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Krell FPB 350Mcx Monoblock Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Friday, 01 November 2002
Article Index
Krell FPB 350Mcx Monoblock Power Amplifier
Page 2

Music and Movies
The depth and engaging presence of the Krell FPB 350Mcx was immediately evident on the recently remastered Led Zeppelin 16-bit CD, Houses of the Holy CD (Atlantic). On the title track, Jimmy Page’s 12-string doubleneck Gibson SG takes on multiple personalities from a freeform, almost acoustic sound during the breakneck introduction to more aggressive tones later in the song. In all past configurations of my system, the introduction section at high levels sounded like the guitar had a thin, almost glass-like sound that was fatiguing. With the Krells in my system, this effect was gone, having been replaced with a more liquid and three dimensional sound. Robert Plant’s vocals had a bit more air around them than I remember previously hearing with this CD, but the impact of John Bonham’s snare was most notable. Cymbal crashes had an exciting attack that urged you to keep cranking up the volume as if you had a little devil sitting on your shoulder.

On “Take Me With U,” Prince’s duet with Apollonia from The Soundtrack From The Motion Picture Purple Rain (Warner Brothers CD), a similar attack can be heard in the rolling drum fills than start the track. What I never heard before was the tiny percussive elements that adorn the high frequencies of the track. They sound like castanets ringing like fine bells with the Krell amps powering in my system. On “When Doves Cry,” the absolutely astonishing guitar solo that kicks off the song images as I have never heard it before, dancing on air in front of my Wilson WATT Puppy v6.0’s with presence and attack, but nothing edgy. You can hear Prince play the second part of the solo with a percussive feel, thanks to the superior impact of the Krell 350.

Long before Metallica became the laughing stock of rock music for their absurd stance and public babbling relating to downloadable music, they used to put out one hell of a metal record. Their first effort, Kill ‘Em All (Elektra/Megaforce Records), was supposed to be named “Metal Up Your Ass,” but the label wouldn’t let them (a situation sent up by Spinal Tap in their Smell The Glove scandal). That gives you an idea of how hard-rocking this record is, if you are not already in love with it. The energy is raw, far from the over-produced sound in the cuts you can hear every hour on the hour on every “alternative” radio station in America. The bass performance of the FPB 350Mcx shines through this sometimes murky record on tracks like “Jump In The Fire,” where bassist Cliff Burton leads this arpeggio-based tune to new heights. The “hit” of Kill ‘Em All is “Whiplash,” which, with the Krell 350s in my system, highlighted how rich the heavily distorted guitars can sound. Make no mistake, Kill ‘Em All is no audiophile record, but it sounds better now with the Krell in the loop than ever before. Any amp can sound good when the only music you play is hand-picked, audiophile records but, as readers know, when investing major cash on an AV component, it isn’t so much a matter of whether the good recordings sound better, it is a matter of how good the great performances sound even if they are bad recordings. In this case, a lousy sounding recording was given new life.

Being involved in the debate surrounding the two warring new audio formats, SACD and DVD-Audio, I have been listening to a lot of high-resolution audio lately. One of the most striking examples I heard while auditioning the Krell FPB 350Mcx was not a DVD-Audio or an SACD title, but rather Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales on a 20-bit, 5.1 CD (A&M – DTS Entertainment). Talk about presence: this disc has it. Gordon Sumner’s voice was brilliantly upfront and staged with the tastiest dynamics I have heard to date in my room. The bass was perfectly tight yet remained deep and round. The snare had a pop that amazingly blew away the dynamics I heard earlier with John Bonham. Granted, Houses of the Holy is a much older and lower resolution recording, but Bonham’s power has a way of overcoming recording techniques of yesteryear. When the song “Heavy Cloud No Rain” breaks down to a virtual chorus of Stings (obviously overdubbed) with no accompaniment, you can hear how impressive surround sound music can be. The Krell’s speed, presence and newly-found liquid midrange only makes the sound sweeter.

There is a gas station in the Brentwood section of West Los Angeles where 104 octane racing fuel is sold for upwards of $4.50 per gallon and rich guys line up on weekend mornings with everything from brand-new 360 Modena Ferraris to Twin Turbo Porsche 911s to turbo-charged Bentleys to get a little extra kick in the pants for their Saturday drives. This is the feeling I got when I cued up the SACD release of the jazz classic Dave Brubeck’s Time Out (Columbia – SACD – Stereo). This is a record I have heard over a thousand times on every level of system I have ever owned, from my high school system consisting of Celestion 3 speakers and NAD to my current Bob Hodas-tuned Wilsons, Revel subs, Mark Levinson No. 40 and Transparent Reference system. Never before has this record had so much life, presence or energy. I have spoken about the decay time on the cymbals being a tell-tale test for a system's ability to portray lively information without being bright or agitating. The Krell accelerates with this high-octane recording spitting out sweet sounds as if were a finely-tuned motor. On “Take Five” and the title track, the album displays a wonderful complexity in the piano accompaniment, but Paul Desmond’s alto sax steals the show with power that literally hops beyond two-channel stereo and creates a believable music performance.

I was ultimately disappointed by the SACD release of perhaps the greatest pop record of my generation, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Epic -- SACD -- Stereo). While the depth was good compared to the CD version, the highs were still shrill and bright, perhaps worse than what I heard on the CD. Although the Krell is an accurate and powerful amplifier, it isn’t able to cover for the recording's weaknesses, resulting in a musical event that doesn’t exactly sound smooth, albeit it remains lively. On “P.Y.T.,” the ticks on the cymbal that start the track are seemingly too much to take at high levels. Jacko’s vocals pop with more energy than I remember, but the top frequencies were tough to take. While I didn’t have a tube amplifier to compare with the Krell, this is one of the rare instances where tubes might cover up for recording or format flaws in ways an amp as true to the source as the FPB 350Mcx will not.

Especially because of the 350’s dynamics and bass performance, it makes an excellent home theater amplifier. Paying homage to Krell’s Italian heritage, I checked out how it handled the third season of The Sopranos (HBO Home Video), which the amps took to new heights. The bass in the theme during the introduction the show is plentiful, but with the Krells in my system, the tune sounded significantly tighter and more lively. In a perfect world, I would consider putting a third Krell 350 on my Wilson WATCH center channel speaker to match the timbre and attack I can hear now hear on the mains. Each amp is small enough to fit in near or behind a high-performance center speaker. In the “Pine Barrens” episode, Pauly Walnuts purposefully drops a Russian criminal’s new universal remote on the floor, breaking it. You can hear an ultra-wide soundstage as the remote shatters on the floor. The Russian objects to Mr. Walnut’s carelessness, calling him a “cocksucker,” so Pauly breaks a glass over the Russian's head and summarily whacks him. The glass breaks with a high-frequency explosion that is shocking but not annoying or overly shrill. It packs just the right amount of surprise without being over the top.

The Downside
I was not able to turn down the powerful blue LED lights on the front of the Krell amps which proved to be a slight problem for me. I love the color of the lights but they can be so bright that at times during intense listening sessions the lights can keep from the ultimate goal of suspension of disbelief. I did learn that the way you can shut the amp lights off is to use a Krell remote which in my case was not included with the amps but they do come as standard equipment on other Krell electronics.

Sonically, the Krell amps are still Krell amps and therefore have a distinctive flavor that is coveted by many but not all. While the presence is better than I ever remembered hearing from past Krell power amps, the sound still is best described as on the “cold” side. With the improvement in bass and midrange on the FPB 350Mcxs, I find the coldness to be much more tolerable. If you are looking for the power of a Krell with the open and warm sound of a tube amp, you have set your expectations too high. The FPB 350Mcx is one of the best solid state amps going, but it is not the best of both worlds. No amp is.

The Krell FPB 350Mcx is about as good as it gets for power amplification. They drive my Wilson WATT Puppies in ways I have previously only heard from my reference Mark Levinson No. 336. The Krell has better bass than the No.336 and has improved liquidity in the midrange, which makes the amp much more pleasing to the ears for recordings ranging from archival CDs to the best-sounding SACDs and DVD-Audio releases.

For those looking to light up a pair of the world’s best speakers, it is mandatory that you take a listen to the Krell 350 power amps. They are built to tolerances you would expect from a Swiss watch and look right at home in any tasteful décor. The Krell FPB 350Mcx produces sound about as good as you will hear from any amp, at even the highest prices. Even if you think you know what Krell amps sound like from in-store demos you have heard in the past, take a new listen to these Krell amps. Dan D’Agostino and his team went deep on this project and the results are a spectacular improvement on the Krell sound.

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