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November 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Emille Sound KM-300SE
SET Integrated Amplifier
A rich and charming sound.

Review By Dick Olsher
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 Emille Sound KM-300SE SET Integrated Amplifier

  Already a force in the South Korean high-end market for some 15 years, I believe, at least on the strength of the KM-300SE, that Emille Sound has the potential to become a significant international player in the realm of tube amplification. In case you are wondering, the name refers to a Korean historical icon, the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok, more commonly called the "Emillé," which measures 3.3 meters in height and 2.7 meters in diameter and weighs 18.9 tons. The bell, designated as a national treasure, is renowned not only for its exceptional beauty but also for its deep and resonant sound.

The elegant and stylish KM-300SE is more than just a 300B-based single-ended 10 wpc stereo amplifier. What we have here is actually an integrated amplifier with both an input selector switch and a high-quality stepped attenuator. Since the input sensitivity is 1 Volt rms, CD players and the like may be connected directly without the intervention of a preamplifier. The anodized and sculpted aluminum chassis, Plexiglas cover, and elongated profile, make for a strong visual impression. Try lifting this amplifier! At 32kg (70 pounds) this amplifier has some serious heft, mainly due to all that transformer iron. Bias meters and adjustment pots are provided to permit individual trimming of the 300B bias current – a nice touch for the "tube roller" lurking deep within the psyche of every tubephile.

 

Technical Details

After many years of attention, one might be tempted to think that 300B-based SET amplifiers have exhausted all interesting design permutations. That is clearly not the case in the commercial arena, where traditional (read conservative) design typically trumps innovation. The Emille follows a fairly conventional yet proven design approach, using a 6DJ8 input stage, followed by a driver stage consisting of a 6350 dual triode connected in parallel.

Emille Sound KM-300SE SET Integrated Amplifier InsideThe amplifier is said to be a zero-feedback design aimed at preserving the original sound of the 300B triode. That would imply a sweet and harmonically rich midrange, as well as the sort of imaging magic one has come to expect from the venerated 300B tube. Tube rectification (274B rectifier) together with a traditional cap-choke-cap filter network are used for the 300B and driver stage high-voltage (B+) supplies. Both the 274B rectifier and 300B are sourced from Full Music in China. All tube filament supplies are DC.

Tube rectification bestows the advantage of a soft start, giving time for the driver stage and 300B filaments to come up to operating temperature before B+ voltage is applied. But beyond that, in my experience, tube rectification directly impacts sound quality. It generates less noise, sounds smoother, and harmonic textures are typically more relaxed, allowing the music to ebb and flow with greater conviction. Additionally, the tonal balance tends to be richer sounding though the lower midrange (i.e., more vintage like). All of these things are positives in my book and complement the inherent musicality of any tube amplifier. Opting, as some manufacturers do, for solid-state rectification of the B+ circuit is probably simply a question of economics, as $1 silicon diode rectifier bridges do save on parts cost.

Emille Sound KM-300SE SET Integrated AmplifierBoth singe-ended (RCA jack) and balanced connections are accepted. Balanced inputs are routed through a Lundahl transformer. The circuit board layout is dual mono. High-quality parts are used at critical locations, including Mundorf silver and oil coupling caps and silver plated wire in the output stage. Most unusually, the B+ power supply features large-value Solen metalized polypropylene caps in lieu of electrolytics.

 

The Sound

At the risk of being repetitious, let me emphasize once again that the sound of any tube device is strongly influenced by choice of tube brands. This is especially true for single-ended designs. The distinctive harmonic distortion spectrum of a particular tube, as well as its overload characteristics and linearity, produce a unique sound which imprints itself, much like a "fingerprint" onto the overall sound of the device. It did not take long for me to realize that the stock Chinese 300B tubes seriously got in the way of listening enjoyment. My first sonic impression was that the presentation was overly polite, that is to say closed-in dynamically. And because harmonic textures were also slightly grainy and dark sounding, the initial diagnosis was of bland, harmonically washed out sound, lacking sufficient color contrast. Another fly in the ointment was average control over bass lines. Much in common with the performance level of other high-output impedance SET amplifiers, the Emille failed to offer convincing bass punch and pitch definition.

Tube rolling is not rocket science or brain surgery. And while my surgical skills are tantamount to operating a weed whacker inside the abdominal cavity, I had no trouble at all replacing the stock 300B. Off came the Plexiglas cover and in went my number one contender — the KR Audio 300B Balloon tube. This tube turned out to be a godsend for the Emille. It parted the clouds and brought forth a rainbow of harmonic colors.  The soundstage took on a vivid disposition that buoyed musical lines along with convincing pace. Textures sounded civilized, suave, and oh so pure through the critical midrange. It is often forgotten that the average orchestral spectrum peaks around 400Hz to 500Hz and then decreases with increasing frequency. The mean SPL level in the upper midrange (2.5kHz to 3 kHz) is already some 20dB lower relative to the lower midrange. If an amplifier fails to get the lower mids right, sonic salvation is impossible. This is precisely the range that the KR Audio 300B excels in. Its strong suits of harmonic purity, image focus, and transient attack blended synergistically with the Emille’s tendency toward smoothness to produce a soundstage of extreme clarity, tonal neutrality, and low-level resolution.

The Emille proved capable of retrieving an amazing amount of detail given a high-caliber front end. All that, but without the sort of artificial brightness and electronic glaze that often plague push-pull tube sound and is mistaken by the neophyte listener for enhanced detail. Much like the sound of 80s Infinity speakers, the initial wow reaction to too much treble quickly wears off and listening fatigue sets in. The Emille’s neutral treble balance, on the other hand, allows the associated speaker tonal balance to assert itself. But at least a bright sounding speaker will be spared further treble assault and battery.

At this point in the proceedings, I felt rather comfortable spending long hours with the Emille. But there were still some doubts... There was no problem shifting gears from soft to loud, but the sound was dynamically compressed scaling that last rung from loud to very loud. I decided to change out the stock 6DJ8, which carried a "National" brand name. My first substitution was the Richardson "faux" Philips Bugle Boys and they immediately generated a dramatic enhancement in pace and rhythmic energy. Transient speed was quite remarkable for a tube amp. There were a couple of important lessons to be learned here, which strangely enough read like clichés: there is a tremendous variability in the sound of various tube brands and vintages and that the overall sound of a particular device is only as strong as its weakest link. From the perspective of the Emille Amplifier, however, it had found redemption and at long last established itself as a winner.

The soundstage was portrayed with an exceptional depth perspective. Layers of hall information were properly resolved with 3-D realism to accurately capture the microphone spacing with respect to a soloist. And most importantly, the spatial perspective expanded behind a soloist — way out to the "rear wall" of the recording. Image outlines were not only precisely located within the soundstage but were also fleshed out with palpable focus. The ability to pear deeply into the soundstage, which is what transparency is all about, was very much in evidence here.

 

Conclusion

The sonic charm of vintage all-tube amplification (think Dynaco Stereo 70) is based on liquid, rich textures, and a warm midrange. It is often tempered by a sluggish transient attack, and a thick soundstage that lacks transparency. The sound of the Emille, in contrast, combines excellent transient speed, transparency, and resolution, while still paying homage to classic tube sound. Outfitted with the KR Audio 300B Balloon tube and a good Philips 6DJ8/ECC88, the Emille KM-300SE offers world-class 300B sound at a fair price. However, be sure to audition it with any prospective speakers to establish compatibility, especially in the bass range.

 

Specifications

Type: Stereo amplifier with volume control

Tube Complement: two 300B, two 6350, two 6DJ8, one 274B

Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+/ -1dB)

Output power: 10 Wpc, two channels (5% THD)
Input sensitivity: 1.0V rms

Inputs: RCA and XLR

Loudspeaker Impedance Taps: 8 and 16 Ohms

Dimensions: 310 x 550 x 384 (WxDxH in mm)

Net Weight: 32kgs

Price $8,900

 

Company Information

Kwang Woo Electronics, Co., Ltd.
South Korea
Voice: 055-382-7373

US distributor:
Tel: (909) 356-9607
Fax: (909) 428-5728
Email: info@hifihomeaudio.com
Website: www.hifihomeaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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