Krell K-300i integrated amplifier Page 2

I began with Muddy Waters's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" from his 1964 album Folk Singer (24/192 MQA, Chess/Tidal). Timbres were virtually neutral with just a touch of inviting warmth, dimensionality was impressive, and the guitar's cleanly articulated dynamic nuances drew me in. The Krell K-300i sounded great.

I was equally enamored of the reproduction of mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa's rendition, with pianist Fazil Say, of Debussy's "La mer est plus belle ques les cathedrals," from their album Secrets (24/96 WAV/Erato 564483). The sound was smooth and inviting—I loved the warm highs—the illusion of depth quite good if not breath-seizing, and timbres were spot on. To evaluate the bass, I turned to Mahler's Symphony No.3 by Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (DSD64, Channel Classics CCSA 38817/ NativeDSD) and King Creosote and Jon Hopkins's "John Taylor's Month Away" from Diamond Mine (16/44.1 FLAC, Deep Six/Tidal/Qobuz), where low bass was impressively tight and clear, with forceful slam. Thumbs up all the way. In short order, it had become clear that listening would be a pleasurable and involving experience and not a mere review assignment.

Out of the blue, award-winning keyboard master Robert Silverman emailed to say he was coming to Port Townsend to give a house concert and wanted to hear my system. When he arrived, we used the Rossini DAC and K-300i to listen to tracks from two of his Chopin recordings: Stereophile's February 2018 "Recording of the Month," Chopin's Last Waltz (DSD128, IsoMike 5606, NativeDSD), which was engineered by Ray Kimber, and Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasie and Four Scherzi (24/96 FLAC, Marquis B07GJ2J9BC, Qobuz). Bob was impressed enough to ask if I thought the Krell might be a good match for his home system.

1119krell.remThen we bypassed the $31,498 Rossini DAC/Clock combo and auditioned the Krell's $1000 DAC option. We inserted a USB stick loaded with Silverman's tracks and others into the K-300i's front USB-A port, selected the correct input (Network), and easily controlled playback using the mConnect app I'd previously downloaded to my iPad Pro. Because the Krell's USB-A port can't accept DSD128, we struck out with Silverman's IsoMike recording. Instead, we chose tracks from two other superbly engineered recordings, Crebassa and Say's Secrets and our September 2019 "Recording of the Month," Patricia Barber's Higher (16/44.1 FLAC, ArtistShare AS0171).

Having reviewed both recordings with my reference Rossini DAC, I knew them well enough to note that the K-300i's DAC conveyed less air, transparency, and color contrasts than my reference. The soundstage was smaller and a dearth of harmonics impacted the piano's radiance and vibrancy on the Crebassa, and flattened the sound of double bass on the Barber. But the overall beauty of the music, and its creators' sublime artistry, touched me nonetheless. I hadn't listened to the Barber since writing my review several months before and was delighted anew by the exquisite musicianship of all involved. When we returned to the Rossini, I could hear details such as fingers moving across bass strings that were obscured by the K-300i's DAC.

Days later, I used the Roon app on my iPad to send music from the NUC to the K-300i's DAC via its Ethernet port. On Barber's first two songs, "Muse" and "Surrender," colors were a bit muted, and bass a mite fuzzy. I attempted to hear if those two tracks sounded any different when I used mConnect to play them back from a USB stick inserted into the Krell's USB-A port; if they did, I couldn't hear it. Switching to the first movement of Mahler Symphony No.3 confirmed that, with the Krell's DAC, left/right elements on the soundstage seemed less connected, and the vividness, three-dimensionality, and strong bass that I find so thrilling was diminished. Timbres were still spot on and inviting, but listening was less involving.

Since many audiophiles play their digital files from a computer rather than a dedicated music server, I dragged in a 2017 MacBook Pro, hooked it up to the Rossini via USB, and sent the signal to the K-300i's balanced inputs. With Roon as playback software, the sound on Barber's songs surprised me. While I had expected something noticeably less transparent than through the NUC, the sound was gorgeous, with ideally smooth and correct timbres. Yes, when I ditched the computer and used the NUC instead, highs were clearer, and air and natural sibilance more pronounced and image size increased. The natural radiance and complex overtones of the piano's highs emerged, and I could sense the texture of each note plucked on the bass. But either via computer or dedicated music server (NUC), the sound of the Krell integrated/Rossini DAC combo was wonderful.

Everybody: Look what's going down!
It doesn't take a weatherman with a PhD to know that the wind blows foul when comparing a $1000 DAC to a setup costing 30.5 times more. In the interest of fairness, I enlisted the excellent Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ ($2195), which has balanced analog outputs but lacks a network connection. It was easy to connect the Mytek to the K-300i and compare its sound to the more-than-14-times-more-expensive Rossini's—the Mytek's highs were a little bright, bass was a mite muffled and diminished, and transparency, depth of color and soundstage, and air were all "less than." However, due to the complexity of my reference system's elaborate noise-isolation scheme—a complexity that compelled Jim Austin to don his starched collar and preach the values of simplicity—directly comparing the sounds of the Mytek and Krell DACs involved more finagling than you would ever want to read about. Ultimately, each had its sonic strong points, but the Krell, which required no additional power cable or space and could accept network signals, triumphed in the cost/practicality department.

1119krell.3

Right before it was time to return from the K-300i to my 6.33-times-more-expensive Progression monoblocks, friend Peter Schwartzman and his audiophile buddy David came by for last listens. Our tracks included the Barber and Mahler, soul vet Bettye LaVette's "Crazy" from Thankful N' Thoughtful "Deluxe Edition" (24/96 Flac/Qobuz), Yello's "Electrified II" from Toy (24/48 WAV, Polydor 4782160/HDtracks), Will.i.am's title track from #thatPower, featuring Justin Bieber (16/44.1 FLAC, Interscope Records UICS-9136/7), and, for that last little bit of pounding bass and blaring brass, Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra's Keith Johnson-recorded version of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man from Copland 100 (16/44.1 WAV, Reference Recordings RR-93). David was wowed, and I loved every second of everything I heard. As for Peter, his comment that the K-300i might be the perfect integrated for our doctor/musician friend, Gary Forbes, led me to say that compared to all the other integrated amps I'd ever brought to Gary's for a listen, the Krell's sound was the most neutral, transparent, and satisfying on every level.

Yes, the D'Agostino Progression monos sounded even more neutral than the Krell K-300i. Images were larger, and the soundstage bigger. I heard more depth to voice and bass, and more harmonics on the piano. Barber's hushed singing seemed even more intimate and refined. That recording sounded so exquisite that I wanted to cry. (To those who may doubt these words I say: You don't know me.)

Also with my reference D'Agostino monoblocks, when I turned to one of the recordings I'd reviewed with the Krell integrated, Yannick Nézet-Séguin's version of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (24/96 WAV, Deutsche Grammophon B003069702), I heard more resonance in the marvelous voice of bass Franz-Josef Selig, which also sounded larger. On Fischer's Mahler Third, it was easy to hear that, at the symphony's beginning, some of the drums were positioned offstage, behind the right side of the orchestra. And to turn from the sublime to the soulful (not that they're mutually exclusive), the guitar on LaVette's "Crazy" sounded even nastier (as it should) with the Krell.

I'm hardly the final authority on integrated amplifiers, having reviewed exactly four. But of all of them, the one whose sound stands out most in my mind is the Krell K-300i. It has the smoothest, most listenable, and most all-of-one-piece sonics of the lot; it isn't a supreme challenge to move around; and it offers an optional DAC that is surprisingly musical and satisfying for the price. The Krell is also Roon-ready, does well by DSD and MQA, and offers streaming options that some much-higher-priced components lack. There's a round edge to its images that some might equate with the gentlest sprinkling of warmth, but others would describe as listener-friendly. It certainly leaves me smiling. If the Krell K-300i doesn't end up with a Class A $$$ (for high value) rating in Stereophile's next Recommended Components, the man might as well come and take me away. Hey, since that could happen regardless, take a listen soon, so I can find out what you think before it's too late...

COMPANY INFO
Krell Industries, LLC
45 Connair Road
Orange, CT 96477-3650
USA
(203) 799-9954
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

not enough heatsink.

Suppose that the designer of the Krell amp was still working at Sikorsky.
Would their helicopters overheat and shut off in mid-flight after running at one-third power for 55 minutes?

For $7K one could have instead the Marantz PM-KI Ruby integrated amp and SA-KI Ruby SACD player/DAC combo.
https://audio.com.pl/testy/stereo/odtwarzacz-cd-wzmacniacz/3021-marantz-sa-pm-ki-ruby
https://www.musicdirect.com/integrated-amp/Marantz-KI-RUBY-Reference-Bundle

JRT's picture
ortofan wrote:

Suppose that the designer of the Krell amp was still working at Sikorsky.
Would their helicopters overheat and shut off in mid-flight after running at one-third power for 55 minutes?

The lubricant in a helicopter transmission is not only to address the tribology of friction, wear, and lubrication, but also serves to cool the working surfaces of the gear teeth and transport that heat to an oil cooler. With that in mind, read the brief article at the following link.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/aviation-international-news/2013-01-01/main-gearbox-remains-helicopters-achilles-heel%3famp

And more recently, "accelerated wear" has plagued the main rotor gearbox in the new CH-53K, the US Marine Corps new heavy lift helicopter, and has been one of the sources of delays in replacing old fatigued and worn CH-53E.

https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2019/02/04/the-marine-corps-new-ch-53k-is-a-mess-this-is-why-its-operational-date-could-face-delays/

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Even with all that grease applied, helicopter motors don't sound musical anyway :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... in a product, such as a helicopter, where simply pulling over to the side of the road, so to speak, is not an option. Every attempt is made during the development process to design out such potential failures, and/or include redundant back-up systems, and then test prototypes to beyond the expected operating conditions and life.

The measurements performed by Stereophile, including the one-hour at one-third rated power preconditioning test for amplifiers, are not a secret. Thus, one might imagine that any company submitting an amp for review would confirm that it can pass that test - unless they would rather debate its usefulness.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

They forgot to add 'Prestone' before sending the review sample :-) .......

TJ's picture

... for your very fine and interesting review. Great to see Krell "back" again, kudos to Dave Goodman! Hope you get a chance to review one of their Duo XD amps.

dial's picture

Krell is a good brand and always will be. They keep quality going, see them at audio salons (only separates in fact).
A part of the hifi legend, at least in North America. It's good they still are in, in Europe a lot have ceased operation (UK, France and Germany come to mind). I hope they'll last forever.
Only minor complaints. The design could have been better without this bump in the middle. Looks like an old Naim, isn't it ?
I also miss a knob volume control, well you are not by 3D LABS, right ?
But the rear panel shows poor cinch and speakers sockets, a shame for price asked.
Measurements are good to very good, nothing surprising.
Thanks for your article.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Primare I35 Prisma integrated amp ($5,000, reviewed by Hi-Fi news) and Hegel H390 integrated amp ($6,000, reviewed by S&V magazine) are also in this price range :-) .......

Kursun's picture

First 90W in class A ?
With that heatsink?
Absolutely no way!

rwwear's picture

The iBias allows 90 watts class A.

tonykaz's picture

What perspective can describe this box of parts as "high value" ?

Certainly not the High Values of the Schiit designer types.

But then again...

If this device does a ton of Class A from that smallish chassis it's an engineering marvel.

Dubious claims aside...

Should we be comfortable with a Company using someone else's Name, isn't buying Krell also buying Dan ?

Spending serious money for Krell and not getting Dan D'Augistino seems a little empty. ( like buying Chinese ROLEX Watches )

Tony in Venice

dc_bruce's picture

I don't think that's very fair. Dan has been --ahem-- divorced from Krell for quite some time. Moreover, Dan was not the only guy responsible for Krell designs when he was there. I suspect that the lesser products, like the KAV-300i (which I owned back in the day) were not the recipients of a whole lot of the chief designer's time. The item under review is at least the third version of this product to bear the name KAV-300i.
It's good to see Krell trying to serve this end of the market; so many high-end companies have retreated "upstairs."

I believe Krell had its issues with its "SACD Standard" and subsequent generation of "ultimate" disc players. Through no fault of the company's, their optical drive supplier shipped them 2 generations of failure-prone drives. I'm sure customers were unhappy and warranty claims must hav been significant.

tonykaz's picture

You're probably right, I'm not being fair ( sort-of ) with my comparison.

Still,

I think of those superb Krell Amps that I could never seem to get my ( Esoteric Audio ) hands.

Of course...

I keep thinking of Dan & Krell in 1985 terms ( like an old geezer I am ) pining for those "good old days".

Krell had powerful magic. Dan still has powerful magic.

So, If we're gonna spend Big Bucks for a Brand Name there should be the Name accompanying the deal, shouldn't there ?

Anyway, I was hoping to read about something wonderful, something breakthrough, something having Krell-like spectacular performance and appearance, something that makes the reviewer feel like the singing artist is kissing him with pillowy embraces.

It's probably all Dan's fault, dammit, he set-us-up to expect new highs in everything.

Tony in Venice

ps. I was never one of Dan D'Augistio's Dealers, probably because I couldn't come up with the $$$$$ to stock the entire line with "one to show and two to go" Plus have the Apogee Loudspeaker Line. Phew !! I would've loved to have Dan prancing around my Store meeting Customers.

dc_bruce's picture

and dealers who sell this super-expensive stuff, like d'Agostino. Cash flow management is torture. I was a director of a small scientific instrument company that sold devices used to quality control silicon chips. Typically, these sold for about $1.5M each and the company would sell 2 to 4 of them a year. While that was not the company's only revenue source (it sold much smaller cryogenic devices and service/support contracts on the big stuff), missing an anticipated sale really screwed up the books for that year.

It's easy to rail at the stratospheric prices of this stuff, but when you figure in all of the costs other than materials and labor -- financing inventory (at either the dealer or manufacturer level), maintaining adequate working capital to deal with wide swings in cash flow -- they're not always so exorbitant. Whether they are a good value (as compared to less expensive products) is, of course, another matter about which I don't think one can generalize.

audiodoctornj's picture

Been following these comments so I have to chime in with a few points:

The mythos of Dan Dagastino is just silly, Dan was never a trained electrical engineer, Dan came up with a design that was over built and had the ability to drive a very low load to power the Apogee full range and that was the beginning of Krell and the KSA 50.

Dan's leadership of Krell was more strategic in running the company and overseeing the final designs of the product line which had grown quite a lot into amps, preamps, integrated amps, CD players, dacs, transports, and phono stages, and eventually speakers and even a subwoofer.

Most of Krell's modern designs for the last 20 years were designed by Dave Goodman who came up with the Ibias design and the new XD topology.

As an original Krell KSA 250 owner, as well as a FPB 450 MCX mono blocks and selling Krell for years, the new gear is by and far the best sounding Krell gear they have ever made.

The older Krell amps did have a more pronounced bass slam, than the newer XD amplifiers, the newer XD amplifiers have a far greater sense of involvement, midrange liquidity, and sense of space, than the original designs.

The K300i is a fantastic integrated amplifier which can easily stand aside any competitive integrated amplifier for the price range including the Hegel and the Primare.

Neither of these amplifies has the unique feature set of the K300i which includes Blue Tooth, HDMI inputs, and a great built in streamer along with a massive amount of Class A power, the Primare is a Class D design and the Hegel although excellent does not have the tube like liquidity that the XD circuitry provides.

All told the new Krell K300i is a fantastic performer, as per the gentleman who is decrying value lets look at that statement

Start with a good $5,000.00 integrated amplifier

add a good Dac $2,000.00

add a streamer $ 500.00

add a digital cable $ 200.00

add a set of interc $ 500.00

you would have $8,200.00 vs the $8,000.00 all in one K300i with dac

so the K300i is really quite reasonably priced for all it does and the superb sound quality it delivers.

Audio Doctor NJ

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It would be interesting to see a comparison review with the more expensive D'Agostino Progression integrated amp ($25,000) ......... May be JVS could do the comparison review :-) .........

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