Whatever else you may have heard about Krell's Dan D'Agostino, he has a wicked sense of humour. This fearsome high-end has been known to succumb to a fit of the giggles which can last for hours. So it was probably with tongue-in-cheek and a dose of British irony that his 'baby' package of KAV-280cd player, KAV-300iL integrated amp and the wild new LAT-2 speaker was dubbed 'The Executive System'. Then again, maybe not, if you abandon irony and admit that only executives can afford it.
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• See more floorstanding speaker reviews on HomeTheaterReview.com.
Such office-related nomenclature, however, is not in anticipation of the earnings of the target audience. Because it's compact by Krell standards and fully remote-controllable, you can just picture the electronics nestling on a shelf to the side of some eye-watering oval desk of solid bird's-eye maple, the speakers on their dedicated pedestals flanking either side of the door into the CEO's private sanctum. Imagine: the doors open, in walks a secretary, or a client, or the firm's lawyers, said executive framing them with a brace of Krell speakers. This is high-finance power tools taken to a new level. Or should that read 'executive toys'?
Unlike, however, those irritating, clacking chrome balls or over-priced Montblanc pen sets, the Krell Executive System is actually a no-compromise high-end audio array which would thrill the hell out of any one of us in ANY environment. Its chic, office- (or kitchen-, or bedroom-) friendly size and styling belies some of the most surprising components I've used in ages. And it's the size which deceives the most, because - even after years of compact KAV-series components - we still think of Krell gear as intrinsically over-endowed in the dimension stakes.
Both the KAV-280CD player and the KAV-300iL integrated amplifier share the same chassis for easy stacking. Measuring 17.25x3.5x16.5in (WHD), just the depth is slightly excessive. Gorgeous in natural aluminium with shiny chromed corners, the two pieces can only be described as 'sleek', and are, for my money, not merely the best-looking Krell hardware I've ever seen: they're also the best-finished. However much some of us are in awe of Krell (not least because Dan scares the shit out of us), there have been rough edges, blood-letting heat sinks, poor fit and dust-grabbing finishes in the past. If you covered the badges on these products, you'd think that Hasselblad had suddenly turned to upscale audio, while turning its back on black.
Inside the KAV-280cd is a mechanically-isolated transport mechanism and tweaked-to-the-extreme analogue circuitry producing a sound like a baby sister to the £23,500 KPS25sc CD player. Naturally, it lacks that unit's preamp and converter facilities and - because the '280 is a front-loader - that party-piece of a lid, but you know that it was voiced by the same team: loads of detail, eerie silences where they should be, transient speed up the kazoo. The output circuitry features four Burr-Brown PCM-1704 24-bit DACs to providing fully balanced operation from the DACs to the output; I ran the '280 into the KAV-300iL in fully balanced mode using the latter's single set of XLR-equipped balanced line inputs. The DSP digital filter provides 8x oversampling, and the unit boasts Krell Class A direct-coupled circuitry.
Buyers of both units will find that they have two identical remotes, especially generous and useful because gone are the massive slabs of machined aluminium of yore. Krell has come up with an ultra-cool remote with the frontal area of a cigarette pack but a thickness of a mere 3/16ths of an inch. Talk about 'ease of slipping between the cushions on your sofa' - but no worries as you have one spare to put in a safe place. With a minimum of buttons, all protected behind a single-piece membrane, you can control both units and other Krell hardware. Moreover, with 12V triggers via 3.4mm mini plugs built into both pieces and working in both directions, you can switch on the entire system from either the CD player or the amp - it's up to you.
Along with the 12V input and output, the back of the KAV-280cd also bears an RC-5 input for integration into a remote control system, an IEC mains input, a user-replaceable line fuse, coaxial and TOSlink optical digital outputs and a choice of RCA line-level single-ended outputs or the aforementioned balanced XLRs. Trust me: the balanced sounds better - cleaner, more dynamic, with bass so tight you'd think you wiped your butt with alum.
Krell kept front-panel clutter to a minimum: At the far left is the on-off button, which you'll rarely use once you try the remote, sited below LEDs for 'stand-by' (red) and 'on' (blue); as this system's on/off status works from remote, you'll probably leave it powered at all times. Beneath a display informing you of all the requisite time and track information are the transport controls, while the tray is at the right. Aside from not touching anything while it goes through an 'initialising' period when it's connected to the mains - which you will only experience again if you switch it off at the mains or unplug it - operating the '280 is absolutely straightforward.
So, too, the KAV-300iL, Krell's interpretation of what the well-dressed senior administrator wants in an integrated amplifier. Although fundamentally an integrated, it can also act as a preamplifier because of a set of line outputs (alongside the tape outputs), and the 'home theatre throughput' allows easy incorporation into a multi-channel set-up for purist/two-channel audio duties. In addition to three single-ended line-level inputs plus tape-in, the KAV-300iL also has a single set of balanced inputs, via XLR, as mentioned above; dismiss, therefore, any notion that this is some form of compromise in the Krell hierarchy. For pure audiophilic demands, this has a fully-balanced signal path from input to output for at least one source, while the amp as a whole is a wide bandwidth design with low negative feedback; all circuits up to the driver stage are pure Class A.
Read more about the performance of the Krell products on Page 2.