Krell… the name conjures visions of mammoth armour-plated coffee table-sized amplifiers lined with razor-sharp heatsinks used to cool down core-of-the-earth Class-A running temperatures… at least for those reviewers who have been around long enough to know that this US company built its reputation on such products as the KSA-50 amplifier, which is now a highly sought-after classic that commands remarkably high second-hand prices 30 years on. Continual product evolution by designers whose names are legend in the world of high-end audio led to further generations of superbly-engineered amplifiers, predominantly of Class-A or variable bias design, that have defined high-end Americana. More recently, however, Krell spread its wings, and now manufactures components other than amplifiers, of which the S-350a CD player is proof.
As for the name itself, the company’s founder, Dan D’Agostino, named his company after a mysterious race of superintelligent beings that featured in the film ‘Forbidden Planet’. The Krell built a machine that was able to turn their thoughts into reality. D’Agostino thought that his aspirations for the company’s products paralleled the Krell’s mythical machine… to build such extraordinary products that they were able to reproduce recorded music with such fidelity that it would approach the actual event. Despite D’Agostino’s departure from Krell to establish another high-end audio company (eponymously named, this time around!), Krell continues apace under new management.
Krell’s S-Series products are the company’s entry level offerings… not that you’d guess that from the build quality! I found the S-350a to be superbly built and assembled, rather along the lines of ‘classic’ high-end test equipment made by such US names as Hewlett-Packard and Tektronics…indeed exactly the same chassis construction is employed, using the technique of bolting together powder-coated steel plates, rather than folding thin sheets of alloy. The fascia, on the other hand, is made from thick, smartly-brushed aluminium. And check the buttons! They’re all made from metal— there’s not a bit of plastic in sight. Even the remote control is built from aluminium, rather than plastic. And although it controls the S-350a, the same remote can be used to control other Krell components (notably the matching S-300i integrated amplifier) so there are more buttons than you’ll need— so many buttons, indeed, that you’ll need to have a keen eye and a dead-eye finger to access the desired function.
The S-350a CD player uses a Teac drawer-less loading mechanism (aka ‘slotloader’) which, although very neat in terms of its minimalist visual impact on the tidy fascia, I found to be a tad quirky in use and slower than usual to load. I found that when I loaded discs, they were not always ‘grabbed’ by the mechanism on the first insertion and also that I needed to push the disc almost all the way inside the slot before it was grabbed by the mechanism and taken into the player’s innards to be loaded onto the drive spindle.
Controls are by way of small metal buttons and include the usual playback controls plus a separate cluster with four-way navigation controls surrounding a central menu button. The LCD display can be dimmed or turned off and a variety of track/disc time options are available to choose from. All functions are duplicated on the solid remote which adds direct track access. You can choose between two different digital output filter types (‘fast’ and ‘slow’) and because the S-350 will also function as a DAC, taking the digital output from a computer or some other digital source device, you can choose between the optical digital input and the coaxial digital input. On the rear of the S-350a are singleended RCA and balanced XLR connecting options for the analogue output as well as the two digital inputs mentioned previously and two digital outputs (both limited to 96kHz). The optical connections are Toslink, and the coaxials are standard RCA. Additionally, there is a 12V d.c. trigger and an RC-5 connection for remote control system integration (Crestron, et al). Krell uses its own discrete Class-A ‘Krell Current Mode’ analogue stages and has chosen matched Burr-Brown 24-bit 192kHz digital-to-analog converters for each channel for a fully balanced circuit. The S-350a is also available as an S-350av (at additional cost) which adds DVD playback capability with HDMI output at 1080p and additional component and S-Video connectivity.
I must stress once again that this unit is in no way reflective of an ‘entry level’ product; it’s really only an ‘entry level’ component by Krell’s standards: Most companies would be proud to offer the S-350a as their flagship CD player.