Krell SACD Standard multichannel SACD player Page 3

The next day, I played parts of Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra's superb-sounding Mahler 5 (Telarc 2SACD-605690) on both SACD players, and aside from concluding that both sounded wonderful, and that the Standard's timbral balance was closer to what I heard at Avery Fisher Hall, I don't think it proved much. What if I'd been sitting way back, or in the balcony, or in one of the hall's notorious dead zones? What if I'd attended the Maazel performance in a warmer hall? You get my drift. The Tri-Vista's presentation was more like sitting at the back of the cavernous Avery Fisher, the Standard's more like my 20th-row seat.

The only definite conclusion I drew was that, when it comes to presenting the grandeur and flow of live music, SACD, like a good LP, does an adequate job, while even the best CDs (and CD layers) sound mechanical and closed-in. Using either player, compare the SACD and CD layers of the Telarc Mahler 5's opening measures: open and glorious vs pressed between layers of glass. The trumpet's subtle ebb, flow, and decay on the SACD layer sounds the way it does live. On the CD layer, it just gets muffled and goes away.

Olga Kern's performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1, with Christopher Seaman conducting the Rochester Philharmonic (SACD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807323), is a superbly transparent if somewhat warm recording. The Standard's more holographic presentation put the piano in greater relief, but did not overemphasize it or give it a cardboard-cutout quality. But with this recording I preferred the rich, sonorous warmth of the Tri-Vista's presentation because it seemed to better complement the intentions of the recording engineer. Because of that warmer presentation, the French horns had greater body, the double basses more weight, and the piano's pressurization of the hall—especially when Kern depressed a pedal—as more clearly defined and felt.

The CD Question
Through the Krell SACD Standard, good CDs sounded not as good as when upsampled to DSD through the $34,000 dCS stack—as I remember it. But they had greater image specificity, solidity, and clarity than when played through the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista, which, though richer and warmer, gave up some detail and dimensionality, much as it did in the SACD-layer comparisons. But both players did a much better job with CDs than did earlier SACD players I've auditioned.

In my review of the Tri-Vista in the May 2003 Stereophile, I wrote that it sounded richer than the dCS stack but that the scale of the stage size dropped down a few notches in width, height, and especially depth. That was the case here too, as the Standard presented a wider, deeper, airier, taller picture, depth being the biggest difference.

I also noted the dCS stack's greater image specificity, solidity, and crystalline transient clarity compared to the Tri-Vista's richer overall picture. That was the case here as well. The Standard was an excellent-sounding CD player, offering outstanding transparency and clarity and good edge definition without sounding artificial, and an appropriately big, airy picture. Its bass control and extension were as noted in the SACD comparison.

The Tri-Vista's CD performance, like its SACD playback, was warmer, tonally laid-back, and somewhat more softly focused than the Standard's. These differences were more apparent in direct A/B comparisons than when I simply listened for a while to each. Perhaps I'm over-emphasizing the differences for the purposes of the review, but one area where I'm not exaggerating is bass control and focus. The Standard beat the Tri-Vista by a wide margin in this area, and with that upper hand came superior rhythm and pacing and thus greater musical excitement.

I wrote the liner notes for Mobile Fidelity's new SACD release of Patricia Barber's Companion, recorded live at Chicago's The Green Mill. I didn't say much about the sound because at the time I had only the standard CD on hand. Now I have two copies of this excellent Jim Anderson "Red Book" recording, so I put a copy in each player and did the old A/B and again. The Standard delivered more air, space, image focus, and specificity, while the Tri-Vista offered more of the spatial context and room size, with a slightly softer and warmer overall presentation. Barber's piano had greater percussive thrust via the Standard, and sported a bit more wood through the Tri-Vista. Both were very fine-performing CD players through which I thoroughly enjoyed the Barber album. I'm sure the SACD version of Companion will be even better, and suspect that if I had to choose one player to listen to it on, it would be the SACD Standard.

Krell claims that the SACD Standard offers "every bit of detail" available on an SACD. After spending some months with it, I tend to agree. Krell claims "extended bandwidth." Again, I agree. Krell claims that the Standard is an "exceptional value." I more than agree. For $4000, you get an outstanding CD player and a superb-sounding SACD player that has exceptional bass extension, control, and rhythmic surefootedness. The Standard's resolution of detail, dynamics, high-frequency extension, and soundstaging were also notable, and its overall presentation was musically and viscerally exciting without being bright, mechanical, or overly analytical. The Standard is an exciting-sounding, musically compelling player that rocks. Yet it also offers the delicacy, detail, and harmonic purity demanded by classical music.

What's more, you get fully balanced two-channel operation and surround-sound capabilities, though if you're not using full-range speakers all around, you'll have to provide your own bass management. You also get a choice of sonic contouring filters. Given that my reference Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD player offers neither multichannel operation nor balanced stereo outputs nor multiple filter options and costs $2500 more, the Krell SACD Standard is a highly desirable bargain.

The Tri-Vista's construction is far beefier (it weighs twice as much, though that doesn't necessarily mean its rigidity is any more effective), and it offers 192kHz CD upsampling and access to the DAC for use with other sources. The Musical Fidelity is a wonderfully conceived and executed product, and I bought it with enthusiasm. Some might prefer its grace and warmth, but, given my musical predilections, if I had to choose one SACD player, regardless of price, I'd go for the Krell. It's swell. Now gimme a candy bar, Dan.

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