Pros: attractive little amplifier; easy to operate; good sound
Cons: watch for scratchy controls
The Kenwood KA-3500 is a small, attractive, silver face integrated amplifier that was introduced in the late 1970s. It was often mated with a Kenwood KT-5500 tuner, yielding a combination that competed nicely with some of the high quality mid-powered stereo receivers of the day. The KA-3500 is rated at 40 watts per channel, and can handle two sets of stereo speakers. Cost in 1976 was $170. Today a nice sample commands about $75 on eBay.
Like NAD’s famous 20 watt per channel 3020 integrated amplifier, the Kenwood KA-3500 is elegant and simple. Unlike the NAD, the Kenwood has the silver face that characterized all of Kenwood’s components in the late 1970s. The 3500 is 15” wide x 10” deep x about 5 ¼” tall, and weighs maybe 18 lbs. It is more compact than the higher powered KA-7100 and KA-8100 integrated amplifiers, and mates perfectly with the KT-5500 tuner, which I raved about in a previous review.
The KA-3500’s faceplate is dominated by a large volume control to the right of center. To the left and slightly above are speaker select (A, B, A +B), bass and treble controls. To the right and slightly above are push button function pushbuttons (phono, tuner aux). Toward the bottom, toggle switches control on/off, loudness, dubbing, and monitor. A small balance knob sits between the on/off switch and the loudness/high filter switch. The headphone jack is just to the right of the on/off switch. Like the NAD 3020, this is the kind of amplifier that will suit those who don’t want lots of features, but rather want to hook things up, toe the speakers in just right, and listen.
Set up and listening.
The back panel of the KT-3500 is arranged as logically as the front. The speaker outputs are dead center and are color coded (red and black) plastic thumb screws, which I like better than the plastic push-in connectors of the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier and Marantz 2230 receiver. To the far left are RCA inputs for phono, tuner and auxiliary (where you’d hook up your CD player today). The phono ground screw is conveniently located directly beneath the phono inputs. To the right of these inputs are RCA inputs for two tapedecks (cassette decks were big and of high quality in the late 1970s). The dubbing toggle switch on the front panel actually allows the user to dub A to B or B to A, and the monitor switch just to its right allows you to monitor either A or B. Not bad for a minimalist integrated amplifier.
I own a KA-3500 as a back-up to my conrad-johnson/NAD power amplifier and preamplifier combo and have listened to it mostly with Dynaco A-25 speakers. The sound of the 3500 driving Dynacos is neutral and tight, with good control of the Dynacos’ woofers, a nice, liquid midrange, and extended trebles. I don’t think the overall sound is quite as dark and “tubey” as that of the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier, but it is not bright or etched, as later solid state amplifiers could be. In fact, the sound reminds me of what I heard with my friend’s Kenwood KR-9600 receiver, but with less power.
Driving New Large Advents, the sound is also neutral, with good control of the Advents’ woofers (at reasonable volume levels). The KA-3500 does nothing to tame the brightness of the New Large Advents, but it doesn’t exaggerate it either. Some folks say that Original Advents and New Large Advents are power-hungry, but I thought the sound through the KA-3500 through New Large Advents was clear, with good bass, at anything short of frat party listening levels.
Overall, I think the Kenwood KA-3500 is an excellent little amplifier. It is nice looking, is easy to use, and sounds quite good. It is also easy to find on eBay for under $100. But there is one caviat: I've heard a few samples of this amplifier recently, and some have scratchy volume, bass and treble controls. Age does take its toll. If you're buy a KA-3500 on Craigslist, ask if you can give it a listen before you buy. Check out the controls and make sure they're working smoothly and quietly. Often a squirt or Deoxit (accessing the innards is easy--just remove a few Philips screws and remove the top) is all that's necessary to make things right. But some need service, and that can be expensive. If you're buying one on eBay, be sure to ask the seller lots of questions.
That said, a fully functonal Kenwood KA-3500 can be the backbone of a really good basic home stereo system.
Note: My thanks to Wsmunch for adding this and many other vintage electronics products to Epinions's database!