Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV Preamplifier 
Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps
Written by Brian Kahn   
Saturday, 01 June 2002

Just as I finished reviewing the Krell TAS 5 channel power amplifier, Krell released their newest home theater product, the Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV preamp. The $8,000 Home Theater Standard 7.1 is the big brother to the Home Theater Standard 2 AV preamp, which I used in my review of the Theater Amplifier Standard. Owners of the Home Theater Standard 2 who bought one new from an authorized dealer can upgrade their units to the Home Theater Standard 7.1 at the Krell factory for $1,500. People who bought and HTS2 secondhand will need to pay $2,500 for upgrades. The new Home Theater Standard 7.1 is Krell’s third-generation AV preamp, designed with the hopes of being both "future proof" and true to Krell’s high standards for audio and video performance.

While unpacking the Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1, I noted that, from the front, the new Krell looks almost identical to its predecessor, the Home Theater Standard 2. The only noticeable front panel difference is the group of DTS, Dolby Digital and THX logos on the lower right portion. The gorgeous brushed aluminum front panel is flanked by radiused and polished aluminum corners. The brushed aluminum panel has small aluminum buttons, the majority of which are grouped on either side of the central display. The front panel also has both an infrared sensor and emitter. The wafer-style remote features membrane, "bubble" buttons and is not programmable. A learning remote can easily be programmed using the front panel emitter if desired.

The heavy gauged, brushed aluminum body of the Home Theater Standard 7.1 is 17.25 inches wide, over five-and-a-half inches tall and about 16.5 inches deep. This full-sized, solid unit weighs in at nearly 20 pounds. A close inspection of the unit’s exterior and interior indicates that the design and build quality are unparalleled.

The rear panel is packed with enough connections for just about any system. The connections include both single-ended and balanced 7.1 inputs, one pair of balanced inputs, tape and VCR loops, seven single-ended inputs, a zone two output, six coax and two optical digital inputs, and both coax and optical outputs. On the video side, the Home Theater Standard 7.1 has four s-video and four composite inputs and two outputs in each format. There are also two component inputs feeding a single component out. Rounding out the back panel is an RS-232 communications port, RC-5 input and 12v trigger inputs and output. The only missing connection is a digital RF input for Dolby Digital Laserdiscs, for which an outboard aftermarket demodulator is necessary.

The RS-232 port can be used to upgrade the internal flash memory or control the preamp from a high-performance remote system. This is intended to be done in the field, i.e., either you or your dealer will be able to upgrade your unit’s operating software to keep it current with new processing algorithms.

The inside of the Home Theater Standard 7.1 unit is just as full-featured as the rear panel. The audio portion of the Home Theater Standard 7.1 circuit design takes its design cues from Krell’s audio-only components with the Krell Current Mode topology. The circuit design features Class A, direct-coupled circuitry, which is also found in the Krell 300iL integrated amplifier. The digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters utilized in the Home Theater Standard 7.1 are 24-bit and a step up from the Home Theater Standard 2. The video circuitry of the Home Theater Standard 7.1 is also upgraded and is fully compatible with large bandwidth high-definition video signals.

I unpacked the Home Theater Standard 7.1 and kept its prodigious Owner’s Reference guide handy during setup. The instructions were clear and I was up and running in about 60 minutes. Certainly, it helps that I also set up my last Krell preamp, but the overall process isn’t as scary as it may seem. The processor features user-programmable inputs for maximum flexibility, allowing the user to rearrange the inputs to suit the system’s sources. The manual has a chart with pre-assigned inputs for each source. To simplify the setup process, I attempted to conform the pre-assigned inputs, making notations of any connection variances. I suggest that you do this when hooking up any processor with user configurable inputs, as these notes will come in handy later in the setup process.

After making all of the physical connections, I began going through the software setup as outlined in the manual. The setup process is extremely flexible, allowing for different crossover points and a variable volume output for the second zone. Now is the time when your notes from the back panel connections will come in handy. As you go through the setup, configuring the devices, the information from your notes will allow you to breeze through the setup without constantly looking at the back panel. During the setup process, you can set default operating modes for various input signals. The Home Theater Standard 7.1 has a plethora of operating modes, including THX 5.1, THX Surround EX, DTS 6.1 ES, DTS NEO:6, Dolby Digital EX and the newest, Dolby Pro Logic II. The default operating modes are easily changed on the fly to suit the program material.

The setup process can be accomplished fairly quickly, but the advanced user can spend hours fine-tuning the large variety of adjustments in the HTS 7.1 to achieve the best sound and the easiest operation for individual needs and tastes.

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.

The Downside
As great as the Home Theater Standard 7.1 is, it is not perfect. Strangely, my qualms with the HTS 7.1 are not with the sonic or video performance, or even the unit's reliability. In fact, I expected the HTS 7.1 to be more quirky that it was. I found it solid; it never required rebooting. I never needed to download fixes or software patches, which is often a necessity with Krell and other high-priced AV preamps.

One of my knocks on the HTS 7.1 is the remote, which is a thin, wafer-styled controller with membrane bubbles for buttons, which I feel is sub-par for an $8,000 AV preamp. The buttons are identical in size and feel, with no backlighting, which makes its use in the dark a bit difficult at times. Thankfully, the volume buttons are not too hard to find, and you should not need too much more during movie viewing, but if you do, you will need to turn on the lights. At $8,000, it is wrong for Krell to assume that all of their users will have Crestron and or AMX remotes and their remote just doesn’t get the job done. At a minimum, you should invest in a Philips Pronto to control your system if you get the HTS 7.1.

I may be one of the few remaining Laserdisc owners, but being near the top of the price class, I would have liked to seen a RF demodulator included, or at least available as an option. I would have also liked to see more physical connectors on the back. While the Krell has quite a few options for many systems, a feature on some processors that I enjoy is the ability to connect both composite and s-video for each source. Absent a processor/switcher’s ability to transcode signals, this can help ease connectivity and switching concerns, but of course it would also have raised the price a pretty penny.

The sound quality of the HTS 7.1 is of the highest caliber, and like most Krell components, the sound is present, high intensity and exciting. The modular construction of the HTS 7.1 and flash memory enable Krell to provide updates well into the foreseeable future. This is important with such an expensive piece of equipment and helps justify the investment.

The overall performance and stability of this unit is better than I expected, making it the best processor I have had the pleasure of having in my system for review. I would not hesitate to use this as the centerpiece of either my reference stereo or theater system. Is the Home Theater Standard 7.1 worth the big bucks? I’d say an enthusiastic yes!
Manufacturer Krell
Model Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV Preamplifier
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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