Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier Krell KRC Comparison
I inserted the KRC preamplifier fitted with the Phono Module into the same system I discuss elsewhere in this issue—Apogee Mini-Grand loudspeakers bi-amped with two Krell KSA-300S power amps. The source was a VPI HW-19 Mk.IV turntable (not a recent sample) with an SME V tonearm (also an older sample) and a Lyra Clavis cartridge.
With this review I had no truly familiar phono front end—a disadvantage. For a number of reasons, including malfunctions of a turntable and an arm, and the return of another arm—my long-term reference Graham—for updating, the VPI/SME/Clavis system was gathered together for this review. I was familiar with each of these items—arm, turntable, and cartridge—individually, but not in concert. There were only two things which marginally bothered me about the performance: the lightish balance and a tendency toward brightness with a small percentage of difficult program material. The latter may well have been exacerbated by the Clavis's overall balance combined with the Mini-Grands' tendency to be unforgiving in this region. However, the only way to be certain that these qualities weren't in the KRC Phono Module was to try a different phono stage. I planned such a comparison in any event, and to that end rounded up the Vendetta dedicated phono preamp with its line-level output.
With the latter plugged into one of the KRC's line inputs, the games began. There were two objectives here: first, determine if the two characteristics I've noted were in the KRC Phono Module; second, compare the overall sound of our long-term reference Vendetta (the source of an ongoing custody battle between RH, JA, and me) with that of the Krell's own phono stage.
The first thing I noticed was that while the Krell KRC Phono Module was very quiet at any normal listening level (no hum, and only a very slight rushing sound audible very close to the loudspeakers), the Vendetta was awesomely silent sans music playing, with noise totally inaudible at any distance from the loudspeakers. It was more like a line stage than a phono stage in this respect. The Krell was completely satisfactory, but the Vendetta was simply spooky in its lack of noise.
Sonically, the Vendetta didn't substantially change the overall system balance—the sound was still a bit light rather than rich, but not unacceptably so. This was clearly not an inherent characteristic of the KRC Phono Module. With respect to the top end, the differences weren't profound, but did favor the Vendetta. The latter was a trace sweeter, though no less detailed, and was also marginally less up-front. The net result was a bit more delicacy and a more self-effacing character, with a more subtle rendition of ambience and inner detail. Some of the brightness noted remained—though no more than I've noted from the Mini-Grands elsewhere...
If carefully matched with its associated components, the KRC Phono Module is capable of very fine performance. It shouldn't be surprising if the KRC Phono Module wasn't quite up to the Vendetta's level in a head-to-head matchup—before the Vendetta was (unfortunately) discontinued, it was five times more expensive than the Phono Module.—Thomas J. Norton