The way I see it, Krell is going after two buyers with the S-300i: the customer who might otherwise choose one of the few stereo receivers on the market or the customer who already has a surround sound system and wants to upgrade its two-channel section. So I decided to shoot-out the S-300i against my current surround sound rig, a Denon AVR-2809ci receiver connected to an AudioControl Savoy 7-channel amplifier.
I did hear a difference between the Krell and the Denon/AudioControl system. What surprised me was how consistent the difference sounded as I roamed through my CD collection.
I began with my all-time-favorite all-purpose test track, "Train Song," from Holly Cole's Temptation. "Train Song" has it all: brutally deep bass, a soundstage that stretches far beyond the outside edges of the speakers, intricate percussion wandering back and forth, and Cole's clean, clear voice anchoring the anarchy. Through the Denon/AudioControl system, it sounded great. Through the S-300i, it sounded one or two notches better. Instruments such as cabasa and cymbal seemed to take on sonic outlines in front of me. When I closed my eyes, it was almost as if, like the comic-book hero Daredevil, I could sense their position and shape. I tremendously enjoyed this effect, although I'll be disappointed if my newfound power leads to Ben Affleck playing me in a movie.
Steely Dan's "Aja" (from the album of the same name) revealed exactly the same effect: Everything in the recording sounded subtly more vivid. I could hear a little more of the breath in Wayne Shorter's saxophone and Donald Fagen's voice, a little more definition in the bass, a little more clarity in the cymbals and the piano. I found only a few pieces of music where the difference between the S-300i and the Denon/AudioControl system wasn't apparent - mostly jazz cuts that didn't emphasize percussion or bass.
Like Krell's $1,500 KID iPod dock, the S-300i's iPod interface taps what the company says is a little-known balanced-
output capability of the iPod. In theory, this capability should lower noise and improve performance in other minor ways. I tried connecting my iPod Classic simultaneously through the S-300i's included interface cable and into one of its other inputs through an adapter cable with a 3.5-mm headphone plug on one end and two RCA plugs on the other. When I switched between the two inputs, I did hear a difference, but it was so subtle that I almost didn't bother trying to hone in on it. More focused listening revealed a slightly more detailed treble when I listened through the iPod interface. I detected a faint improvement in midrange clarity, too. These weren't huge differences, but better is always better.
No high-end integrated amp can match the functionality and bang for the buck of an A/V receiver since the whole M.O. of receivers is to cram everything you'll ever need into one box. But some people don't always base their decisions on such practical concerns. Whether they're buying a wine, a watch, or an audio component, they seek out the unusual and the unique, the exotic and the elegant. For those who desire such lofty goods but never imagined they'd be able to afford anything wearing the Krell brand, the S-300i will come as a surprise and a delight.
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