Kinergetics KBA-280 power amplifier Page 2

The KBA-280 is also THX-certified, which means that it must meet a certain set of standards—voltage gain, output power, distortion, input impedance, etc.—specified by the THX division of Lucasfilm.

There are as many definitions of what constitutes a neutral-sounding amplifier as there are audiophiles (or at least those of us who admit that amplifiers don't all sound alike). Ask a solid-state fan and you'll be regaled with descriptions of tight, powerful bass, an open top end that seems to go on forever, and an overall neutrality that renders the warm, fuzzy sound of tube amplifiers moot. Scratch a tube-o-phile and you'll hear all about the three-dimensionality and "palpability" of tube sound, and the lack of all those solid-state "nasties."

The truth is that stereotypes die hard—nasty-sounding solid-state gear, at least in the specialty audio market, hasn't been the norm for a very long time. True, the average run of tube gear sounds sweeter and more forgiving than the typical solid-state amp, but that quality is, as often as not, due to measurable aberrations. That's not to say there aren't a number of fine tube amplifiers around, but the best tube amps and the best solid-state amps are creeping steadily closer together in sound.

On the solid-state side, the Kinergetics KBA-280 is a prime example of this trend. No, I am not telling you that it sounds like a typical tube amp. But if your criteria for good sound include a detailed yet unexaggerated top end, liquid sweetness, an immediate-sounding yet natural midrange, and solid bass, this may be your amplifier.

I was impressed by the sound of the Kinergetics from the first listen. It sounds open and dimensional, with fine imaging, believable depth, and a solid, well-defined bottom end. This sort of performance is very much what audiophiles have in mind when they think of class-A-biased amplifiers, though I would not be so rash as to hang the KBA-280's excellent performance on that hook alone.

During my auditioning, recording after recording kept me focused on the music, not the sound of the amplifier—a good sign. Unfortunately, a reviewer has to keep one ear (okay, two) on the product at hand; I ultimately if reluctantly clicked on my critic's icon (footnote 1) and went to work.

The Kinergetics won't sweeten a recording engineer's bad decisions, but its top end is naturally detailed, with no tendency to hype or exaggerate what's on the disc. The result can be outstanding with quality program material. Dead Can Dance's The Serpent's Egg (4AD 45576-2), a slightly bright but not overdone recording, sounded sparkling and pristine—the Kinergetics conveyed it with a perfect balance of warmth and resolution.

While the top end was not rolled off in any way, neither was there any tendency to exaggerate detail or add any excess dryness or sizzle. Bright Star Day (Dorian DOR-90198) ranges from slightly bright to slightly rich, depending on the cut, but it's never less than excellent. A soft-sounding amplifier might shave the slight edges off of some of the tracks, a cooler amp might create a more analytic result; for me, the Kinergetics' balance struck just the right chord.

The KBA-280's midrange would be hard to improve on. Instruments had a natural timbre, vocals that in-the-room-but-not-in-your-lap realism. The soundstage was well defined. While neither lateral image specificity nor depth were striking, both sounded natural. On a wide variety of vocal recordings I rely on for reference—from Mary Black to the Judds to Mighty Sam McClain—the Kinergetics' balance of virtues consistently impressed. Sibilants came across as what they were, neither smoothed nor overcooked. There was never a hint of any sort of coloration that might be attributable to the amplifier.

At the bottom end, the Kinergetics' bass response sounded a little less tight and a little less powerful than from the very best amplifiers I have heard. But my reaction here was more of a gut feeling—the feeling that I have heard slightly more incisive, defined bass from other amps, many of them much more expensive and with more watts on tap. Listened to on its own, there was little in the KBA-280's bass performance that I would write home to complain about. Bass extension was fine, bass detail satisfying. The Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 66051-2), one of my favorite tests for bass performance, was powerful and attention-grabbing, and if I felt it to be a smidgen less so than with a few other amplifiers, well...only a direct comparison would be likely to confirm that impression.

About the only other area where the Kinergetics might have been less than Everyman's Amp was in its dynamic range—or, more specifically, its dynamic contrasts. While not sounding "polite" by any means, it did seem a little shy in the "jump factor" derby. Put another way, when presented with a call to the listener's attention, it did not shout "Intruder Alert!" in quite the same way that, say, a Krell would. Still, this should not be overstated. (After all, I had to get my critic card punched at least once during this evaluation.) This observation is based not on any specific incident or any clearly definable episode in which I spontaneously exclaimed, "Ah-ha, gotcha!," but rather on a buildup of impressions over the long term—another "gut reaction," if you will. (They were on special this month.)

Footnote 1: A little Gates humor for DOS-lover John Atkinson, who recently graduated to Windows 95.—Thomas J. Norton [Yeah, it makes my PCs feel a little more like my Mac—now there's a real computer!—JA>]
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