The Czech Kron-iclesCzech-mate! In the Republic, ve verk hard. Ve build good, strong and heavy amplifier. Now ve get SUJESH PAVITHRAN to carry it home and try it out. He likes, ve hope ...
THERE are diamonds waiting to be unearthed in former Soviet-bloc European nations, it appears, and we discovered one such gem during AV Fest 98 -- the Czech Republic's KR Enterprise, headed by valve guru Dr Riccardo Kron.
Among the professor's innovations is the "vacuum transistor," the use of which on an amplifier provides the best of both the tube and solid-state worlds, sans the transistors.
Some of you may have noticed a couple of Dr Kron's amplifiers in the Octave Electronics display room -- ungainly, industrial monsters that look like nothing else the world of amplifiers has offered us thus far. A couple of these, the KR range, were left behind with Octave when the Krons -- yes, he was here with his wife, who plays an active role in the business -- left after the Fest.
Of these, I managed to procure the integrated Model 18 BSI amplifier, which comes packed in a wooden crate. I hear Anthony had the monoblocks in his attic for a few days, before the suspended floor gave way, but that's another story. Incidentally, various KR amps have been around for the past three years, but the world's high-end brigade has yet to discover them. The Model 18 is quite possibly the very first Kron amp that is being reviewed, anywhere in the world.
I won't get into detail here, but the vacuum transistor is essentially a valve producing both high voltage and high current, the latter usually a forte of solid-state circuitry. Because of the design demands, the glass tubes get extremely hot, and thus, have to be encased in a special cooling gel, which is enclosed in the metal sheath covering the tube.
The phrase "hybrid" came to mind initially, but Octave's Michael Loke was quick to point out that the Model 18 was a pure valve job, designed to produce levels of current drive not usually associated with amps of this genre. The Model 18 delivers 25 watts of power per channel, but this figure only hints at its considerable load-driving capabilities.
The circuitry is contained in a sort of a rectangular, metal "flat-bed" on which are sited, on the fascia, controls for volume and input (this is a line-level amp), and on the rear, power switch, four pairs of unmarked outputs, a pair of preamp outputs (when connected, this disables signal to the power section of the amp), and two sets of speaker terminals, for differing loads. Is it too much to suggest here that the good professor label all the signal input/output points?
Atop this grey metal box is housed the gargantuan power supply, and various valves driving the preamp and power amp sections of the Model 18 -- all these are encased in black, matte-finished metal, save the preamp tubes, which are enclosed in shiny grilles. It's a totally intimidating sight, and one I suggest you don't impose on the rest of the household!
There was no lack of speakers clamouring for a test drive with the Model 18 -- I put the likes of the Monitor Audio Studio 15, Sonus faber Concerto, TDL Studio 1m, and a new arrival, the Xavian in tow with this amp, via Straightwire Black Silk cables.
Digital source was Audiolab 8000CDM/8000DAX (replaced in the final stages of the review by the Theta DSPro Prime, a rather excellent D/A converter that will be keeping me company for a while; thank you, Vincent), linked via Ensemble Digiflux, and to the amp via Straightwire Virtuoso wires.
My trusty analogue source remained the Michell Gyro Dec/Morch DP-6/van den Hul MM1 set-up, routed first to Audio Note MI phono preamp, before being input into the Model 18.
I must admit to being pleasantly surprised even during the early sessions. It's hard to fault the driving capacities of this amp -- the Monitor Audio and TDL aren't the easiest of loads to drive, but the Model 18, through extended sessions with a variety of material, revealed no chinks in this department. Pushing up the volume knob doesn't necessarily result in immediate decibel leaps; instead, there's a subtle contouring of the increased levels, the extra juice delivered when called upon during more demanding passages. And because the amp has a tendency to pace itself languidly, there's no danger that the speakers will "shout."
The 86dB-TDL placed no noticeable strain on the Model 18, which appeared to revel when called upon to produce high currents. But it was the Xavian that best matched the amp -- not surprising, since KR Enterprise also distributes this Czech product.
Projection is a tad upfront, although not exactly immediate or imposing, with vocals smoothly etched into the musical backdrop, allowing the listener to sense an appreciable degree of realism in the presentation. Midrange and treble are just on the right side of dry, livened with the merest dash of sparkle -- this amp, one figures, will complement the archetypal Danish transducers that crop up in a number of European speakers. The additive "colouration" -- like it or not -- usually associated with valve amps doesn't intrude on the listener here.
On the other hand, although the Model 18 possesses more low frequency grunt than many tube amps I've reviewed, there's some loss of finer detail and ultimate control in the nether spectrum regions. This isn't to say bass is unsatisfactory -- the amp appears capable of going down to a certain frequency without loss of articulation or weight, but below this, it all melds into just an idea of what high-current transistor-based types from the likes of Krell can do. Positively, the familiar "solid-state" hardness of the low notes is absent on the Model 18, the bass appearing full-bodied to the extent of its articulation.
But I was only all too willing to forgive the Model 18's shortcomings in this area, for what I was becoming increasingly addicted to in others -- the cohesive tonal balance, that gleam of sparkle, the space around the mid and higher frequencies and the airy headroom. It's neither too merciless or too forgiving; hence, you'll find yourself enjoying half-decent recordings without minor sonic aberrations imposing themselves on you.
Viva la difference! This is an amp I could live with for a long, long time, driving a wide range of speakers (unfortunately, though, as you read this, the Model 18 has been returned to owner). It has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of purist hi-fi, even as it acknowledges the very nature of the music itself.
The Model 18, ultimately, is less about the technical nature of the recording than it is about the inherent emotiveness of the performer; this is a trait that comes naturally to the amp, and one which it communicates effortlessly to the listener. Make no mistake about this -- little about the Model 18 is contrived.
Now, it only remains for us to sell Hardy into slavery, for the price of the amp ... any takers?
Model: KR Model 18 BSI integrated amplifier
For: The brief was to combine the best of two worlds without departing from a basic design philosophy, and for most of the time, this amp succeeds in its mission; musical, communicative and effortless ease when driving vicious loads.
Against: Bass chinks will show up under unyielding scrutiny; can't get that much for Hardy ....
AudioFile © 1998, Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad (No. 10894-D).