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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: APL HiFi NWO 3.0-GO; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; Raysonic Audio CD-168
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright LS-36.5 with PS 36.5; Woo Audio Model 5
Amp: First Watt F5; Yamamoto A-09s;Trafomatic Audio Reference monos [on loan]
Speakers: Acoustic System International Tango R
Cables: ASI Liveline interconnects; Red Wine Audio speaker cable; Crystal Cable Ultra and Reference power cords
Stand: 2 x Ikea Molger plus Ikea butcher block with metal handles for footers
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System resonators and noise filters; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro;
Room size: Sound platform 3 x 4.5m with 2-story slanted ceiling; four steps below continues into 8m long open kitchen, dining room and office which widen to 5.2m with 2.8m ceiling; sound platform space is open to 2nd story landing and 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls, converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse
Review Component Retail: £5990

The Red Violin. It's one brilliant flick. At the hands of the various musicians possessing it through the centuries, the movie follows the exploits of an instrument which has been imbued with mythical powers from human blood in its lacquer. Hence the unusual red hue of the violin. A similar legend surrounds the very real Korean Emillé bell. It measures a colossal 10' tall by 6.9' in lip diameter. It consists of 18.9 tons of bronze which the Silla people cast in the Indian lost-wax technique in 771 A.D. Again very real, it is also endowed with unusual acoustic properties: an unbelievably long and pure ring-out over three minutes. The bell is said to have been audible over a 40-mile diameter during a clear night. To protect it from a small crack, this national treasure can no longer be heard. It is forbidden to strike it now and hangs today in an individual pavilion in the right yard of Kyongju National Museum in the heart of Gyeongju city, South Korea.

When after more than ten years of ongoing research and development, Kwangwoo Electronics Co. Ltd. of Korea decided to launch an upscale valve audio brand, they called it Emillé Labs. The parent company produces cathode ray-gun parts for Samsung Display Industries and is located 60 kilometers from the Emillé bell. Besides the obvious symbology of the audio division's namesake, hand-crafting and rare quality are further connections to the ancient kingdom of The Land Of The Morning Calm which produced the bell. In 2008, it means military-grade gold-plated circuit boards and hand-wound and matched transformers designed and fabricated in-house. Emillé began its audio production in 1992 with a stereo preamp and power amp. By 2004, the present cosmetics and first model's of today's lineup had appeared. Our review subject, the KM-300SE integrated amplifier, was introduced in 2005.

Patience, grasshopper. Consider the above time line. Audiophiles in the West seem to have missed out on Emillé by 14 years. I became aware of the company only in 2007 and didn't actually meet them until the Munich show in 2008. Introducing myself there to company vice president Don W. Jo, I learned that Emillé had not starting selling in the West in earnest until 2 years ago. That massive delay past the initial 1992 rollout was unusual. The trend continued when meeting the very affable but majestic Vital Gbezo, a man of color whose ancestry includes African royalty; who doesn't speak Korean; who has been Nina Simone's publicist for many years; and who now handles Emillé's marketing. My personal belief in the ambassadorial power of music to cross borders and transcend language certainly felt much vindicated by this meeting. Vital and I remained in touch to sync up our first Emillé review with his developing EU distribution network. Spilling ink on unobtainium does not serve our readers after all.

With Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Sweden, UAE and UK in the spell of the bell by now, Vital has done his home work since Munich. It was time to do ours. Because of my recent string of 300B amp reviews -- Woo Audio Model 5, Trafomatic Audio Reference monos, Yamamoto A-09S -- and my related cache of direct-heated power triodes from Western Electric, Shuguang, Emission Labs, JJ and Euro Audio Team, I asked for Emillé's equivalent offering. Because I bought the Woo and Yamamoto and have been favored with a long-term loan of the Trafomatic, I could run actual A/B comparisons whilst due to my resident amplifier choices, Emillé's other amplifiers wouldn't have allowed for that. So the KM-300SE it was to determine what league Emillé plays in. Basic tech data for this model are in their graphic below.

But first, let's pursue proper introductions by way of a series of questions I knew Vital would forward to Emillé's founders and engineers. Their answers follow below:

"Kwangwoo Electronics, our parent company, was established Nov. 7, 1975. We were manufacturing vacuum tube components i.e. plates, cathodes and grids for Samsung Display Industry. Those were the days when Samsung was producing tubes. When tube production ceased in Korea, we switched to cathode ray tube components. In 1991, Mr. Keun-Bae Lee, president and founder of Kwangwoo electronics, decided to start an audio department specialized in the production of tube amplifiers. Thus the brand Emillé was born. Mr. Lee wasn't satisfied with the sound of the first products although he was praised. He was convinced the design team could go the extra
mile and produce better sounding amplifiers. At the same time, cosmetics were improved. The company could afford 14 years of continuous R&D because we had the machinery and manpower to do so.

"In fact, we sold the KM-8W (300B single-ended amplifier), KI-50W and KPE-1 phono stage in Korea, Japan, Sweden, USA, Singapore, Taiwan etc. We won several awards for the KI-40W, our big seller from 1993 to 2003. In October 1995, the KI-70W was awarded best hifi product of the year in Korea. But those products were completely different from what we are producing now. 2003 became the turning point for the current design topology. It was triggered by the invasion of Chinese tube amplifiers. Some of them looked stunning but offered sonically nothing but the old 'valvey/tubey' sound. Our design team had to come up with new design ideas. The results are what you see today. The sale of this new line then began in 2006.

"From the very beginning, we wanted to be different. Every manufacturer has a story to tell. The sound character of the Emillé bell always fascinated our president. Thus it became the approach adopted by the design team. We believe that we can offer audiophiles outstanding products which are honestly priced. We aim to create maximum value by creating excellent boutique products at affordable prices. We will always give our customers more than what they pay for. The present 2-channel business seems to be poorer only because customers are more cautious about their choices, not because of home cinema taking over as some may suggest.

"As far as what brands we consider market leaders and competitors, there are the 'classic' brands, the ones that have been around since the golden days of high fidelity. We respect them for what they have accomplished. They have opened doors for all of us newcomers in this sector and their legacy remains. We are not in any competition even though we are taking part in a race which can be challenging at times. It doesn't really matter who the winner is though. For us, the most important is to be part of the race.

"During R&D, we don't rely on
really esoteric ancillary gear since we can't make assumptions about what a customer will use. Nor are dedicated sound rooms with exotic wall treatments very common. Hence for speakers, we use the Wilson Audio Sophia; Totem Model One; Altec 6048G; and a model by Harbeth. Our CD player is a Marantz SA-11S2, the turntable a Thorens 524. Cables are far too large in variety to mention but the final measurements are always made on an Audio Precision 2700.

"By the way, Emillé is not in the Hi-End business. Our products are manufactured according to our own standards. Some call it Hi-End. We don't. We listen to each part and choose those which perform best according to their specific junction in the circuit. Our focus is on musical products. We want our customer to start enjoying their music rather than spending time on that accessory or gadget which will make them hear the lost chord or identify the type of microphone used during a recording session. We believe that our components should be the accessories to the customer's music collection, not the other way round.

"All magnetic components are hand-wound in-house and tightly matched. For extended frequency response, we use bifilar windings around a proprietary core. As far as 'affordable Chinese valve kit' goes, it is a good and cost-effective way to initiate people into the glowing world of valves. However, certain cases suffer safety issues which are quite disturbing. Fortunately there also exist genuine manufacturers who do their part to contribute to the growing number of valve aficionados. Those genuine manufacturers are part of the chain. They play an important role and we applaud them. Then comes education, education, education. It takes time to establish a brand. While most people know that we are Korean, some still think we are French because of Emillé's spelling. But that's not important as long as the products deliver what they promise.

"Mr. Young Kim is the head of our R&D department and our senior designer. He started building receivers when he was 12. He is also the recipient of prestigious awards from the Korean government for his contributions in electronics and technology. The junior designers working under his direction share the same design philosophy. Their goal is to produce amplifiers capable of playing music - respecting its nuances and dynamics while conveying emotion. We use all manner of music - classical, rock, pop, metal, ethnic and so forth.

"Because we are trying to offer a very high return on investment, there is a five-year limited guarantee and first-class customer service. If the product develops a fault within the first 28 days after purchase, it will be replaced as long as it has not been driven without a load which of course invalidates the warranty. Tubes are guaranteed for 90 days. We use JJ and Sovtek for small signal tubes. In some of our models (KI-120, KI-270), the drivers are of the NOS variety. Power tubes are Tungsol reissue, Full Music 300B, Western Electric 300B on special order, GE NOS and Genalex reissue. Tube rolling is encouraged but since our output stages run fixed bias, the bias must be reset before any tube rolling. Also beware 'near equivalent' tubes. They may not have the same pin configuration or the same electrical characteristics.

"In the KM-300SE, the KR300B balloon may be used just as the KR300B XLS or Emission Labs 320B XLS. Simply rebias the circuit. But because those tubes have a different tonal characteristics, we personally do not recommend them. Alas, certain customers may enjoy them. The Emission Labs 300B mesh operates on a lower plate voltage by the way.

"Our marketing approach is very simple. People need to listen before committing themselves. We give them that opportunity whenever possible. The most important thing is to have a network of distributors in key areas with full support of their marketing efforts. We have some specific plans to introduce our products at trade show, special events and tours. Later we will introduce our custom shop where customers can order their amplifier in any custom color to suit their interior. Our accessory shop will be dedicated to accessories and merchandising.

"As for my own background as marketing manager, you see, I am not overwhelmed by hifi gear, having lived (and still living) with the real thing all my life, with easy access to concerts worldwide. I cannot miss what I will never have - an orchestra or band in my living room 24/7. I am not literate when it comes to certain audiophile terminology but on the other hand, I perfectly understand harmonics, pitch, timbre, nuance, dynamics, attacks, crescendo, legato, piano and all that jazz. Music is far from lab test results (although predictable in some instances). It is subjective and after all, about emotions. So each product is treated as a performer. This is in fact part of its design core and how we market it. I work very closely with the design team. It can be very challenging at times but it is fun - a blend of art, technology and science."