love” features U2 playing along with Robertson on a fairly large soundstage that extended a few feet beyond the outside edge of my speakers both front and back, as though the sound was emanating from beyond the front wall of my listening room. There is a lot going on with this track and the FBI was incredibly quick and detailed enough to catch everything without sacrificing detail. The FBI’s massive power reserves were fast enough to reproduce the leading edge of the notes with immediacy and no smearing, yet at the same time could reach deep enough to put plenty of convincing muscle behind the appropriate notes. This track is both busy and dynamic and I never felt as though the FBI was straining even a bit to keep up.
While I was working on the FBI review, I came across one of my favorite jazz discs that had been somehow misplaced, Bill Berry's "For Duke" (Realtime Records). I planned on only listening to a few minutes of a couple of tracks, taking a few notes for the review, but ended up playing the whole album through without writing a thing down. This is one of those few albums that features truly great jazz, as well as being masterfully well-recorded. The album was recorded in 1978, using the direct to disc method. The first half of the album is Bill Berry and His Ellington All Stars. The sense of rhythm and timing was right on which, coupled with the detail, speed, accuracy and control, let me get lost in the music. The piano had a good sense of presence and body to it and the notes had a fast and strong leading edge, giving the listener a sense of immediacy. The horns were portrayed likewise, with a good amount of textural detail that captured some personality rather than just the notes themselves. While the entire album was remarkable through the FBI, the opening of “I Got It Bad” was chilling in how realistic the Marshall Royal’s alto saxophone piece sounded. Throughout my listening, the FBI’s sound was consistent with what I have heard from Krell in the past, powerful and accurate. The FBI was revealing and detailed without any extra midrange flesh on the bones to hide what you are feeding it. This is not to say that it stripped anything away – if you fed it a full-bodied signal, you’d get full-bod sound; it just didn’t add it itself. Having used the smaller Krell integrated amplifiers as reference pieces for several years, I noted that the FBI was without a doubt more powerful, seemingly having no bounds to its dynamic range. The FBI was also faster with a more open and forward upper end, which created a better sense of space, smoothness and extension at the high end without any added harshness.
The second half of the Bill Berry disc is actually a second album, Earl Hines' Fatha. “Birdland,” the first track of Fatha, features Red Callendar on the tuba. This piece has a solid tuba line, which the FBI had no problems with. I figured that the FBI is built like a tank and has tons of power, so I wanted to turn it up a bit in pace and volume, so I found something with the depth and power of the tuba line I had just heard that was just a bit more modern.
Crystal Method’s Vegas (Outpost Records) fit the bill. This frenetically-paced album is replete with dramatic transients and structures rattling bass lines. While nearly the entire album is synthesized or so heavily processed it makes the album impractical to use to check accurate reproduction of an instrument, the same traits make it a great album for checking dynamic range and control. The opening track, “Trip Like I Do,” has dubbed vocals, and a bass line that covers the range form subtle to pounding. This is all done with over overlaid tracks playing at the same time. The FBI had no problem separately reproducing each note. Nothing was smeared; the transients were razor sharp and powerful. Next up was my favorite track, “Busy Child.” I especially enjoy the deep and powerful synthesizer at “concert” volumes, otherwise known as “Check and make sure that your neighbors are out before playing at this level.” Even at these insane levels with this busy piece, the Krell never hinted at losing its composure. The bass lines were razor sharp, deep and powerful. At the same time, all of the synthesizer pieces were being reproduced in a clean, coherent manner. Nothing stressed the FBI out. Whatever I threw at it, from complex jazz riffs, rock and roll or fast paced electronica, the FBI handled with apparent ease.