Krell SACD Standard multichannel SACD player Page 2
The SACD Standard was run in two-channel balanced mode into a VTL TL-7.5 preamplifier that I had on short-term loan. (The TL-7.5 is everything Paul Bolin said it was in the October issue, and if I can figure out a way to buy it, I just might.) I compared the Krell Standard to my reference Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player ($6500), which uses the same Philips transport (footnote 1).
The SACD Standard is the first Krell model I've had in my system in 17 years of reviewing, so I was extremely curious to hear the company's take on SACD—or on anything, for that matter. I began with the SACD of the Police's Synchronicity (A&M Chronicles 069 493 606-2). Wow! Compared to the rich, warm-sounding Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista, the Krell delivered a taut, Naim-like immediacy and rhythmic drive that was startling, exciting, and extremely involving. Bass control, focus, and solidity were noticeably more coherent. Stewart Copeland's kick drum on "Every Breath You Take" was far better-defined, each contact of mallet on skin sending a tight shock wave of energy into the room. The same was true of Sting's bass line—each pluck of string had a far more distinct and dimensional physical outline than through the Tri-Vista.
Yet the Standard's superior three-dimensional musical detail and rhythmic grip weren't accompanied by brittleness or a mechanical aftertaste, and though there appeared to be greater high-frequency extension and a slight upper-midrange emphasis, its presentation didn't sound bright or overly etched. In fact, the Standard seemed to have the same mid- and high-frequency ease and smoothness as the Musical Fidelity. Every SACD player I have heard, no matter the price, seems to have that, which is one reason the format is so attractive to audiophiles.
To better level the playing field, I then ran the SACD Standard single-ended, which equalized the outputs (the Krell's balanced output runs 6dB higher than its unbalanced) and made the direct comparisons more revealing. (The Standard does sound its best in balanced mode, but if you run single-ended only, don't let that stop you from considering it.)
Police's "Tea in the Sahara" was a different experience with each player. Through the Tri-Vista, Sting's bass line had a thick, almost lazy lilt. There was a warm, wet midrange ambience in which Andy Summers' chorused guitar spread lazily across the soundstage in the same plane as the drums. Through the Krell, each pop of Sting's syncopated bass line was far more organized rhythmically and harmonically. The harmonic components of Summers' chorused guitar were easier to delineate, and the mix of tonal colors was more distinctively portrayed compared to the Tri-Vista's more laid-back delivery.
Yet there was nothing etched, analytical, or bright about the Standard's overall presentation or tonal balance. The Tri-Vista's rendering was somewhat warmer, and passed along more context-defining midbass, as well as what seemed to be a wider-ranging harmonic palette, but it couldn't compare, overall, to the Standard's self-assurance, rhythmic swagger, and holographic soundstage presentation.
Because both players use the same Philips transport, either remote operated both units simultaneously. I was therefore easily able to get exact sync using duplicate SACDs I have, including Mobile Fidelity's recent reissue of Vox Turnabout's famous 1975 Ravel program, featuring Bolero, La Valse, and Pavane pour un Infante defunte, with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4002). This quadraphonic recording, engineered by Joanna Nickrenz and Marc J. Aubort, has long been considered an audiophile classic, and this remastering, with new notes by Aubort, will quickly let you know why.
The two players presented entirely different takes on this transparent, expansive recording. The Krell Standard offered brassier brass, more snap to the snare, superior instrumental focus, more hall-reflection detail, and greater front-to-back precision—especially its forward placement of the string section. The MF Tri-Vista had a more laid-back, velvety-smooth overall sheen that emphasized the woody quality of the strings and the timpani's lower-bass content over the initial percussive thwack, which the Standard delineated with far greater authority. Subjectively, either the Tri-Vista was somewhat laid-back in the mids or the Standard pushed the mids slightly forward. This and other simply miked acoustic recordings demonstrated that the Standard was all about detail, resolution, and three-dimensionality, while the Tri-Vista was more about overall spatial context and tonal richness.
Other rock SACDs I auditioned, including some of the Rolling Stones reissues and Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia CH 90324, produced by my old friend Steve Berkowitz), confirmed that the two players offered totally different, consistent, and easy-to-predict sonic perspectives. I enjoyed listening to both players, but the Standard's rhythmic grip, immediacy, detail, and three-dimensional presentation definitely worked better for rock and pop than did the warmer, more laid-back Tri-Vista.
Two variables could affect the sonic outcome but not change the basics: cables and, in the case of the Standard, choice of filter. The Standard offers four filters for SACD playback. The first has the highest bandwidth, extending to 180kHz with a gradual roll off. The second extends to 75kHz, with then the steepest rolloff. It also offers 0.5dB gain across the entire passband. The third filter operates to 80kHz and has the second-steepest rolloff, while increasing gain by a very high 5.5dB over the passband. Filter No.4 operates to 90kHz and has the third-steepest rolloff, with a 3.5dB gain over the passband. Krell offers no guidance as to which to try when; after adjusting for the level changes, I found the effects subtle, my preference depending on the source.
Reviewers are supposed to regularly freshen their ears with live music, but while hearing live music is a good thing, I'm not sure it's much help in the reviewing process. Last week, from the 20th row of Avery Fisher Hall, I heard Loren Maazel conduct the New York Philharmonic in a stupendous performance of Mahler's Symphony 5. When the massed string sections began sawing away at their instruments, it got bright—Avery Fisher can be that way.
Footnote 1: I feel obliged to make some disclosures: Musical Fidelity sponsors an advertisement on my website; the company's owner, Antony Michaelson, has taken me to lunch and dinner many times, and we've become chummy. I've barely said five words to Krell's Dan D'Agostino in my 17 years of audio reviewing, and he's never taken me to lunch or dinner or offered me so much as a candy bar.