For years Krellhas been the poster child of excess within the audiophile community and their products, while good, were true symbols of the times. Krell amplifiers have always been large, hugely inefficient powerhouses; often priced more in line with mid-sized sedans than audio amplifiers. While Krell still makes large, powerful amplifiers and bright shiny audio components to accompany them, there's something different about them lately, something more mature.
It began (at least for me) with the introduction of their fabulous Evolution 402e stereo amplifier.
At $18,500 retail, the 402e was hardly cheap by real world standards but for Krell it was a bargain, for the same amp five or ten years prior would've cost double or more. More interesting was the 402E's consumption, which unlike thirsty Krell amps of old managed to sip a mere two Watts in standby, where past Krell amplifiers would've simply sauntered up to the bar and drank until the bartender (your power company) cut 'em off. Top it all off, the 402e was more manageable in size and could even be rack mounted if you were so inclined. It was a combination of all these factors combined with its brilliant sonic performance that lead me to call it "hands down the best amplifier I've ever heard and a new benchmark."
That was 2010.
2011 finds Krell continuing on its journey to not only be more relevant but better in every way. Case in point, the all-new Evolution 3250e three channel amplifier reviewed here. Featuring trickle down technology from the 402e, the 3250e is a three channel design sporting 250-Watts of power into eight Ohms across all three of its channels for a surprisingly un-Krell-like $10,000 retail. Now, before you run off and blow up my publisher's email demanding my resignation over suggesting that $10,000 for an amp is in any way affordable consider this: the "other" three channel amp that Krell currently makes is the 403e and it retails for $25,000. Now, Krell will argue that the 403e is a superior design and it is; however I argue that the 3250e is all the amplifier one would honestly ever need and then some. Not to mention, the 3250e goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Mark Levinson's No 533 and Classe's new Delta Series, two brands that don't quite incur the same wrath from critics, yet both the Mark Levinson and Classe cost about the same and offer up similar power figures. In the past Krell would've scoffed at the very notion of their being a comparable product out there but today, it seems, they're not only aware of the competition but also ready to take the fight straight to them.
The 3250e is an all new design for Krell, featuring a massive 2,500 VA power transformer with capacitance rated at 163,000 uF, all working to churn out an impressive 250 Watts into eight Ohms, 500 Watts into four Ohms and a staggering 1,000 Watts into two Ohms. Beyond the power figures, Krell's managed to keep the 3250e's consumption under control as well, with standby power at a mere two Watts (hence the e in the model number), which is a 99-percent reduction in the amplifier's electrical consumption. Less consumption equals less heat, which means that the 3250e is rack friendly and runs relatively cool to the touch even after hours of use - try saying that about Krell amps of yore.
From the outside the 3250e may look like your run of the mill silver amplifier. In fact, Krell purposely designed the 3250e and its two-channel sibling, the 2250e, to be a bit Spartan in the looks department in order to save money. Measuring a little over 17 wide by seven and three quarter inches tall and 18-inches deep, the 3250e is hardly a beefcake in terms of size compared to past Krell amplifiers. Even its weight of 80 pounds is manageable. Like with the rest of the Evolution line, there are no visible heat sinks present on the 3250e for they are internal. Another interesting design feature about the chassis is the fact that Krell has built additional clearance needs into the casework itself. All amplifiers need space to breathe in order to perform at their peak and most accomplish this by asking consumers not to stack components atop or place them in confined spaces. Do we always oblige? Not exactly, which is precisely why the 3250e has additional room to breathe inside, though Krell still asks that you don't stack anything on top of the 3250e itself.
In terms of connection options the 3250e features both balanced and unbalanced inputs selectable via a small toggle switch. There are no Krell CAST inputs on the 3250e - another cost saving measure. The 3250e has three sets of robust, five-way binding posts that can accept spade lugs, banana adaptors and bare speaker wire. The 3250e comes with a 20-amp detachable power cord as well as inputs for 12-volt triggers.
I mentioned earlier that the 3250e has a sibling in the 2250e, a two-channel amplifier that boasts the same specs (minus capacitance) as the 3250e, only it costs $8,000.
The 3250e arrived on my doorstep unannounced amidst a product orgy at my home, which kept me from tackling the review right away. Ahead of the 3250e's was Mark Levinson's No 533 three channel amplifier ($10,000) and Classe's CA-2300 stereo amp ($7,000), both of which are capable products and compete directly with the 3250e.
Once my review slate cleared I installed the 3250e into my reference system where it would power my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers full range. I'm kind of on a purist kick at the moment so I connected the 3250e to my Decware CSP2 tube line stage that I used to control my system's volume and to switch between my AppleTV / DACMagic music server and Sony universal Blu-ray player. The entire system was wired using Transparent Ultra interconnects, Reference speaker cables and Performance PowerLink power cables. The only non Transparent cable I used during my time with the 3250e was Krell's new Vector HC Power Cable that I ran from the 3250e itself to a nearby wall outlet.
I let the 3250e break in for a little over a week before I sat down for any critical listening sessions.
I began my evaluation of the 3250e with some two-channel fare by way of Christina Perri's single "Penguin" from her upcoming album Lovestrong (Atlantic). The track's opening guitars were delicately rendered with lifelike scale and weight with an airiness to them that was distinctly 402e-like, perhaps only lacking that last ounce of sparkle on the top end you get from the 402e, nevertheless it was impressive. Perri's vocals were seductive and inviting and while ever so slightly recessed (the recording's doing not the 3250e) in the soundstage, they still remained natural and more importantly neutral. The 3250e's entire midrange performance seemed, at first, a touch on the lean side; however after a few moments I began to realize that previous amps were simply more laid back or dark in comparison and that the 3250e's sound felt more alive and open but never forward or harsh. The 3250e's soundstage performance was vivid and enveloping, in a good way, with instruments not only well placed within but also properly grounded - this was an aspect of the 3250e's performance I was not expecting, especially considering it was one of the 402e's party pieces back when I reviewed it in December. While "Penguin" isn't what I'd deem as a dynamic performance, the 3250e's agile reflexes made it so every chord, strum and lyric rang true and with conviction befitting a live, studio performance versus a recorded event.
Read more about the performance of the Krell Evolution 3250e on Page 2.