Bright April Sunday sunshine beams through the bay window of my listening room. The light catches four loudspeakers on stands, two stacks of electronic equipment, a small video monitor, black cables strung behind furniture, and a pile of freshly opened DVDs. I sit in the center in a large, overstuffed chair covered in blue velvet, listening to an array of six loudspeakers and a TV monitor playing The Haunting's DTS soundtrack. The floor rumbles as the sounds of creaking timbers come up from below.
With its latest series of FPB (Full Power Balanced) amplifiers, Krell is taking careful aim at the seam between classic high-power two-channel systems and quality multi-channel installations where sound is yet paramount. Nevertheless, Krell founder Dan D'Agostino was adamant: Krell's Class A components were designed for music playback. "I'm a purist, like you, Jonathan!" he told me.
Nothing like scarcity to create demand, right? Well, there's been a scarcity of Nuvistors out there for decades, and hardly any demand. Do you know about the Nuvistor, aka the 6CW4? It was a tiny triode tube smaller than your average phono cartridge. Enclosing its vacuum in metal rather than glass, the Nuvistor was designed as a long-lived, highly linear device with low heat, low microphony, and low noise---all of which it needed to have any hope of competing in the brave new solid-state world emerging when RCA introduced it in the 1960s.
Recently I found myself on the phone with Linn's chief design engineer, Bill Miller, talking about switch-mode power supplies. Affable Mr. Miller was ensconced in Linn HQ in Glasgow, Scotland. After a bit I inquired if Head Man Ivor Tiefenbrun was about the manse, and was quickly handed over. "You're such a cheeky guy. Why'd you call it the Klimax?"
My father could not resist buying electronic and photographic gear. As soon as he heard about a new Polaroid camera, or a new weather radio, tape recorder, or color television, he'd go shopping. He'd be even more eager to buy an updated version of what he already had, particularly if this meant there was a story to tell. He'd buy one for himself, and sometimes he'd give me and my three brothers one of our own for a birthday or Christmas gift. (I often thought he took more pleasure from giving to us than he did from getting his own.)
I've heard my share of Krells, Levinsons, Rowlands, and the like in other people's systems—expensive solid-state amplifiers are not my usual beat. With the exception of an inexpensive Adcom a few years back, for more than a decade I've owned and reviewed only tube amps. In fact, until the $7500 Ayre Acoustics V-1 showed up, I'd not had one in my system. Similarly, I'd had only tube preamps until I reviewed the Ayre K-3, which so impressed me that I asked to hear the more expensive K-1—and ended up buying it.
What fascinates me about the High End are the electric personalities behind it. Manufacturers typically invest so much of themselves in the products they make. It's a divine madness—they do it because they have to. They're driven to it with a real sense of mission and excellence. But God forbid you criticize any of their offspring...ooo-la-la!
I first saw and heard SimAudio's Moon amp and preamp at WCES two years back, and something about their aesthetics appealed to me: Canadian ruggedness coupled with a decidedly French panache. I remember that those attributes also characterized the demo's sound, although I can't recall the speakers or the sources involved. At succeeding shows, it gradually dawned on me that the Moon components were the fixed elements in a succession of impressive demos.
Kinergetics Research was a name to be reckoned with in the early days of CD, when they produced some of the earliest well-received, audiophile-grade CD players. They've branched out since then, producing amplifiers, preamps, subwoofers, and surround-sound processors. In fact, they're so busy with such products that they no longer build CD players! The last Stereophile review of a Kinergetics CD player appeared way back in 1993.
Chances are you've never seen an amplifier quite like the Mark Levinson No.33H. That's because there's only one other amp that's anything like it: the Mark Levinson No.33, upon which it's based. Both amps are more tall than broad, looking almost as though they're resting on their ends; heatsinks cluster around their side-panels. In the city of the High End, the No.33 and No.33H are skyscrapers standing tall above the warehouses.
Prejudice is bad—whether it's directed at people, places, or things. You know how it goes: digital is "bright," analog is "warm," solid-state is "brittle and etched," tubes are "smooth and soft" dynamic drivers are "low-resolution," electrostats and planars are "high-resolution" copper wire is "smooth," silver is "bright," etc. While putting everything that crosses your path into one box or another makes life simpler and seemingly more organized, the truth, musical or otherwise, usually gets mutilated in the process. Not that we all don't have preferences—but those are not the same as prejudices.
About a decade ago, I read in Stereophile about the SRC, an add-on remote-control unit manufactured by Acoustic Research. I bought one the next day ('swhat happens when you work across the street from a hi-fi shop). Suddenly I was able to make incremental changes in volume and balance from my listening position—and let me tell you that that's the way to do it. What a phenomenal difference in realistic dynamics and soundstaging.
Everyone's going crazy for single-ended power amplifiers. What's the big deal? What is it about these relatively low-powered contraptions that could make everybody so nutso? And has Pass Labs' Nelson Pass completely lost his marbles, selling a 30Wpc amplifier for a price that can buy a high-quality 200Wpc amp? Isn't that 200W amp seven times as loud—and seven times as good—as a 30W amp?
Latest and largest in Krell's current range of power amplifiers, the 600Wpc, $12,500 Full Power Balanced 600 joins the 300Wpc FPB 300 ($9000) and the 200Wpc (originally 150Wpc) FPB 200 ($5900). All are single-box stereo chassis and are specified as "Full Power Balanced"—I think to distinguish the essence of these designs from ordinary stereo amplifiers operated in balanced-bridged mode, usually with impaired performance. The FPB 600's speaker output is balanced; ie, neither "positive" or negative" terminals are connected to ground or the amplifier chassis. (Note that no speaker switches or headphone adaptors, which often have joined channel grounds, may be used, as they will short the outputs.) The output terminals are electrically at 0V, but float above the chassis ground.