|Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Saturday, 01 June 2002|
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Once I had the Krell HTS 7.1 setup in my reference theater system, essentially the same system as used in my review of the Krell Theater Amplifier Standard, the audition began. My system features the Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 connected to the Theater Amplifier Standard with Better Cables Balanced Silver Serpents. My reference DVD player is Pioneer’s DV-38A, used for both DVD movies and DVD-Audio discs. The speakers used are my beloved Martin Logan Ascents, flanking the Martin Logan Theater Center and rounded out with a pair of Scenarios in the rear. The rest of the details are listed below in the associated components area. I used the THX processing only for my movie viewing. I listened to music through the Home Theater Standard 7.1 in two-channel as well as 5.1 channel pass-through and DTS modes.
While the majority of my listening was in multi-channel mode, I briefly used the Home Theater Standard 7.1 as a two-channel preamplifier. After my initial listening session, I thought that the time has finally come when the audiophile quality two-channel preamplifier and home theater processor need not be mutually exclusive. Traditionally, home theater processors have never excelled as stereo preamplifiers. The best one could hope to do is integrate a beloved stereo preamplifier with a surround processor (see Bryan Southard’s system). From my months of listening, I think that the Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 is likely to musically satisfy as both an audio preamplifier and DAC for all but the most extreme two-channel enthusiasts. For the most hardcore stereo guys looking to move to a home theater system, it is possible to bypass all digital processing, feeding the signal directly to the gain control. This is something that Audio Revolution publisher Jerry Del Colliano wished for in his Proceed AVP (not an AVPII) for audio-only use, but he didn’t get it.
I found the two-channel sound quality of the Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 to be favorably comparable to that of the Krell 300iL, which I use in my music system. The tonal balance was about the same. When it was in the digital bypass mode, the background noise was noticeably lower and imaging was slightly better than I've heard with the 300iL. Based on what I have heard in my system and elsewhere, I can safely say that the Home Theater Standard 7.1 will hold its own with any solid state preamplifier in the under-$4,000 range – and possibly with higher-priced preamps as well.
To test multi-channel listening, I spent most of my time with movies. I began with the attack scene from "Pearl Harbor" (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, DTS). As I had just watched the entire movie for the amplifier review, this scene was enough. I found that the Home Theater Standard 7.1, with the THX processing engaged, provided a noticeable and significant improvement over the Home Theater Standard 2. This extremely complex sonic scene was rendered clearly and distinctly by both processors. The difference was the strength of continuity between channels, an area in which the Home Theater Standard 7.1 excelled. Not only did the various explosions and shots remain distinct, they worked well together to create an enveloping sound field. This is, no doubt, strongly aided by the Krell’s preamplifier section being detailed and quick on the attack. Without the detailed and high-quality preamplifier, the processor might have sounded muddled and confused, as has been the case with lesser processors I have heard in recent months. I strongly believe that the use of superior DACs and analog circuitry are the primary elements that set apart the high-end processors like the HTS 7.1 from entry level units that cost less and have more features. Many processors utilize similar surround decoding chips and processors -- the main differences in sound quality are more likely to come from the digital to analog conversion and the handling of the analog signal. This is an area where Krell’s audio background has evidently paid off.
I watched the entirety of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" (DreamWorks Home Entertainment, DTS). I have to admit that the plot did not really grab me, but the special effects and soundtrack were phenomenal. The Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 portrayed the sonic nuances of the movie in such a manner to draw me in despite my lack of interest in the storyline. The score was moving and full-bodied. The surround effects, for the most part, were fairly subtle. The processing of the Home Theater Standard 7.1 did just as well with these subtle effects as it did with the blatant sonic trickery in "Pearl Harbor."
The Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 seemingly did not detract at all from the video quality of the signals that ran through its switching system. I experimented with both the component and s-video switching, which fed my Faroudja Native Rate Series processor and then directly into my Barco Graphics 808s projector. If there was a negative impact on video quality, I would have likely seen it and I didn’t. In a perfect world, you would have a system that is connected with as few complications as possible. In the real world, you need to connect many, if not all, of your video and audio sources into your AV preamp. If you don't, you won't even be able to figure out how to switch inputs correctly. With the Krell HTS 7.1, you don’t need to worry about losing video excellence if you use it to manage your video inputs.
With Krell’s audio reputation up on the line, I anxiously spun a few music-oriented DVD-Video discs. I watched the "U2 Elevation Tour" (Interscope Dolby Digital 5.1). Having recently attended two nights of this tour, I am fairly familiar with the music and how it sounded at the event. All I can say is that I am impressed. The Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 rendered the sonic cues with spectacular detail and enough authority to emotionally place me back inside the arena. The musical details from Bono’s flavored voice to the Edge’s distinctly delayed guitar were recreated with believable authenticity.
I specifically enjoyed "Roy Orbison – Black and White Night" (Image Entertainment, DTS). This video was filmed at the famous Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles’ infamous Ambassador Hotel in 1987. Orbison is joined onstage by k.d. Lang, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and Jennifer Warnes, among others. The music is great and the sound is awesome and uniquely involving.
For dedicated multi-channel audio, I cued up Missy Elliot's new So Addictive DVD-Audio disc (Warner/Elektra). This disc takes advantage of the DVD-Audio format’s high-resolution, crystal-clear capabilities. "Get ur Freak On" remains my favorite track and features a powerful and deep bass line, which easily demonstrated that this Krell lives up to the Krell reputation for clean and powerful bass – even for an AV preamp.