Krell KAV-300i Integrated Amp reviewed

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Classroom doodling, playing the Lottery - whatever forms of dreaming take your fancy, there are some fantasies you're too realistic to entertain. And not just because Ferrari has already signed this year's drivers. I mean: who'd've thought that Dan D'Agostino would even consider releasing an integrated amplifier? Just uttering the phrase 'Krell Integrated Amp' is almost heretical, and you expect lightning bolts from Connecticut to shoot right up your arse. But here it is in front of me, representing the new 'entry level' for one of the most prestigious makes in all of hi-fi-dom. And it more than hints at new directions for the doyen of powerhouse amp builders.

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We should have seen it coming. Were there not clues in the move toward a comprehensive home theatre system, the modular five-channel amplifier, the forthcoming pre-amp with on-board surround facilities, the ever-increasingly-sophisticated remote control facilties? It's all addressed in - to give it its full title - the KAV-300i Remote Control Integrated Amplifier. It wears the new look, with rounded fascia edges and chamfered accents, press buttons replacing rotaries, a balanced input, operation via a remote control that works other Krell components. And the 'KAV' stands for 'Krell Audio Video'. What it doesn't share with its siblings are dimensions requiring a housing change, or a price tag approachable only coke dealers and rock stars.

No, it's not exactly cheap at �2490, but you do get a lot for the money...and a product wearing the hallowed 'K' in a circle. Now that I think of it, the new logo looks like the brand on a steer's hindquarter. Head 'em up, move 'em out, and all that. The baby KAV measures 475x387x92mm (WDH), compact yet impressive enough because of the Krell house style. Think sinister, think domineering, think whatever you like: the KAV-300i looks serious. Then you lift it: awful lot for an integrated amplifier. Even one which delivers 150W/ch into 8 ohms or 300W (yes, three big ones) into 4 ohms.

No, this is not a finger-singeing Krell but a partial Class A design. The KAV-300i is based on traditional Krell designs, made from no-compromise parts selection, bomb-proof construction and wide-bandwidth, fully discrete, complementary circuitry. And it is pure Class A up to the driver stage. The switching is purely digital and isolated from the 100 percent dual-mono signal path. Volume is accomplished via a precision two-channel electronic gain control, and the unit accepts three single-ended and one balanced input, plus tape. (Note: the review sample arrived two weeks before the CE regulations came into effect. It sported gold-plated phono and pro-grade XLR socketry, an IEC mains input and speaker binding posts which accept banana plugs. Units in the shops after publication may differ from the review sample.)

Styled and sized like current Krell pre-amps, the KAV-300i wears a row of short-throw press-buttons across its front panel, and you'll rarely use them once you've gotten past the nasty feel of the all-plastic remote controller. (As was pointed out to me by a rather defensive distributor, the all-metal remote controls familiar to past Krell owners cost around 10 percent of an entire KAV-300i and are therefore believed to be too costly to supply with a sub-�2500 unit.) At the extreme left is the power standby button, the unit remaining in warmed-up stand-by mode when switched off by the remote or the on-off button rather than at the wall. The two lights above it provide red for standby and blue for operational. The blue light also flashes when the unit is receiving commands from the hand controller.

Next in line is the receptor for the remote signals, followed by press buttons for the source inputs and tape, volume 'up' and volume 'down' buttons and a row of red LEDs to give a visual indication of level status. Note that, although the volume change is constant and in very fine steps, there are only 11 LEDs; the number suggests a familiarity with the work of that great band, Spinal Tap. Accessible only from the remote is balance adjustment, in 1dB increments; an extra LED indicates when that same row of 11 red LEDs indicates balance or level, the system reverting to the latter after five seconds of control inactivity. Mute is available from the remote and, neatly, by pressing on the active source's button, a pretty clever touch for minimising the number of buttons to avoid technofear. An LED indicates mute-on status. The remote also operates other Krell products and, hurrah!, various Philips-based CD players, like the Marantz CD12.

A cleverly disguised mute facility, a remote control which might happen to operate your non-Krell CD player and a delightful dearth of buttons aren't the only novelties on offer; Krell has added another neat feature which reconfirms the company's commitment to home theatre, even in their least expensive amplification device. Supplied with the KAV-300i is a special T-10 Torx wrench to allow you to access a switch inside the unit. It converts the third single-ended input (labelled S-3) into a unity gain stage for 'Theatre Throughput'. When S-3 is selected in this mode, the KAV-300i's volume and balance controls are disabled, the control over levels being transferred to the A/V surround sound processor connected to input S-3. The KAV-300i also sports a pair of extra outputs to allow it to be used solely as a pre-amplifier.

A tendency to assess like with like almost cost me the experience of one of the nicest pairings - however unnatural - I've heard in hi-fi since I hooked up the Unison Research Smart 845 to the Wilson WATT/Puppy System V. Because the Krell isn't exactly a budget item, I contemplated using it only with speakers in the �1000 per-pair-and-upward category, with a slight dalliance with the Wilsons for a laugh. It was immediately apparent that this integrated amplifier suffered no lack of power, even a quick bout with the wattage-hungry Extremas failing to fluster the KAV-300i. And the amp just adored Sonus Fabers. But how could I resist having a little fun by trying the Krell with the Sonus Faber Concertinos (or should that be Concertini?), which cost just under a quarter of the price?

Read more about the KAV-300i on Page 2.

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