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Sound: Listening to the Krell, I quickly came up with a system which could be built around it to satisfy everyone, even very picky music lovers and audiophiles. It would be composed of the Krell S-300i, a Cyrus CDt + PSX-R transport, a Benchmark DAC1, the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers and Oyaide cabling. Of course this is not the only possible combination. One could exchange the loudspeakers for more expensive ones; or the source. But in this proposed system, all assets were beautifully exposed and the flaws -- or better, weaker points -- masked. Like any other design, the American integrated is a combination of compromises and their effects, as a result of choices its designers made. After all, it is the most affordable amplifier of this manufacturer. As such it must submit to all conditions related to this status, the smaller budget being one of the most important. Perhaps talking about budget is wrong in the context of the Krell's price -- it is actually an expensive unit -- but in reality almost all devices fall under a cost constraint (perhaps only the most ultra-expensive ones are actually excluded).

Now to the point. In my opinion, the S-300i is the best basic integrated amp this manufacturer has ever produced. All the previous ones from the 400 series and earlier were not bad and even quite alright but this one finally puts all the sonic elements into one coherent whole without favoring any. Unexpectedly also for me, this resulted in an amplifier that is mostly concentrated on the midrange. No, I am not crazy. The Krell S-300i is voiced with a strong, fairly saturated midrange. Switching to it from the reference system, the voices of Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode's Sounds Of The Universe and Kate Bush from Aerial instantly moved to the front ahead of the instruments and their centers were weighted a little lower. They were not nasal -- as confirmed by the beautiful cuts on Carol Sloane's Hush-A-Bye -- but the lower midrange was prominent.

This was really a surprising turn. To date the integrated amplifiers from Krell have always been associated with a fairly thin sound that was directed at detail. Perhaps this was not completely fair. Maybe the flaws of other elements in the sonic
chain were blamed on the Krells at times. Regardless, that's how they were perceived. One could notice how this opinion harmed them when the company's more expensive components were given a listen. As mentioned, for me the listening session of the Evolution One monoblocks during the IFA 2007 in Berlin was a special experience, as well as a later home trial with the Evolution EVO 222+402. Their sound was very competent, full and without any holes or problems in the timbre. Anyway, the S-300i brings together many elements of the sound found in its more expensive stable mates and the remaining qualities just complete them.

The biggest asset of the new integrated -- better than anything I've heard for its money regardless of technology -- was the soundstage. In my system it is already of a very high level and swapping in the Krell did not change is as much as other machines I heard. Everything between the loudspeakers was filled with a 'fluid', with very well localized positions of the musicians, nice acoustics and good layers even at the back of the stage. But this wasn't all. Listening to Depeche Mode, then Kate Bush and finally the brilliant Lars Daniellsson album Mélange Bleu, I could not believe how well this device handled depth not just behind but also in front of the loudspeakers - and behind the listener. These albums include out-of-phase data and the sounds are located all around the listener. The Krell showed them all without exaggeration, perhaps without being the final statement in resolution but still in superior fashion to anything below 50000zl. This allowed for a listening comfort that is rare. There was no talk of a flat presentation or even a presentation within the boundaries of the loudspeakers. This was space that came from the recordings and implanted itself in the room.

Interestingly enough, this did not happen via treble emphasis, the usually easiest way to simulate a big stage (only to get tiring in the long run). The S-300i concentrated on the midrange to mean that the sound spectrum edges were a bit less audible. The treble was a bit withdrawn, slightly only but sufficient to reduce the noise on the Carol Sloane disc by rendering it less present than the reference system - or comparably priced amplifiers like the Belles IA-01 or even Luxman L-550A II. The sound was not closed in or warm. None of that was the case. Actually, the sound had little in common with the P40 and P70 tube amplifiers from Italian Unison Research which I tested in parallel for Audio. There it was very pleasing but occasionally a bit syrupy, toning down the liveliness and breath of the recordings. The Krell toned down the pace a bit not by killing the sound with inflated timbres but rather, by a slight rounding of the attacks.