Emille Sound KM-300SE
SET Integrated Amplifier
A rich and charming sound.
Review By Dick Olsher
here to e-mail reviewer.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Kwang Woo Electronics, Co., Ltd.
Tel: (909) 356-9607
Fax: (909) 428-5728