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Core Audio Kratos Review (DAC + Integrated Amplifier)

A long time ago I decided to keep my audio system digital only, and subsequently bought and sold many many many DACs, amps, integrateds and cables. Painful yes... but what a journey!

Through various experiments, I was quickly realizing how much damage interconnect cables could do to the system. One way to mitigate it is to get expensive cables. I've used interconnects that cost more than the speakers... and I liked the result. But the other way, the smarter way, would be to get rid of them. Fewer wires in the chain the better.

In that regard, I was lucky to stumble upon the Core Audio Kratos DAC/Integrated Amplifier (retail $2200... I bought it used at $1150). It not only functions as a DAC, but effectively replaces preamp, power amp, and all the gain and amplification stages inside those boxes. More importantly, it makes all analogue cables redundant.

Here I am not just talking about losing the interconnects but also bypassing the analogue wires used inside the DAC, pre, and power amp. Simply by the way it's designed, it guarantees that the distortion caused by analogue components is non existent.

Core Audio Kratos keeps the signal in a pure digital domain until the very last stage (speaker outputs). Until it outputs the signal to the speaker wires, it's pure calculations (Pulse Width Modulation). It's completely different from those NAD or Peachtree products that just put DAC, preamp and amp in one chassis.

As a music lover and an audiophile, transparency is what I value the most. And that's exactly what Kratos gives me. The bass is deep and tight without ever sounding bloated. The mids and highs accurately deliver the natural timbre of real instruments and voices.

What strikes me most about its sound is its effortlessness. I just can't hear anything in the audio chain sweating or grunting to shape the sound. Nothing seems to be working hard. If listening to music on a conventional system driven by an analogue amp/interconnects feels like driving a fully loaded truck, listening through Kratos feels like driving one with no load whatsoever. The music does indeed travel light because Kratos needs no component other than the digital source (a disc transport or a computer).

But all the design advantages I talked about are meaningless if Kratos doesn't do the digital calculations right. As someone who has played with a lot of digital products including 10+ different configurations of Mac Minis, I know how sensitive those calculations are to the quality of the electricity driving the digital component.

I think Core Audio knew it. Perhaps that's why they put their own proprietary linear power supply in Kratos. But based on my experience with Kratos, the power cable also matters. I've tried four different power cords on it and they all sounded VERY different. The Shunyata cord, about $200 retail, sounded the best. Interestingly it sounded better than a more expensive PS Audio power cord.

The fact that the power cord mattered didn't surprise me because many DACs, transports, and computers I have used in the past were all sensitive to the power cord MUCH more than the analogue components were.

As someone who has used many amps and integrateds at various price points, I know it's possible to beat Kratos. For example, the Audio Research D115 amp, paired with the right preamp and DAC, will give me more organic experience than Kratos... or anything I've ever heard. But again, the problem with the traditional route is the cables, the cost and all.

Going back to the matter of sonic character, I strongly recommend Core Audio Kratos to those who want accuracy and transparency. But I would not recommend it to those who want the euphoric highs and added warmth in the mid range. Kratos is a straight shooter... and an extremely competent one at that. Expect no blur or muddiness in the presentation.

Features: Remote control. Four digital inputs (2 coax and 2 optical). No analogue input (of course). Conventional speaker biding posts.

You can use a computer music server with a good USB to SPDIF converter.

Speakers I drove with it: Magnepan 2.5 and B&W Nautilus 804.

Edits: 04/03/17

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Topic - Core Audio Kratos Review (DAC + Integrated Amplifier) - parkwest007 22:18:11 04/03/17 (2)


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