What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Mon, 6 Apr 2009, 11:00am

Krell S-300i

Tested at £2400
60100
3

Krell’s latest integrated isn’t its most impressive, but it does enough, just, to gain recommendation

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For

  • Massively powerful seemingly beyond the claimed figures
  • impressive bass control and punch
  • expansive and focussed imaging

Against

  • Not the most natural sounding of performers
  • needs to be matched with care

It's very easy to be impressed by a product like the S-300i. It starts off with having the Krell name. Krell is arguably the king of high-end solid state amplification and has been there for a number of decades.

Few of this integrated's rivals have that kind of pedigree or historical performance.

Next comes weight and solidity of build. The S-300i feels as solid as a brick and weighs as much as a pallet load of the things – OK, it weighs 20kg, which is mighty hefty for an amplifier of this price.

It's human nature to equate quality with weight and most people will be impressed. Lastly, it really is a powerhouse. Take a look at the specs and you'll notice it outputs 150 watts into an 8 ohm speaker load.

That's a decent output for a product of this type, but nothing particularly special. The special bit comes into play when you see that power output doubles to 300 watts per channel as the load impedance drops.

Technically, that is ideal amplifier behaviour and strongly suggests a highly specified power supply and a very robust output stage.

Rare control over speakers
In use it means this amp will drive just about any price-compatible speaker properly. This type of control over speakers is rare at any price, let alone at what is considered the starting point of high-end amplification.

So the S-300i has scored a boatload of points before it's even connected to a system. Let it warm up for the best part of a week from new, and two qualities take pride of place.

First of all, that power figure seems too modest. This chunky integrated has enough grunt to rival our 300 watt per channel reference power amplifier, and it is terrifically composed with it.

No rival we've heard can deliver demanding bass-dominated tunes such as Kanye West's Love Lock Down with such grip and control at floor-shaking volumes.

No hardening at high volumes
Pleasingly, the amplifier doesn't harden up or get aggressive when pushed really hard, so party levels are well and truly on the menu.

That's not usually the case at this price level, where many of the Krell's closest rivals sacrifice sound pressure levels for some other sonic quality.

It's worth  noting that when pushed hard the Krell does get rather warm, so make sure it's well ventilated. You'll need a large shelf, too, as the amplifier is far deeper than the norm.  

We think the stereo imaging will please, too. The S-300i creates a massive sound stage and populates it with well-focused instruments and vocals.

It's stable and doesn't collapse when huge dynamic swings come into play.

If you're a fan of large-scale, bombastic classical music such as Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring or Holst's Mars we think there's much to like here. You can add top-class speed and good clarity to the list of plus points, too.

So far so good, and you should be in no doubt that the S-300i is a capable amplifier well worthy of consideration.

Presentation lacks body and warmth
However, we're not totally convinced. The presentation from the midrange upwards lacks body, projection and natural warmth.

This means Jill Scott's lush vocals on Golden don't communicate as they should, with too much of her passion being traded for a mechanical feel.

High frequencies are a little thin and brittle too, emphasising the sibilance in recordings. These shortcomings have more impact on intimate vocal-based material than they do large classical or hard-charging rock.

More so than most rivals, your musical taste will decide whether this Krell appeals or not.
Features are an odd mix of the impressive (iPod connection and control via a supplied lead), the expected (a preamp output and remote) and the odd (there's no tape loop).

While the solid build pleases, the quality of finish isn't particularly good for the price: the volume control feels cheap and the casing paint lacks class.

That said, at least the remote is a chunky all-metal affair that feels like quality and has basic iPod control keys.

Not consistent enough to recommend
We thought long and hard about the S-300i's star rating: the amplifier's odd mix of the brilliant and disappointing makes it hard to classify.

We've decided to give it three stars, because we think an amp at this elevated price has to be a better musical all-rounder to gain a recommendation, particularly when its rivals include Plinius'  excellent 9200 and Moon's highly capable i3.3.

Krell has made some great integrated amps – this isn't one of them.

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