Krell Showcase Pre/Pro and 7 Amplifier Page 2

This is where the equalizer comes into play. I did some tinkering on the top end and was far more pleased with the results than I expected, as I'm generally not a fan of equalizers. The sizzle diminished noticeably without added coloration. Equalizers still aren't for everyone, but this is a very good one. It could be invaluable if you can't change your speaker or room situation and (like most of us) you have less-than-pristine material in your collection. This includes some pop and rock recordings, where musical accuracy isn't always a high priority and brightness is simply inherent to the recordings. It's also an issue for someone like me who has a lot of blues material that was recorded some time ago and subject to the technology of the day. Well-mixed rock, classical, jazz, and reggae recordings didn't need the equalizer. With this material, the Krell/Energy combo seemed frighteningly accurate, highly dynamic, and as crisp and clean as it gets. Even to ears that are gradually becoming jaded by the better SACD and DVD-Audio discs that are starting to surface, the depth and clarity of 16/44 material was unmistakable through the Krell/Energy system.

Back at the studio, the same tracks took on a different character. On the more-forgiving Cantons in our larger listening room (which leans far more toward the dead side), poor material was more palatable, but not without a trade-off in dynamics and immediacy. This gave me my first indication that these Krell electronics are doing exactly what they're supposed to do: get out of the way and let the sources (and, ultimately, the room and speakers) speak for themselves. The Showcase pre/pro, especially, resists a significant sonic signature, which is very close to my ideal for a preamp. Walking the fine line between avoiding coloration and undue presence while also avoiding a sense of dryness and sterility isn't easy, but the Showcase appears to do it rather well.

Compared with the Showcase, the Showcase 7's sound is easier to pinpoint. As amps go, it pushes more toward the crisp, dynamic side. If tubelike warmth and its occasional ooziness are your thing, this probably isn't the solid-stater for you. Still, I'll wager that the Showcase 7 will be successful with a wide variety of speakers, short of those that are overly aggressive in a room to match. A solid-state amp and bright, forward speakers in a live room isn't usually a good combination anyway, so the matching issues to consider with the Showcase 7 are the same issues that face most of its peers.

Quality high-resolution material was outstanding in both listening environments. At home, the top-end sizzle of so many of the CDs I listened to was virtually eliminated. The hard-driving brass of "The Generals" (from the Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith SACD) retained all of its adrenaline and potency but lost the ringing and forwardness that the 16/44 PCM track off the same disc displayed. Power was abundant with anything I threw at the system. The 125-watts-per-channel spec may not be comparatively eye-opening on paper, but current is what really counts, and this is an area in which Krell has never fallen short. Even at a high volume with dense material, the Showcase 7 was cool in demeanor, if not in body temperature, and resisted most tendencies toward audible evidence of compression or fatigue. The high end remained forceful and present, while the low end was still big, round, and punchy.

Midrange was the Showcase system's hook. In both rooms, the midrange was tonally rich and highly accurate. Vocals were especially impressive, as on the James Taylor Hourglass DVD-Audio, where the balance between the honey-dipped subtlety of Taylor's voice and the immediacy of the background singers—particularly the always tonally difficult-to-reproduce female vocals—was excellently maintained. Mick Jagger's sandpaper smoothness was as obvious as I'd ever heard it on our brand-spanking-new Rolling Stones SACD sampler. The steady, potent drive of the Showcase combo's midrange set a solid foundation for every type of music that I tried.

As you might expect from a system with serious dynamic range, ample power, and a quick, clean attack, movie soundtracks were an intense experience with the Showcase gear. This time, I started at the studio with the Canton setup. Even in this dead environment, the system's dynamics and raw punch were unmistakable. It takes the right electronics to really get these Cantons pumping, and the Krell combo did the job. Our newly uncorked Lord of the Rings DVD was a roller-coaster ride, to be sure. The system cut its way beautifully through the dense sonic thicket in the opening battle scene. The soundstage was deep and clearly defined, and the system kept the bright, forward nature of the soundtrack's treble well under control. The Showcase combo confirmed its penchant for dynamics, ably re-creating the frenzied battle sounds, music, and big LFE sandwiched around the subtle, thematically critical sounds of the ring as it falls in slow motion to the ground, courtesy of the blade of Isildur. The combo's agility was abundant throughout, not only in the transitions from loud to soft but also in the lightning-quick left-to-right and front-to-back sweeps that make surround sound the experience that it's supposed to be.

Showcase Pre/Pro and 7 Amplifier
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