Symphonic Line Kraft 400 monoblock power amplifier Page 2

The 400s never wavered or faltered on this complex and orchestrally dense work. Every string tone, organ note, musical thread, precisely placed and layered instrument, and small acoustic detail was rendered with equal importance. The result was a mammoth, transparent, concise, extremely coherent sound that brought us the ultimate power of the orchestra by perfectly tracking the many voices of each individual instrument. This certainly has much to do with designer Rolf Gemein's theories regarding proper distribution of energy throughout the frequency spectrum, and to his attention to time and phase coherence.

Side B, with Robert Veyron-Lacroix on the Neupert Harpsichord (Mercier-Ythier, Paris), highlighted two more sides of the 400s' mastery of musical presentation: speed and clarity. I had simply never heard a harpsichord so vibrantly recorded. Like the organ, the harpsichord was beautifully integrated into the recording's orchestral sweep. It sounded fast, light, sparkling and vibrant, differentiated and colorful, well-defined and quite palpable in its own space and surrounding air. The perfectly natural details of the instrument's mechanical action enhanced the intimate, alive quality of the presentation.

One of the best "360 Sound" Columbia two-eyes I have is of Mozart's Concerto 26 for Piano and Orchestra ("The Coronation") coupled with his Concerto 27. The dream team? Robert Casadesus, with George Szell conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

In his seminal tome, Mozart: His Character, His Work, Alfred Einstein called No.26 an "hors d'oeuvre penned in February 1788." Brilliant and amiable, this ebullient concerto proved a perfect foil for the many strengths of the Symphonic Line amps. The tonal colors generated by Casadesus's piano were strong, harmonic, powerful, bloomy, emotive, and well-focused in center stage. The piano may be difficult to record, but the 400s re-create this instrument's tonalities and power throughout the frequency range without raising a hair.

The orchestral sound was powerful, colorful, rich, and spread out left, right, and behind the piano in an immense volume of air. String tone was superb (some two-eyes are variable, to say the least), and the dynamic contrasts were so well-developed that the pleasure in the listening seemed to come close to what a live performance might yield.

The nether regions
The bass was one of the truly stunning elements of the 400s' sound. They managed absolutely the most pitch-differentiated, tightest, deepest, tautest, most powerful, and yet still redolent bass it has ever been my pleasure to hear. (How do you really feel about it, J-10?) Up to now, the Lamm M1.1s (reviewed last April, Vol.18 No.4) had that distinction in our system. As deep and wonderful as those amps were, the 400s made them seem a touch lightweight and delicate in comparison. (Still no bad thing—the Lamms do deliver a nuanced, transparent, and delicate sound.)

Listen to the shudderingly powerful bass in Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2) and marvel at your absolute ability to hear the actual tautness of a drum head stretched over the body of the instrument. Or the incredible bass transients on JA's favorite track from La Fabuleuse Histoire de Mister Swing (WEA/M.J.M. 2292-42338-2), "Le Temps Passé" (or our own preferred upbeat cut, "Si Si Si, Le Ciel"). Or the heart-thrubbing bass on "Three," from Massive Attack's Protection (Virgin 39883 2); or the incredibly visceral acoustic and electric bass work on the classic track "Love for Sale," from the Siri's Svale Band's Blackbird (SON CD 2001, a Norwegian import distributed by Ars Jörg Kessler, Germany. Tel: (49) 4082-5567. Fax: (49) 4082-5897.)

The Symphonic Line amps were as powerful, taut, lithe, and incredibly precise in the midbass region, right down to the very grumbly depths. You'll be pinwheeling your music out of the shelves to hear the incredible pitch-differentiated bass these amps deliver. I guarantee you'll be humbled by the experience.

The bass from Forsell's The Statement can sound $Bbigger; it shudders out at you on Labyrinth more impressively, but is certainly less pitch-perfect than the 400s'. But The Statement's strength—and indeed that of all Forsell products, in fact the very basis of their musicality—is the superb manner in which it re-creates musical bloom. While the Kraft 400s didn't have the great gentleness and ultimate bloom of The Forsell Statement—they sounded somewhat leaner and more controlled overall—they're nevertheless capable of blooming with the best of them!

Between the sheets & on top of it all
I won't make much of the midrange except to say that we didn't lose much with these amps with either the Jadis or Forsell digital front-ends. Or with the Air Force One, with either the Insider (and its magnificent and complex midrange) or the Symphonic Line RG-8 (mating very well with its intellectual stablemate). Just read between the lines and know that there can be no musical bloom without a well-developed harmonic midrange. On some of the enjoyable Classic Records jazz reissues with the Insider and the JP-80MC, for example, the midrange could simply be to die for, dahling.

And how about those highs? Forsell says bipolars have a "little bit of transistor sound" in the highs and aren't much good at reproducing small acoustic details when levered into high-bias class-A. How did the Kraft 400s hold up to this scrutiny?

Let me riffle through my about an LP? Let's find a hard case...Deutsche Grammophon! (Usually heavily equalized in the highs, to be kind...) I wrote: "Beethoven Edition 1970, Piano Trio Op.1 No.3 in C, 2nd movement, aching beauty (from DG!), beautiful midrange with the Insider/XLO Phono Cable/CAT, tremendous detail and naturalness to the presentation. On this DG at least, the highs are pretty much intact, a little tweak of VTA bringing it under control." If the 400s could make a DG sing, imagine what they could do to well-recorded efforts.

And speaking of AbFab recordings, let's turn to Sinatra and Ellington on Francis A. and Edward K. (Reprise FS 1024). Ahhhh, God, what a recording. (First heard at WCES in Vegas in the Discovery/Clearaudio/Al;aon room, it knocked me for a loop then, too!)

The Chairman was at the absolute top of his form back in 1967, and the Duke was at his intimate and restrained best. I'm not a Frankie fan, really, but this LP is richly compelling and beautifully recorded. The soundstage, huge in every dimension, was extremely ambient. The fast attack and lovely harmonic bloom of the warm, burnished horn section made me squirm with pleasure in the Ribbon Chair.

There's no question but that these amps did superb justice to the human voice—male, female, and anything in between. Listening to Sinatra crooning on this album with either the Insider or the Symphonic Line RG-8 was a transcendent experience. Francis was in the room, doing his thing. As Edward R. Murrow would have said, "You are there."

Another perfect example of heavenly vocals was Joe Williams on his fine-sounding Nothin' But the Blues CD (Delos D/CD 4001). I drew the unbelievable soundstage on a Post-It note and stuck it to the back of the jewelbox. Joe sounded just about perfect [pad pad pad], way back here [pad pad pad], and the horns were spread out from [pad pad pad] way over here, get the idea. It reminded me of JA clomping around in his ubiquitous Durango Vild Vest boots calling out the soundstage on the wetter-than-wet Robert Silverman piano recording. Like, it's okay JA, [puff, puff, pant]—we can take a cab to the back of the soundstage!

Or listen to Bill Henderson's great Live at the Times (Discovery DSCD-779)—especially that soulful "Send in the Clowns"; or the entertaining and romantic Milla on The Divine Comedy (SBK/ERG 27984-2). Play any vocal recording, and keep a comb handy to plaster down the hairs on the back of your neck.

I could go on dissecting the sound to its basic components, but what was significant about these amps was no one point of their world-class presentation, but rather the way the whole construct combined to bring me the music. The design goals of time and phase coherence, coupled with equal energy distribution throughout the frequency range, have resulted in a sonic pentimento of museum quality.

Communiqué from the ministry of silly works
A word or two regarding the wild-eyed and tediously repeated question of no meaning: "Is it better than..." Puh-leez. As a statement product, the 400s obviously succeed, if in their own way, in defining the high-end ideal. Listening to it, Kathleen and I never felt the need to fire up the "bipolar"-opposite Forsell The Statement or Jadis JA 200s. (Of course, as part of the review process, I did critically listen to The Statement for the differences in their presentations.) The 400s always gave their all, importantly at every volume level, and always remained willing partners in the audio game. In spite of their overwhelming physical presence, they called attention to the music rather than to themselves. That's exactly what I demand from a component.

By the way, the only tubed amplification I listened to during the 400s' stay were the Manley 440s, as we piled on the hours and hoped the blessed Break-In Fairy would finally pay us a visit. Have we lost any of the music without having turned to thermionic amplification? I don't think so.

So what's the final musical test? You know what it is. It's your version of this scenario. It's Sunday morning, you're having the first coffee of the day while beginning to dig into the tome that is the Sunday New York Times. The Forsell Air Force One has quickly stabilized at 33 1/3, and you choose the (mono) Mozart Quartets Dedicated to Haydn by the wonderful Budapest String Quartet (Columbia/Odyssey Y331242).

How does it make you feel? Does the music reach you during this almost-in-between state early in the morning? I'll tell you how the Symphonic Line Kraft 400s sounded. "Sweet—and how," read my hastily scribbled notes. (Kathleen spoils me with a constant stream of beautifully chosen note-taking books.) The Budapest's transcendent musical offering touched me emotionally—I jotted that I seemed to be hearing the music through my pores! (It was still a little early...)

So...what's feeling that way worth to you? If you're one of the small but demanding group who make up the consumers of the "statement product" spectrum of the High End, you will do yourself no injury to audition these amps.

Symphonic Line