Krell KAV-300cd CD player Page 2
Excellent things are rare
I used the KAV-300cd in a variety of systems during my audition, but most of my serious listening revolved around using it in my main system: Conrad-Johnson ART preamp, Krell FPB 600 power amp, and EgglestonWorks Andra loudspeakers. However, I did set up a more modest system comprising the KAV-300i, the KAV-300cd, and several affordably priced speakers, including the extraordinary B&W DM-302s.
While some might find it silly to put a $3500 CD player and a $2350 integrated amplifier in the same system as a pair of $250 loudspeakers, it made for a genuinely kickin' system. And substituting a cheaper CD player and more expensive speakers served only to illustrate how important the front-end is—I got a lot more information out of the system with the Krell and the B&Ws than I did with a $250 CD player and $3500 loudspeakers. Listen for yourself, but if you have to cut corners when constructing a system, I urge you to not skimp on the front-end.
The first thing I noticed about the KAV-300cd was its robust, big-boned sound. It captured the majesty of a full-blown orchestral crescendo or a shattering organ blast without a hint of constriction or compression. This made me pull out many of my favorite "big orchestra" pieces—lots of Mahler, Shostakovich, and Wagner.
My, my, my. What a match made in heaven.
Inevitably under such circumstances, the Bernstein/NYP Mahler Symphony 3 (DG 427 328-2) comes out, and I hunker down for a long journey through despair, rebirth, and triumph. The KAV-300cd threw a gigantic soundstage across my listening room. It was detailed and very, very solid. The tremendous chords that open the symphony sounded as solid as a brick, and the silence that followed each of them seemed to sizzle—as though I could hear the air closing back around the spaces those notes had inhabited.
Transients, such as the mighty timpani strokes within those opening chords, were fast and startlingly crisp. And no matter how dynamic or congested the passage, the Krell was up to the challenge. Torture it as I might, I never made it whimper.
The bass was deep, authoritative, and phenomenally well-defined. Krell products have always had the reputation for getting the bottom end right, and the KAV-300cd forthrightly lived up to its heritage. Digital bass doesn't get much truer than this.
The greatest strokes make not the best music
But don't get the impression that the KAV-300cd was just an agile brute; it had a rare ability to portray delicate texture as well. Steve Reich's Works 1965-1995 (Nonesuch 79451-2, 10 CDs), our September 1997 "Recording of the Month," affords a welcome opportunity to assess Reich's output as a whole, and I've responded to the challenge by listening through all 10 discs—which, by the way, are stunningly well-recorded by producer Judith Sherman.
But do I make listening to fantastically well-recorded music by a great composer sound like a chore? Oooow, big mistake. This is a fabulous set, and everyone should be so lucky as to hear it—especially through the Krell, which sorted out the trickily constructed pieces with ease (I almost said "with flair").
If you don't know Reich's work, a good starting place is the lovely 1976 composition Music for 18 Musicians. This piece features the composer's own ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians: three sopranos, one alto, 11 keyboards (pianos, marimbas, xylophones), violin, cello, clarinets, and bass clarinets. Like much of Reich's work, 18 Musicians is based on the concept of pulse—which has a particular meaning in the context of his oeuvre, but which here can be considered shorthand for breath itself. Music for 18 Musicians breathes—it flows from section to section as a series of constantly shifting ensembles. In some places voices dominate, in others the bass clarinets...and always the marimbas, xylophones, and pianos steadily tick away beneath the phrase-by-phrase shifts in instrumentation. I'll grant that I'm reaching, but the piece reminds me of some of those intricately contrapuntal baroque works: Only when everyone's part locks in together can the true melodic line be revealed—no one person carries it, or even a recognizable portion of it.
But taken as a whole, the piece is mesmerizing. I freely enter its world and, carried along by its ebb and flow and relentless forward momentum, find myself blinking and slightly disoriented when it gently deposits me back in my own world nearly 68 minutes later.