Krell KBL preamplifier Page 5

An even more spectacular display of the KBL's abilities to unravel complex musical lines can be heard in a world-premiere recording of Antoine Brumel's Mass for Twelve Voices, with Paul van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble on Sony Classical "Vivarte" SK 46348 (reviewed in this issue). This remarkable performance was recorded in the very reverberant Chapel of the Irish College in Leuven, Belgium, and is, without a doubt, the finest job I've ever heard of vocal music recorded in a church (footnote 6). The presentation was very spacious and expansive with the No.26, creating an illusion of a large choral group performing in a large space. Not so with the KBL. Each vocal entrance was clearly delineated, the size of the ensemble was smaller (only 12 voices), and each vocal line could be followed from beginning to end despite the reverberant surroundings. The perspective was closer with the KBL, each singer easily located within the soundstage, making for a more intimate and involving view of the performance.

The KBL did just as well on the pop side of town, the dynamic impact of this preamp really coming to life. The best demonstration I can think of is contained in a CD you can't buy in this country (sorry). But this doesn't mean that there isn't some other way to finagle a copy from the source, which happens to be B&W Loudspeakers in England. Besides building loudspeakers, B&W is a sponsor of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and produces recordings of selected performances each year. In their second Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (B&W Compact Disc BW 002), Simon Philips, drummer in Ray Russel's A Table Near the Band, takes a four-minute solo that will blow you out of the room with realistic dynamics. This is surely the most convincing recording of drums I, or my percussionist colleagues in the NSO, have heard. With the No.26 and KSA-250, Philips's playing was impressive but not terribly dynamic or impactful. But with the KBL and 250, the sound opened up, pitches and colors of individual drums and cymbals became clearer, and I was moved from several yards away to about 3' in front of the drums (I know what this sounds like, since I've been put in this situation with NSO pops concerts more times than I'd care to remember).

In a less bombastic mode, the recording of Antiphone Blues (Arne Domnerus, sax; Gustaf Sjökvist, organ; Proprius CD PRCD 7744), took on a whole new perspective with the KBL. Domnerus is a great sax player, but I never knew just how much control he had over his horn until this preamp came along. Rarely does one hear a tenor sax player who can bend intonation and change harmonic textures so successfully, without losing that "funky" edge on the sound. Ambience surrounding the sax was somewhat lessened with the KBL, with an overall sonic view that was closer, albeit less spacious and expansive. Is this better or worse? I don't know, since I wasn't at the recording session. In this case, however, I didn't particularly like the KBL's drier, less ambient sound.

This leads to the next question: Is the KBL really better because it retrieves so much more perceived information, or just different? Because listening to music is a very personal thing, and the art of musical reproduction is somewhat subjective, I can't answer this for you. I'm looking for the most honest reproduction of the performance. But even I find myself sometimes yearning for a little deeper soundstage, or richer harmonic textures, than the KBL might deliver. In the final analysis, I suppose that musical realism should win out over euphonics, even though this medicine of truth doesn't always taste as good as the sweet flavor of sonic colorations.

If sonic "honesty" is what you're looking for, there sure aren't any shortcomings. It would be nice, however, to have a stereo/mono switching capability to test channel balance and phase coherence in recordings.

Practical considerations
Practical considerations in high-end audio? Why not? It isn't necessary anymore to suffer the vagaries of garage-built products that blow up every five minutes to achieve the ultimate sound. Krell has certainly given practicality some serious thought by offering a product that can be easily upgraded by the consumer without incurring additional cost (other than the second KBL). In spite of this, $4500 is not peanuts; you should carefully consider your priorities before shelling out the bucks. If you view purchase of the KBL as the first building block in an all-Krell, full-differential system, this is actually a good buy.

But besides the Krell KBL and Levinson No.26 (and more expensive and improved No.26S), there are some other superb preamps, notably from Classé Audio and Jadis, that make beautiful music. Also, don't forget those two wonderful preamps from Jeff Rowland (the Consonance and Consummate) that offer both balanced operation and infrared remote control. Now, just to add a little fly to the ointment, I understand that Krell is also working on a remote-control preamp...

I feel the KBL belongs at the top of Stereophile's Class A. As did Krell's KSA-250 power amp, I feel the KBL to redefine the term "neutrality." Dynamic and transparent, this preamp is faithful to the musical material, revealing a recording's best and worst aspects. However, system matching with this preamp is very important, as it did not work well with all power amplifiers (notably the Mark Levinson Nos.23 and 23.5). For that reason, I suggest that you audition this preamp with equipment similar to your own, if possible, before taking the plunge. This is definitely not the preamp for the audiophile more interested in sonic spectacle than musical honesty. Such honesty comes at a price, however, which may be too much for some listeners. Even I, who place musical accuracy above all else, sometimes find such merciless transparency distracting. But if you consider live music your ultimate reference, and want to hear your recordings without any added colorations or editorialization, the Krell KBL is the best of the best.

Footnote 6: Antoine Brumel (ca 1460-1520) was a highly respected Burgundian composer of the Late Gothic style who created some of the most interesting contrapuntal vocal works in the history of Western music. Even if you don't particularly like early music, this recording is a must-buy, if only to hear how beautifully voices can be recorded.
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