|Krell KAV-300iL Integrated Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Saturday, 01 September 2001|
Krell is a well-respected high-end audio company long known for their powerful amplifiers. The Krell name is often associated with incredible bass performance, but their equipment line of old, with heavy, dull gray faceplates, was not pleasing aesthetically. Their new KAV series is a lower-priced, physically beautiful design that is still pure Krell on the inside. The KAV-300iL ($3,250) is the latest integrated amplifier in the more modestly priced KAV line which replaces the popular KAV-300i.
Upon receiving the Krell KAV-300iL, I carefully opened the box and removed the unit, which was lovingly wrapped in protective material. I was a bit surprised by the weight of the 300iL, which is a hefty 30 pounds. The 300iL is 17.25 inches wide, 3.5 inches high and 17 inches deep. As I unwrapped the 300iL, I was impressed by its clean and attractive design. I inspected the unit closely and found it to be extremely well made, worthy of the cliché "built like a tank," but it looks far sexier than any tank, as well as damn near every other integrated amp on the market. This Krell is made out of a heavy gauge, brushed aluminum for all but the corners, which are polished and rounded stainless steel. The overall design is clean, classy and modern.
The front panel features, from left to right, a power button with an indicator light, whichh glows the familiar Krell blue when on and red when in standby, four source selector buttons, tape, mute and, lastly, a red LED display for volume and balance.
The rear panel features a detachable power cord, four single-ended inputs, one balanced input, tape and preamp single-ended outputs, five-way binding posts, RC-5 input and 12-volt trigger input and output.
The 300iL also comes with a very handsome remote that will control both the 300iL and the matching Krell KAV-280cd CD player. Incidentally, I found that the remote also worked well with my Theta Data Basic transport. The remote is about the size of a deck of cards and is a heroin chic 1/16 of an inch thick. The buttons are raised under a membrane surface.
The 300iL improves upon its predecessor in more areas than aesthetics alone. The pre-amp section of the 300iL is pure class A, fully balanced and utilizes the Krell Current Mode™ technology, which is said to increase detail and speed. I believe it. The amplifier section of the 300iL features much of the technology of Krell’s FPB line and is rated at 200 watts per channel, which is 50 watts per channel more than its predecessor. Lastly, the 300iL incorporates a Theater Throughput, allowing potential integration into a theater system.
I placed the 300iL in my two-channel system, which includes Final 0.3 hybrid electrostatic speakers, B&W CM2 and CM4 speakers, a Sunfire Subwoofer Jr., a Yamaha TX-950 tuner, a Theta Data Basic CD transport, Perpetual Technologies DAC and is connected with Audio Analysis interconnects. I also experimented with both Audioquest Gibraltar and Monster Cable Z2 Reference bi-wire speaker cables. I let the 300iL break in for over 200 hours before I began my serious listening.
The first speaker I employed to test the Krell was the ultra-revealing Final 0.3, which was used both with and without the Sunfire subwoofer. I found each of these components to be forward and highly revealing in presentation, which viciously highlighted the flaws in my system upstream. While the overall sound was amazingly detailed, at times I found it could be too cold and clinical for my tastes. The Finals require a strong amplifier to drive them. The 300iL maintained great control of the Finals at all volume levels without breaking a sweat.
The majority of my listening was done with the B&W speakers. While using the smaller CM2s, I also used the Sunfire Jr. subwoofer. The CM4s were used in a stand-alone configuration.
The Krell worked wonders with the B&Ws. I found the B&Ws to be slightly relaxed, which made for a great combination with the Krell. With Krell’s reputation for incredible bass performance in mind, I immediately went through my reference bass recordings to see if the 300iL lived up to the Krell standard. It did. The bass performance was solid and detailed throughout my listening sessions. I began with Holly Cole’s "Train Song" from the It Happened One Night (Metro Blue) album. There is a great acoustic bass track with very low and detailed notes that the Krell was able to recreate with amazing detail and solidity. The exceptional bass performance continued with Crystal Method’s "Busy Child" from their Vegas (Outpost Recordings) album. This track features a strong, deep synthesized bass line. This was reproduced at high volumes without any hint of strain, while the quick transients came through without any loss of speed or detail. The Krell was consistent in its ability to reproduce low frequencies with amazing amounts of detail and solidity with seemingly effortless power.
Krell may be known for its bass performance, but the 300iL was no slouch in other essential sonic categories, either. Soundstaging and imaging were consistently good. Robbie Robertson’s epononymously titled album (Mobile Fidelity) demonstrated both of these traits. This well-recorded album features several tracks with large soundstages and a wide dynamic range. I also listened to Bill Berry’s For Duke (Realtime Records) album. The soundstage with the Krell began very close to the listener, much more so than the recently reviewed (and far less expensive) Magnum Audio IA170. The width and depth of the soundstage rivaled that of the Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS and MF2500 system, which costs nearly three times as much as the Krell integrated amp.
One area in which the Conrad Johnson system seemed to better the Krell was in conveying the extreme high-end frequencies. The Krell was admirably non-fatiguing during long listening sessions, but was unable to portray the sense of air and space around the individual instruments the way that the top of the line Krell separates or the Conrad Johnson system can do.
The 300iL was accurate in timbre throughout the frequency range and was able to realistically reproduce all instruments with solidity. The aural images reproduced by the 300iL were solid enough to fool my brain into thinking a real quartet had somehow found its way into my listening room during my many closed-eye listening sessions. The detail and transparency were without question superior to that of my reference Bow Technologies Wazoo ($3,500) integrated amp.
The Krell 300iL has very few downsides. With regard to features, I would love to see a balanced output. I briefly experimented with the Krell as a preamp, hooking the preamp outputs to my McIntosh MC-602’s. The sound was wonderful and the warm McIntosh sound was a great match for the super detailed Krell preamp, but I could not help but wonder how much better it might have been if I had been able to take advantage of the Krell’s fully balanced preamp section.
Sonically, the Krell is ever so slightly forward and cold, but not nearly as much as its predecessor. Tube lovers will not like this product as an integrated amplifier, as it does not have a warm and lush sound. (Tube lovers should, however, try the 300iL as a preamp with their favorite single-ended tube amplifier -- I think they may be pleasantly surprised.) I never found the sound to be harsh or brittle, but care must be taken not to match the Krell with bright, forward speakers.
Furthermore, the Krell, like many electrostatic speakers, is extremely detailed and accurate, demanding that great care be used when putting the system together. The 300iL is highly revealing and accordingly only the best gear possible should be used with it.
The KAV line is likely to bring many more true music enthusiasts into the Krell family. The 300iL in particular incorporates much of the famous Krell quality into a reasonably priced, attractive and well-made unit. The sound quality is nothing short of outstanding. This tiny package impresses listeners with its wide dynamic range, spectacular control and dead-on accuracy. Its only potential sonic weakness can be eliminated by investing in excellent front-end components. The Krell KAV-300iL provides solid high-end performance for a price well below what one would expect of a component that sounds this good. This is a perfect entry product for someone who loves music and wants to experience the best that high-end audio has to offer at a reasonable price.