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Integrated amplifier
Emillé Labs KI-40L

Price: 6750 €

Manufacturer: Kwangwoo Electronics co. Ltd.,

674-3 Beckrock-Ri Habuk-Myun
Yangsan city Kyungnam, South Korea

tel.: +82 55 382 7373
fax: +82 55 383 7375


Manufacturer’s website: Emillé Labs

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Emillé Bell is the largest Southkorean extant bell made of bronze. It measures 3,33 meters high, 2,27 meters in diameter, and 11 to 25 centimeters in wall thickness. Plus it weights 25 tones (according to some sources it's „only” 18,9 tones). The bell was finally cast in 771 A.D. As far as I know all we know about our country in that time are some legendary names of some princes, but that's all we know. Korea has a world class relic from that time. The Europe-centrism comes naturally to us, Europeans, but we can't forget that the oldest, most advanced civilizations emerged in Far and Near East. So we have absolutely no right to underestimate Koreans. To be honest even being aware of all these facts it was a bit hard for me to accept that a high-end company might come from this country. Some time ago we tested already very interesting devices called Stello, which is a brand name for April Music (HERE), so I knew that special products were done in Korea. Emillé, with all due respect for Stello, is from a different league. They started as high-end company with its own style and design. It exists since 1993 but only now they are becoming internationally known. Once they started to conquer international market they do effectively and with style.

For now there is no distributor of this brand in Poland. But after reading some reviews in my favorite „Hi-Fi +”, I asked Srajan Ebaen from for assistance in organizing a review for Highfidelity. I received an answer from Mr Vital Gbezo who was a chief of European sales branch for this manufacturer. He offered an integrated amplifier – KI-40L for a review, which I gladly accepted. It's a big, solid device with KT-77 power tubes. It offers output power of 2 x 40 W and weights around 28 kg. Build quality is excellent as you shall read in DESCRIPTION part of the text. Unfortunately there is no remote control and you have to set volume for each channel separately – for me that's some downside of this device. Packaging is extraordinary and I would even say it sets a reference standard for all audio equipment Packaging is in fact a wooden crate with some wearing iron, with clever interior design. Initially I received amplifier with power tubes coming from JJ Electronics, but right after amp's arrival I received information that Manufacturer decided to change those for Russian tubes, made by Genalex under brand name Golden Lion. So finally these were used during the test and these are offered with amplifiers. There is an optional equipment you may order together with this device – it's a stand made of two acrylic slabs and aluminum spikes – it was unavailable during the test so I had to carry it out without this stand.


Recordings used for test:

  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Tulipany, soundtrack, muz. Daniel Bloom, feat. Leszek Możdżer Trio, Warner Music Poland, 77911, CD.
  • Artur Lesicki Acoustic Harmony, Stone And Ashes, Fonografika, 559040, CD + Master CD-R.
  • Charlie Haden &Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim, naimcd098, CD; review HERE.
  • Depeche Mode, Fragile Tension/Hole to Feed, Mute Records, 12BONG42, 2 x 180 g, maxi-SP LP.
  • Diorama, Cubed Deluxe Edition, Acsession Records, A 114, 2 x CD; review HERE.
  • George Michael, Patience, Sony Music UK, 515402 2, CD.
  • Gerry Mulligan & others, Jazz Giants ’58, Verve/Universal Music Japan, POCJ-2732, CD.
  • Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Dragonfly, Telarc, CD-83377, CD.
  • Madaleine Peyroux, Bare Bones, Rounder/Universal Music LLC (Japan), UCCU-1188, CD.
  • Metallica, ReLoad, Sony Music Japan, SICP-481, CD.
  • Savage, Tonight, Extravaganza Publishing Srl/Klub80, CD001, 25th Anniversary Limited Edition, CD; review HERE.
  • Wong San, Feel Like Making Love, Pony Canyon, PCCY-50014, HQCD; review HERE.

Japanese issues available at CD Japan.

This Korean amplifier creates its own world. It encloses listener inside some kind of a dome, and transfers inside it the whole recording, not just instruments – the room disappears as it's replaced with the air, ambiance, emotions etc that were captured in the recording during the recording session. Sure, I can't know that for a fact as I wasn't there when recording was done. That's my assumption – I need it as kind of a baseline I can start from and that might evolve over the time and with gaining more and more experience. So my assumption is that I KNOW how it sounded when it was recorded, and I know the intentions of sound engineer and producer. Anyway I realize that recording reality is different from what any audio system is able to reproduce. And I'm not alone in that believe – I can see same one when reading many reviews in „Stereophile”. As an example I will quote a leader from October's issue: „[…] the experience of a live acoustic event is not the same kind of experience as listening to a recording of such event at home […] If you want a convincing illusion, bend over forward and look through your legs at the rising moon.” (M. Lavorgna, Why Music Matters Most: Enjoyment, Illusion, and The Audiophile, „Stereophile”, October 2010, Vol. 33, No. 10, s. 3.) That is why I assume that I know how the recording should sound like and its based not on the knowledge how it really sounded when recorded, but how it sounds with higher class amplifiers, more expensive ones, or just with others, and only the second reference is how particular instruments sound during live concerts I attend.

Apart from all that I need to say that Emillé amplifier offers extremely rich, coherent sound. In fact it affects the input signal in a way that allows to get a pre-programmed effect. It does it with ease to portrait as closely as possible the vibes of each recording. The most important factor of this “creation” is what I mentioned at the beginning – listener is surrounded with a “sound dome”. This device doesn't create some soundstage somewhere behind speakers line, no matter how coherent it would be. Here we get more. The sound doesn't appear in front of speakers line either. Although sound is a bit warm, midrange slightly emphasized – I'll come back to this thought later – nothing is pushed in the front of speakers line. All phantom images are precisely placed on the large soundstage – they can be shown closely to listener or far away – depending on what's needed. The point is that the vibes, air, space – in a differently defined way then we usually do it for hi-fi – are surrounding us. I noticed that for the first time when listening to some acoustic instruments recorded in a specific way on Depeche Mode maxi-single Fragile Tension/Hole To Feed. The sound elements out of phase literally surrounded me. Powerful, sudden sound attacks from Laidback Luke Remix of the Fragile Tension sounded like they were somehow focused and beamed straight to my ears. When I tried harder I realized that those sounds were directed not into my ears but right behind them, but I still believed that the sound engineer's intention was to make this sounds reach particular place in space. Another electronic roulette - Tonight by Savage – delivered very similar sensations. But finally I was beaten by an ultra-puristic recording from Naim Label - Heartplay by Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione done in True Stereo. I'd say it was a typical recording for this label, with huge number of information out of phase, and the whole recording taken with only two microphones. The coherence of spacing and related timbre was simply obvious. Instruments seemed quite large and were presented right behind loudspeakers line and even behind them there was this deep, dense, continuous space. I had a sensation of being THERE with musicians. Not like I had instruments in front of me but rather I was there, in the same time and space, with amazingly sounding instruments. In fact they sounded better than in reality.

Such a way of presentation is built partially by slight warming up of the sound. The presentation is not that warm as offered by Leben CS-660P or Emitter II ASR-a, but it is on the same side of neutrality. It gets closer to what I heard from Tenor Audio 175S rather than from Luxman M-800A. Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses and each potential buyer has to make his own choice. It seems to be easier with KI-40L – sound seems to be a bit warm but not warmed up; the lower midrange is kind of emphasized, but you can't really tell that there is anything wrong with this sound. When KT66 like in Leben, or KT88 in say McIntosh MC275 (test HERE, and report from CSS's meeting HERE) are used, sound becomes bit warmer and darker. Compared to them Emillé's sound seems to be more correct. But let me confirm that one more time – it is still rather warm sound. This might be a reason for female vocals to sound so incredibly well. I listened to Feel Like Me Making Love bu Korean artist Woong San. It comes from Korean Pony Records – issued as HiQualityCD. It had been recorded and only later mastered using DSD technology. I can't say that I'm a fan o changing formats of recordings as in my opinion something always gets lost somewhere along the process. This particular CD is a great example of my theory – all the instruments sound very well but the vocal itself seems bit colored – e.g. sibilants are more emphasized than they should be. Emillé shows that really well. Apart from that I witnessed a „spectacle”. I used speech-marks not to let you know that I didn't really like it but because it was not equal to live performance. It was a brilliant (but only) hi-fi spectacle. I listened to this recording with a real pleasure even though I was bit upset at the beginning about this not-perfectly-recorded vocal but in a while I forgot about imperfections and simply enjoyed listening.

I heard same thing even more clearly when listened to Bare Bones by Madaleine Peyroux, which delivered bit warmer sound with less resolution, and in absolutely clear way when listening to a sampler from Japanese „Stereo Sound” magazine titled: Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, that I'd received just a day before from Yoshi Hontai, a “outside-Japan” representative of companies like Acrolink,

Oyaide, Leben, Musica, Acoustic Revive and others. The sample recordings were fantastic so I already ordered two CDs those samples came from. Korean amplifier presented them in a fully professional way, showing clear differences between pieces even though its own sonic character was also audible. When listening to this sampler I heard again, even more clearly, what I'd noticed before during session with Haden and Forcione – lower midrange was slightly emphasized which made strings to sound more distinctly than in reality, and the whole guitar seemed also bigger than real instrument. Same happened for other instruments.

So in this way we came to this matter I mentioned at the beginning – how we perceive sound reproduced by audio system in our room. Listening to this amplifier I had no problem with accepting its way of presentation. Yes, I wish it offered bit more resolution in lower midrange and upper bass, and also (probably as I'm not 100% sure of that) that low range was bit better controlled. This can be achieved without looking for another amplifier (check it out below) but even without any improvements Emillé is and extraordinary device.

Creatè Audio 3A fuse

As I mentioned before there is a way to improve the sound of Emillé amp. I realize that some might recommend starting a therapy after I recommend listening to different kinds of fuses but I would still recommend a simple, and quite inexpensive test. The improvement will not be significant but worth trying. Synergy HiFi, a manufacturer of tubes and fuses sold under Creatè Audio brand sent me some of them for tests (check HERE and HERE), so it I couldn't help myself and had to try also with Emillé. KI-40L is equipped with a 3,15 A fuse – Chinese manufacturer offers two different values: 3 and 5 A – I chose the lower one. Well … the difference was audible immediately – before you send me to shrink try it yourself. After that we will have an open ground for discussion. This slight coloration of a midrange disappeared and the resolution of sound in general improved. Objectively these are not very significant changes but after you get used to the sound of this extraordinary amplifier even such a small improvement will be highly appreciated. For me the biggest audible difference showed in the bass range resolution and its „energetic efficiency”. With Creatè Audio fuse installed bass range seemed better organized, and the room's acoustics interacting with Haden's bass on Heartplay was absolutely amazing.


I didn't mention much about treble or bass as it wasn't really important – the way this amp sounded didn't really encouraged me to analyze particular parts of frequency range, as it offered a complete and coherent presentation influencing mostly emotions. Both frequency range extremes are simply damn good – strong with great resolution, very well projected to the soundstage. Upper bass is bit emphasized but it only makes the whole presentation more palpable. The whole presentation doesn't impress at first with resolution – but the resolution is more than all right. It manifests itself in a different, not so direct way – not by incredible numbers of details but rather by extremely good interaction between all elements. The most important part of presentation is of course midrange but not because there is something wrong with treble or bass, but because midrange is the range that human ear hears best. This amplifier has of course some limitations – most important is its not so big output power. In my room (around 29 m2 and with the listening spot quite close to the speakers) is was more than enough. If you have a bigger room you are going to need speakers offering sensitivity higher than 89 dB and more friendly impedance than 4 Ω. I would call this amp user friendly as it doesn't have remote control and there is a separate pot for each channel but the sound it offers is outstanding.


KI-40L is a tube integrated amp, but not fully “tube” as the power supply is solid-state. There are different opinions on the subject. I personally watched the evolution that started from GZ34 tube rectifier and ended in solid-state power supply in Ancient Audio Silver (now called Silver Grand Mono). And I must admit that SS is beyond any doubt a better one but for this particular device – I wouldn't make a general conclusion out of it. KI-40L works in push-pull setup with KT-77 power tubes (these are beam tetrodes - KT = „Kinkless Tetrode”). First version of this amp used tubes made by Slovak JJ Electronics and I still got this version for test. But a week later I received information from company's European representative - Mr Vital Gbezo – that while still keeping the same price for amplifier, manufacturer decided to offer other, more expensive and more reliable tubes made by Genalex, from Golden Lion line. These tube are made only for Emillé in factory in Russia.

In phase inverter circuit there are JJ's double triodes ECC82 though, same tube is used in the first gain stage, and ECC81 in a input buffer. There are orange LEDs under triodes the lit up even before tubes do. All tubes are hidden under transparent covers, that fulfill European Standards safety requirements. I think that this idea might come from Japanese manufacturer - Wavac but it doesn't really matter who came up with this idea first – the point is that this is a good solution. If I remember correctly Wavac used glass cover similar to those in extremely expensive amps The Lars Mk II by Engstrom&Engstrom. But these are dozen times more expensive than KI-40L. Anyway these transparent covers look very good and fit with large aluminum surfaces nicely. Chassis is made of 8 mm thick aluminum slabs.

This chassis is quite different from everything I ever saw before. Front panel is far from being typical with two “towers” in the corners and a central “saddle” separating the left and right valve decks which offers space for power tubes bias meter, four bias adjustments and a know that allows you to choose one of the power tubes. Below there a input selector, and volume attenuators at its both sides – one for each channel. I can't help me complaining a bit. It is a solution Emillé Labs use for its products as they are full dual-mono designs and as such we need to accept that. But on the other hand setting volume for each channel separately is not too comfortable especially that there is no remote control. The solution exists – you can control both channels with one know – it could be mechanical or electrical solution (an example – TEAC uses its own solution in its DAT and Compact Cassette devices). But that was just a digression – if you buy KI-40L you buy the whole idea behind it and you should not complain. Amplifier sports four adjustable aluminum spikes placed in the four corners of the device below those corner columns.

There are two sets of speaker binding posts – separately for 4 Ω and 8 Ω. Below you will find (also separately for right and left channel) connectors for five RCA inputs. All of them look very solid, they are gold plated and they bear no markings. Right in the middle the is an IEC input, fuse socket and an earth post. The latter is a typical solution for Japanese devices – like in my own Leben CS-300 Custom Version or my former amp - Luxman M-800A. One more thing – ALL the writings are engraved on the chassis which means in 10 years they will be as easily readable as they are today.

I spent quite some time trying to open this amp to have a look inside. It not only looks like a tank, it is build like a tank. The bottom of chassis is also made of the same thick aluminum. It is bolted to the back and side panels and to get if off you need to unscrew also all four spikes. When I finally got in I saw that the circuitry uses three large PCBs and one small. The latter sports hermetic relays made by Japanese company Takamisawa. Cables going in and out of them are made in house from silver plated copper wire with Teflon insulator. What I found interesting were thick wires, separate for each channel, running from PCBs with gain stages to input connectors. Each channel has its own PCB with extra-thing, golden plated paths. It looks like signal goes from input to Japanese „Blue Velvet”Alps attenuators , and than to nice German coupling M-Cap Supreme capacitors from Mundorf (previous version sported Jantzens). Next stages are coupled with AuraCap capacitors made by American company Audience, that manufactures also power conditioners. You can find there also some large resistors. Apart from already mentioned PCBs there is one with power supply circuit. There are 12 capacitors, 100 μF each, 3 smaller ones and 2 more on PCBs. Company advertises KI-40L as a full dual-mono design so I would expect to find two power transformers. But when checking out power supply circuitry I found only one power transformer maybe accompanied by a choke, but even the secondary windings are common for both channels. On the other hand there are separate windings and hence rectifiers for power tubes and drivers. There are large output transformers on top marked with Emillé logo. Emillé Labs is a brand belonging to Kwangwoo Electronics Co, which is indicated on all PCBs.

This is an excellent job – both from mechanical and electrical point of view.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
• Power consumption: 240W
• Tubes: KT77 × 4, ECC82 × 4, ECC81 × 2
• Input sensitivity: 0.3V RMS
• Output power: 2 x 40W (T.H.D.+N.: 2%)
• Frequency response: 15Hz – 30kHz (±1dB)
• Dimensions (WxDxH): 457 x 460 x 256mm
• Weight: 28kg

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air (previous it was Prime, tested HERE)
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD