pl | en



Price (when reviewed): 48 000 PLN

Contact: Kora High Fidelity S.A.S.U.
10bis route d'Ax, 31120 Portet Sur Garonne



Provided for test by SOUNDCLUB


translation Ewa Muszczynko
images Marek Dyba | Kora

No 220

September 1, 2022

KORA HIGH FIDELITY S.A.S.U. is a French company that has already existed for a few decades, which has been experiencing some sort of a renaissance since 2017, when it was taken over by a new owner, Mr. BRUNO VANDER ELST. It specializes in hybrid amplifiers using a proprietary solution called the Square Tube.

ORA'S HEADQUARTERS ARE LOCATED IN Toulouse, sometimes referred to as the "Silicon Valley of France." It is home to the French aerospace industry, with a huge engineering and research base in the region. The aerospace industry includes a large number of innovative smaller and larger companies that, as subcontractors, must meet high, if not the highest, quality requirements. This requires appropriately skilled workers, laboratories, precision tools, production under proper conditions, etc.

How does this relate to Kora? – Its current heads, privately music lovers and audiophiles, come precisely from the aerospace industry. It is thanks to the knowledge they brought from there that they have created a team of engineers who gained experience earlier designing precision measuring devices for laboratories. It is they who develop the subsequent devices for the French brand. Practical experience also tells the management which subcontractors and suppliers to work with in order to offer perfectly made, reliable products.

I read all this only after Maciej Chodorowski, head of the Soundclub of Kora's Polish distributor, personally brought me the TB200 for a test. I took the opportunity to ask him where he got this particular brand from into his offer. After all, it is not particularly well-known, at least in Poland. However, if my memory doesn't deceive me, a good dozen or even more than 20 years ago (that is, long before the current team took it over), it had already been present in our country for a while.

The answer surprised me a bit, as it was the following (I am quoting from memory): "The design of Kora amplifiers is somewhat similar to those offered by Tenor Audio, which is why I became interested in them." The thread, for lack of time, was not continued. However, given that the brand was added to the range, I assumed that the sound must have met expectations, too. Another thing is the fact that the slogan " solutions similar to Tenor Audio" was also a huge incentive for me, as I count the Canadian brand's devices among the best I've been able to listen to so far.

The brand

I STARTED MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE TB200 with a visit to the manufacturer's website. As I read, Kora's current lineup consists of three integrated amplifiers: the TB140, TB200 and TB400, from which it follows that the tested model is the middle offering. The latest addition to the portfolio are two power amplifiers, the TB240 and TB 480, while a line preamplifier and a CD player are being developed now. From the description it appears that the amplifier models differ primarily regarding their power, although larger power supplies and filtering capacities, and, of course, size and weight, are also behind the greater capabilities in this area.

Nevertheless, they share the basic proprietary and patented solution, the aforementioned Square Tube technique, and visual design. The number in the name is the result of multiplying the nominal power of the given product for an 8 Ω load two times (after all, these are stereo amplifiers). So, the first one offers 2 x 70 watts, the tested one 2 x 100 watts (for 4 Ω it's already 2 x 180 watts), and the top one 2 x 200 watts. The two higher models are "pure" integrated amplifiers, that is, they do not have built-in phono stages, DACs, Bluetooth or streamers, or any other additional modules. Only the entry-level model, the TB140, features a phono stage for MM cartridges.


ON THE OUTSIDE, KORA'S "MIDDLE" INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER looks rather modest. In my opinion, however, it may be appealing, especially to those who are not fond of flashy designs full of ornaments, colorful LEDs, etc. The amplifier is not very big, and its sleek chassis is made of aluminum and steel. The front has been visually divided into two parts, with the upper one (about 2/3 of its height) hidden behind a glass panel (acrylic, I think). Due to the background behind it or its darkening, it seems black. In the middle, behind the glass, there is a cutout where you can see four tubes, dual triodes, playing a key role in Kora's patented solution – I'll come back to that in a moment.

Next to it there is a small but clear display, probably OLED (just judging by its readability and color scheme). Yellow characters show the selected input, volume level and balance between channels in the basic configuration. The lower metal part of the front, as well as the nicely, precisely made and finished heat sinks (side panels) and the top cover, are finished in a matte color which the manufacturer describes as "mineral graphite." In practice, one can assume that it's eye-appealing "freckled" gray which makes the surface look rough, although it's not so at all.

At the front, on the right side, at the border between its two parts, there is the only manipulator, a round element flush with the surface. Functionally, it is both a knob and a button. It is used to turn on the device, change the volume and select the active input. The round element needs to be pressed briefly, the input is selected by turning it and the selection is confirmed with another press. These functions are duplicated in a small, sleek metal remote control finished in the same way as most of the amplifier's chassis (that is, in mineral graphite color).

By pressing this knob, we can also access the amplifier's menu. Among the available settings there is, for example, the possibility to enable "clicking" for volume control, adjust the balance between channels, set the offset for each input separately. This allows you to equalize the volume level between sources with different output levels. We can also change the brightness of the display here and select one of two sets of information appearing on the display.

For input No. 4 in the TB200 settings it is possible to enable the "by-pass" option. Its use makes signal going to this input bypass volume control, i.e. the device works as a power amplifier. This means, of course, that only sources with adjustable output signal should be connected to it. This feature is intended for home theaters, where the TB200 can work as the main power amplifier.

Cooling of the amplifier's interior is ensured not only by the nice heat sinks on the sides, but also by a series of cutouts in the device's cover. The latter features a nice big company logo, a smaller version of which is also placed on the metal part of the front. The back is extremely simple. We get high-end single speaker jacks (their placement on the right and left sides suggests a dual-mono design) and four line inputs (RCA only).

Please note here – I didn't find any relevant markings, so it's useful to know that the right channel is at the top and the left channel is at the bottom. I'm used to a reverse arrangement and it took me a while to figure out why the music I knew didn't sound quite as I expected. Input No. 4 is also accompanied by a small physical switch that allows it to be used as a pre-out. This allows you to connect, e.g. a power amplifier or an active subwoofer to it.

The set of connectors also includes a power socket (IEC). The main switch is located at the bottom of the device, under the front, on the left side. When turned on, a small red LED on the front lights up to indicate the standby status of the device (standby mode). The amplifier is turned on by pressing the round element on the front, or by using the remote control. The manufacturer suggests waiting a few minutes before actually turning on the device, and even after we wake it up from the sleep mode, we still have to wait a while before the amplifier is ready to work.

Finally, let's return to the already mentioned patented solution called the Square Tube. Kora amplifiers are unique in that they are not classic hybrid amplifiers. So, what are they? They can be described (although that's one of possible options) as tube amplifiers that, thanks to their unique design, do not have the typical limitations of tube devices. I'm talking, for example, about low power or a low damping factor, and the resulting limitations in terms of being able to drive more difficult speakers.

What is this solution based on? To put it as simply as possible, four double triodes work in the voltage amplification stage. Two 12AU7 (ECC82) tubes are used at the input of the circuit and two more – 12AX7 (ECC83) – at its output. Once again, I will emphasize that only these four dual triodes, usually used in preamplifiers, are responsible for voltage amplification of signal received from sources.

Of course, small signal tubes would not be able to drive speakers. They amplify voltage, but a much higher current is needed to drive speakers. That's why Kora amplifiers use another stage that features six pairs of Motorola transistors backed by a battery of capacitors with a total capacity of 60,000 μF per channel (!) and two robust power supply transformers (2 x 300 VA). These 12 transistors work in this circuit as current secondaries for the tubes.

Their role is to provide appropriate output current necessary to drive speakers, and to adjust impedance – it is high at the output of the tube amplifier stage and must be much lower at the amplifier output. In fact, therefore, they perform a role similar to that of output transformers in classic tube amplifiers, albeit eliminating their weaknesses, such as phase shifts or a low damping factor. And that's pretty much it. Or as much as that.

I will leave the discussion of whether this is a hybrid design which features tubes and transistors, but both used to amplify signal (here only tubes), or a tube design (only using a specific solution), or perhaps still another one, to others. For me, a music lover, as always, much more important than the means used is the goal, or rather the end result, namely the sound.


⸤ THE WAY WE LISTENED The TB200 Kora amplifier was used in my reference system, replacing the GrandiNote Shinai. It drove the GrandiNote MACH4 loudspeakers and then the Club-27 Kurt MKIII ones.

Signal was fed to it from three sources, the first two being the LampizatOr Pacific DAC and the J.Sikora Standard Max turntable with the same manufacturer's KV12 tonearm. In the arm there were mounted, interchangeably, Air Tight PC-3 cartridges and the fantastic Aidas Mammoth Gold, and signal was amplified in the GrandiNote Celio Mk IV phono stage.
The third source, hosted by me as a guest appearance, courtesy of Tom Kurs (AudioForm), was the Technics 1506 reel-to-reel tape recorder. The individual sources were connected to the amplifier by the Hijiri Kiwami, Bastanis Imperial and Hijiri HCI RCA interconnects, respectively.


I STARTED WRITING THE FIRST SENTENCES ABOUT THE SOUND OF THE TB200 after about a week of dealing with this amplifier. This really doesn't often happen, leaving aside, of course, the strictly temporal aspect, i.e. whether I have a given product with me for so long and how much time I have to write/submit a review). Moreover, this is usually the case with the best tube amplifiers, sometimes turntables or cartridges. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised given that, as I wrote earlier, Kora amplifiers can basically be classified as tube amplifiers (triode-based ones).

The uniqueness and, I can write it now, brilliance of the solution patented by Kora's engineers, after all, is that signal going from sources to the inputs of their integrated amplifiers is voltage amplified exclusively in four double triodes. The transistors serve as an impedance buffer and provide the current. This is where the considerable power of the tested integrated amp comes from, together with the ease with which it will drive almost any speakers, but with all the best features of the triodes preserved.

So, if one considers the TB200 to be a tube amplifier, and one based on triodes, then the effect of "getting engulfed in listening to music" and "not having time" to write shouldn't have surprised (me). Only that, on the other hand, its sound, like that of good, let alone very good traditional hybrids, combines the advantages associated with tubes with those attributed to transistors. Except that... more :) Hence its uniqueness. So, the longer I listened to the Kora amp, the more I realized how difficult it would be to describe its sound in such a way that its uniqueness would be as obvious to you as it was to me. Eventually, however, I came to try, as time began to chase me.

Where should I start... When it comes to hybrids, one usually writes about combining the best features of tubes and transistors – I have already mentioned this myself. However, only designs like the TB200 show how well it can be done, though, actually… No, it's not like that. The Kora amp shows how brilliantly triodes may sound when they get extremely clear, transparent and powerful support ensuring the possibility to present the full range of their features and advantages, and this regardless of what speakers (as long as they are good, of course) we connect to the speaker outputs. At the beginning, these were my MACH 4, which are easy to drive, playing evenly, dynamically, cleanly, not going as low as the Ubiq, but offering fast, tight, brilliantly differentiated bass.

From the beginning, I came up with several (and not necessarily coherent) expressions of what the TB200 brought out of my speakers. First of all, the sound was remarkably, unbelievably clean, "proper," that is, exactly as it should be. No flashiness, no tube-like warming or thickening of the sound, no aggressive bass to show that there are transistors "on board." The key thing for me at this point was that this is not clinical purity, and the amplifier does not sound in a super-analytical, hyper-detailed way.

Although I wrote about the lack of "thickening" of sound, it did not lack saturation or density. What I got from the TB200 was a very rich color palette, density and high energy of music playing. I also got great coherence and fluidity of sound which, together with the aforementioned features and a hundred more, created an extremely natural, literally organic musical performance. In fact, I could end the review this way, because it simply has to be heard, and no description can fully convey the extraordinary musical experience provided by this rather inconspicuous amplifier. However, my role is to try.

When I somewhat recovered from that first impression, one that told me I was dealing with an integrated amplifier that plays differently, I was even willing to risk saying that it allowed me to catch more surprising elements of the presentation better than most devices at a comparable, or even much higher price. Well, I can't think of any amplifier, and I've tested many powerful tube or solid-state beasts with enormous power at their disposal, that would bring out such low, weighted down and energetic bass from the GrandiNote speakers. Bass is still perfectly controlled, tight and fast, but this time it also felt like from the 12-inch bass drivers of my Ubiq speakers.

It didn't matter if it was Marcus Miller's electric bass on TuTu, the acoustic bass on Isao Suzuki's album, the foot on Jacques Loussier's album, the electronic bass from Dead Can Dance's album, or finally the "grand orchestra" bass from Mahler's symphony. Each time, the lowest tones were played with complete freedom, but also with a clean, well-defined, springy "booty" that I had never before heard from these speakers, I think (memory is fallible). I will point out that Tenor Audio amplifiers, ones that are several times more expensive and supposed to be relatives of Kora amps by design, were tested by me even before the GrandiNote MACH 4 speakers came to my system.

I started with the bass because it quickly caught my attention, and for the reasons described above it seemed to be the most impressive (but not flashy!) element. Nevertheless, this is only a fraction, albeit an important one, of this integrated amplifier's capabilities. Under other conditions, (i.e. "with other speakers"), I suspect that the first thing that would have drawn my attention would have been the incredible "friendliness" of this sound – such, I will not hesitate to write it, SET-type friendliness.

The thing about this amp is its fluidity and consistency beyond what most amplifiers are capable of presenting, its naturalness, colorfulness and density. I'll add right away that I'm talking about density resulting from high resolution which, however, is used as a building block of a coherent, rich and, I'll stress it again, fabulously pure whole, and not to provide the listener with excessive details. The latter, as well as even the tiniest subtleties, however, can be found in this presentation in huge numbers, if we want them.

It so happened that I was returning the tested amplifier the day after a concert was held as part of the Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, which featured, among others, the phenomenal Christian McBride with his band. So, I didn't fail to listen to this bassist's Live at The Village Vanguard concert album at the near end of my TB200 adventure. The goal was to see, after refreshing myself with the sound of live music, if indeed the Kora amp comes near it in terms of energy level more than other types of designs.

I would also add that usually the day after any concerts I have a problem listening to music on my system (or any other one). The difference between playback and a concert is just too great and reminds me that any system, no matter how expensive or how good it is, constitutes just some approximation of what happens on a concert stage. Of course, not everyone needs to seek out à la live sound, but I do, I love it and would love to have it at home. McBride's album sounded so good, with such energy, that on that day, until I went to another concert of another bass genius, namely Stanley Clarke, I was already listening exclusively to good concert recordings both from vinyl and files.

Among them was a vinyl release of the Blicher Hemmer Gadd trio concert. The TB200 showed the stage and the instruments on it quite close, shortening the perspective a bit. In doing so, it didn't go as far as to feed the sound "into my face" – I simply sat closer to the stage. The tested amp did not create as tangible and present phantom sources as the best SET amplifiers. However, it gave way to them in this area to a lesser extent than most non-SETs, and on top of that... somehow it didn't bother me at all.

I could feel the heated atmosphere of the concert anyway, the lively emotions on stage and among the audience, and in all this the most important thing anyway was the music. The sound, as a whole, was simply real and convincing, largely because it sounded truly live and had high energy, an element that recordings and systems always lack the most, compared to live music. To be clear, I'm not saying that the system with the TB200 played the same, only that it came closer to "live" music than most amplifiers I know.

As a fan of Steve Gadd, I listened mostly to his performance on the percussion, to the clean, resonant, powerful, brilliantly differentiated brass and energetic, bouncy, fast drums. They reminded me in their intensity of what I had fresh in my mind from the concert by McBride and his band. However, here, as soon as the saxophone took the lead, the depth of its sound, the natural dullness exquisitely combined with certain harshness (seemingly a contradiction, but it is so after all), the details in the form of the musician's breath drew me in just as strongly.

The same applied to the Hammond organ, to its extremely natural sound – even if it only played in the background. The Kora amp brilliantly showed each instrument, conveyed its character and gave me the opportunity to look at any of them. In the first place, so to speak, it rather encouraged the perception of music as some kind of a finished, complete, immensely rich, complementary and harmonious whole. In a nutshell, it did not offer a "recorded" but a "concert" version – just the way I like it.

During the "live session" being such an essential part of the TB200 listening experience, there was no way to miss (yet another instance of) listening to a vinyl disc of previously unreleased recordings by three guitar geniuses, Al di Meola, Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin, namely Saturday night in San Francisco (and immediately afterwards Friday night...). I bought this first concert album not in the Impex version by oversight, although on transparent vinyl.

By the way, it seems that also stores selling these records in many cases did not quite know what they were selling. If you're just getting ready to make a purchase, check very carefully what you're ordering, and, if possible, choose the Impex Records release. I don't have a comparison as of yet, but judging by that label's Friday night... release (albeit on 45 r.p.m.), the difference in its favor should be significant.

That didn't stop me from sitting with my eyes closed and absorbing every note played, seeing each of the three guitar virtuosos with my mind’s eye. The tested Kora amplifier beautifully differentiated their positioning on stage, the sounds of their guitars and different playing styles, not really leaving that much to imagination. It also brilliantly created concert atmosphere, i.e. an additional and very important element of both San Francisco concerts, as well as maintained unique dynamics, coherence and fluidity of presentation that made it easy for me to imagine what an extraordinary experience it must have been to attend this unique musical feast that took place more than 40 years ago.


EVALUATING THE KORA TB200 AMPLIFIER, it's hard to forget about its price and the expectations that come with it. However, in my humble opinion, this sleek, well-made and carefully finished integrated amplifier exceeds those expectations. It's a dream come true for many lovers of SET-type amplifiers, who give up on them because of low power and a limited choice of suitable speakers. Here the limitations will be minor, although probably a few speaker models too difficult for the TB200 could be found. Then you can reach for a more powerful model.

The Kora amp offers sound that is extremely friendly to the ear, inviting one to spend many hours with it (i.e. with the music served by the tested integrated amp), but it achieves this through naturalness, density and high energy of sound, rather than tricks in the form of artificial warming. It serves music in an amazingly coherent, smooth, open and relaxed way, regardless of its genre. It is one of those rare occasions when what I want to type here is the clichéd "you need to listen to it for yourselves!". It's really worth it, because it's one of the few best integrated amplifiers that could play permanently at my place.

It won’t be cheap, but, in my opinion, it is highly likely that with the Kora amp you will find an amplifier for years that will enrich your musical experience and take it to a new level. So, it is with pleasure that we award it the ˻ RED FINGERPRINT ˺.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer):

Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz (± 1 dB)
Rated output power: 2 x 100 W/8 Ω | 2 x 180 W/4 Ω
Line inputs: 4 x RCA (input No. 4 can serve as a pre-out, or a power amplifier input)
Maximum power consumption: 310 W/8 Ω and 610 W/4Ω
Remote control: yes
Dimensions (H x W x D): 168 x 420 x 350 mm
Weight: 17.3 kg