Krell KSA-300S power amplifier Page 3

Everything came together with the KSA-300S in the reproduction of "On the Boardwalk" from Rickie Lee Jones's Girl At Her Volcano (Japanese Warner Bros. CD WPCP-3710). The 300S's superbly smooth yet detailed high end was tied to a punchy bottom end and stunning dynamic range. But I came nowhere near to using the Krell's maximum power output. While peeling myself off the listening room's back wall, I noted that only the second-level plateau indicator lights on the front panel had illuminated—indicative of, at best, half power output.

I could tell something special was happening in my system, but the KSA-300S must be compared with its peers to really tell the whole story. Fortunately, a late-production KSA-250—Krell's predecessor to the KSA-300S as their top-of-the-line stereo power amplifier—was available. Indeed, the KSA-250 is the amplifier I've used most frequently over the past several months—I know its sound pretty well. Though out of production, the 250 remains a formidable performer, and, given the current state of amplifier design, I would not expect any new amplifier to better it by a dramatic margin. But though it held its own against the new KSA-300S in a closely matched comparison (at equalized levels), the new amplifier was the winner in all respects save one. The 300S is richer and more full-bodied through mid- to upper bass, less laid-back and more timbrally right. The older amp is leaner and less palpably real—even slightly threadbare—in comparison.

Initially, however, the KSA-250's leaner sound gave an impression of a bit more openness and spaciousness; a leaner tonal quality will often produce this effect. (This is one reason why producing a good, big loudspeaker with extended bass and a clean, open top is such a delicate balancing act; the same is true, though generally to a far lesser degree, of electronics.) On vocals, the 300S's fuller sound clearly won out; the performers simply sounded more human, more touchable, less electronic. Voices on the 250 were breathier, more sibilant, less fleshed-out. A slight fizziness in the top of the 250's audible range simply was not a factor with the 300S. The latter was simply at ease with everything—a powerful presence, yet at the same time subtle, refined, and self-effacing.

Again, Rickie Lee Jones's "On the Boardwalk" clearly displayed the differences between the two amplifiers. As the music began, quietly and slowly, the 250 initially appeared airier and more open. As it progressed, the 300S's smoother, more grain-free sound took over, the 250 now seeming a bit lean and etched in comparison. The 300S had more punch and weight, especially through the midbass, and a more fluid, coherent sound overall. Both amplifiers impressed equally in the deep bass. The 250's relative leanness gave it a more superficially open quality, but at the cost of richness and a fully developed sense of weight and drive. The KSA-250 is still a very fine unit. But it has more than met its match in the 300S.

Further thoughts
To get another perspective on the sound of Krell's KRC preamplifier and the KSA-300S together, I auditioned both products in another system, this one consisting of Apogee Stage speakers at the pointy end and a Krell Reference 64 D/A processor and DT-10 transport at the source. This was in my new listening room, which has nearly twice the volume of Stereophile's. (I'll have more to say about this room, in which I will now do most of my critical listening, in a later issue.)

The sound here was also superb, though certainly displaying a different set of strengths and weaknesses due largely to the change in room and loudspeakers. It was a big sound, less intimate but more open and expansive than that in the smaller room. The KRC and KSA-300S used here were different samples from those discussed above, but despite all the system and room differences, nothing in the sound persuaded me to change my opinions of the Krell amplification. Somehow I had never quite been comfortable with the KSA-250 driving the Stages, though the results were certainly more than acceptable. The KSA-300S with the Stages, however, was a different, and more pleasing, proposition altogether.

Sam knew he was in trouble as he watched Jim disappear down the front walk, stuffing a down-payment check into his pocket. How would he explain this to Mary when she returned from visiting her mother? Oh, well, maybe she wouldn't notice the change. Uh-huh.

That new amplifier does look a bit like the old one, though its black, front-panel trim pieces and less art-decoish heatsinks sort of give it away. But how will he explain the less-toasty listening room? A mod, that's it! He'd had the old amp modified! Explaining the preamp would be more of a challenge...

My Curmudgeon Club membership has taken a real beating during this review. I should say something negative. Okay, the amplifier is too heavy to be practical. Forget rearranging your system without help. And the front "handles" on the amp, though stylish, have uncomfortably sharp edges. Tube-o-philes will still be hard sells. It's too expensive for most of the rest of us. In normal-sized rooms with normal-sensitivity loudspeakers, those of us with normal-sized listening-level tastes will rarely or never use its full power (or, for that matter, its extreme low-impedance drive capabilities). The less expensive and less powerful KSA-200S or 100S, which use the same technology (but which we have not yet auditioned) might better fit our needs and budgets.

This review will not please those readers who complain that we review too much expensive stuff. (An equal number seem to complain that we review too much inexpensive stuff.) This Krell tandem costs more than I care to think about, and certainly there's plenty of solid-performing, less–budget-busting equipment out there capable of giving a great deal of pleasure. I am as bothered as any reader by the perceived growth in prices at the high end of the High End—a growth heavily fueled by demand for such products in certain overseas markets.

But what can I say? Costly or not, there's no denying the bottom line: These Krells are the best-sounding preamplifier and power amplifier I have heard in my system.

Krell Industries
45 Connair Road
Orange, CT 06477-3650
(203) 298-4010