Old School

Krell PAM-5 Preamplifier

I must be honest with you, this is the only component I have ever purchased sight unseen at full retail price.  That’s right.

Spin the clock back to 1986, when I was still living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and making regular pilgrimages to Quintessence Audio in Naperville, Illinois to audition hifi gear.  My buddy Frank at Quintessence called me when the newer, more “affordable” Krell preamp came in, telling me to “buy one now, before there was a waiting list.”

No self-control

Of course I went for it, and when my PAM-5 arrived a couple of weeks later I dashed right out of work to make the three-hour drive to Naperville in the middle of the day.  Something to do with food poisoning, I recall. By about 10pm, I was back home and the PAM-5 was rocking the house, driving a Threshold 4000A and a pair of Acoustat 2+2’s.  Good memories indeed.  My experience with Quintessence was so pleasant, that ten years later, when I called Frank to buy another Krell preamplifier, I bought a Kerry Blue Terrier from him instead!

In June when a mint PAM-5 came up on EBay for six hundred bucks, I had to take a stroll down memory lane.  Fortunately, it was mint and worked like a champ.  The PAM-5 sold for about 2000 dollars back in 1986 and I was blown away by the weight and dynamics.  It gave my 2+2 based system just what they needed.

Remember, this was just before the dawn of preamplifiers having remote controls, so the PAM-5 is all manual.  I’m sure this has contributed in a minor way to its long-term reliability, less to break and all.

Somewhat understated and less massive than the Flagship PAM-1, (and lacking the balanced outputs of later Krell designs) the PAM-5 still had a separate, outboard power supply, which was a bit rare back in the mid 80’ and seldom seen on much other than Mark Levinson components.  The PAM-5 also featured a great moving coil cartridge phono stage that was incredibly quiet and much more dynamic than the Ortofon MC transformer I had been using with my Dynavector 23R cartridge.

Sometimes the past is even better than you remember

In my current semi vintage system, which consists of the Conrad Johnson MV-75 from our last issue and a pair of Sterling Broadcast LS3/5a’s, I am still very impressed with the sound of the PAM-5.  When Krell first hit the hifi scene, they became famous for having bigger than life dynamics, and extremely powerful and well-defined bass.

This preamplifier holds up the legacy quite well, with an extremely modern sound.  Eyes closed, you would swear you are listening to a preamplifier in the 2-5000 dollar range.  Not only does it possess all of the dynamics I remember, but the tonality is excellent and the upper registers are clean and tidy, not grainy or sterile.

Well Krell was a bit better known back then for the sheer slam of their amplifiers, their preamplifiers were undiscovered jewels to many.  The PAM-1 and PAM-3 were better known, but the PAM-5 was more reasonably priced and even used a special “phase correction circuit” in the CD player input.

I pulled the 20 year-old Pioneer CD player out of my garage and sure enough, this did take some of the harsh, grungy sound out of CD playback.  I remember in 1986, this was a lifesaver for my NAD player.  The difference between good LP playback and CD was huge, but this took some of the digital edge down in a very good way.

The Krell PAM-5 is a welcome blast from the past.  It has stellar build quality and top-notch sound.  You could still make one of these the cornerstone of a very good hifi system today and be quite pleased.  Unfortunately, Frank is no longer with us and Harry is getting pretty old, but you can still contact the current owner, Mick Survance at Quintessence Audio.  He’s having the best year in their 32-year history, providing the great customer service I received 22 years ago.