ModWright Instruments started out in 2000 as a modifier of digital products. The company, founded by Dan Wright, achieved some success right out of the blocks. Expanding from installing its line of tubed analog output stages in other manufacturers’ digital gear, it went on to build its own products from the ground up. The 9.0 series of preamps was launched in 2003, followed by the first ModWright power amplifier in 2009. If anyone hasn’t noticed from the listings of exhibitors at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in the last couple of years or RMAF write-ups, ModWright electronics are among the most frequently used by many exhibitors. There are good reasons for this: Dan Wright is a supportive and approachable guy, and, more importantly, ModWright gear sounds good and partners well with other brands’ wares.
ModWright designs and builds tube preamps and solid-state power amplifiers, but the company’s first integrated amp is entirely solid-state. The KWI 200 includes a fully active linestage preamp section (using tubes to implement it would have increased costs beyond ModWright’s product brief). The large, heavy, and quite powerful KWI 200 uses a digitally-controlled analog stepped- attenuator (providing .5dB volume-control steps). The Alan Kimmel-designed power amp section, called “solid-state Music stage,” uses lundahl input transformers instead of coupling caps, has just one gain stage (providing 26dB of gain), and operates with no global negative feedback. It produces 200Wpc into 8 ohms, doubling to 400Wpc into 4 ohms. This ability to double its output power as the impedance is halved is indicative of a robust power supply and output stage. The front panel has a nice, simple layout: one knob for input selection, one knob for volume control, one button for power on/off, and another button to activate home-theater bypass (or power-amp-section input). There are two large display windows, which can be easily read from across at fairly large listening room (applause!)—one for input selection, the other for volume setting. The use of the unit is straightforward and intuitive.
The cosmetics have a muscular, confident, slightly retro- American-chic look, with the faceplate’s clean and functional layout combined with the more curved ornate MW logo and the ModWright Instruments name engraved in a traditional- looking font. As reviewed, in its basic configuration as a linestage integrated amp, the KWI 200 retails for $5000 and comes standard with a small, plastic remote control. A more upscale metal remote is available for $200, as are an on-board 24/192 DAC module ($1150) and a mm/mc phono section ($350) as add-on options. It has three pairs of line-level RCA inputs, one XlR input (but is not fully balanced internally), one RCA home-theater bypass input (or power-amp-section in), one preamp out, and a pair of nicely positioned speaker binding posts. The hot and neutral posts are placed vertically at the outer edges of the back panel for easy speaker cable routing outward to the sides. The apparent high quality of the casework and rear panel connectors all suggest to the user, “This is a well made product, built to last in the good ol’ U.S.A.”
To be absolutely clear about the location of manufacture, the back panel has, “Designed and handcrafted in U.S.A. by ModWright Instruments, Inc.” engraved in its center. You will need a sturdy and deep shelf; the KWI 200 weighs 55 pounds and is over 17" deep. Its support feet are at the outer corners, so you can’t get by by allowing much of the chassis depth to overhang a shallower-than-17" shelf—unless you use aftermarket footers like cones or bearings.
Dan Wright recommended 400 hours of running time—to help burn in the power amp section’s input transformers, in particular—so I made sure the KWI 200 received its full burn-in before I did any serious listening. From the start, this amp sounded full-bodied and powerful. With a 1.5kVA toroidal transformer and 234,000uF of total power-supply capacitance, this integrated has the kind of power that simply commands typical speakers. The KWI 200’s bass grip extended deeply, tunefully, and convincingly when paired with three different speakers: the YG Kipod signature II Passive, the Aerial 7T, and the Dynaudio C1 II. It has a rock-solid, gutsy presentation that underpins music with any bass or dynamic force behind it. The opening didgeridoo passage on Dead Can Dance’s “song of the stars” [Spirit Chaser, 4AD] had fantastic power and weight—nearly overwhelming with the Aerial 7T. Even the tiny Dynaudio C1 II pressurized my listening room admirably on this track when hooked up to the KWI 200. (Don’t be fooled by the C1’s diminutive size. An experienced listener once asked, “Where is the subwoofer?” when he heard the C1 pump out low organ notes in Rutter’s Requiem [Reference Recordings].) This is a good illustration of how partnering electronics can fundamentally influence how we perceive basic speaker performance limitations. As alluded to briefly already, music with dynamic power is backed up with fantastic control and poise, which helps create a sensation of ease and lack of restriction. “Breathing room,” if you will.