Emille Ki 40l (£4800)

Not French but a classic push-pull valve amplifier dressed in post-modern architecture

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Surfing the wave of new and innovative Far Eastern valve products, Emillé looks set to ride a tube of its own with the visually stunning KI-40L. The Far East has been producing quality components for many years (see boxout for company history). However in recent years, as the world has shrunk thanks to the internet, an opportunity has opened up for us to try exotic fare on offer from the likes of Shanling and now Korean company Emillé.
   Part amplifier, part sculpture this physically imposing component is rated at just 40W/ch and forms part of a five-strong range. The KI-40L, like the other beautifully crafted pieces that make up the series, would not look out of place at Garrard the jewellers. It is joined by two more stereo amplifiers, one rated at 70W/ch the other at 120W/ch. Also jostling for the prize of ‘King of Bling’ are two monoblocks, one sporting the legendary 300B triodes and rated at 10W and the other a powerhouse 120W model, utilising 6550 pentodes.
   Common to all Emillé amplifiers (by the way, Emillé is pronounced em-ee-leh) is the ability to conveniently adjust the bias on the power valves via trimpots that can be found on the front of the amplifier. The KI-40L is dual-mono in construction and utilises ‘Japan Blue Velvet’ volume controls from Alps.

The sheer scale of this architectural masterpiece takes your breath away. Integral to the chassis, with its striking anodised aluminium finish, are a Perspex top and front cover, which double as valve protection. The amplifier weighs in at 38kg and demands a hernia-inducing lift to manoeuvre it into position on the dedicated platform supplied. At 45.5x26x46cm (whd) the amplifier is slightly wider than it is deep; confuse the width and depth as we did and you’ll be faced with a second lift to put things right. Once set up correctly, the combination boasts a commanding presence.
   We used two different sets of speakers for this test: the JBL LS40s and a pair home-grown Fostex back-loaded horns. The JBLs offer an 87dB sensitivity with a 6ohm load impedance; the Fostex 96dB and 8ohm. The JBLs are generously-sized standmounts and were positioned on heavy open-frame stands. We also listened to the KI-40L in two rooms, one measuring 3x4m, the other larger at 5x5m. QED Genesis Silver Spiral single-wired speaker cable was used throughout.

We began in the larger room with the combination of the KI-40L and the horns, spinning up Carly Simon’s Taming The Tiger set [Warner B00000AG8X] on a Cambridge 640C V2 CD player. Made in 1998, this album is well engineered and allows Ms Simon to show off her considerable vocal talents. Overall, the leading edges of notes were certainly well defined, while high frequencies sounded remarkably clean. Bass, meanwhile, was full and reasonably taut. Vocals, on the other hand, had a slight bloom to them and suggested that the singer was perhaps over stretching herself. This was not a quality that we had heard previously. In addition, the soundstage seemed restricted. Other familiar material took on a somewhat unnatural quality.
  Moving everything into the smaller listening room brought benefits. Now the KI-40L sounded much more at home and hooked up to the Fostex speakers its character really came through. Under less pressure to perform in a larger acoustic, Carly Simon’s vocals now sounded more relaxed and far more natural – truer to the presentation we had come to recognise. However, one thing’s for sure: this is not an amp that will appeal to fans of hard dance or heavy rock music.
   Searching for some more suitable material we decided to pull out some acoustic guitar-based discs. Acoustic Alchemy started out about 20 years ago as a guitar duo of Greg Carmichael and Nick Webb (sadly Nick Webb passed away some years ago at far too young an age). One of their first albums, Early Alchemy [GRP 96662] contains well put together Spanish guitar-flavoured tracks. The KI-40L was happier with this sort of material and showed off the acoustic of the recording in fine style. What’s more, plucked strings were delivered with both accuracy and delicacy.
   Wishing to experiment further we next swapped speaker cable from the QED Genesis, with its two groups of nine individually insulated silver-plated 5N OFC cores, to a twisted pair of very simple solid-core cable of around 12AWG. Despite our expectations that the physically thinner cable would result in a sparser presentation it actually proved to be a better match. The sound now breathed more easily, there was more space around instruments and greater synergy, while neither high nor low frequencies were curtailed in any way. As most of you will already know, there are no rules in this game, and what works with one amp/speaker combination won’t necessarily work well with another. But the benefits in this case were clear to hear.
   We next plumbed in the JBLs and using the solid-core speaker cable found again that this was a much happier combination. The JBLs produce a prodigious amount of bass for their size and all was delivered in full measure.

‘Emma was a star in everyone’s eyes, Emma, Emillé,’ so very nearly sang Hot Chocolate. If stars shine brightly, catching the eye of passers by, then the Emillé KI-40L is certainly a star. After all, it looks a million dollars.
   As for performance, if your musical tastes are for acoustic material, simple vocal, jazz and piano then the KI-40L will not disappoint. There is a hint of magic here, of the ethereal, that manifests itself in a delicacy and lightness of touch that marks this amp out from the crowd when it comes to resolving the air and acoustic cues of well recorded material.

The KI-40L is pleasing not only to the eyes – where you could be forgiven for lingering too long – but to the ears as well. Anyone who feels that this is a must-have purchase may need to dig a little deeper into their pockets if only to ensure the speakers used will speak volumes. Used with sympathetic ancillaries this amplifier will surely shine.


Originally published in the November 2008 issue