Krell Evolution 222 Preamplifier Reviewed
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Krell truly welcomed the twenty-first century with a radical range dubbed Evolution. The pre/power Evolution One and Two combination that heralded the line's arrival stunned everyone who saw them at CES in January 2005. New styling, zero-compromise build, spec and pricing - those of us old enough to remember the good old days when Dan D'Agostino was lean, mean and hungry figured, hey, maybe the magic is back? (He's actually a few pounds leaner now, but that's another story.)
In the intervening few years, I've heard Evolution all over the place, but the defining moment for me was an all-Evo demo in Tokyo. It was the overall coherence, the sit-up-straight-and-listen command of it that sent the tingles to all extremities. What was not anticipated was a trickle-down range that would possess so much of the big ticket, multi-chassis Evolution One and Two debut combination. When I heard the same in Italy at another show, I was convinced: Krell was back.
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In the meantime, the line has delivered winner after winner, right up to a multi-channel controller and two disc spinners. One assumes that the Evolution 222 preamp will constitute the entry level, because at £8498, this unit narrows the gap between Evolution and the company's other two ranges, KAV and the multi-channel Showcase lines. But the 222 two-channel preamplifier isn't just entry level. It's almost a leap of faith.
Krell bills the 222 as bringing "the advanced technologies and inspired design of the Evolution 202 to single-chassis format," the 202 being the middle preamp between this and the Evolution Two. Aside from fitting everything into a 439 by 97 by 464 (WHD), with the obvious loss of the benefits of a separate power supply, it's pure Evolution all the way: 1.5MHz open-loop bandwidth in a zero feedback, balanced, Krell Current Mode design, terminating in Krell's CAST connection format. All signal gain paths feed through surface-mount topology, using Krell's "proprietary multiple-output current mirrors, with nearly 500 times the open loop linearity of other designs." Absolute zero negative feedback applies to the entire preamp, Krell adds, "nor is it necessary. Open-loop distortion is typically less than 50 parts per million."
Your main tactile contact, the volume control, features a 16-bit balanced resistor ladder, and its feel was clearly "tuned" by someone who's wound a fine watch or two in his day. The 222's bandwidth and transient response are "virtually unaffected by the volume setting." Despite the reduction in real estate, the unit is driven by a 150VA toroidal transformer, feeding four six-amp bridge rectifiers and 19,800 microfarads of filter capacitance. Additionally, a Krell-designed digital control circuit monitors and optimizes all operating parameters.
Don't let the slim-as-Dan casework (he works out like a demon, hence the constant, jealous references) fool you into expecting a lack of features. The accessories box within reveals a 34-button, machined-from-metal remote control that covers every function, including phase inversion, the worth of which this preamp demonstrates vividly. I'm not about to open up that can of worms, but anyone who bought into the need for correct polarity when it was topical will appreciate this immediately. The very instant this is demonstrated to you in the audio salon of your choice, you'll kick yourself for not having it before.
Across the front panel are the familiar Krell accoutrements, including tiny near-flush buttons with delightful click action and a massive volume rotary. At the left is a display that shows, with Krell blue illumination, various status messages, choice of source input, volume level, balance offset and menu selections. These include various methods of configuring the unit to your specific needs or preferences, such as naming the inputs, trimming levels, selecting theatre mode throughput, etc.
Below it are the power-on button, infrared emitters and sensors for communication to and from remotes, and menu and enter buttons for navigating the former. In the middle of the traditional machined Krell nameplate is an LED that glows red in standby mode and blue when operational. Clustered to the right of this are buttons to choose between three single-ended, two balanced or two CAST inputs, while the last three buttons operate tape monitoring, phase selection and mute.
So filled with apertures for ingress and egress is the back panel that you might mistake the 222 for a multi-channel controller. All of the aforementioned inputs are addressed with the necessary RCA, XLR or CAST connectors as required, while the additional sockets consist of phono inputs for tape in and tape out, plus primary outputs in phono (single-ended), XLR (balanced) and CAST modes. To the extreme right (as you look at the back panel) are the mains input and the necessary connections for powering a Krell phono stage, integrating the 222 into complex systems with RS-232 and RC-5 formats, and 12-volt triggers.
Read more about the Krell 222 preamp on Page 2.