Stereophile's Products of 1997 Joint Amplification Components of 1997

Joint Amplification Components of 1997

Krell Full Power Balanced 600 power amplifier ($12,500; reviewed by Martin Colloms, Vol.20 No.4, April 1997 Review)
Pass Labs Aleph 3 power amplifier ($2300; reviewed by Muse Kastanovich & John Atkinson, Vol.20 No.4, April 1997 Review)

Finalists (in alphabetical order):
Audio Research VT100 power amplifier ($4495; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.20 No.3, March 1997)
Ayre Acoustics K-1 preamplifier ($5250–$7100; reviewed by Wes Phillips, Vol.20 No.3, March 1997 Review)
Balanced Audio Technologies VK-5i preamplifier ($3995–$4495; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.18 No.12, December 1995; & Vol.20 No.4, April 1997 Review)
Balanced Audio Technologies VK-P10 phono preamplifier ($4000; reviewed by Jonathan Scull, Vol.20 No.6, June 1997 Review)
Conrad-Johnson Premier Fourteen preamplifier ($4395; reviewed by Wes Phillips, Vol.19 No.12, December 1996)
Graaf GM 200 OTL power amplifier ($12,500; reviewed by Jonathan Scull, Vol.20 No.9, September 1997 Review)
Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 2 power amplifier ($5800–$8400; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.18 Nos.8 & 12, August & December 1995; Vol.19 No.6, June 1996; & Vol.20 No.7, 1997 Review)
Mark Levinson No.333 power amplifier ($8995; reviewed by John Atkinson & Muse Kastanovich, Vol.19 No.12, December 1996; & Vol.20 No.4, April 1997 Review)

Though these two contenders tied with nearly twice the number of votes as the next runner-up, they would seem to have little in common other than the approbation of our writers. The Krell is undeniably pricey, complexly constructed (over 120 output transistors), and delivers a walloping 600Wpc. On the other hand, the Pass Labs, while not cheap, is affordable, has only two gain stages, and puts out a scant 30Wpc. Yet the two have this in common: When reviewed in Stereophile, each inspired its reviewer to call for a total re-examination of Class A of "Recommended Components."

The FPB 600 is the culmination of Krell's design philosophies of the last decade or so: fully regulated power supply, DC-coupled, complementary push-pull, and fully balanced. Yet despite the complexity of the design, reviewer after reviewer commented on how fast, open, and transparent it sounded. Like last year's winner in this category, the Krell Audio Standard, the FPB is a big amplifier that has all of the virtues of a small one. Martin Colloms, normally quite mild in his praise of even the finest gear, nearly ran out of superlatives when listing the FPB 600's virtues. That alone would have made it stand out. But reviewer after reviewer had similar reactions—first being struck dumb, then unceasingly singing its praises. Could this be the Krell for the ages?

Worlds apart, it would seem, stands the Pass Aleph 3. Yet it, too, has a winning lineage: the Pass Aleph 0 was Stereophile's "Amplification Component of 1995." Like the Krell, the Aleph 3 is the culmination of its designer's philosophy, though Nelson Pass reached this culmination by reduction rather than extension: direct-coupled, all-discrete, power-MOSFET, low-feedback, single-ended class-A, with only two gain stages.

It would seem as though there's not much there, but what's there sounds choice—which is more or less what Nelson Pass claimed when he stated, "Everything that has been done to the signal is embedded in it, however subtly." Comparing this amplifier to those in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components," reviewer Muse Kastanovich called for a higher classification to be created for such products as the Aleph 3. Our other reviewers also seem receptive to the idea—certainly they deem the Aleph 3 a superlative sonic contender. JA, for instance, won't let his out of his system for longer than a few hours.

Amplifier design seems to have made giant leaps forward in 1997; our hats are off to Nelson Pass for showing us the joys of simplicity, and to Dan D'Agostino for surpassing himself after more than 15 years of producing amplifier designs that have never sounded less than excellent.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Editors' choice 1997, B&W DM302 speakers, $250/pair :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Now in 2020, we can get Elac Debut DB52 for $260/pair :-) ......

tonykaz's picture

He was kinda "Tyll the Great" to me.

Someone said they saw him at a Nomad Event in Arizona.

He gets to follow his dream.

I know another fella that ended his career to sail a Contessa 26 around the world.

I get to live in Paradise and support Political progressives.

I miss Tyll but I'm happy for him.

I didn't realize his little Amp made such a nice impression on Stereophile.

I'm hoping that we get to read more Tyll, one day.

Tony in Venice

Presence's picture

There are a few select reviews for me that over the decades have stood out as thrilling to read... The Genesis II.5 by RH, the Dunlavy SC VI by SS and the MC review of the Krell FPB600. I must have read them each ten X. I traded in my ML 333 for the FPB 600. Great products/great writing!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

What loudspeakers were/are you using with FPB 600? ....... Just curious :-) ........

Presence's picture

At the time, the Dunlavy SC V.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you still have FPB 600 now? ...... If so, what speakers are you using them with? :-) ......

Presence's picture

Krell Evolution One Monoblocks / Dunlavy SC VI with TC Sounds 15" replacing the stock 15" Eminence woofers due to flooding.

Since I know you are well versed in the equipment, I thought I'd add a few pearls from experience with the Krells...

MC in his FPB 600 review mentions the AC voltage being modulated by the amplifier from the demands of the music...
Adding regulation in the amp I suspect modulates the AC line voltage even further which likely adds even more harmonics going to the rest of the equipment - perhaps most detrimentally to the source components. After reading the AC Wiring whitepaper by Vince Galbo, I found it easy to convert my Krell Theater Amp fed by 60' of 10AWG to 240V. The sense of ease of the music delivery was readily apparent. The Evolution Ones were already fed by 240V so I took on replacing the two dedicated 60' feeds of 10AWG with 6AWG. Once again, the gains in ease of delivery were readily apparent. From the hip, I'd say a 25% improvement in soundstage expansion, space and ease. Was this an effect of lower wire impedance minimizing the music-modulated line harmonics and to what degree does the amp re-ingest those harmonics [as Galbo suggests] or to what degree are these harmonics passed on the the rest of the components [or is it a combination of both]? But there is at least positive correlation between lower wire gauge to the current-hungry Krell amps and sound quality in the context of my system. For what it's worth...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Krell Evolution One mono blocks cost some big bucks ...... Are you a Rap musician? ...... Just kidding :-) .......

Of course, there are more expensive amplifiers available now :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new improved power supply in your listening room, should be able to supply enough power to the D'Agostino Relentless mono-blocks ....... See, Hi-Fi News review :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One more thing ...... Steve Jobs re-joined Apple in 1997 ....... How many of us bought Apple stock in 1997? :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Amazon went public in 1997 ...... If someone invested $10,000 in Amazon in 1997, that money would be worth $12 million as of May 2020 :-) ......