Reviewers: Marja Vanderloo & Henk Boot
Sources: CEC TL5100 CD transport with ultra clock; Audio Note DAC-2 Signature, modified, no digital filter
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system; Audio Note Meishu, modified, with AVVT 300B, JJ, Tesla or AN 300B output tubes
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo, internally wired with silver; Audio Note AN/Jsp, silver wired
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect [in for review]; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, CrystalSpeak Reference, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC [on extended loan]; Gizmo silver LS cable
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Denson CD demagnetizer; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; Plextor PX-712UF [in for review], wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Rack of Silence & Discs of silence [in for review]; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap; silver Buddha head
Review component pricing: 5,700 Euros, $6,800 US

When we visited her Czech factory in August, Eunice Kron showed us the latest star on the KR Audio firmament - the integrated Antares VA340. At the time, this amplifier was in its final testing stage and almost ready to ship to the Netherlands. What we saw was a table filled with amplifiers in various stages of nakedness, showing their intestines connected to a spaghetti-like bunch of wires. The heat radiating from these amplifiers was substantial, especially when grouped together as they were. In the corner of the room, the wooden shipping crate -- already labeled for Holland -- was waiting patiently.

Back home a few weeks later, we received a call from Dutch KR Audio distributor Eurogram. It was Cor Dekker asking if we'd like to review his new integrated. Over the years, we have reviewed several KR Audio products and are still fond of the musical capabilities these black and handcrafted audio systems pack behind their muscular facades.

Not long after the phone call, Cor appeared with a dolly loaded with the 36kg Antares VA 340 Integrated. With the amp crate, we also receive a Solid Tech Rack of Silence, four Solid Tech Feet of Silence and four Solid Tech Disc of Silence, the latter being decoupling devices [below].

While the amplifier was acclimating to sitting on the Rack and breaking in, the visual attraction of this combination was becoming almost arty. The rack, here in its shortest version of only one "shelf", uses four aluminum pillars atop chrome balls and capped with black covers. Halfway up the pillars, the actual equipment support attaches by means of collars around the pillars. The shelf itself is nothing more than a cross of 2 x 5 centimeter wooden splines joined in the middle by an aluminum star whose various openings allow different angles of attachment. On top of the wooden cross members, Solid Tech has gouged out a groove. In its simplest iteration, the rack supports its equipment via bearing balls placed directly into that groove. More sophisticated solutions involve four disc platform that slide over the bars to support either the Feet or Discs of Silence. Discs of Silence are constructed from a concentric T-shaped footer topped with cork and suspended with three or six coiled springs depending on the loaded weight. The 36 kilograms of the VA 340 were best supported by four Discs of Silence each fortified by six springs.

The Feet of Silence are much more sophisticated as they consist of a -- in our case black anodized -- aluminum support into which a second piston-like element inserts that is attached via three or six rubber bands. The top of the piston is an aluminum ball. Because the aluminum used is polished but not lacquered, a set of cotton gloves is provided to avoid skin acids to cause oxidation.

Contrary to all previous KR designs, the VA 340 is built on the usual base turned by 90 degrees. The layout of the tubes and transformer housings is now sideways rather than lengthwise. The standard KR base of finned and black cast metal with a stainless steel top plate still measures 53 x 36 cm with a height of 25 cm, with merely the cooling fins now located on the short sides. From back to front, you'll encounter the lunchbox-sized transformer housing for the power supply, then the twin casings for the output transformers in front of it and the cages for the output tubes in-between. Other Antares models like the VA320 sport a very solid, bulky casing for the output tubes. For the VA340, designer Marek Gencev chose a more open and playful design of eight black metal rings each which surround the 300Bs, are stacked on three long bolts and covered at the top with a round plate.

The front panel is another form-follows-function affair without being rude. From left to right, there are four chromed input selector push buttons with a red LED above each. The volume control follows in the middle and the right houses the standby button with its red/green status indicator LED. Here less is absolutely more.

The back of the amplifier duplicates the same no-nonsense design. The mains rocker on the left is followed by the power inlet. Then follows a little cover hiding the mains circuit breaker. Four sheathed WBT loudspeaker terminals in the middle surround another little cover that hides the output impedance selector screws. The options are 4 or 8 Ohms. This is followed by the Rec Out terminals and finally four pairs of RCA input sockets.

The VA340 Integrated in fact is a synergy of the solid-state KR P150 stereo pre-amplifier and the Antares power amplifier, leading to a four-input integrated with 1 VRMS sensitivity and an input impedance of 47Kohm on each source and a REC output with a 0.5 VRMS level. The claimed frequency response is 10Hz to 100KHz. The output stage is fully dual mono and employs KR's signature hybrid design of MOSFETs and tubes, in this case KR's 300BXSL delivering 20wpc.

The late Ricardo Kron, the leading man behind KR Audio, developed a philosophy of building the highest quality stereo amplifiers without falling for strict dogmas. From his previous 50s/60s work with an Italian OEM supplier to Blaupunkt, he learned to appreciate the combination of solid-state and hollow-state components.