Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 surround processor Page 2

As is the case with most current surround processors, there is no bass management when listening through the multichannel analog bypass inputs—all speakers are driven full-range. There's an option in which the subwoofer can be turned on, presumably fed with a combined signal from all channels (the manual doesn't say), but there appears to be no lowpass filter at the subwoofer output in this mode. You'll have to use your sub's onboard lowpass filter to keep it from reproducing excessive upper-bass energy, muddying the sound, and possibly being localizable. This limitation may make system setup difficult if you plan to use a subwoofer for both hi-rez multichannel audio and home theater. If you're happy with your main channels' bass response alone for multichannel audio, it won't matter.

I generally liked the remote control once I got used to it, but it's still not illuminated, and it was all too easy to push the wrong button. Several times I was trying to increase the level and accidentally put the processor in Standby (the buttons are next to each other). The remote is conveniently thin and light, but it has a homing instinct for the cracks between sofa cushions. Presumably, most buyers in this price range will be using some sort of all-singing, all-dancing aftermarket touchscreen remote to control the Krell and the rest of their system, rendering any criticism of the stock remote moot. But a few of us still cling to the hair-shirt policy of using the dedicated remotes of our individual components. Finally, the readouts on the front-panel display are hard to read from more than a few feet away.

While my discussion here will be almost exclusively audio, one non-audio feature worth noting is the Krell's broadcast-quality video switching. Krell claims a video bandwidth of 80MHz for its switcher, and I can believe it. I used it with several high-resolution displays, including some very detailed plasmas, and saw no visible degradation of DVD or high-definition signals.

Most of my listening from DVD-Video and CD was done using digital inputs to the HTS 7.1. For 2-channel music listening, the modestly priced (relative to the processor) DVD and CD players I had on hand would, I reasoned, be the limiting factor if I used their onboard DACs and analog output stages to evaluate the Krell's 2-channel analog performance. The single high-end DVD player I had on hand—the Proceed PMDT—has no analog audio outputs. (The Krell and EAD DVD players reviewed in last month's issue were not available to me in time for this review.)

My DVD-Audio listening was done through the multichannel analog bypass inputs, and that experience strongly suggested that the Krell's analog-only operation need be no concern for the critical listener. For those with sophisticated analog sources (most likely vinyl LP through an external phono stage), the Preamp mode is a 2-channel bypass that drives the left and right main-channel speakers full-range without a subwoofer.

I also used the usual 80Hz crossover frequency to the subwoofer. Dynamic-range compression (there are two selectable levels, 11dB and 22dB, the latter called Night mode) was left off at all times, and the system was set up for 7.1-channel operation, with two surround speakers at the sides (120° back from the front-center position) and two more in the back.

I didn't immediately get the best out of the HTS 7.1—like many high-resolution audio products, it appeared to be a little particular as to its partnering components. It worked well with a well-used Revel Performa F30 speaker system, but sounded a little bright with a new and not yet run-in Performa F50 system (review in progress). But when I listened to it through the new NHT Evolution M6 speakers (used in the three front channels; a review of the complete T6 system is scheduled for an upcoming issue), the balance was almost ideal, particularly when I connected the processor to the Krell Theater Amplifier Standard with Monster M1500 single-ended interconnects. That setup, combined with four Revel Performa S30 surrounds and a Performa B15 room-equalized subwoofer, is the setup reflected in all of my comments.

The HTS 7.1 was an extremely open, detailed, and dynamic-sounding surround processor. If it didn't always sound smooth and sweet, well, there's plenty of program material that doesn't sound smooth and sweet, either, and you don't blame the messenger. Even so, with the system described above I seldom felt the need to switch in THX re-equalization.

One of my longtime favorite soundtracks for evaluating sound quality is Fools Rush In. For a romantic comedy, it has a particularly open, sparkling quality, and that's just the way it came across through the Krell. It definitely did not sound soft, but it didn't spill over into unnatural brightness either. While sound effects on this DVD are limited, they're there if you listen for them. Chapter 34 has a particularly effective thunderstorm that will do everything but get you wet, and the Krell handled the rumbling thunder with natural ease.

More significant, however, this DVD has a superb underscoring of pop songs. The extended musical interludes in chapter 30 and, particularly, in chapter 27 sounded outstanding through the HTS 7.1, with fine depth, air, and detail. And the club sequence in chapter 25 has everything from a persistent, driving bass rhythm to the ambient sounds in the club itself. With the Krell, it was all there.

Even bad—or at least badly flawed—movies can have terrific soundtracks. The recent remake of The Time Machine won't be on anyone's list of the best films of the year, but it provides plenty of eye and ear candy. The bass is solid throughout, and the HTS 7.1 brought out the music's cinematic sweep, particularly in the children's chorus and the dynamic orchestral accompaniment to the time-travel sequences.

But The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is my current favorite sound-test DVD; it's superb throughout, despite having been recorded about 10dB too hot. This might make it a handy overload test for pre-pros. The Krell shrugged it off, sailing through unruffled and sounding great in the process. The dynamic range was alarmingly wide. Despite the probability of dynamic compression in the recording to compensate for the high-level transfer, I heard no loss of punch or impact—on the contrary, in fact. The Dolby EX soundstage was solid, and while I'm not yet entirely convinced that everyone needs to go to a full 7.1 channels in their home-theater systems, in my room this recording through the HTS 7.1 certainly made as good a case as any for such a setup. The orcs surrounded me in the cave scenes, and the superbly recorded music track—particularly the often-used chorus—sounded startlingly good for a film. Actually, this didn't surprise me; I know how good the music can sound on the best soundtracks. But this recording, as heard through the Krell, might well convince a lot of skeptical audiophiles.