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  1. #1

    Krell Phantom III Preamp With DAC Reviewed

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    Up until just recently, it was hard to find quality two channel preamps. New, two channel music fans had to scour the Internet for used equipment. However, Krell and a handful of others are bringing two channel back, with a few new twists.

    Here is one such preamp, Krell's Phantom III and Brian Kahn dives in with a hands-on review.

    Here's part of Brian Kahn's review on

    In today's music-server-driven world, the trend in audiophile preamps is to merge the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with the traditional stereo preamp, which makes for a somewhat new form factor that music lovers, audio nuts and gear-heads are rejoicing over. Krell's Phantom Series of preamplifiers now replaces the Evolution Series, which was Krell's top offering. The Phantom line is significant to Krell fans and audiophiles, as it's the first line of preamps designed since the departure of Krell's founder.

    Additional Resources

    • Read more stereo preamplifier reviews from's staff.
    • See more reviews in our Amplifier Review section.
    • Explore Bookshelf Speakers and Floorstanding Speakers in our review sections.

    The Krell Phantom III reviewed here is the least expensive preamplifier in the Phantom line, but it is certainly not an entry-level product - far from it. The Phantom III has much of the technology featured in its more expensive siblings, but possesses a different feature set. Notably, the Phantom III is the first Krell preamplifier to come equipped with a headphone output and optional DAC module. Our review sample came equipped with the optional DAC module and retails for $7,000 (non-DAC-equipped models are $5,500).

    The design philosophy of the flagship Krell Phantom preamplifier continues with the Phantom III. Like its big brothers, the Phantom III line-level preamplifier is a fully balanced, dual monaural design with separate power-supply regulation and circuit boards for each channel. The circuit boards utilize surface-mount technology with proprietary multiple-output current mirrors that offer higher open-loop linearity than traditional designs do. The circuitry also features a higher-than-normal bandwidth design (700 kHz), which is said to push signal artifacts well beyond the range of human hearing. The design uses no negative feedback. Krell's Current Mode design utilizes current rather than voltage to transmit the signal, which is said to be better-suited to taking advantage of the higher-than-normal circuit bandwidth, as well being more immune to signal distortion than traditional voltage-based circuits are. Krell believes the sonic benefits to the current-based system are well worth the increased cost that comes with the nearly threefold increase in parts count and increased engineering burden.

    The volume control is via a balanced resistor ladder to minimize the impact on bandwidth and transient response of the circuitry I described above, regardless of the volume setting. The headphone output is Krell's first. The circuitry for this is identical to the main circuitry in an attempt to provide headphone listening with the same performance as speaker playback. Headphones are booming like no other specialty audio/video product category, so many people will appreciate this design addition.

    All of the circuitry described above is powered by an oversized power supply that features a 95VA transformer and 40,000 µF of capacitance. Despite the size of the power supply, the Phantom III has a new, eco-friendly standby mode that reduces power consumption to two watts. Since the introduction of Krell's "e" series products, the company has pushed to make Krell products draw less power when in standby or running idle.

    In addition to the headphone output, the optional digital module is another Krell preamplifier first. The optional DAC module has AES/EBU, coaxial and optical digital inputs that accept LPCM signals up to 24-bit/192-kHz. All digital signals are fed to an ESS Sabre ES 9018 DAC. Some of you will recognize this as the same DAC being used by Oppo, McIntosh and many others. Krell states that its implementation of this popular DAC is different than that of other manufacturers because the resulting analog signal is kept in its native current (rather than voltage) domain. The signal is then sent to Krell's Current Mode, the discrete, balanced analog circuitry described above. Those who might think that Krell just stuck in the DAC chip from a $500 Oppo Digital Blu-ray player would be very much mistaken.
    Read Brian's review in its entirety on

  2. #2
    Owner-Publisher Jerry Del Colliano's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    West Los Angeles, California

    Looks like a pretty slick piece of gear at the high end.

    Comparable to the Classe CP-800 and Audio Research DAC Pre.

  3. #3

    The Classe CP-800 now cost $6,000. The digital board was upgraded.


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