And now for something completely different…

The Konus Audio Integrale 2000 amplifier, Digitale 2000 DAC and Vinyle 3000 phono-stage – Part 1

By Roy Gregory

Once upon a time, the term ‘budget esoterica’ seemed to be everywhere. Led by the example of the Rotel RA820BX and Mission Cyrus 1, suddenly the world was awash with basic amplifiers, shorn of such niceties as tone controls, tape switching and balance, often as not dressed down in dowdy black, affordable solutions that eschewed facilities in pursuit of performance. Those were heady days, when the ‘starter system’ market mattered and eking out every last bit of performance mattered too.

Sadly, those days are long gone. ‘Budget esoteric’ amplifiers are no more – replaced by the superficially more impressive (and significantly more expensive) ‘audiophile integrated’: Big boxes that promise the performance of expensive separates in a single chassis and at a more affordable price, they’re not just bigger, heavier and more costly, they’re vastly more complex too. Alongside the inevitable inclusion of a DAC and digital inputs – something that looks good on paper but so often sounds less impressive in reality – these days they have to offer network capability, home-theatre compatibility and all manner of ergonomic niceties, from nameable inputs to display brightness, remote control to system integration. In fact, everything and more that those ‘budget esoteric’ pioneers sought to eliminate. Is it any surprise that the performance of ‘audiophile integrated’ amps is so often underwhelming?

If the history of audio teaches us anything, it is just how often we forget hard-learnt lessons. There might be surprisingly little that’s new under the audio sun, but that doesn’t stop us marvelling at each new (re)-discovery. I’m far from immune myself, which helps explain the silly grin that greeted the arrival of the Konus Audio electronics. Clearly, the ethos of ‘budget esoterica’ never died – it was just hiding behind all that overe-sized equipment that was over-weight, over-rated and over here!

For the uninitiated, Konus Audio (the company) is far from new. Founded in 1997 and fronted by the iconoclastic Sead Lejlic, it started out as the European distributor for 47Labs (eclectic, quirky and ultra minimalist electronics) and the Miyabi cartridges. They soon started producing their own Konus Audio Essence single- driver loudspeakers, to match with the 47Labs products and when Haruo Takeda (of Miyabi) retired, they took on the Miyabi-inspired Fuuga cartridges. These days the range of products includes the Sternklang cables from Japan (produced by Koji Teramura, one time member of 47Labs) and Konus Audio’s own range of electronics, the subject of this review.

Take one look at the Konus Audio products and the significance of the past association with 47Labs is obvious. They may not look the same – indeed, there are few products that look even remotely similar to the KA units – but the minimalist ethos and modular boxes are clearly similar. But these are no simple clones and perhaps unsurprisingly, Konus Audio include more than a few tricks of their own.