Krell KPE & KPE Reference phono preamplifiers

The Krell KRC-2 can be regarded as a remote-controlled successor to Krell's successful KSL preamplifier of a few years back. The outboard Krell Phono Equalizer (KPE) is a separate box powered from the KRC-2. Priced at $850, it contains a printed circuit board very similar, in fact, to the $499 unit that can be fitted within the KRC. The KPE and KRC phono stages are well-designed universal units; if someone has the need for a stand-alone phono equalizer of Krell KRC standard, a separate power supply may be purchased for the KPE. It is also an advantage to be able to locate the KPE head amplifier in a hum-free zone near the LP turntable.

The KPE is powered from DC output sockets on the KRC-2's rear panel. It is finished in matching enamel and gray anodizing, and accommodates both MM and MC phono-cartridge output levels. If the specified sensitivity figures seem high, it is because the accompanying line amplifier is expected to add voltage gain (in the case of the KRC-2, x4, or 12dB). To set the optimum cartridge matching, the KPE's cover must be removed (it is held in place with four Allen-head screws). Both the MC/MM switch and the input loading switch are clearly marked. With no switches set, the input impedance is the 47k ohms MM standard; the switches set a range of values from 1k right down to 10 ohms. This made it easy to fine-tune the unit for a given cartridge.

The KPE's circuitry is based on an array of paralleled FETs to provide clean signal handling and low noise. Low-distortion, complementary transistor stages serve for gain, equalization, and output buffering.

With the external phono stage, the preamp's sound closely paralleled the attainment of a fully loaded KRC. The KPE provided a neutral-sounding, transparent, low-noise interface between the cartridge and the control unit.

It certainly didn't provide a romantic view of analog disc. Rather, it accurately read the characteristics of the cartridge in use, and readily showed up clinical or thin-sounding examples. Conversely, it offered a precise, tightly focused soundstage: crisp, dynamic, expressive, and spacious. Low- and high-level detail were conveyed equally well. The bass had good slam and speed, while the mids were particularly articulate. The treble also remained clean throughout.

I feel that heroic performance is unnecessary in the case of phono stages. Analog sources can be rather fussy at times—off-stage sounds at the frequency extremes are at best dealt with soberly, rather than subjected to unwanted emphasis. As phono inputs go, this one had an unusually fine dynamic range, as well as crisp, clear image focus. Its midrange didn't show exemplary palpability, yet the overall standard remained secure and satisfying. Broadly speaking, the KPE's sound aligned well with that of the KRC-2.

Krell Industries
45 Connair Road
Orange, CT 06477-0533
(203) 799-9954