Solid-state transistors require high current and low voltage to create power. Hollow-state vacuum tubes need high voltage and low current to deliver power. Kron was almost obsessed by the fact that all-tube amplifiers provided great musicality and ease of listening but always lacked rhythm and pace - in other words, dynamics. Ricardo Kron made it his life's work to design amplifier circuits that would deliver the requisite dynamics to fully bring recorded music to life.

By now, the VA340 was ready for insertion into the rest of the system and had recovered from traveling. We made sure to set the output impedance for 8 ohms first. From previous KR Audio reviews, we knew how these amplifiers do not like power regulators or line filters. As a Class A design, the amplifier should not be restricted in getting enough juice from the wall outlet. Compared to the Antares VA320, the IEC power inlet had a firm grip on our power cord. The Crystal Cable loudspeaker wires we use come with WBT spades on the amplifier end and fit tightly into the VA340's WBT terminals – and we know that not everybody likes these (EU safety standard) terminals. Next, we connected the analogue interconnect from our Audio Note DAC to one of the input RCA pairs.

This was followed by firing up the Avantgarde Duo's powered subwoofers, switch on the CD player, set the TacT RCS to bypass mode and the analogue input of the DAC before the KR integrated was powered up, first its main switch, then the standby switch. Would it be necessary to hold our breaths?

You see, other KR designs in the past have caused quite loud turn-on transients in the connected subwoofers as the relays switch on the cathode power. This time, we could breathe normally. Just a very minor sound escaped the subs at the instant that the KR's power LED switched from red to green. And again contrary to previous designs, the VA340 did not require grounding the amplifier to the DAC's chassis. However, there is a special grounding post on the amp's bottom just in case. Even when turning up the volume, the amp proved to be as quiet as a mouse even over our 103dB efficient hornspeakers. No hissing, no humming, no noise at all. Marek has done a great job to further improve the original Antares design.

While the amp was warming up further and made all sorts of little mechanical tube noises, we created a selection of what music to play. One of the problems of owning a substantial collection of musical software is having to choose. Instead of a musical theme or style, we decided to pick a letter from the alphabet instead - 'S'. But first, a little experiment. When played through better equipment, certain music prompts a particular physical effect that's got nothing to do with a mental state, higher thoughts or audiophilia. It's simply that you grow goose bumps every time you play that same track. Dulce Ponte's "Canto do Mar" in the live version, Miles Davis on two or three bootlegs and Renaud Garcia Fons on the title track of Navigatore and "Mer Blanche' from Fuera are just a few examples.

As RGF's Fuera CD happened to sit next to the CD player, the temptation to play this "Mer Blanche" was simply too great despite the absence of any 'S' in the title. The thundering double bass with the overtones of Jean-Louis Matinier's accordion melting into something best described as the sound of a Sikorsky sky crane helicopter was absolutely fabulous. This track lasts for only 1:24 minutes but proved what the combination of Ricardo Kron's original ideas and the new insights of Marek Gencev can do to a SET 300B amplifier. Where other 300B designs and even those with the 300B-on-steroids like the 300BXSL fall short, this hybrid rules - tight-fisted control over the lowest regions, sufficient power to rock the room when needed. In the mids, the typical 300B sweetness and detail during truly complex passages remained natural and unaffected and thus not compromised by the low-end mastery. The high notes
were produced with ease and in full control, once again proof that high-sensitivity loudspeakers like the Duos absolutely need more power than just a few measly watts to fully bloom. The effect of this ultra-dynamic and fully controlled reproduction was that the median listening level became higher than with other amplifiers we've listened to in a long time. From the listening position, the simple remote volume and input control made things easy and the motorized attenuator followed any commands promptly.

Getting back to our original plan to audition the VA340 with music from the S-department, we picked just a few random CDs and the first one up was Jamshied Sharifi's 1997 A Prayer for the Soul of Layla from Alula Records [Alu-1005]. Synthesizers combined with Eastern and African drums, flutes, voices and bass create dynamic sounds where eerie voices fly over a mixture of raga and lounge without getting cheesy. With the curtains drawn and lightning set to match the relaxed feeling of the music, the VA340 and associated components disappeared as though we were traveling through another dimension guided by the music and the music alone. The great bass response was keeping us grounded just enough not to fly away.

The somewhat obscure CD by Filip Barrett and Danyel Waro's Sea of Rhythms ensemble, Le Bain d'Or, combines Indian nadaswaram flutes, electric bass, tavil, tabla and mridangam drums with vocals and violin for another example of highly dynamic, melodic music [Melodie Records 79573-2]. Again, it was only the music which was present in the room and one needed just a little imagination to sit in the half circle of musicians playing there right in front of us on the floor.

Steve Shehan was next with his Indigo Dreams [K-Vox Records, KV200]}. If there's one musician who deserves the title 'World Musician', it is Shehan. He's not just a phenomenal multi-multi instrumentalist but brings together the most imaginary of musical styles. The opening track "Spiritus Cantus" combines opera, psychedelica, todo and whatnot into one very interesting soup thickened by location recording sounds of Ethiopian singers, Vietnamese cythars, Balinese monkey cries, a seaplane in Canada or Senegalese crickets. The VA340 projected all these very different and discrete sounds into the room uncolored yet pinpointed. With this kind of music, a fast amplifier makes the music/sounds come alive. The black background becomes an even deeper black from whence the colors of sound emanate. Yet the music doesn't grow from this background but instead bursts forth instantaneously, like a quantum beam perhaps.

Soft Machine's Third from 1970 [CBS CKG 30339] always has had something special about it when the dark undertones of Mike Ratledge's organ sustained on one note with the foot pedal combine with Hugh Hopper's bass and Elton Dean's sax. In those days, it was not always easy to keep people in the room while playing 'the machine'. After many years of not playing Third, it now still has its magic. The VA340 does not add or subtract any of it. The amp just puts the music into the room completely oblivious and indifferent to what kind of music it is.
Next was a small jazz quartet recorded live - John Scofield, Joe Levano, Bill Stewart and Marc Johnson on Jazz Door 1249. This might be a bootleg straight from the mixing console but it sounds great, capturing the electric atmosphere of a small venue filled with
an audience completely in awe. Where many studio recordings miss that special electric spark between the musicians and their audience, here it was obvious how fundamentally they were connected in all their glory of detail, rhythm and pace.

We could go on and on but we'll conclude with just one more special album we simply have to mention: Stonehenge 4 by Hatfield's End. This music has a strong likeness to Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd and Camel. Nothing on the inlay liner notes gives away who the musicians are; Terrapin Music does the production. Is that a clue towards the Floyd's Syd Barrett? Who knows. The music is strangely familiar yet completely new. Think of druids, Tolkien and Stonehenge of course. The CD is a true concept album with an overture, a middle section with one of the lowest bass parts we have ever heard and a great finale. Try to find this disc; the only number on it is 900.0375.020.

Whatever kind of music you play on the VA340, the amplifier keeps up with it. It's always ferociously dynamic, never out of breath and musical through and through without ever defaulting into any outdated tube notions. It's essentially neutral but capable of extracting every nuance of color that's hiding in your software. This is one of the very few amplifiers that we fell in love with from the very first note. Then it simply failed to ever let go of us. What do you call that?

In Europe the KR Audio Electronics VA340 sets you back 5,700 euro including the ridiculous 19% sales tax. For a more detailed run-down of the VA340's sonic attributes, please refer to our earlier VA320 Antares preview which is the VA340 minus its solid-state linestage, as well as Srajan's parallel feature review.
Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website