Integrated Amplifier KR Audio VA880 Review (Part 2)

9/1/2014 11:25:09 AM
A sense of purpose

Operation of the VA880 is simplicity itself - once switched on at the rear, the front standby switch is pressed and its associated LED lights up. The unit enters its warm-up phase and, when the LED in the volume control comes on a minute or so later, the amplifier - as the manual puts it - ‘will be ready for your listening enjoyment'.

With the KR Audio VA880 thoroughly warmed up and run in over a period of a week or so, I commenced my listening enjoyment using the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra's recording of Ravel's Bolero [TACET L207] conducted by Carlo Rizzi. This LP is cut in reverse so that it plays from the inside to the outside of the disc and, as a result, the dynamics at the end are better accommodated.

Casework is nished in matte black while fascia features a central volume knob  and four unlabelled source selection switches corresponding to the inputs on the rear panel

Casework is nished in matte black while fascia features a central volume knob and four unlabelled source selection switches corresponding to the inputs on the rear panel

The VA880 absolutely lapped this up and its abilities with regard to instrument tonality and placement within the soundstage were really first-class. Each orchestral element had real form and a sense of purpose to its performance, with the trombone in particular an absolute delight. The KR Audio's fine insights combined with the one or two extra ‘cheeky' notes added by the player meant that the whole spectacle raised a virtually continuous smile.

The piece was rounded off by the impressively dynamic timpani ringing out through my listening room with weight and solidity, albeit slightly lacking the last ounce of impact and tautness that I am used to with my resident Naim Supernait.

Where the VA880 really does score, however, is when it comes to the whole combination of midband delicacy, insight and expansiveness. All too often, with some of the cheaper and less capable valve amplifiers that sit below the KR Audio, there is usually a trade-off between these.

Four line-level inputs are offered, three unbalanced and one balanced. The cover between the speaker terminals hides loudspeaker impedance adjustments

Four line-level inputs are offered, three unbalanced and one balanced. The cover between the speaker terminals hides loudspeaker impedance adjustments

Yes, you can have that lovely sense of spaciousness but maybe you have to forgo insight: not so with the VA880. It has a thoroughly captivating way of pushing the main detail elements of a piece of music right to the fore, but at the same time making sure that everything else around it is just where it should be. It has an inherent ‘rightness' to its presentation.

The good feeling with regard to detail led me to load up my CD player with Vanessa Rubin's New Horizons CD [RCA 07863 67445-2]. Ms Rubin has an absolutely glorious voice: soulful and passionate with copious emotional depth. The VA880 showcased this perfectly on the track ‘If My Heart Could Speak'. Not only were the vocals sublime but the backing acoustic bass seemed to be coming right from the corner of my room, so lifelike was the rendition. More heartening was that its less frenetic performance gave the KR Audio time to really pick up on its inherent sonic character, and present it superbly without any bloat or uncertainty.

No fluff up top

At the top end, the VA880 is taut and detailed but with a consistent underlying sense of creamy smoothness. A common misconception regarding valve amplifiers is that they're a bit mushy and fluffy in the treble department but the KR Audio amplifier dispels this notion in a heartbeat.

It has a clarity that would shame many supposedly ‘crisp' transistor designs but without any of the associated hardness and spit that some can suffer. This was showcased perfectly by London Grammar's If You Wait album [Metal and Dust MADART1LP] where Hannah Reid's glorious vocals positively soared, yet the backing drum machine effects on tracks such as ‘Strong' were vivid and well positioned within the mix.

KR Audio VA880 side view

KR Audio VA880 side view

The more I played the VA880, the word that simply would not leave my mind as I listened was ‘sophisticated'. It is more than possible to enjoy cheaper valve amplifiers for the things they do well but, occasionally, a piece of music comes along and spotlights their shortcomings rather blatantly. This never came even close to happening with the VA880, which has an inherent sense of competence and assuredness that meant it virtually never put a foot wrong. Instead, it approached music-making with a quiet confidence and endowed everything I fed it with poise, emotion and breathtaking clarity.

Of course, delicacy and mellifuousness are all very well, but sometimes fare that's a little grittier is called for. For me, it was the 12in single of Killing Joke's ‘Love Like Blood' [EG Records EGOX 20] and there were no obvious issues here either. Geordie Walker's chunky guitar chords that underpin the song were thick and menacing, and the backing drums offered genuine impact and punch.

I did occasionally feel that the VA880 was tripping over itself ever so slightly in order to keep up with the bass line, but my PMC loudspeakers are particularly ruthless in this respect - which may not have helped. Importantly, the performance of this amplifier was always pithy and always engaging.


·         Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm): 50W / 35W

·         Dynamic power (<2% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm): 52W / 75W / 90W / 80W

·         Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz): 1.94–2.35ohm

·         Freq. response (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz): –0.18dB to –0.35dB/–12dB

·         Input sensitivity (for 0dBW/50W): 113mV / 800mV (balanced)

·         A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/50W): 82.1dB / 99.1dB

·         Distortion (20Hz-20kHz re. 10W/8ohm): 0.10–0.66%

·         Power consumption (I dl e/Max. o/p): 206W / 300W

·         Dimensions (WHD) / Weight: 385x245x415mm / 20kg


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