SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published October 1, 2003


Krell KAV-280p Preamplifier and KAV-2250 Stereo Power Amplifier

It's a super-sized world. Everywhere we look, stuff is getting bigger: super, mega, even ultra are the adjectives du jour. Which is why it's ironic that Krell, the company that practically invented the mo' bigger, mo' betta audio aesthetic would introduce sleek-looking components like the KAV-280p preamplifier and KAV-2250 stereo power amplifier.

The prices are slimmed down, too. The KAV-280p at $3000 and the KAV-2250 at $4000 aren't exactly chump change, but compared to the price tags of the company's $8500 KCT preamplifier and $10,000 FPB-300c power amplifier, they seem, well, almost reasonable.

And make no mistake about it, you should think of the KAV preamp and power amp in the context of such high-priced, high-performance gear.

What's the world coming to when two of the sexiest audio products I've seen all year are Krell's cost-conscious offerings?

Don't know much about a science book

The first thing experienced audiophiles will notice about the KAV-280p is its finish, a satiny silver that's about as different from Krell's usual dark-gray livery as you can get (it also comes in black, which, apparently, is not this year's black). The unit is low-slung, but deep (17.25"W x 3"H x 17.25"D), with smoothly rounded corners. Its faceplate is uncluttered, boasting only seven dome-like touch-sensitive buttons (Power, B-1, S-1, S-2, S-3, Tape, and Mute), a 0.5" round IR sensor, a 1.25" x 0.625" display panel (with red characters) and a 1.25" domed electronic-sensing volume control. There are also eight tiny LEDs: one each for the source buttons (also red) and two above the power switch (a blue power on indicator immediately above it and a red one above it to indicate standby mode).

From left to right on the back panel are a pair of XLR inputs (B-1), six pairs of RCA inputs (S-1, S-2, S-3, Tape In, Tape Out, Main Out), and a pair of balanced XLR outputs. An RC-5 input, a pair of 12V DC triggers (in and out), and an IEC power socket round out the package.

Remember that IR sensor? You're probably ahead of me here -- it's for remote control. But here's the shocker: bucking the trend for heavy, almost weapon-grade milled metal remotes, Krell provides one of the credit-card-sized touch-membrane jobbies. I already feel lazy enough for using a remote in the first place, would I be totally venturing into couch-potato territory if I said how happy I was that it's so light and manageable? It’s easy to misplace, though.

The remote also controls other components in the KAV line, such as the KAV-280cd CD player.

The KAV-280p uses surface-mount technology derived from Krell's Current Tunnel technology, as personified by the KCT preamplifier. It's a wide-bandwidth, direct-coupled design that's fully balanced from the inputs to the outputs. That includes the volume control, a really slick digitally controlled resistor-ladder.

The audio circuits have their own dedicated power supply with discrete voltage regulation. The digital control circuits have their own separate, dedicated power supply. The signal switches use "hermetically sealed multiple-contact precision relays." (No, I don't know precisely what that means, either, but it sure sounds cool, don'tcha think?)

For them that want to eventually (or even immediately) integrate their stereo and HT systems, the 280p features Krell's Theater Throughput feature -- gain-free pass-through, in other words.

The stereo 250Wpc KAV-2250 is also slim (for a Krell) at 17.25"W x 5.6"H x 17.1"D. Like the 280p, it has a simple, uncluttered faceplate, sporting only a large soft-touch domed standby button in its center (albeit one surrounded by a seriously cool-looking illuminated blue ring, which indicates when it's powered up) and another of those tiny red standby LEDs just above it.

It's almost as simple on the rear panel, where it has a lot of bare metal. Not that it lacks for inputs or features; it offers a pair of balanced XLR inputs, a pair of RCA inputs, four hefty binding posts, a pair of in/out DC triggers, a power toggle, and an IEC AC socket.

But don't let the svelte physique fool ya. The beast is a bear to move -- it weighs a grunt-inducing 64 pounds. You can move it around, but you'll want to do it as little as possible.

That weight is explained by the 2250's whompin' big 2000VA toroidal transformer, which is further tamed by gobs of filtration and lots of stages, all decoupled from one another, of course. The amplifier circuitry utilizes very low amounts of negative feedback. The 2250 outputs 250Wpc into 8 ohms (500Wpc into 4) and it can be bridged to deliver 1000W. Like the other KAV amps, the 2250 has a nifty little feature called Multi Amp Throughput (MAT), which allows both channels (or, in the multichannel models, such as the KAV-3250, all the channels) to be driven by a single input.

Like all the CAST amps, the KAV-2250's input stage employs Krell's Current Mode Technology (CMT) -- which means the input, pre-driver, and driver stages all operate in class A (the output section is class A/B).

But I do know that one and one is two

During the course of my review, I auditioned the KAV-280p and KAV-2250 singly and together in systems that incorporated the Classé CDP-10, Ayre CX-7, and Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista digital players. Speakers used were the Amphion Xenons and Focus Audio Signature FS-888s. Balanced runs of Shunyata Aries interconnect strung together the electronics, and Shunyata Lyras kept the speakers connected to the amps. I compared the Krells to my standard reference system of Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista preamp/Nu-Vista 300, as well as a more recent fave, the Tri-Vista integrated.

Now I don't claim to be an "A" student

If you get the impression that I was surprised by the look of the KAV duo, let me assure you that was nothing compared my reaction to their sound. We audiophiles know what a Krell sounds like, right?


The KAV-280p/2250 combo is fast, tight, and solid (all certainly trade Krell properties), but also airy, liquid, and warm. I don't mean warm'n'fuzzy or warm as in colored, I mean that the KAVs sounded natural and unforced -- relaxed.

That shouldn't have come as a surprise, really. The obscenely expensive (and obscenely good) Krell Audio Standards and the merely out-of-my-reach FPB-600 both combined a nothing-thereness with arc-welder power delivery, and the KRC-HR preamp attained a level of delicacy that few solid-state preamplifiers of its time could even dream of. Still, everybody knows that what Krells are good at is wielding the hammer of the gods.

Well, everybody needs to start thinking again -- and listen to these babies.

Then maybe everybody would just shut up. (I, of course, don't have that luxury. Sigh.)

I don't want to reduce things to stereotypes, myself, but there has always been a just-the-facts sense of restraint from Krell's products, a sort of Yankee rectitude, if you will. With the KAV-280p/2250, Connecticut suddenly discovered its southern Mediterranean coast. The KAV combo don't got no gringo hips -- it likes to wiggle its butt!

As my erstwhile colleague Martin Colloms would put it, it has pace and rhythm.

Little Feat's Waiting For Columbus [Rhino 78274] has always been one of my touchstones for delivering subtle time cues. Little Feat was a band that thrived live, and the players were all maestros of the beat. Richie Hayward and Kenny Gradney laid down a groove that could have drilled through bedrock, while Sam Clayton, Lowell George, Paul Barrére, and Bill Payne all wove in around that heartbeat, giving it a complexity that can't be simply parsed -- in other words, you can pat your foot to it, but only by removing all the little fits and jerks that make it unique.

The KAV combo delivered it all -- George's slight lag behind the beat, Paul Barrére's attack on it, Clayton's tuned filigree of rim shots and rolls, Payne's piano counterpoints and fills. It's funky and raw and alive. If everyone could hear Feat sounding this good, we'd celebrate the release of Waiting For Columbus the way other cultures observe carnival.

Another live album that's full of rhythmic complexity and, at least as faithfully presented by the KAV combo, oodles of life-giving airiness, is the recent double-disc recording of the Dave Holland Quintet's 2001 stand at Birdland, Extended Play [ECM 96702]. What a joyful noise this set is.

I was in attendance at one of these dates and, no, I can't pretend that what I hear on this recording is what I heard that night -- it's better. We're given an up-close perspective that's far more focused and alive than we got in the club, which is no knock on Paul Bagin and David Ruffo, who made the club sound good. The CD, however, sounds fantastic.

Chris Potter's saxes have bite and lots of brassy body, while Steve Nelson's marimba and vibraphone have a shimmery, ebullient mix of attack and overtone you almost never really hear from more than a few feet away. Add Robin Eubanks' rudely rich trombone, Holland's orotund acoustic bass presence, and Billy Kilson's skittery, hyperactive drumming and you have a ticket to polyrhythmic nirvana.

And they're playing real tunes, too!

Oh! Excuse me, I got so wrapped up in the music that I sort of lost track of the KAV-280p/2250, which . . . Wait a minute! Isn't that the whole point of really good gear?

Hmmmm. Well, of course it is.

Of course, the whole point of a review is to tell you what the equipment sounds like. The 280p and 2250 make that awfully hard. Let's see, everything's nicely balanced and full of detail -- except when one factor or another predominates on the recording. And there's not too much bass, except, of course, when there is -- on the recording, I mean. And the highs are open and light and extended -- assuming all of that's on the recording, of course.

Drat! This isn't going well at all.

But I do know that one and one is two

We audio reviewers have a sneaky little trick. When we can't think of anything to say about a product, we compare it to something else -- that'll do it.

Except that it didn't, not really. Oh, I love my reference system (Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista pre and Nu-Vista 300 amp), but head-to-head comparisons with the 280p and 2250 didn't exactly find either of them wanting for anything.

No, that's not quite accurate. I knew going in that the MF preamp was a tad warmer than neutral, and it proved to be even warmer than I had credited it with being when compared to the KAV-280p, especially when reproducing delicate overtones, such as those ricocheting off Steve Nelson's vibes on Extended Play or Kaki King's acoustic guitar on Everybody Loves You [Velour VEL-0302].

The 280p had better low-level resolution, too. Is the Nu-Vista noisy? Not that I ever noticed, but tiny details jumped out at me through the Krell -- even on songs I'd heard jillions of times. Surely I've heard "A Day in the Life," the last track on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, many times and I've managed to make out tons of little flubs and sounds in it over the years (no snide comments, please), but until I listened through the KAV combo, I'd never heard the quiet counting in the right channel at 2:18 into the song. At first, all I heard was the "One," but when I went back to see if I was imagining it, I heard a softer "two, three, four," as well. Glorioski!

Now that doesn't mean the KAV-280p is a more musical preamplifier, but I never questioned its musicality -- that was obvious from the start. But detail? Brother, you'll hear it all.

The 2250 was, like the 280p, less warm sounding than my Nu-Vista 300, as I had anticipated. Yet no one could call the Krell chilly sounding. It pretty much had no sound. It didn't cede any turf to the Nu-Vista in the MF's areas of strength, either. On Telarc's demo-disc supreme, Rainbow Body [Telarc SACD-60596], the Krell managed to raise the roof with Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral" as that piece rollicks towards its conclusion.

Actually, I take back my original point. The KAV-280p and KAV-2250 are better than my reference system -- just as robust and likeable, but less colored and more detailed. Bad news for me.

What a wonderful world

But good news for audiophiles. The Krell KAV-280p preamplifier and KAV-2250 stereo power amplifier are Krells I can really cotton to. They look marvelous, sound fantastic, and are, as these things are reckoned, affordable. If I had to compare the two to anything I've had in my own system over the years, it would be the far bigger and stunningly expensive KRC-HR preamp and Krell Audio Standards I reviewed almost a decade ago at Stereophile. That combination ran a cool $42,000!

At one-sixth the price, even if the KAV-280p/2250 were simply almost as good, the two components would represent an incredible bargain. And that makes this a wonderful world, indeed.

 ...Wes Phillips

Krell KAV-280p preamplifier and KAV-2250 stereo power amplifier
Prices: KAV-280p, $3000 USD; KAV-2250, $4000 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Krell Industries, Inc
45 Connair Road
Orange, CT 06477-3850
Phone: (203) 799-9954
Fax: (203) 891-2028


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