Harvey 'The Giz' Rosenberg woulda dug the Antares sound unheard. Its heavily finned appearance creates instant kinship with lovers of nekkid motorcycle engines that do away with the plastiky wind-slip fairings to expose the innards for what they are - manly men's hardware bristlin' in steel, iron and chrome. Heaving the beast from the East out of its crate required more manly man's fortitude. Lifting with your thighs rather than back became mandatory lest one suffer lengthy MP3 fare on crappy headphones in the infirmary. Consign all notions of wimpy SETs to the orbituaries. The Antares VA320 is the Krell of tube land. B-b-b-b-bad to the bone.

The name Antares goes back to the Greek 'anti-ares' or 'Rival of Mars' which points at its fiery red color, plainly visible as the 15th brightest star in our skies, located in the Scorpius constellation and often mistaken for the dimmer Mars. In Tarot, Scorpio is associated with the 16th trump card, the Lightning-Struck Tower [hermetic/kabbalistic version to lower right]. With Egyptian, Persian and Indian astro deities, Antares as the scorpion's heart remains symbolic of eminence and activity in mankind. Babylonian references point at The King of Lightning, Dar Lugal. The Chinese call it Who Sing, the fire star.

With such virile symbolism of power, energy and blasted towers surrounding the distinct he-man aesthetics, astute observers will be excused for reacting adversely to notions of a bloodline that (like the proposed roots of the Merovingian dynasty back to Mary Magdalene and Jesus) is said to connect the heavily fortressed KR 842VHD with the classic Western Electric 300B. It seems akin to sanctifying one's burly streetfighter of a son as the New Age pride of the family. Already the 842's predecessor, the KR VV32B -- used to stunning effect in Art Audio's Diavolo and Jota amplifiers -- shocked unsuspecting listeners with far better dynamics and expanded frequency extremes than 300Bs were known for. Call it serious steel and control beneath the silken zero NFB surface. In fact, the VV32B was not a plug-in replacement for 300Bs at all. It rather required specialized circuits and output transformers to let the hand-built, high-current, high-torr triode strut its stuff.

To get the lowdown on the Very High Dynamics 842 -- that's what the VHD moniker signifies -- I sent a query to Eunice Kron who, together with engineer Marek Gencev, has assumed leadership of KR Audio since the lamented demise of her husband Riccardo Kron last year. The amplifier under review, nicknamed Baby Kronzilla, is the first fruit of labor from the new team around Riccardo's protégé Gencev.

What anyone laying eyes on the Antares would notice regardless of explanations? The complete absence of tube rectifiers, driver bottles or preamp glow bugs. As Dr. Kron explained in my interview, none of the existing small-signal tube types had met his criteria for dynamics and noise. When, in typical can-do fashion, he went about developing one himself, the inherent cost of hand labor and uncompromised quality didn't translate into a commercial success. Since KR Audio as KR Enterprise at the time was exclusively in the tube, not electronics manufacturing business, lack of brisk sales and interest in an unusually expensive 12AX7/6SN7 replacement put an end to said project.

Not one to cry over spilt milk, Riccardo's ascent to amplifier manufacture was always designed to demonstrate the true potential of his unique tubes (which very few electronics manufacturers had tapped yet, being more comfortable with sticking them into textbook circuits optimized for the traditional tube types) and thus entailed the development of a unique solid-state rectifier and preamp/driver stage. For all his amplifiers, this resulted in a unique reverse-hybrid architecture. It employs tubes only in the final output stage, transistors in all preceding gain blocks.

Another obvious and counter-romantic observation is not only the unique tube-cage-cum-heatsink hiding the two lone defenders of the thermoligion from view, but the triodes' complete refusal to emit visual glow even in abject darkness [see below]. These pix were all taken with the tubes on. Until I removed the cage, I couldn't see the narrow slit in the tube's anode structure to peek inside for the filament. Were it not for the considerable heat produced around this cage, or the tell-tale green LED adjacent to the stand-by button -- which, when pushed, lights up red while the circuit stabilizes for about a minute, then changes to green accompanied by a loud thump via the speakers -- you wouldn't know the amp was powered up at all. Would it surprise you then that this stark refusal of tube-typical romance translated directly into how this 20wpc, true dual-mono amplifier sans feedback sounded?

But first, a run-down of physical dimensions and features. The Antares on its three captive chromed cones terminating in their own attached plates measures a massive 20" deep by 15" wide. It reaches 9.25" in height with the octagonal power transformer casing and twin seven-sided potted output transformer blocks, but actually grows to just shy of 10" with its frontal tube cage assembly. The latter's top must be removed upon receipt to pull the protective silicon rings which are securely jammed between the triodes and the surrounding metal.

The sides of the stainless steel chassis sport finned heatsinks while the business end, from left to right, features the rocker mains switch; the power inlet; a removable cover for the anode fuses; the dumb-ass Euro-safe shrouded speaker terminals whose lateral slots once again refused to accept any spade attached to any of my cables; a removable cover to access a bank of set screws that determine which of the 4-, 6- or 8-ohm transformer secondaries are selected; and one pair of high-quality RCA-type inputs.
See my frustration? Without the terrific WBT expandable bananas on my trusted Analysis Plus Oval 9 shot-gun biwires, I'd been up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Why must US consumers be penalized by stupid Euro regs?

You know, the current exchange rate of Euro vs Dollar is punishment enough. Taos to Prague: Please, consider replacing the binding posts for the US/Canadian markets with non-shrouded Cardas, WBT or Vampire posts that allow the use of even double-stacked spades! It won't cost you more to implement but would significantly enhance the 'audiophile-friendly' appeal.

With my spleen properly vented for disqualifying my favored HMS speaker cables, I could detect no further functional demerits during my time with mighty Antares - safe for the already noted turn-on thump mild enough to allay worries over speaker damage. I wrote it off as 'hey, real men burp'. Without a separate ground wire as my friends Marja & Henk in Holland required during their preview, my VA320 sample was as quiet as Al Capone in his unmarked concrete grave under one of Chicago's high rises. It did, however, run from warm to rather toasty on the enclosure depending on where I tested it. Still, 'twas nothing as ferocious as a bunch of 24 OTL bottles steaming off hotter than a Swedish sauna.

If real men burped, real reviewers were nosy as hell. Despite strategic wax seals on two of its screws, your scribe popped the bottom cover to spy while looking for spooks over his shoulder. I didn't spot any StB agents of the KGB's Czech bureau. Phew! Internal construction mirrored the outer - tidy, no-nonsense.
In short, nothing to suggest that the vaunted QC of KR Audio's tubes didn't extend with the same fervor to their electronics manufacture. While Antares' 83.7 lbs could double as boat anchor to the cynics, a 1V input sensitivity, input impedance of 100kOhms and 180VA of max power consumption all indicated a thoroughly modern amplifier. For further details, I'd have to hand the mic to KR Audio - but not before shocking you with the good price-of-admission news:

By selecting Aydn.Com as their exclusive US distributor -- who subsequently and fortuitously decided to forgo the time-consuming, pay-ya-later process of establishing a dealer network and handle all sales, tube testing/matching and service issues in-house and consumer-direct -- KR Audio can sell their new Antares VA320 for a paltry$4,800 rather than the $9-10K it otherwise would clock in at.

Now, anyone calling $5K paltry is a shmuck. Still, considering what you get? Call it a fancy bit of fully justified writerly license. You'd excuse and forgive it as apt and fitting the moment your back made acquaintances with this beast, never mind your ears. Before we finally do that -- the nasty ear fetish indulgence -- here's what else I learned from Eunice about Antares, Scorpion King of single-ended triode amplifiers:

The 842's VV32B predecessor was a carryover from the days when Dr. Kron and Alesa Vaic collaborated under the Vaic Valve brand. When the company became Vaic Valve Productions with the influx of Swiss venture capital, the tube was renamed KR 32B and continued being built under said code even under the new management of KR Enterprise. This tube was lower in power than Dr. Kron's engineering requirements. Once he realized the terminal status of his medical condition which prompted his buy-out of all investors to form the current sole-ownership KR Audio Electronics, he revisited the 32B, beefed up its anode to increase peak current capability with 65 watts of plate dissipation and up to 22 watts of output power and changed the designation to KR 842VHD.

Built on the same chassis as Kronzilla with its mighty 1610 triodes, the VR320 Baby Kronzilla ups the older -- and still in the line -- VR300's output rating from 12 to 20 watts. This brings it within 2-watt spitting distance of both stereo Kronzilla and the 842-equipped VT 850 monos. Only the paralleled 1610 Kronzilla monos with their 42 watts spill more go juice. An astute observer perusing the current KR Audio catalogue would notice that though the company manufactures a number of celebrated tubes, the only valves employed in its own amps are either today's 842VHD or the humongous 1610 - no 300BXLS, PX-25 or 845 for KR Audio electronics. Add to that the presence of the VT20, VT250 and Kronzilla HD solid-state amplifiers; the already noted absence of small-signal tubes in the valve-output circuits - and you'd suspect even before listening that the KR Audio aural aesthetic has little in common with traditional thermionic notions. Rather, what seems on the agenda is the cloning of tube and solid-state virtues to blur the lines of recognizable output devices.

Incidentally, that's exactly what listening to Baby Kronzilla confirmed from the very first tune after Sean at Aydn had pre-burned the unit for one solid month. Losing the left channel a few days into the proceedings caused me to dismantle the tube cage only to spot the [above right] ribbon filament completely hidden inside the anode structure glowing brightly in both tubes. I also noted that the dead channel's tube was significantly cooler than the other. Swapping tubes didn't resurrect the dead channel but confirmed that the left valve was working flawlessly in the right channel. Though I was supposed to figure this out on my own, it did take Eunice to suggest checking the anode fuses. Lo and behold, replacing the left channel's with one of the enclosed slow-blows solved the inconvenience and made me appreciate their easy access via the rear panel's bay.