Krell LAT-1 loudspeaker Page 3

Deeper bass was not as prominent. The repetitive bass-drum beat on "Cosmos Old Friend," from the Sneakers soundtrack (Columbia CK 53146), or the final organ chords of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Part 1 (Test CD 2, Stereophile STPH004-2), were subtle and well below the level of the other music. The 32Hz double-bass notes in the opening of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra were inaudible (Time Warp, Telarc CD-80106), even though I was hitting 104dB peaks on the orchestral climaxes. The synthesized deep bass was distinct, tuneful, but light in "No Sign of Ghosts," from the Casper soundtrack (MCA MCAD-11240)—not the dense, ponderous notes I've heard from other full-range loudspeakers.

Yet pipe-organ enthusiasts need not despair. Everything I crave in deep bass—shuddering air, room lock, sense of pressure and tension—was present in spades when the LAT-1 was played at high levels. The sustained deep pedal notes in "Gnomus," from Jean Guillou's organ arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117), had mass, heft, majesty, and presence, reaching 104dB on the RadioShack meter. Gigout's Grand Chorus in Dialogue on Pomp and Pipes (Reference Recordings RR-58CD) filled the room with deep, shuddering chords. Although the LAT-1 moved air and objects playing these deep organ-pedal notes, the speaker enclosure itself remained quiet and still, with no sign of even the slightest vibration.

The LAT-1's midrange was transparent and timbrally accurate, with no smearing or congestion. Vocalists came alive in my room as the speakers created a wide, seamless soundstage, giving no hint of their position in the room. Selection after selection was a rave, whether Patricia Barber's breathy voice on "Use Me" (Companion, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), Suzanne Vega's holographic sonic image as she sang "Tom's Diner" (Solitude Standing, A&M CD-5136), or Patti Austin's dark, smoky vocal on "Only You," from Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (N2K 10023).

Male vocalists fared just as well, with no midrange anomalies, suckouts, or other colorations. Time after time, the LAT-1 came through. Willie Nelson sounded rich but free of honk on "Getting Over You" (Across the Borderline, Columbia CK 52752). Similarly, Harry Connick, Jr.'s tenor on "Don't get Around Much Anymore" (When Harry Met Sally..., Columbia CK 45319) had none of the darkness and overrichness I routinely hear from lesser loudspeakers.

Instrumentals were stunning, both in sheer clarity and in timbral accuracy. The mando guitar on "Prayer in Open D," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (Eminent EM-25001-2), had a crystalline shimmer and silken tonality that remained separate from Harris' thin, tremulous voice. Notes: "I'm hearing harmonies and timbres I never knew were there. Nothing, but nothing, is getting between me and the music today. I can understand Harris' lyrics while following the bass line better than ever before."

My favorite jazz selection, "The Mooche," from Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz (Stereophile STPH013-2), also benefited from the LAT-1's low distortion. It conveyed the raspy, honky timbre of Marty Ehrlich's alto sax, the silver shimmer of Billy Drummond's introductory cymbal work, the blattiness of Art Baron's trombone, and the transparent clarity of Steve Nelson's vibraphone.

The speaker's treble spectrum was clear and extended, with no brightness, hardness, or edge. Bells had a lustrous sheen, as heard on Dvorák's Carnival (Wolfgang Sawallisch/Philadelphia Orchestra, from Nature's Realm, Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-66-CD). The Japanese and Korean temple bells on Mark Levinson: Live Recordings at Red Rose Music (Red Rose Music RRM-1) were reproduced with a remarkable transparency and sense of ease.

The LAT-1 maintained good image stability at high volumes, with a wide, well-defined sweet spot in which images snapped into focus. For the first time, I noticed individual voices in the male chorus singing "Lord Make me an Instrument of Your Peace," from John Rutter's Requiem (Reference Recordings RR-57CD). José Carreras' tenor was centered in front of the chorus in the opening "Kyrie" of the Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2), while Richard Thompson's electric guitar appeared just outside the right speaker in the instrumental finish of "Why Must I Plead," from Rumor and Sigh.

Throughout my listening sessions, the LAT-1 refused to compress or distort. This was evident during Tito Puente's timbales solo, "Tito," on Sandoval's Hothouse. The LAT-1s projected an image of the timbales spread across the soundstage, Puente moving back and forth among the three drums. Each drumstroke was lightning-fast, with no decay or congestion—just the explosion of metal rim struck by wooden drumstick. Other instrumental transients, from trumpet blasts to rimshots, were reproduced without compression. The sound in my room was tremendous—clean, fast, loud, dynamic—at levels I've heard from only one other loudspeaker, the Revel Salon.

This ability to play loud without distortion or compression allowed me to enjoy the greatest musical dynamic range I've experienced in my listening room to date. Listening to "The Maker," Emmylou Harris' showstopper on Spyboy, at high levels was a brand-new experience. The LAT-1 sure delivered the goods! Explosive rimshots erupted out of the transparent, multilayered tapestry of vocalists, synthesizer, guitar, and crowd noise. I couldn't believe how clear the sound was, so I cranked the KCT preamp's volume control even higher.

That did it. The next rimshot threw the 15-amp circuit breaker in my garage and stopped the music. I put on my shoes, went into the garage, flipped it back on, and continued the listening session. Later that night, I plugged the Krell FPB-600c into my 200 amp line. I wasn't about to forgo the joys of full dynamic range!

Toward the end of the listening sessions, the LAT-1 opened a door in my listening experience. I had been sent a new multichannel SACD of James Taylor's Hourglass (Columbia ASC 67912). I set the Sony SCD-C555ES carousel SACD player's bass-management system to feed full-range signals to the two front loudspeakers with no center channel. The soundstage attained a width and depth not heard with CDs. Taylor's voice assumed a solidity and reality that were light, airy, well-defined, and rich in natural timbre. "Gaia" was particularly open, extended, and effortless, with a remarkable smoothness. I sat back, grew contemplative, and was at peace.

Final thoughts
What audiophile will be most happy with the LAT-1? Anyone who demands the absolute peak of midrange clarity and bass speed. The speaker never came between me and the music. I was drawn into the music by the LAT-1's lucent midrange, fast mid-bass, and powerful dynamic range. The LAT-1 revealed to me—and the revelation was startling—just how significant an improvement over CD the SACD format can be. I also found a refreshing pace in my jazz records and drum solos. Those who crave big dynamic range in their listening rooms will thrive on the LAT-1's 110dB, compression-free sound. But because the LAT-1 rolled off in the deepest octaves in my listening room, pipe-organ aficionados might need to supplement it with a Krell Master Reference Subwoofer.

Is the Krell LAT-1 worth its incredible asking price of $37,500/pair? For the strong of back and deep of pocket, the answer is a resounding Yes. For the rest of us, the newly designed, two-way LAT-2 might prove an acceptable alternative at a quarter the cost. Stay tuned.