Terry London has always had a great passion for music, especially jazz, and has amassed a collection of over 7,000 CDs covering the history of this uniquely American art form. Even in his teenage years, Terry developed a passion for auditioning different systems and components to see if they could come anywhere close to the sound of live music, and has for the last forty years had great fun and pleasure chasing this illusion in his two-channel home system.
Terry is a practitioner of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy by day, and runs the Chicago Institute for REBT. He has also authored nine books on this of type psychotherapy and education.
After reviewing Dan Wright's terrific-sounding KWI 200 Integrated amp, I wanted to review one of his single-chassis power amps using my reference preamp, the Concert Fidelity CF-080, and to compare its performance to my excellent Pass Labs XA60.5 mono-block amps. Since I have historically been a fan of MOSFET transistor-based solid state amps, finding them to be much more musical-sounding to my ears than bipolar transistor designs, Dan and I agreed that the KWA 100SE, which retails for $4,295, would be a better choice for me than his reference KWA 150SE because the KWA 100SE is his MOSFET transistor design.
The KWA 100SE's dimensions are five-and-a-half inches tall by 17 inches wide and 17 inches deep. The KWA 100SE weighs 47 pounds. The KWA 100SE can produce 100 watts into eight ohms and 200 watts into four ohms. The main power switch is located on the rear panel of the KWA 100SE. There is also a toggle switch for grounding or floating the chassis to prevent any feedback, RCA/XLR inputs, and very high-quality speaker posts and finally the ICE power inlet. On the bottom left side, there is an on/standby switch. On the front panel of the KWA 100SE is an engraved ModWright logo, which is backlit in blue when the amp is on. Finally, the top plate has slots for ventilation and another large backlit MW logo in the middle. All of this leads to a very handsome-looking amp indeed.
My very first selection to see what the KWA 100SE would do in the areas of timbres and tonality was alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's rendition of "Angel Eyes" from his classic album "Glad to be Unhappy" (RCA Victor Gold Series). The rest of the players on this album are the jazz greats Jim Hall on guitar, Gene Wright on bass, and finally, Connie Kay on drums. This recording, if an amp is up to the task, can send a chill down one's back, because it captures the silky smoothness and tartness of Desmond's unique tone on his alto sax. The KWA 100SE was able to reproduce these qualities in a grainless, effortless and natural way. If I did not know that the KWA 100SE was a solid state design, I would have concluded that I was listening to a great tube-based amp because of how it handled this music's tonality.
I moved on to Conrad Herwig's live recording of Miles Davis's song "Solar" from his CD "Sketches of Spain Y Mas: The Latin Side of Miles Davis" (HN Records). Herwig is on trombone with other brass players, along with a totally dynamic Latin percussion section. The KWA 100SE produced a soundstage that was big and airy, along with precise layering and locations of the band members on this stage. The macro-dynamics and power of this cut was clearly being passed on by the KWA 100SE.
One of my favorite guitarists is John Scofield. On his album "Piety Street" (Emarcy), which is his take on New Orleans' brand of soul music mixed with straight-ahead blues and group vocals, the song "Something Got a Hold on Me" is a good test of an amp's ability to let the high frequencies of Scofield's guitar's high notes and the cymbal work of his drummer, Shannon Powell, to be heard with all the little details and air intact. The KWA 100SE showed that it had the ability to handle these minute details with great extension and clarity.
Read about the high points and low points of the ModWright KWA 100SE on Page 2.
The KWA 100SE build quality and choice of internal parts are at a very high level. The case work offers a very attractive and handsome physical appearance.
The KWA 100SE is reference-level in its grainless and textured ability to produce timbres and natural tones of different instruments.
As far as power and punch, the KWA 100SE has the ability to render the drive and macro-dynamics of music in an effortless way.
Since the KWA 100SE has great transparency and clarity, it could expose your preamp's weaknesses or shortcomings.
Because the KWA 100SE is a two-channel stereo amplifier. It would not fit into a multi-channel home theater system, unless of course you purchased multiples.
Competition and Comparison
The amps, with which I am familiar based on my past listening experience, that are in the price range of the KWA 100SE are the Ayre Acoustics V-5xe at $4,950 and the Sanders Sound Magtech at $5,500. Both these amps offer excellent macro-dynamics, good extension on the top and bottom and a high level of details and clarity. However, I find them both somewhat lean-sounding, compared to the fuller fleshed-out presentation that the KWA 100SE delivers. Another area I believe would be considered a higher level in the KWA100SE performance is that it is seems to sound more natural and grainless when it comes to timbres and natural warmth. For more on two-channel amplifiers, please visit Home Theater Review's Stereo Amplifier page.
The ModWright KWA 100SE is a wonderfully musical and entertaining-sounding piece of gear. It offers reference-level performance on many parameters. However, in the specific area of tonality/timbres, along with a seamlessness/grainless overall sonic perspective, it is right up there with some of the best solid state amps, regardless of cost. In my honest opinion, if I did not already own my fantastic-sounding and more expensive Pass Labs XA60.5 mono-blocks, I could easily live with the KWA 100SE and not miss my reference amps at all in my system. I highly recommend anyone looking for a two-channel solid state amp to strongly consider putting the KWA 100SE on your audition list.