|Krell KID and Papa Dock Amplifier|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Monday, 01 September 2008|
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I kicked things off with Coldplay’s latest album, Viva la Vida (EMI), which I purchased from iTunes in their plus format, meaning all the songs were DRM-free with 256kbps AAC encoding. This still isn’t much, but it’s better than what most iTunes are used to, which is 128kbps. Starting with the track “Lost,” the bass was extremely taut and the level of detail was startling. The texture and extension throughout the lower registers, a Krell strength, was incredible, as it changed my perceptions of what is possible from the tiny iPod. Vocals were clear, firmly placed and natural. I couldn’t hear any compression to frontman Chris Martin’s voice at all. Scale, weight, even his subtle movements behind the microphone could be heard. The snap of the handclaps was immediate and, again, compression-free with natural pop and decay. Truthfully, I had never before thought that what I heard from the KID and Papa dock combo was possible. The cymbal bits near the end of the track shimmered beautifully and, while not quite analog-sounding, were far more in league with the best CD playback then the sound of a 99-cent download. More impressive still was the scale, front to back and side to side, of the soundstage. The soundstage definition was quite shocking, given that most downloads are flat and lifeless, rather than enveloping and full of air. Dynamically, the KID/Papa combo didn’t disappoint, as the pair proved explosive yet delicate, regardless of the volume. Crank the duo and all of what I described only gets louder, without losing an ounce of composure or musicality. Truly incredible.
Next, I cued up A Perfect Circle and their hit “Judith” (Virgin), which was captured at lossless quality by yours truly. I kept my thumb on the volume button and approached critical mass. From my listening chair, I can say this: the KID/Papa dock combo is not a novelty piece. This is serious audio hardware with performance worthy of the Krell name it brandishes so boldly on its faceplate. The bass control is epic. For 150 watts per channel, the weight, depth and texture the amps rip from my Paradigm’s woofers is staggering. However, this does not surprise me, for I had a similar experience when listening to Krell’s Evolution series amps at Jerry Del Colliano’s house through his Watt Puppies. We both sat in amazement as the mighty Wilson speakers were given a workout the likes of which we had never heard before. Krell has always been about amplifiers. As far as amps go, they make some of the best there is, if not the single absolute best, and the Papa dock is no exception. Vocals were again very well-placed and full-bodied. The duo captured Maynard’s rawness, as well as pulling him a bit forward from the rest of the music and allowing him to travel a bit from side to side, which I had never experienced nor heard before. Very cool. The cymbal crashes and guitars were a welcome break and addition to the driving bass of “Judith” and held up nicely in the face of extreme volumes. Seriously, after listening to the track four times back to back, I can’t recall a time when I’ve heard it better than what the KID/Papa dock combo dished out, which is saying a lot, for there was a whole rack of reference-grade two-channel gear sitting idle nearby and at no time did I miss any of it.
Seriously, no matter what I threw at the KID and Papa Dock, be it Diana Krall or Insane Clown Posse, the results were always the same. Regardless of the bit rate or compression, the combo was always musical, always engaging and managed to clean things up a bit. Sure, the bigger the file, the better the rip and the better the overall sound, but I’m telling you, for the first time, 128kbps iTunes-bought music didn’t sound horrid. In fact, more often than not, it sounded damn good. For instance, Tori Amos’ album Scarlet’s Walk (Sony), which is available for download at 128kbps only and through other systems in my home, is largely unlistenable. The bass is soggy, the treble is rather etched and overly digital-sounding and the vocals go from in your face to inside an aluminum can at will. With the entire disc loaded up and at the ready, I hit play. The bass was still a bit fat at times, but the bloat was gone, replaced with detail that revealed subtle chord changes and decay within the drum kit itself. The bass was further assisted by its placement in the soundstage, which was further back and slightly to the side of Amos’ piano. Amos’ vocals were clearer and more consistent and the effects on her voice were easily heard and not as confusing or jarring as before. The piano was large, rich and more lifelike in its presentation. It sounded more like a real piano than a facsimile of one, which is usually what you get when you listen to iTunes-purchased music. Did the Krell combo magically fix this otherwise worthless iTunes purchase? No, not completely, but it did save it from the trash bin, took taken it off life support and placed it back in my late-night ambient shuffle. At lower volumes, the album Scarlet’s Walk is quite nice.