Krell Evolution 3250e Three Channel Amplifier Reviewed
For years Krellhas been the poster child of excess within the audiophile community and their products, while good, were true symbols of the times. Krell amplifiers have always been large, hugely inefficient powerhouses; often priced more in line with mid-sized sedans than audio amplifiers. While Krell still makes large, powerful amplifiers and bright shiny audio components to accompany them, there’s something different about them lately, something more mature.
It began (at least for me) with the introduction of their fabulous Evolution 402e stereo amplifier.
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At $18,500 retail, the 402e was hardly cheap by real world standards but for Krell it was a bargain, for the same amp five or ten years prior would’ve cost double or more. More interesting was the 402E’s consumption, which unlike thirsty Krell amps of old managed to sip a mere two Watts in standby, where past Krell amplifiers would’ve simply sauntered up to the bar and drank until the bartender (your power company) cut ’em off. Top it all off, the 402e was more manageable in size and could even be rack mounted if you were so inclined. It was a combination of all these factors combined with its brilliant sonic performance that lead me to call it “hands down the best amplifier I’ve ever heard and a new benchmark.”
That was 2010.
2011 finds Krell continuing on its journey to not only be more relevant but better in every way. Case in point, the all-new Evolution 3250e three channel amplifier reviewed here. Featuring trickle down technology from the 402e, the 3250e is a three channel design sporting 250-Watts of power into eight Ohms across all three of its channels for a surprisingly un-Krell-like $10,000 retail. Now, before you run off and blow up my publisher’s email demanding my resignation over suggesting that $10,000 for an amp is in any way affordable consider this: the “other” three channel amp that Krell currently makes is the 403e and it retails for $25,000. Now, Krell will argue that the 403e is a superior design and it is; however I argue that the 3250e is all the amplifier one would honestly ever need and then some. Not to mention, the 3250e goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Mark Levinson’s No 533 and Classe’s new Delta Series, two brands that don’t quite incur the same wrath from critics, yet both the Mark Levinson and Classe cost about the same and offer up similar power figures. In the past Krell would’ve scoffed at the very notion of their being a comparable product out there but today, it seems, they’re not only aware of the competition but also ready to take the fight straight to them.
The 3250e is an all new design for Krell, featuring a massive 2,500 VA power transformer with capacitance rated at 163,000 uF, all working to churn out an impressive 250 Watts into eight Ohms, 500 Watts into four Ohms and a staggering 1,000 Watts into two Ohms. Beyond the power figures, Krell’s managed to keep the 3250e’s consumption under control as well, with standby power at a mere two Watts (hence the e in the model number), which is a 99-percent reduction in the amplifier’s electrical consumption. Less consumption equals less heat, which means that the 3250e is rack friendly and runs relatively cool to the touch even after hours of use – try saying that about Krell amps of yore.
From the outside the 3250e may look like your run of the mill silver amplifier. In fact, Krell purposely designed the 3250e and its two-channel sibling, the 2250e, to be a bit Spartan in the looks department in order to save money. Measuring a little over 17 wide by seven and three quarter inches tall and 18-inches deep, the 3250e is hardly a beefcake in terms of size compared to past Krell amplifiers. Even its weight of 80 pounds is manageable. Like with the rest of the Evolution line, there are no visible heat sinks present on the 3250e for they are internal. Another interesting design feature about the chassis is the fact that Krell has built additional clearance needs into the casework itself. All amplifiers need space to breathe in order to perform at their peak and most accomplish this by asking consumers not to stack components atop or place them in confined spaces. Do we always oblige? Not exactly, which is precisely why the 3250e has additional room to breathe inside, though Krell still asks that you don’t stack anything on top of the 3250e itself.
In terms of connection options the 3250e features both balanced and unbalanced inputs selectable via a small toggle switch. There are no Krell CAST inputs on the 3250e – another cost saving measure. The 3250e has three sets of robust, five-way binding posts that can accept spade lugs, banana adaptors and bare speaker wire. The 3250e comes with a 20-amp detachable power cord as well as inputs for 12-volt triggers.
I mentioned earlier that the 3250e has a sibling in the 2250e, a two-channel amplifier that boasts the same specs (minus capacitance) as the 3250e, only it costs $8,000.
The 3250e arrived on my doorstep unannounced amidst a product orgy at my home, which kept me from tackling the review right away. Ahead of the 3250e’s was Mark Levinson’s No 533 three channel amplifier ($10,000) and Classe’s CA-2300 stereo amp ($7,000), both of which are capable products and compete directly with the 3250e.
Once my review slate cleared I installed the 3250e into my reference system where it would power my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers full range. I’m kind of on a purist kick at the moment so I connected the 3250e to my Decware CSP2 tube line stage that I used to control my system’s volume and to switch between my AppleTV / DACMagic music server and Sony universal Blu-ray player. The entire system was wired using Transparent Ultra interconnects, Reference speaker cables and Performance PowerLink power cables. The only non Transparent cable I used during my time with the 3250e was Krell’s new Vector HC Power Cable that I ran from the 3250e itself to a nearby wall outlet.
I let the 3250e break in for a little over a week before I sat down for any critical listening sessions.
I began my evaluation of the 3250e with some two-channel fare by way of Christina Perri’s single “Penguin” from her upcoming album Lovestrong (Atlantic). The track’s opening guitars were delicately rendered with lifelike scale and weight with an airiness to them that was distinctly 402e-like, perhaps only lacking that last ounce of sparkle on the top end you get from the 402e, nevertheless it was impressive. Perri’s vocals were seductive and inviting and while ever so slightly recessed (the recording’s doing not the 3250e) in the soundstage, they still remained natural and more importantly neutral. The 3250e’s entire midrange performance seemed, at first, a touch on the lean side; however after a few moments I began to realize that previous amps were simply more laid back or dark in comparison and that the 3250e’s sound felt more alive and open but never forward or harsh. The 3250e’s soundstage performance was vivid and enveloping, in a good way, with instruments not only well placed within but also properly grounded – this was an aspect of the 3250e’s performance I was not expecting, especially considering it was one of the 402e’s party pieces back when I reviewed it in December. While “Penguin” isn’t what I’d deem as a dynamic performance, the 3250e’s agile reflexes made it so every chord, strum and lyric rang true and with conviction befitting a live, studio performance versus a recorded event.
Read more about the performance of the Krell Evolution 3250e on Page 2.
For something a bit more complex, I cued up former Savage Garden front man, Darren Hayes’, “How to Build a Time Machine” from his third solo album This Delicate Thing We’ve Made (Suma Records). Hayes’ opening vocals were rendered with a dimensionality that again grounded them within the soundstage and my room in ways I’ve rarely heard from solid state amplifiers, regardless of price. The 3250e’s midrange isn’t tube like, instead I liken it more to that of a pure Class A design, for it has a liquidity and openness that is devoid of harshness and the usual solid state maladies. The synthesized bass notes possessed far more texture and detail than what I’ve experienced with past amplifiers, not to mention the notes plunged deeper and exhibited greater control as well. Again, the 3250e’s sense of space and ability to recreate ambience, even in a heavily processed song like ‘Time Machine’, was incredible. When the song picks up and the various elements come together the 3250e was able to appropriately track each and every sound without smearing or compression, even at high volumes. In fact, I ran out of listening room before the 3250e ran out of juice.
I ended my two-channel evaluation of the 3250e with Madonna’s “The Power of Goodbye” from her album Ray of Light (Warner Brothers). The 3250e’s bass performance was on full display and didn’t disappoint, proving to me (yet again) that no one does bass better than Krell. The 3250e’s depth, articulation, texture and dimension throughout the track’s bass line was incredible. Madonna’s vocals were again front and center and while they were always clear and well delineated from the rest of the musical elements, they didn’t stand out in stark contrast; instead they sat comfortably amidst the soundstage complete with “natural” reverb that blended seamlessly with the spaciousness of the track. ‘Goodbye’ features some very faint chimes towards the end, a sound many budget amps gloss over and even higher-end amps miss at times – not the case with the 3250e, for its high frequency capabilities rendered them with a deft touch with plenty of sparkle and air that allowed them to dance throughout the soundstage.
Switching to movies, I fired up the Moulin Rouge wannabe, Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher on Blu-ray (Screen Gems). Say what you will about the film (which probably isn’t much), it does feature a pretty well recorded soundtrack – that is, during the film’s musical numbers the rest of the film sounds rather amateurish, which didn’t go unnoticed by the 3250e. During the many musical numbers, lead by Aguilera, the 3250e’s ability to craft a three dimensional soundstage with two-channel music was sent into overdrive when fed a true, multi-channel signal. The 3250e’s dynamic performance borders on volcanic and never feels strained or even close to reaching its limits regardless of the volume or even source material. It’s inherent musicality aided the film’s musical interludes and its vocal prowess meant the dialog was always clear and natural, though the 3250e’s somewhat revealing and unforgiving nature didn’t do any favors for the film’s rougher sonic edges.
Overall, I found the 3250e to be more than just a good sounding multi-channel amp from a company better known for their two channel offerings; instead I found the 3250e to be a great amp period. While its target market may be home theater, it’s one heck of a fine sounding two-channel audiophile amp, which is why Krell no doubt made a two-channel version in the 2250e. What I found most impressive was just how much of the 402e’s performance Krell was able to pack into the 3250e and still keep the price somewhat obtainable. At one point during this past CES I think I referred to both the 3250e and the 2250e as “baby 402es,” which at the time seemed appropriate; however now I don’t think I’d use the term “baby” for there’s nothing infantile about their performance.
Competition & Comparisons
At $10,000 retail, the 3250e does faces some competition from the likes of Mark Levinson courtesy of their new No 533 three channel amp that retails for the same price as the 3250e. It packs 50 more Watts of power into eight Ohms bringing its total to 300, however it doesn’t double down into the lower Ohms the way the 3250e does. I’ve spent considerable time with the No 533 and while I believe it to be a solid amplifier, I believe the Krell 3250e is better in virtually every way, especially in terms of transparency, air and bass performance.
There aren’t a lot of three channel amps in the high-end space, however there are a few more affordable solutions out there such as Emotiva’s XPA-3. The XPA-3 is a 200 Watt three channel amp that retails for $699 and is sold direct via Emotiva’s website. Obviously there’s more to an amplifier’s performance than just power output but if the 3250e’s asking price is a bit high for your budget than the XPA-3 is a viable solution if you’re looking for a three-channel amp.
The 3250e’s two channel sibling, the 2250e, faces stiffer competition among two channel amps though its lower asking price ($8,000), makes it competitive in its class.
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It’s amazing just how much of the 402e has made its way into the 3250e but there are still some issues that are worth pointing out. First, I didn’t care for the 3250e’s binding posts. They’re surrounded in a thick clear plastic that means you can only connect spade terminated or bare speaker cable from below, which if you have bulky speaker cables makes life a little more difficult. Admittedly, this is due to approvals necessary to permit shipments into the European Union, which is unfortunate as the design is not ideal.
Also, I found that the 3250e responded favorably to Krell’s Vector HC Power Cord, which should come as no surprise, though at nearly $2,000 retail I think the Vector HC may be a bit too costly an upgrade for the 3250e if I’m honest. That being said, because the 3250e has a 20-amp power chord receptacle versus a more standard 15-amp one, you’ll have to take special care when shopping for an aftermarket power cord to ensure you purchase one that will be compatible.
Lastly, because the 3250e is a bit more critical of associated components, you’re going to want to take extra care when pairing it with an A/V processor or preamplifier. The same holds true for source components and loudspeakers as well for if you pair the 3250e with the wrong company you’re not going to enjoy all it has to offer. My Decware preamp is pretty neutral despite it’s tube design, which suited the 3250e nicely. I did use the 3250e with Classe’s Omega preamp for a bit and found the pairing to be quite nice as well, though the Omega preamp tends to be a bit laid back on its own. On the flip side when experimenting with my Onkyo receiver as an AV preamp the duo was a match made in hell. This isn’t a knock against the 3250e or my Onkyo receiver, the two just didn’t jive. Of course all Krell components are voiced to sound good together so you could always skip ahead and save yourself some trial and error and mate the 3250e with other Krell products.
As much as I gushed over the Krell 402e back in December, I think that, pound for pound, the 3250e is an even more impressive amplifier for it packs enough of what makes the 402e so special into a package that is simply more affordable. Not to mention far easier to live with.
Sure the 3250e lacks some of the 402e’s features, design and power but it more than makes up for it by capturing the 402e’s essence; in some instances, with the right loudspeakers, the two are difficult to tell apart. For example, I reviewed the 402e with a pair of Revel Studio2s, which needed the 402e’s extra power and finesse to come to life, however my new Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds do not, thus making my need for the 402e and its added power a bit moot.
Furthermore, the 3250e makes more sense if you’re a home theater enthusiast, for you can pair it with a 2250e and have five channels of amplification for less than the price of a 402e. Though, for those of you feeling a little extreme, you could just as easily pair a 402e with a 3250e for the ultimate home theater/audiophile system – at least when it comes to power.
So what are we left with?
The 3250e is a phenomenal amplifier, one that possesses tremendous bass prowess that is fast on the attack with great poise that is equally suited for both music and movies. The 3250e has an open and natural sounding midrange coupled with a delicate and airy high frequency performance that is far and away the best in its class. All of the 3250e’s attributes add up to yet another very special amplifier from Krell, only this time it will be able to be appreciated by more than just those whose names end in Gates or Buffett.
• Read more multi-channel amplifier reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find a pair of bookshelf speakers or floorstanding speakers for the 3250e amplifier.