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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: Kenwood KA-9100 Integrated Amplifier (SS) by J-PMatt@Comcast.Net

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REVIEW: Kenwood KA-9100 Integrated Amplifier (SS)

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Model: KA-9100
Category: Integrated Amplifier (SS)
Suggested Retail Price: $600.00
Description: Two Channel, Solid State, Integrated Amplifier -90 WPC RMS
Manufacturer URL: Kenwood
Manufacturer URL: Kenwood

Review by J-PMatt@Comcast.Net ( A ) on September 14, 2005 at 00:02:39
IP Address: 68.45.82.11
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If you read my review of the L-02A Flagship Integrated Amplifier, then you’ll know I’m a Kenwood enthusiast and how I became one. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you that I’m positive my interest in Vintage/Rare Kenwood products is going to be a life-long affliction.

A couple years ago, I was searching E-Bay for the KA-907 Integrated Amp. This 50 pound beast was the king of the hill when it was released in 1980, and conservatively rated at 150WPC. Long story short………..I couldn’t find one at the time. But I did find the KA-9100, and mine was being auctioned off by a service tech who is a major Kenwood junkie. My example was received in perfect shape, and I was told by the seller that it was cleaned, lubed, re-biased and brought up to beyond spec’s. Mine also has the silver rack handles, and they too are in perfect shape.

DESCRIPTION

The KA-9100 is a two channel Integrated Amplifier, rated (very) conservatively at 90 WPC RMS at 1 KHZ into 8 ohms. Mine has been clocked by a local service tech/buddy at 117 WPC continuous into 8 ohms from 20-20,000 KHZ at less than 0.03% THD. Intermodulation Distortion was also rated at 0.03%. Dynamic power was rated at 172 WPC at 0.07% THD. Actually, it’s possible that it could have been greater before gross distortion, but I did not want the tech to take a chance burning up the KA-9100’s output devices. After all, it is a Vintage Amp, and replacement parts can be hard if not impossible to get.

The KA-9100 has provisions for two Turntables (Moving Magnet); two tape decks, an AM/FM Tuner and Auxiliary. It offers Bass and Treble Controls, Tone Defeat and apparently one of the first ALPS stepped attenuators. The front panel layout is both logical and beautiful, with excellent attention to detail. The panel itself is made from solid, brushed aluminum- a true rarity among the popular Japanese manufacturers of today. Two VU meters are well lit, offering 3 watt and 100 watt user adjustable selection. The gorgeous, exposed heat sinks that flank each side are massive, and add greatly to this units overall fit and finish. And unlike certain Rotel products, these heat sinks are not just for show, but rather aid greatly (and noticeably) with the amp’s heat dissipation. As mentioned above, my KA-9100 has the matching rack handles, which turn a very nice looking amp into a beautiful one. They also help a lot in moving the amp around, which weights a healthy 40 LBS.

On the back panel, there are RCA type input/output jacks, and the KA-9100 can be used in amp only mode, or as a preamp to drive another, possibly more powerful amplifier. The speaker terminals are, in my opinion superior to the spring loaded crap-ola that marred otherwise excellent Integrated Amps of the day from other companies like Sansui and Pioneer. However, I’ve never been able to use anything but bare wire connections with the KA-9100, and so I made sure I used my trusty Tributaries current TOTL speaker cables with gold-tinned ends for the amp side.

Because the amp end of these cables were ordered in a Bi-Wired configuration to take advantage of my L-02A’s “Sigma Drive”, I decided to connect the ends to both “Speaker A and B” terminals.

THE SOUND

I’ve driven three different pairs of speakers with the KA-9100. First, the power pigs known commonly as the Dahlquist DQ-10. My pair was cleaned up by Regnar, and the only upgrade from stock possibly considered blasphemous would be new gold plated speaker terminals. Other than that, these are pretty faithful to the original. The KA-9100 never struggled driving the DQ-10’s, but I’ve experienced greater weight and realism with my more powerful Electrocompaniet AW-250DMB when playing full scale, dynamic music. Still, the KA-9100 accounted for itself pretty well when I wasn’t pushing too much, and sounded very nice with less demanding program material. The soundstage was excellent overall, and never sounded compressed. Sibilants were surprisingly natural…..I was expecting that piezo horn tweeter to really emphasize any wrong doing on the KA-9100’s part, but no such problem ever happened. Instead, cymbals, piano, acoustic guitar and violin all decayed most naturally in good time and in their own place on the stage.

Next up were my Talon Peregrines. By far, a kinder, gentler load on the Kenwood, and capable of much better bass than the Dahlquist DQ-10’s will ever have. Here were all the qualities mentioned previously with the DQ’s, but this time with greater ease and impact. Now it was time to rock and roll, and I threw on Brian Setzer and his Big Band version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nut Cracker Suite”. WOW! Excellent, well defined bass, horns with no annoying shrill, and Mr. Setzers’ Hollow Body guitar placed perfectly front and center. Now I was impressed. The sound was on the slightly warm side of neutral, full-bodied and frankly exciting. I began to wonder if someone out there could take this amp to another level of transparency.

Finally, in the spirit of fun and experimentation, I brought this magnificent bastard to my friend Tony’s house. Tony owns the new B&W Nautilus 802D’s. He’s very proud, very happy and I’m frankly a little jealous. They are wonderful speakers, and he’s driving them with a new Anthem 300 WPC Statement amp and juiced up/ultra modified Counterpoint preamp. A very good sounding combo. Using my speaker cables, I inserted the KA-9100 into the system for shits and giggles. Tony was gracious for allowing my indulgence, but admitted that he wasn’t expecting this to turn out well. I had to admit I didn’t have much faith either, and felt that the diamond tweeter would reveal all the flaws the other two speakers had missed. I also felt strongly that the B&W’s would be too damn hard to drive, but what the hell……………….you only live once.

Tony does not listen to Compact Discs. He is vinyl only, and his table is an Oracle Delphi MK III with a Grado Master Statement cartridge. Tony does not like Moving Coil cartridges, and this worked out well for the Moving Magnet only KA-9100. I let Tony pick out the listening material, and first up was Julian Breem, and some beautiful classical guitar.

Tony looked surprised, and I was pretty shocked too. I have read some nice things about the KA-9100’s phono section, but wasn’t expecting it to sound so……soooooo…….quiet! Tony was surprised just by the overall presentation. The Kenwood is a fast amp, and nicely responsive. I was expecting some real zing, but it never happened. You’ve read this in a thousand other reviews, but neutral is really the best way to describe this amp’s sound.

Next up, we threw on a performance of Smetanas “Tabor”, and raised the volume to a, shall we say, more realistic level. This time, I was just proud………..the Kenny never broke up, never sounded fatigued, and just kicked ass all the way through. Oh sure, the heat sinks got hot, but not uncomfortably so. I let her cool down and we put Tony’s amp/preamp combo back in and listened to the “Tabor” again. Greater power, greater speed, greater impact……..the N802D’s really woke up. But the KA-9100 could definitely hold its head up high for making a good showing of itself. It wasn’t really a difference in detail retrieval or imaging. It was the difference in power, and the fact that the Counterpoint Preamp was by far a warmer sounding piece that influenced the presentation significantly.

SUMMARY

I paid barely over $200.00 for my KA-9100. I respect it greatly and use it occasionally to remind myself that spending more money does not necessarily mean greater improvement in sound quality. This amp has taught me that “Different” does not always correlate as “Better, and to think twice insofar as how I spend my money in this hobby of ours. I can say beyond doubt that if this amp were to be released today “As Is” with some other company logo on it; it would garner great praise from the various Review Outlets that are out there, and be compared favorably to other Integrated’s in the $1,000.00 to $1,500.00 price range.

If you’ve read about the growing interest in those great old Japanese Components of the 70’s, and have considered taking an interesting trip back down memory lane, or if you’re a younger Audio Enthusiast just wanting to experience first hand what all the fuss is about, the Kenwood KA-9100 would be a great place to start. It’s robust build quality, solidity and beautiful looks are most definitely matched by its sonics. The fact that so many are still available in great shape and working as good as new almost 30 years later is a testament to what Kenwood-Trio was once capable of. If you ever wish for the good old days, you’ll find em’ with the KA-9100.


Product Weakness: Read the review
Product Strengths: Read the review


Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Various Electrocompaniet and Vintage Kenwood
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Various Electrocompaniet and Vintage Kenwood
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Basis 1400 Turntable/ Wadia Model 8 Transport/ Perpetual Technologies P1A-P3A
Speakers: Dahlquist-Talon Audio
Cables/Interconnects: Stealth all the way around except for the Tributaries Speaker Wire
Music Used (Genre/Selections): See Review
Room Size (LxWxH): 40 Feet x 30 Feet x 8 Feet
Room Comments/Treatments: No Comment
Time Period/Length of Audition: 2 Years
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
Your System (if other than home audition): N/A




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Topic - REVIEW: Kenwood KA-9100 Integrated Amplifier (SS) - J-PMatt@Comcast.Net 00:02:39 09/14/05 ( 4)