Dan D'Agostino of Krell: Power Is As Power Does Page 2
D'Agostino: All of our products for the last 10 years have been really serious current-mode designs. Other companies have it, but we specialize in it. It allows us to get wider bandwidth through the signal path, even though the circuits themselves are a little more complicated and require more parts. Current mode is a domain of current gain as opposed to voltage gain. Obviously, you have to go to voltage gain at some point, but we have as much current gain as we possibly can before we get into voltage-gain stages, which reduces noise.
Lander: You put even more emphasis on current gain when you developed your Master Reference Amplifier about six years ago.
D'Agostino: Right. We redid our preamps to better match the MRA. The KCT is a complete current-gain preamp. We eliminated voltage-gain stages that we used in the past and replaced them with current-gain stages.
Lander: Back in the mid-1990s, you created a separate company called Krell Digital. How was it structured? And what was your rationale?
D'Agostino: I owned 50%, and investors owned 50%. Digital was in its infancy, and we were unable to finance what we wanted to do, which was to create a 64x-oversampling processor in software. We looked at what was being called 64x-oversampling and realized it wasn't being done in the signal path, but afterward. We actually did it in software. We made a whole processing engine, and it cost a little over a million dollars to do that.
Lander: And then, between Krell and Krell Digital, you suddenly found yourself with nearly two dozen products—so many they added up to a problem.
D'Agostino: We couldn't go to the dealer and tell him he had to take all of them, and we didn't want to go to separate dealers, so we wound up buying Krell Digital back and folding it into Krell.
Lander: Some of your newest products are loudspeakers. You designed speakers when you worked for Dayton Wright, but that was back in the 1970s. What drew you back into the field?
D'Agostino: What really got me going is that Apogee hired us to do the woofer amp and the tweeter amplifier for their Grand [loudspeaker]. The speed of the woofer cone was too slow for my taste, so I took my pair [of Apogees] and pulled them apart, put an accelerometer on the woofer, and created an input/output comparator that could control the woofer without the noise and instability of a feedback loop. But I got it finished too far into the product's life for them to implement it. Then I started playing with it on our Master Reference Subwoofer. We applied it and refined it.
Lander: The MRS led to the LAT-1. Why did you decide to develop a full-range speaker?
D'Agostino: One of the main things was dealer politics. We'd have a dealer who was selling our stuff really well but who didn't have a main speaker line, so we'd try to get him one we liked. In a lot of areas, we couldn't.
Lander: Apart from that, what does the LAT-1 have that competing speakers don't?
D'Agostino: We're an electronics company, so we used an electronic model. A lot of loudspeaker companies are very capable, but their electronic abilities are not as great as ours because, obviously, they're not in that business. I haven't been in the speaker business, but I have had speaker experience, and a couple of other people who work here have had speaker experience. We've designed crossovers for MartinLogan and Apogee and JBL. With its aluminum cabinet and our crossover design, we've made the LAT-1 a unique speaker.
Lander: So the work you've done for other companies over the years should now give your own company a boost. Have you enjoyed those projects?
D'Agostino: I always like to do things that I don't normally do, because it gives me experience and a broader base of knowledge.
Lander: Are you currently involved in any consulting projects?
D'Agostino: No. We've kind of put the lid on it because it's too hard. We don't have enough engineering time as it is to get all the products out that we want to.
Lander: Has Krell's reputation among audiophiles helped your dealers sell your home-theater line to nonaudiophile customers?
D'Agostino: In some areas, yes, because we've been able to garner a reasonably well-recognized name. And I think that home-theater customers are very likely to buy one brand right through the product line.
Lander: That explains the prototype speakers being auditioned as we speak, in your company listening room just down the hall. You're currently planning five new models, and you've promised that they'll be considerably less expensive than the $37,000/pair LAT-1. How much will they sell for?
D'Agostino: From about $3000 up to $10,000 per pair.
Lander: Can we expect to see a Krell system for cars?
D'Agostino: I doubt it. It would be very difficult for us to mount such an effort. We'd have to have financing from the automobile company that wanted us to do it.
Lander: You're not in the turntable business, and you do offer CD players, but you've said that you prefer vinyl to the CD.
D'Agostino: I still think vinyl is better, but with the two formats we're dealing with now, DVD-Audio and SACD, I think there's a possibility of equaling vinyl—as soon as we decide not to stick with our old methods of recording. I think we have to go back to the drawing board as far as how we record SACDs, because I don't think their potential has been realized.
Lander: You began delivering an SACD player not long ago. Do you intend to make a commitment to DVD-A?
D'Agostino: We're working on a universal digital engine that will translate SACD, DVD-A, 16-bit/44.1kHz. It will translate any kind of thing you put in it, so you can do everything, including video, on it. That begins with a raw datastream, a giant brain. We program it. We write codes and algorithms to make it run.
Lander: And you can program-in anything that comes down the program-information superhighway.
D'Agostino: Pretty much, but the penalties are steep. It costs huge amounts in royalties and upfront money to have these technologies at your fingertips so you can manipulate them the way you want. Unlike most other companies, you will not see us going out, buying some company's transport, stripping the faceplate off, taking the engine and putting our output stage or our videocard in it. If you're doing that, you don't have to pay these royalties, but there's embedded software and you don't have the versatility we do.
Lander: Rather than continue using one particular transistor that everyone else was employing, you had Motorola create a solid-state device exclusively for Krell. What, specifically, is it?
D'Agostino: A power device. An output transistor. The transistor everybody in high-end audio used was really made for switching power supplies in motor drivers, not for audio. Everybody used it because it was robust enough to allow us to have a lot of current and voltage output, but it was relatively slow and had erratic gain. They made a device of their own accord—this was probably 17 or 18 years ago—but it didn't work. I talked to the engineers till I was blue in the face but never could get anywhere. Then, five or six years later, we started petitioning them, asking, "Did you ever fix that device?" They wound up building a version that worked. It had the same current and voltage as the other device, 25 amps at 250 volts, but its bandwidth was 30MHz as opposed to 5MHz. That's what we wanted, because processing in our amplifiers is so minimal. We don't slow the amplifier down unless we absolutely have to. Our goal was to buy a million devices; that's why they built it.
Lander: And have you bought a million?
D'Agostino: Oh yeah.
Lander: How many engineers do you have now?
Lander: And how much time do you personally spend on engineering?
D'Agostino: Four or five hours every day. I oversee all the work. I assign it, I tell the other engineers how we're going to do it, and I critique what they're doing. So I'm very much hands-on.
Lander: Has being in Connecticut, which has long been a center for defense manufacturing, helped you find skilled technical help?
D'Agostino: One of the major things that has helped us here is the fact that there are so many contractors. One of our major metal vendors is a big Sikorsky supplier. The machine shops do work for all the military companies around here. They work to a specification that matches what we need.
Lander: You used to start your day with three double espressos, but we've been sitting here in your office sipping your new drink of choice—tea. Could this signal a change in the no-nonsense Dan D'Agostino, who's known for never pulling his punches? How is your proverbial punch these days?
D'Agostino: [Laughs] It's a smoother delivery, but the metal's the same.