What is the Krell K-300i?
The Krell K-300i is an integrated amplifier. Like many (most even) integrated amplifiers we’ve looked at in recent years, it has the option of including a selection of digital inputs. There are two unusual facets to this though. The first is that this is something that Krell hasn’t offered before. The company has built amps for amplifying and sources to connect to them and has been content not to let those two things mingle. The second is that, having made the jump, they’ve not held back - as we shall cover, this is one of the most comprehensively specified examples of the breed we’ve yet to test.
Of course, historically, comprehensive specifications were not the reason why people chose Krell. The company has an enviable reputation for making stereo and multichannel amps that could take any speaker, no matter how demanding, and bend it to its will. This is still very much the case in 2020 too; the flagship 575XD mono will dispose of 575 watts into an eight ohm load which should be sufficient for pretty much any task short of using it as a welder. The K-300i isn’t quite as volcanically powerful but, even so, it should be enough.
So then, is this a beautiful synergistic moment where high end engineering gets a welcome dose of convenience and smart thinking to make something wonderful or a company trying to cram too much into a single chassis? Time to find out.
Specification and design
First up, as a minor point of housekeeping, if you simply want the Krell as an integrated amp, you can. It is available to order for a slightly lower price with no digital board and a selection of analogue inputs to make use of. It is worth noting that the resulting product is still a lot of amplifier. The K-300i has 150 watts available into an 8 ohm load. Halve the impedance and the output neatly doubles; long the calling card of an amplifier that has been healthily specified. Even allowing for the significant cost of the Krell, it fulfills the longheld brief of the company to be in a position to drive most speakers to most levels that take your fancy.
Neither are these on-paper numbers that are achieved for fleeting seconds before melting like an icecube on a hot pavement. Peer through the grill of the K-300i and you’ll see a burly toroidal PSU that is of a size such that it becomes clear that it is the principle factor that decides the height of the Krell’s chassis. It also, in no small part, contributes to the significant 23.6kg unboxed weight of the amp itself. As an addendum to this, my first encounter with the Krell was when one turned up to drive a pair of gloriously insensitive Magico A1s (the embryonic relation to the vast £840k floorstanders that featured in a recent news story). I had access to an amp that was notionally more powerful than the Krell at the same time but it was the K-300i that indisputably did the better job at driving them.
The version you see here has the digital board added and this turns the K-300i into a rather different beast. In addition to the five analogue line inputs - two on an XLR connection, three on an RCA - it is fitted with a healthy spread of digital inputs all making use of a ‘pro’ level ESS Sabre DAC. How healthy? Try, one coax, one optical and one USB input alongside two HDMI inputs and an output with ARC. Not enough? OK, there’s also an Ethernet connection that allows for UPnP audio and for the Krell to show as a Roon Endpoint. Technically, this input would sufficient to class the K-300i as an all in one system but Krell is adamant that it is an integrated amp so we’ll describe it as such. Not content with this, there’s a Bluetooth input as well, the concept of which will be as apocalyptic to some audiophile sensibilities as anything else that has happened in 2020.
What this means is that the Krell is an extremely solid example of post AV thinking. The company still makes AV products and this feeds into ensuring that the specification is very clever indeed. Take the HDMI inputs. They’ve got a 4K passthrough as you might expect. What they also have is the ability to decode 24/192 PCM and DSD meaning the K-300i will act as decoder and amp for a universal player and any remaining DVD-A and SACD content you have kicking around. It would always be possible to go one stage further; bass management or Room EQ for example, but this is an exceptionally comprehensive amplifier.
It is an extremely well made one too. This review sample has led a busy life and has picked up some marks on the casework in that time (hence the decision to revert to stock pics) but the amp itself feels immensely solid in design and execution. The casework is all metal and the manner in which it is assembled is tremendously confidence inspiring. American high end has a different feel to both its European and its Japanese rivals but even if you were a committed fan of either of those schools of design, the K-300i would still impress. This is far from a cheap amp but you can see where the money has been spent. Black and silver finishes are available and the silver finish is very lovely indeed if you can make it work with the rest of your equipment.
It’s user friendly too. There’s a useful display that shows input, volume and sample rate and a menu driven system that allows for input levels to be trimmed and set. My only real complaint is one that occurs on any amp at any price that doesn’t include a volume knob. The volume ramp of the Krell is something that can only be adjusted at the speed the buttons allow which is never as fast as a quick flick of the wrist acting on a volume knob. Thankfully, this ramp is quite rapid and the presence of a superb, bespoke remote softens the blow somewhat. It’s also worth noting that if you use the Krell as a Roon endpoint, volume is neatly embedded there too.
What this means is that the Krell is an extremely solid example of post AV thinking
How was the K-300i tested?
The Krell has been connected up to draw power from an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner and wired to an English Electric network switch taking a feed from a Roon Nucleus. It has additionally been connected to an LG 55B7 OLED. Some additional testing has taken place with a Michell GyroDec, Vertere SG-1 arm and Goldring Ethos cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage and the default digital source of SOtM SMS-200 Neo, Chord Electronics Hugo Mscaler and TT2. The speakers used throughout have been the Kudos Titan 505s. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, on demand audio and video services and some vinyl.
Krell is a company that very much rejoices in the concept of a ‘house sound’; a set of performance traits you can reliably identify in all the company’s products. A one word summary of this would be ‘muscular.’ Krell amps make it clear that they have plenty of power but they wield it with a level of dexterity that leaves you feeling that none of the output is being delivered without the appropriate control. The good news is that the K-300i makes no attempt to mess with these basics.
The best way to experience this is to play a piece of music you know well that has some elements of scale but isn’t an out and out ‘big’ piece. In this case, I selected Leftfield’s Melt which has those lovely low electronic rumbles underpinning a track that still beguiles me as much as it did 25 years ago. It’s with those electronic low notes that the Krell gives a hint of what it brings to music. The Titan 505 needs very little help delivering superbly tight and well defined low end but here the effect is steroidal. Those low notes pulse in the chest cavity as if a hitherto unseen subwoofer had suddenly lit up. Along with the depth, the transient speed is outstanding. The Krell has the means to make any speaker move that little bit faster and with a little more control.
Neither do you need to be listening to big nostalgic chunks of 90s electronica to get the full effect of this. The magnificent return of Norah Jones with the technically interesting and fabulously emotive Pick Me Up Off The Floor is something that the K-300i luxuriates in. Jones herself is reproduced with the scale and range to be a physical presence in the room. Her opening “How I” on How I Weep is a real ‘stop what you’re doing and listen to this’ moment. She’s backed by a simple piano that still conveys all the heft that an instrument of this size should.
If this makes it sound like the Krell is inducing coloration, it really isn’t. Listening to anything that you know well and that is a faithful representation of the instruments involved, the Krell will stand comparison to anything I’ve listened to even at the price and beyond. The heft and effortless punch that it brings is additional to this rather than a displacement. There are sweeter sounding amps for similar money but very little has the breadth of ability that the K-300i does. This extends to be a usefully forgiving amp too. It doesn’t want to be fed a diet of MP3s but it can deal with the fallout of the loudness war with an impressive degree of restraint.
And, as a device to boost your viewing, it’s magnificent. The dynamics of two big speakers being driven by a powerful amp will always be different to a host of smaller ones but revisiting the practised stupidity of Hobbs & Shaw via the Krell is very immersive. During the nonsense with the helicopter and the pickup trucks, the Krell captures everything and thanks to that effortless punch, the effect is deeply impressive. Across the full range of TV viewing, the K-300i has been a fabulous partner.
Unpicking where the digital ends and the amp begins by switching to using the Krell via turntable and external digital source suggests that the amp is the driving force (literally) in the way that it presents itself to the world. Switching to the Chord duo yields an improvement in performance (and you’d hope so too considering they’re £7,500), with greater space and three dimensionality on offer but it serves to reflect that the Krell’s internal decoding is really, very, very good indeed. The convenience is not to be sniffed at either. I’ve become very used to sitting down in the morning, opening my laptop and simply firing the Krell up from Roon. It’s a gloriously convenient way of using it and it doesn’t have a single negative effect on the high end credentials at the same time.
The Krell has the means to make any speaker move that little bit faster and with a little more control
- Sounds outstanding and able to drive pretty much anything
- Superb feature set
- Built like a tank
- Not cheap
- No volume knob
Krell K-300i Integrated Amp Review
Nine grand is a lot of money for an amp. I don’t want to be in any way dismissive about the cost of the K-300i. It’s still a significant amount of money even when you consider that the K-300i, when kitted out with its digital board is effectively a self-contained system. So is a Naim Uniti Nova and that’s a full £4,700 less than the Krell is.
The thing is though, this isn’t simply a good amplifier. It is a truly great one, arguably the single most compelling balance of features and sheer performance I have tested for under ten thousand pounds. I am aware that there is a move in some circles now to consider that any system - stereo or multichannel - needs EQ to be complete. All I’d say is that, if you are shopping at this rarefied point, do get a listen to the K-300i and a decent supporting pair of speakers. Behind the modern connectivity is an amplifier that is unquestionably old school. As well as being old school though, it is unquestionably brilliant. The Krell K-300i is a masterpiece and the indisputable Best in Class.
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