Krell Showcase Pre/Pro and 7 Amplifier
Much is made of the intense competition that goes on in the receiver game, and understandably so. For the most part, these are companies that have piles of money to spend on advertising, have the resources and inclination to bring out new models every year, and have hordes of accountants and marketing types to keep watch on things likemarket placement, pricing, competitor activity, and so on. But what about the healthy (and growing) competition in the separates arena, especially at the lower (all things being relative) price points? It may not draw the receiver war's headlines, involve a fraction of the corporate expenditure and model turnover, or feature dueling laser shows from multilevel booths at industry trade shows. But, make no mistake, the competition here is no less intense, no less important to the industry as a whole, and no less beneficial to its particular crop of potential buyers.
The number of quality pre/pros and multichannel amplifiers in the $3,000-to-$5,000 range has increased dramatically in the past few years, a fact that hasn't been lost on Krell and other traditional high-enders who aren't, as a group, known for affordability. While many people will no doubt wince at the thought of calling $3,000-to-$5,000 components affordable, remember that relativity is the key. You're not going to find a lot in the separates world under $3,000—that's just the way it is. So, when I talk about something like Krell's new 7.1-channel Showcase pre/pro and seven-channel Showcase 7 amp being more affordable at $4,000 and $5,500, respectively, understanding the context will hopefully keep most of you from thinking I've gone mad.
Performance should always hold the final sway, but there's no denying that features wield considerable influence in a competitive market. Like much of its competition, the Showcase pre/pro is appropriately loaded. Processing starts with the Dolby (EX, Pro Logic II Movie and Music, Digital 5.1) and DTS (ES Discrete and Matrix, 5.1 Movie and Music, Neo:6 Movie and Music) contingents. There's also THX postprocessing and THX Ultra certification, but no Ultra 2 processing. The Showcase supplies no less than nine proprietary music-processing modes, with a number of different channel configurations and sound profiles.
Other Showcase tricks include balanced outputs (not particularly common at this price), Burr Brown 24-bit/192-kilohertz digital-to-analog converters on all channels, and a selectable throughput mode for the analog inputs (including the multichannel inputs) that bypasses all DSP, conversion, etc. There's also an interesting room-equalization feature that lets you use three discrete parametric bands to adjust frequency response. The four adjustable parameters are filter type, frequency, shape, and level. The current system operates on the seven main channels, but Krell is due to add sub control, as well. Four EQ setup memories will save every parameter for every filter on each channel. You can adjust the filters globally or individually and save configurations for different source materials. The system's effectiveness for you naturally depends on your stance on equalizers: Some people swear by them, while others avoid them religiously. Either way, the Showcase has you covered.
The Showcase's inputs and outputs are comprehensive. Joining the eight balanced (XLR) outputs are eight unbalanced (RCA) jacks. There's also an eight-channel analog input, several two-channel analog inputs (including a balanced pair), and two analog outputs. Four coax and four optical digital inputs are included, as well. Video connections include three high-bandwidth component ins and one out, four S-video ins and two outs, and four composite ins and two outs. There are also four 12-volt triggers and an RS-232 jack that you can use for, among other things, flash software upgrades. Notably absent are accommodations for extra zones, which the Showcase processor doesn't support.
Balanced capability highlights the Showcase 7 amp's back panel, as well. There's also heavy-duty five-way binding posts and unbalanced RCA connections. Power is rated at 125 watts per channel into 8 ohms, doubling to 250 watts into 4 ohms. A 1,500-watt toroidal transformer and 80,000 microfarads of capacitance handle the juice, while Class A input, pre-driver, and driver stages handle the signals.
For this review, the Showcase combo spent time in two different systems and environments: an Energy Veritas speaker system and a Philips SACD1000 SACD/DVD player in my slightly more-realistic living room and a Canton Karat speaker system with Krell's Standard DVD player in our treated listening room at the studio. At home, the first thing that grabbed me with two-channel material was these components' highly dynamic, immediate nature. Between the Energy tweeter's uncompromising nature and the Krell gear's unwillingness to artificially soften sources, poorly recorded material—especially on CD—had nowhere to hide. A combination like this is risky, but it's a risk you have to take if you demand fidelity above all else. Some of your source material is going to sound rough, raw, and even abrasive, especially if your room is as uncompromising as your gear.