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Amplifier Kenwood KA-4040R review

Remotely-controlled amplifiers are certainly becoming more popular, particularly when they can be linked to compatible separates like tape decks, tuners and CD players to effect full system control from a single handset. This is certainly the case with Kenwood’s KA-4040R, an amp that combines sophisticated internal logic with an eccentrically sculptured front panel.

A digital encoder scans the rotary input selector, enabling you to dial-up either MM/ MC disc or any of five line sources which are then routed via a series of gas-filled relays. Hi-tech stuff to be sure, but it does successfully isolate all the logic circuitry from the main audio path.

In fact the underlying design of the KA-4040R is taken from the older KA-4020. Ok, so Kenwood has changed the power amp transistors but the Class A drivers, the power supply and MM/MC phono stage remains pretty much the same. Additional features include A/B speaker switching, loudness, bass/treble and balance controls in addition to a separate (mechanical) rec-out selector. Oh yes, then there’s ‘Source Direct’ which enables you to bypass much of the frippery that you’ve just paid ?220 for.

Sound quality

With hindsight, not only do the old ‘4020 and new ‘4040 share a common technical heritage, but there’s also a certain congruence in their subjective performance.

A clean, lively and very ‘friendly’ sounding amplifier, the listeners proposed, and one that paints a fairly realistic picture of dynamics and scale. Nevertheless it was the extra weight and warmth of the MM disc input that attracted the most favourable comments. For here the amp picked out the vibes from Marty Paich’s ensemble as eloquently as the delicate bells from Rachmaninov’s Symphony.

By way of contrast our panel felt its CD input was drier in tone but not as tightly focussed, encouraging a less substantial sound that lacked both body and detail despite its superficial cleanliness. Piano, for example, was lost on the Julia Fordham track just as some percussive detail was submerged by the vocals of Christy Moore. His voice was oddly ‘cloyed’ in this instance, faintly thick instead of fresh, raw and naturally husky.

Conclusion

The new KA-4040R scores plenty of brownie points in the features and flexibility stakes. Yet this hi-tech fledging is rather less convincing when the chips are down. It’s good, certainly, but lacks the spark of vitality, the spirit and atmosphere to conjure a truly persuasive sound. And with a ?50 premium on the original KA-4020, this does little to help its case.

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