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Product Review - Krell KAV-500 Five-Channel Power Amplifier - February, 1998

By Stacey Spears


Krell KAV-500 Amplifier Krell KAV-500 Multichannel Amplifier

100 Watts/Channel into 8 Ohms, 200 Watts into 4 Ohms

400 Watts/Channel bridged (2 channels)

Mfr FR 20 Hz - 20 kHz 0.5 dB

THD < 0.03%

Input Impedance 100 kOhms

Size: 6.25" H x 19" W x 17" D

Weight: 47 pounds

Price: $4,500 5 Channels ($3,000 2 Channel, $500 Per additional channel)


Krell Industries, 45 Connair Road, Orange, Connecticut 06477, Phone: 203-799-9954; Fax: 203-799-9796; Web

Just a few years ago when "home theater" was not much more than a term we saw in newspapers, it usually meant having either a cheesy receiver with low wattage and spring clip speaker connectors, or, three separate amplifiers in your system to get the best quality. Over those last few years, a plethora of multi-channel amps hit the street. In the beginning, the quality was only fair, so a lot of enthusiasts kept those extra amplifier chassis because the bottom line is quality over room decor (your spouse might disagree). I am happy to say that times have changed, and amplifier designs have improved. In fact, the Krell KAV-500 is the third such amp that I have had in my system that makes the grade.

If you are into high performance audio ("High-End"), then the name Krell is no stranger to you. The question on your mind is probably the same that was on mine: can Krell produce a multi-channel amplifier under $10,000? Before we get to that, let me tell you a little about it.

The KAV-500 has the same look as other Krell products, i.e., metal, and lots of it! The front panel is approximately 3/8" thick, and gray as the other Krells before it. There is a small power button on the bottom left side of the faceplate. One thing did catch me off guard, namely the amp's girth, or lack thereof. It is not very tall, and I am used to the large mass of the Sunfire and Parasound. The feet are also a little unusual as they kind of remind me of the feet on old furniture. The back of the amplifier has 5 sets of binding posts as well as single-ended RCA and XLR balanced inputs. There is also a 0/+6 dB switch on each channel to give you an extra boost where needed.

The saying, "Beauty is only skin deep" does not apply to audio equipment, since the inside is even more important than the outside, and the KAV-500 has awesome build quality. Krell has a rather unique upgrade path for this product. Unlike most multi-channel amps, the KAV-500 is modular. You can start off with a two-channel version ($3,000), which is the minimum. Then you can move up to five channels anytime by just plugging in an amplifier card. Each channel is an additional $500. But why buy it if you only want two channels? Well, I suppose if you must own a Krell but can't quite afford the full-blown package, this is a way to get your foot in the door.

The KAV-500 is rated at 100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms and 200 watts into 4 Ohms, with the option of bridging two channels for 400 watts. Instead of having a power supply for each channel, the Krell has one massive supply to provide juice for all of the channels. This way if any given channel needs momentary extra power, it can pull from the reserve. The only time this might cause trouble is with a slamming soundtrack that has all five speakers in the system pushing air. But the chances are very slim this will occur, unless you are watching a DTS disc, which MOST appear to be overdone (too much ooomph). To test this possibility, I threw several DTS LDs at the KAV-500, and it prevailed with flying colors.

One thing that bothered me about the amp was the heat. I could deep fat fry chicken on this thing. I have never had an amp that doubled as a space heater before. Perhaps it has something to do with the 1000 VA toroidal transformer and 104,000 μF of filter capacitance, with a Krell history of heavy bias into Class A. This amp has a power bandwidth high frequency 3 dB down point of 100 kHz, which compares to 240 kHz in Krell's big Class A power amplifiers (Krell's specs). This suggests a little less stability than the big brothers.

I used the amp to power five Mirage loudspeakers (OM-6 plus center channel) with material on LD, DVD, and CD. All processing was done with the Meridian 565 using single-ended connections only (the Meridian does not have XLR output jacks). I left the gain switch in the 0 position which allowed me to use minimal channel attenuation on the 565. With my other amps, I often have to cut the surround channels quite a bit, but with the dB switches on the KAV-500 I was able to get by with very little attenuation.

I started my listening session with music, which, I feel is the best way to judge the performance of an amplifier. Movies have the kaboom, but most of us do not have the opportunity (fortunately) to hear gun shots, explosions, and other special effects first hand, so it is difficult to compare the movie sounds to what we hear in real life. As usual, I started off with my Holly Cole albums (did I mention I am seeing her in concert on March 1st in Seattle? Oh well, she rocks!) In straight stereo, the sound was detailed and sweet. After switching to Trifield mode (the addition of a center channel and surrounds, a Meridian music surround mode), it was that much better. There seemed to be a little more detail than what the Sunfire Cinema Grand and Parasound HCA-1206 could deliver, although I did not find the separation to be as good as the Sunfire, and the bass was not as tight as the Parasound. A tradeoff, every amp has its strengths and weaknesses. But the added detail made up for its shortcomings in other areas.

After Holly, I tossed in the new "Best of Enya" CD, and here I did most of my listening in the Ambisonic mode. Ambisonic is another surround matrix mode designed for music, and if you have a CD with Ambisonic encoding and a processor that can decode it, you are in for a special treat. Again, the first thing that comes to mind is detail, so this seems to be where the Krell really shines. I played CDs from several other artists, such as Fiona Apple and Behan Johnson. The Krell is a very musical amplifier that just happens to be aimed at the home theater market.

For movie viewing I used a CL-97 LD player and the Sony 7000 DVD player. On the LD side, I listened to "Jurassic Park", "The Lost World", and "Casper", all in DTS. The DTS titles appear to have more sonic information than their DD counterparts, but if you turn off the dialog normalization on DD discs, the two formats become much closer in sheer sound pressure. All three of these DTS titles have sound coming from all five channels throughout the film, so they really give home theater systems a good workout. Not once did the Krell seem to stress or have any problems reproducing the soundtracks in my room (just ask my neighbors!) On DVD, I listened to "The Delos Surround Spectacular", which I feel is the best example of what a multi-channel music recording should be like! It sounded wonderful with the Krell. I also took a DVD ride on "Airforce One" and "George of the Jungle". Both of these discs have great soundtracks and really showed me what the Krell is capable of.

 The KAV-500 is a great sounding amplifier. But at $4,500 for the full five-channel version, it is not within everyone's budget. I am able to get just as much enjoyment from other amplifiers at half the cost, putting up with a slight loss in detail. But, if you are into things like Calvin Klein, BMW, Rolex, and all detailed nuances of recorded sound, the Krell will fit you nicely. All kidding aside, it is a top-notch amp that is able to reproduce music very accurately. You should head out to your local high-performance dealer and listen for yourself.

 Stacey L. Spears

© Copyright 1998 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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