Krell KCT Stereo Preamplifier 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Augie Bettencourt   
Thursday, 01 January 2004

Krell built its reputation on building big, powerful amplifiers with massive amounts of power reserves, tremendous transient response and bullet-proof build quality. Although the Krell name is best known for its amplifiers, Krell has also built preamplifiers since its beginnings in 1980. The Krell KCT preamplifier is the finest preamplifier Krell has to offer and is the result of the development of Krell’s best amplifier, the Krell Master Reference Amplifier. The question for many well-heeled audio enthusiasts is, does a well-engineered amplifier design translate into equally well-engineered preamplifier design?

As I unboxed the Krell KCT preamplifier, the cliché “built like a tank” was the first thought that came to mind. The Krell KCT is a visually striking piece of equipment, with a great sense of industrial design and ergonomics.

At $8,500, this preamp is immensely expensive although priced comparably or less than other “statement” preamplifier offerings such as Mark Levinson No. 32 (about $12,000) or Conrad Johnson’s ART (nearly $16,000). Weighing in at 23 pounds and measuring 19 inches wide, four-and-a-half inches high and 14.5 inches deep, it seems rather heavy for such a slender design, but then again, that’s how tanks are built. The front panel LED display provides information on input, zones (it has dual zone ability), menu function and selection and all preamplifier operations. The back panel has two pairs of balanced analog inputs, three pairs of single-ended analog inputs and two pairs of CAST inputs for use with Krell CAST equipped input devices. On the output side of business, it has one pair of single-ended output, one pair of balanced outputs and two pair of CAST outputs. For Zone Two, it has one pair of balanced outputs and one pair of single-ended outputs. The Krell KCT also has the Krell Link feature, which allows for synchronized remote power on and off with other Krell components that have the Krell Link feature. It’s equipped with three 12-volt triggers outputs for remote on/off of other components, RC-5 in to receive remote input commands and an RS-232 port for software upgrades. It also includes a phono power port that can be used to connect to a Krell KPE phono stage and will accept an IEC standard 15-amp power cord.

I placed the Krell KCT on the top shelf of my rack and plugged it into the wall socket using a Cardas Golden power cord, and connected it to the Krell FPB 400cx via its CAST outputs using Krell CAST cables. Speaker connections to the amplifier were made using the Cardas Golden Cross bi-wire speaker cables, which have been my long-term reference speaker cables. The Undewood HiFi modified, Shanling CD-T100 CD player was used for all two-channel audio.

The Krell KCT is the first preamplifier to incorporate Krell Tunnel technology, which is a circuit design that Krell claims is the most efficient signal transmission from input of the preamplifier to its output. The circuit topology shelters the audio signal from voltage interference and provides a current domain conduit for internal signal transmission in the same way that a tunnel protects what is inside while maintaining a safe passage from entry to exit. It also includes Krell CAST (Current Audio Signal Transmission) technology, proprietary technology for connecting analog components, which Krell claims provides the most accurate signal transfer from one component to another. The Krell KCT is the first Krell preamplifier to incorporate two-zone capability. It also allows for the independent source selection for the second zone and volume control for the second zone. The menu lets you name each input, select volume trim levels and balance levels for each input. The remote control is a serious chunk of metal. It lacks learning capability and backlighting, which would have rendered this remote more effective, but its clearly marked display gives it a nice feel, and in a pinch, you could use it as a weapon to protect yourself.

The Music
Sacred Love (A&M Records) shows us that Gordon Sumner (AKA: Sting) still has something to offer Police fans and his latest CD rocks harder than many previous attempts. “Send Your Love” features flamenco guitarist Vicente Amigo and has an upbeat dance sound that’s extremely dynamic when heard through the Krell KCT preamp. Amigo’s flamenco work is coherent and full-bodied and Sting’s voice has a precise tonal quality with unrivaled clarity. The Krell KCT also performed admirably when I listened to, “The Book of My Life” from the same CD. It’s a sober ballad featuring Anoushka Shankar on the sitar. The emotion and sorrow in Sting’s voice is heightened by the Far Eastern sound of the sitar, while I was treated to some of the most open, effortless, musically honest sound my system has produced. Other preamplifiers may have an “easy like Sunday morning” sound, sacrificing detail for rounded edges, but none of the others that I’ve heard sound more true to the source with a completely unveiled presentation.

Next I listened to Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol Records) and the song “The Scientist.” This song starts with a beautiful slow piano solo, with harmonic texture and coherent musical reproduction across the entire frequency spectrum. Just as the sound of Chris Martin’s voice slowly begins to accompany the piano, I heard an image so deep and three-dimensional I felt as if I could put my arm through it. With the Krell KCT, I heard every nuance of Martin’s voice with a level of detail I’ve seldom experienced before. The next song I listened to was “Warning Sign.” I was again reminded of the Krell KCT's ability to convey a sense of realism, emotion and the presence of an almost scarily convincing soundstage. I have heard many reference preamps in my time, all displaying characteristics that made them extraordinary. However, for the first time, I was hearing one that had no immediate shortcomings whatsoever. The KCT was purring like a finely tuned German engine.

Barry White’s The Best of Barry White: The Millennium Collection (Island-Def Jam Music Group) is an excellent “greatest hits” CD, and “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” is one of Barry’s most funky tunes. The song starts off with a pounding bass line that has never sounded tighter or more powerful and no other preamplifier/amplifier combination I’ve heard has offered a more tight-fisted, iron grip control of my Martin Logan Prodigies. It’s a rare combination of brute force and emotion in the rumbling, basso profundo of White’s voice that’s rarely heard.

What should be considered White’s theme song, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” is an upbeat disco number that literally came alive with a broad, open soundstage and a revealing level of detail that I’ve simply never heard my system produce before.

Another favorite is Keb' Mo’s self-titled CD and the song “Every Morning” (Epic Records). With the Krell KCT, Keb' Mo’s vocals had a very open and natural sound with excellent soundstage width and depth. His guitar had proper acoustic tonal quality with an exceptional airy feel. With every pluck of his guitar, I heard very distinct accuracy. Keb' Mo’s voice had perhaps the most clarity and best pitch definition that I’ve ever heard in my system and considering the amount of preamps that I’ve heard, this is quite an accomplishment and a testament to the Krell CAST system. The differences I heard by comparing the CAST connections to the balanced connections were not minor, and I can confirm Krell’s claims of improved dynamic range, transient impact, width and depth of soundstage and improved tonal quality when using the CAST connections. The second song I listened to from the same CD was “Am I Wrong.” I was reminded of Krell’s reputation for excellent dynamics and great bass slam, with the deepest and most powerful bass my Prodigies have ever produced.

The Downsides
At $8,500, the Krell KCT is simply priced out of reach of most people. However, in the world of excess, it is nowhere near the most expensive preamp on the market. It can be compared directly to the likes of the Mark Levinson No. 32 at going on twice its price. As the marketplace is clearly moving towards multi-channel entertainment, a consumer has to consider the alternative of purchasing Krell’s surround preamp, as it has much greater flexibility and product longevity. However, there is no mistaking the quality of this two-channel preamp when listening to stereo music recordings. Also Krell has allowed for a “theater throughput” feature that lets the user set unity gain for any input on the preamp. This allows you to synchronize a surround processor with such a no-compromised stereo preamp.

Although the remote control is a serious chunk of metal, it’s not backlit and cannot learn commands from other remotes.

If you’re looking for a soft, romantic sound, this preamplifier isn’t for you. It’s not bright by any means, it’s just very revealing and does what a good preamp should do – it gets out of the way and lets the music be heard transparently and neutrally, more so than any other preamplifier I’ve heard.

Krell built its reputation with big, powerful amplifiers with massive amounts of power reserves, tremendous transient response and bulletproof build quality, but one of their best-kept secrets is the Krell KCT preamplifier. As the result of the development of Krell’s best amplifier, the Master Reference Amplifier, the Krell KCT preamplifier defines the term “reference-quality.” Not only is it full-featured and easy to set up, the Krell CAST system also provides significant improvements in all performance areas, including dynamic range, transient impact, width and depth of soundstage and improved tonal quality. At $8,500, reference quality doesn’t come cheap, but believe it or not, the Krell KCT is equally priced or cheaper than other preamplifiers of its caliber.

Whether listening to the rocking sound of Sting or the soulful sound of Barry White, the Krell KCT preamplifier delivered some of the most open, effortless, musically honest sound my system has produced.
With insanely over-engineered build quality, a full-featured, state-of-the-art industrial design and functionality, the Krell KCT is a solid buy and a welcome addition to any over-the-top stereo music system.
Manufacturer Krell
Model KCT Stereo Preamplifier
Reviewer Auggie Bettencourt

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