And that signals the KI-40L’s weakest suit. If you want pinpoint precision and the sort of etched detail and vertiginous leading edges that seem de rigeur in certain high-end circles, the rounded images, big on physical volume – not so big on the space around them, that inhabit the Emillé’s soundstage might seem a little blousy and lacking precision. That’s your call, but I’ll take the musical coherence, the tonal separation of voices and instruments and the beautifully layered stage depth every time. The explosive enthusiasm of the Basie band, the infectious energy of their up tempo swing should have you up on your feet, while the wonderfully hesitant smooch of ‘Beaver Junction’ will melt the hardest heart. To quote a phrase, “It’s all in the timing” and boy does the KI-40L get that right, allowing the performance to lock to its own natural pace rather than driving it or imposing a false sense of purpose by accentuating the front of notes and clipping their tails. It speaks of a temporal deftness, a way with the shape and pace of a phrase that serves music well.
Irrespective of partnering speaker, the Emillé never lost its composure, despite its modest power rating – something that suggests a seriously well-engineered power supply behind what is an essentially simple output stage. Okay, I didn’t try it with a really inappropriate load, but why bother? No it doesn’t possess the iron grip of the KI-120, but the agility and rhythmic flexibility are ample compensation. The expressive range and even balance of the Wadia 581 delivered the perfect foil for the Emillé’s fluid lines and warm tonal balance, while the aesthetic parallels are hard to miss, and many a joyous hour was spent with these two driving the CLXs, further proof that the old rules of system building are best consigned to the dustbin of history. Deft enough to do small scale acoustic works with a breathtaking sense of life and presence, beefy enough to handle all but the most outrageous beats and kind to old ladies and poor recordings, this is a perfectly poised performer. Sit back and simply enjoy the expansive soundstage, the subtlest of intimacies, the sweeping majesty of a full orchestra. Devoid of extreme extension or air, equally devoid of hardness, edge or exaggerated softness, the Emillé sticks close to traditional valve virtues but avoids the normal pitfalls. It is above all, and unashamedly, musical. Indeed, its rare combination of delicacy and sheer physical presence makes for rewarding listening. To enjoy the experience you’ll have to forego the (dubious) pleasures of remote control and a home theatre loop. You’ll also have to engage with those weird, glowing bottles, but the Emillé makes that about as straight forward as possible, both operationally and in terms of its useable power output. Maybe not the first or most obvious amp to play to a firm believer in the virtues of solid-state, this is more one to grow into; but I’ve a feeling you’d enjoy the experience.