The first time I heard the name Krell was in the 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet that was a remake of Shakespeare’s The Tempest but set on a world far, far away. Glorious colour and Theremin-fuelled range of sound effects, groundbreaking at the time, leant an atmosphere of shimmering scientific achievement. The extinct Krell were so technologically advanced that they had driven themselves to extinction, leaving behind their accumulated knowledge in the shape of great glistening machines of unimaginable power.
Fast forward to the early ’80s and the name Krell makes a re-appearance on British shores as an American audio amplifier called the KSA-50, followed by the 100. It was affectionately referred to here as the first high-end solid-state amplifier, and it certainly had its advocates. It seems odd to reflect now that what we might call the British high-end, the Linn/Naim axis, was one of the only complete systems that made much sense. Love it or hate it (and some did both), it bought the system approach into stark focus. Though the worthy Krell had no ready-made supporting cast, it often found itself driving a pair of Apogees, perhaps coupled with an Audio Research preamplifier. But the important thing was that there was an American amp that wasn’t only good in a straight line. It went round corners too. Dan D’Agostino and Krell had arrived.
You can research what happened next, but eventually, like many companies, new investment was sought, lots happened, and by 2009 the entire D’Agostino family connection was broken. They were out, but Krell ploughed on. As per usual, there were all sorts of criticism alongside the new funding. The usual post-takeover stuff really and it has been no surprise to see that Krell has now dug deep and gone back to what it has always done best. The entry-level K-300i I have been listening to is a US-made integrated amplifier that embodies some of the original amplifier’s solid virtues, certainly in so far as it looks like a Krell anyway.
This solid-cased design, with its bow-fronted central section, is an integrated design that is easy to equip thoroughly for today’s audio environment. The K-300i can be a straightforward amp with separate source components like a CD player or a turntable (though it has no onboard phono stage) or supplied with a digital module that certainly enhances its scope considerably. This latter configuration is the K-300i’s defining character because it becomes a powerful digital hub. If you like your audio system as compact as possible and want to keep the component count down, then a K-300i plus access to one of the primary subscription streaming services makes the three-box system (one-box amp/streamer/DAC and a pair of speakers) an attractive proposition.
It’s a handsome thing (silver in this case) and heavy too at around 20 kg due, in no part, to its dinner-plate-sized 771 VA transformer. It runs using Krell’s i-Bias circuit topology that reduces heat and draws less power than their original Class A designs. It is also very well equipped as far as inputs go. Three RCA and two balanced XLRs are the analogue options and there is a preamp out too. Digital inputs, with the optional card fitted, include three HDMI sockets, two of which are for inputs plus a solitary out. There are a couple of USB connections as well. On the rear panel, you’ll find a USB-B, and on the front, you can utilise the USB-A, should you want playback from a memory stick. It also offers both S/PDIF coaxial and optical options and a single pair of splendid speaker outputs with spade lugs or 4mm connectivity.