Krell Vanguard Integrated Amplifier Review


The Krell Vanguard Integrated Amplifier is what I would call its new generation of amplifiers for the 21st century as it has been a while since Krell has brought into production a lower priced Integrated amplifier for the masses such as this one, the last being my own amplifier the KAV-400Xi which in essence was probably the last design from Dan D'Agostino's time at Krell before he left the company, so for me this is really a first look at what Krell can really do with its products without its co-founder at the helm.

I love the look of the new design of the Krell Vanguard and the way the front is machined out of solid Aluminum with the Krell logo embossed on the front so it stands out nicely and gives off a cool blue glow when turned on, it is just a very nice touch to the design and it is taken from its Foundation processor which Krell has already established as a very good product in its own right.

Their are two versions of the Vanguard Integrated Amplifier, one is an Analogue version and the other is the Digital version which I have for review, the standard analogue version is priced at £4,500, and you can later if you want to have it upgraded to the digital version, which adds another £1,350 to the cost of the amplifier.

Features and Build Quality  

This time round Krell have been very generous with the feature listing on this Integrated version and as usual the build quality is exceptional for a product of this type and from a manufacturer who has a long history for building high quality products.

The Vanguard has a massive 750VA toroidal transformer and 80,000 microfarads of storage capacitance, this gives the amp an enormous amount of power on tap and it kicks out 200 watts into 8ohms and doubles to 400 watts into 4ohms. This is the same as it was on KAV-400Xi but with the Vanguard it has more capacitance as the older Krell only had 55,000 microfarads of storage, this therefore gives the Vanguard more current storage available and more current when needed.

With the digital board fitted it really does up the spec and makes the standard analogue version into a real powerhouse as it can become your center hub for all of your music and digital needs. It has an ethernet connection at the back of the unit and also excepts Bluetooth which works exceptionally well, but more on that later.

It also features two HDMI sockets IN and an HDMI OUT so you can use it with a 4K screen as it will allow 4K to bypass through the amp such is the wide bandwidth of its video circuitry. This is great if you want to play PCM music from your Bluray discs in 2 channel format and watch it on your 4K Ultra HD TV. It is also features SDPIF connections, one optical and one coaxial, and then with a USB on the front of the unit if you wanted to connect a USB stick with music on, which it will also play.

The Krell guide suggests to download the App mConnectwhich is a free software to use on your iPhone or iPad which can then set you up to use the Vanguard to stream all your digital music which you may keep on HDD. I have a lot of my music on HDD and hooked the Ethernet port up and connected straight away and downloaded the App. It could not of been simpler, and then looked for my NAS drive and all my music, you can then play all your music through the Vanguard Amplifier. 

This time round Krell have thought about the heat dissipation that really made the older KAV-400Xi like a radiator and put in two small fans at the rear of the unit to suck out the heat. They are very quiet when in operation and you cannot hear them when on, and it keeps the amp a lot cooler than the older 400Xi, which is a good thing.

The preamplifier section of the Krell is a fully discrete Class A which is taken from Krell's top of the line Illusion preamplifiers. Krell's Current mode technology is also used to assure unequaled signal bandwidth.

Sound and Performance 

It was immediately obvious to me when I first turned on this amp that it was different to the older KAV-400Xi and that it had a tighter grip on the speakers and seemed to have more raw power available even though the specs on paper give them the same ratings. This amp is a completely new design and with new technology available to Krell they have made good use of it and this amp goes loud, very loud in fact but that is just part of the story.

The Vanguard handles all types of inputs and not just analogue, so for testing I would use more or less all of its ability to get a good idea of how it performs overall. This is an amplifier which is made for the digital age not just for analogue purists but it can be used just for that if so wished as it has all the necessary qualifications to do so.

To start with I will use its analogue inputs and use my Chord DAC just as I did with the KAV-400Xi so that I could see how it performs on equal ground. I am using the same speakers as before and that is the brilliant Wilson Audio Sabrina's which are resident for the time being for reference purposes.

First off I start with the superb recording in DSD128 of MAGNIFICAT by L2 Label. This is just a stunning piece of music and so well recorded that you really need to listen on a good system to get an idea of the superb clarity and passion that went into making this recording.

The Vanguard handles this album with superb clarity and takes hold of the speakers with a firm grip but also gives the music the passion that was intended in the recording of this beautiful album, the sound stage is wide and deep and the orchestral music is perfectly timed with the choir whose notes reach and extend well beyond what is normally called upon, but they never once sound too much even at loud levels as the amp has complete control over speakers. This also goes for the church organ which extends to the lower regions of bass where you really feel it. The bass has levels of amazing control from the amp as it shifts with the music which is incredible. Track 5: " Fecit Potentiam " is a stunning track and probably my favorite from the album as the dynamics and transients that it creates are superb and the amp displays complete control over the speakers and likewise the speakers perform tremendously with a level of performance that I could only simply imagine myself being seated in The Royal Opera House with a live performance, such is the quality of sound on offer. 

Next up is a track by the Propellerheads and David Arnold On Her Majesty's Secret Service this is a very dynamic and explosive piece of music from the James Bond Theme tune, but with some serious mixing done to it. The Krell storms through this one and takes hold of the speakers with an iron fist, the bass is so fast and dynamic, energizing the room with some serious SPL that it does not seem to even feel that it is breaking a sweat, it just gets louder and louder with the room and your ears giving out rather than the amplifier or speakers, just an incredible experience.

Next up I move on to the amplifiers digital side and streaming function via the Ethernet connection, this is where the mConnect App comes into play from your iPad or iPhone, it is a simple App to use and very straight forward once your library of music has loaded up. I flick through my library on the App on my iPhone and bring up Stuart McCallum's new album City and spin the first track which is called City and I am presented with a sound that is rich and musical and immediately get drawn in by the way the amp commands the speakers, it is in high resolution 24bit 48Khz and on the display it shows the bit rate for you. I am surprised at how good the sound is and the fact that it really gets your foot tapping to the music, this is a very musical sounding amplifier with the digital board added and really do not see the need for an additional DAC as the DAC's inside the Krell must be of good standard, I am not sure what they are using, if they are custom bespoke DAC's or they are off the shelf type, but they are very good indeed. I then stream some of Sara K Made in The Shade 24bit 96Khz album and again the amp presents a finely detailed and musical sound stage which offer rich bass and good separation of instruments through the speakers making the rendition of her vocals a joy to listen to.


Lastly I thought I would try the Bluetooth connection to the Krell, now in the past I have never been really bowled over by the performance of some amps with the quality of the music when using Bluetooth. So I was not expecting it to be anywhere near as good as what I had been hearing from the rest of the review as the amp has performed flawlessly. So I go into the settings on my iPhone and select the Vanguard to connect on Bluetooth and switch the amp to the Bluetooth setting and we are connected, then I go into my itunes library and select some music, this time I select the brilliant Steve Smith: The Best of and track 7 The Spirit of DunDun now this is in mp3 quality so compressed so I need to turn up the volume on the amplifier but the I am amazed at the quality. I am presented with all the detail and hard drum beats that Steve Smith is so good at. The quality of the Bluetooth transfer is probably the best I have heard of any amplifier and for quick and easy access to music this is a brilliant option, even though it is not the best quality that you can get out of the amplifier, it is still excellent and a very good feature to have on the Vanguard.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts 

The Krell Vanguard Integrated Amplifier is an absolute winner in all areas and easily one of the most musical sounding amplifiers I have had the pleasure of listening to. In two versions you get to choose which one you would prefer but I would highly recommend going for the Digital Vanguard as it just offers everything you could possibly want from an amplifier and it does it very well to, it can become the centerhub for an excellent HiFi and multimedia system, and with NAS storage of music being popular now with music downloads you would soon build up a nice collection of music.

I love the Krell power that is on offer from the Vanguard as it just seems effortless in every way and drives the Wilson Audio Sabrina's to insane levels without breaking a sweat, the guys at Krell have certainly done a great job with this Amp, highly recommended.

No comments