Home Theater Review

 

Krell Evolution 707 AV Preamp Reviewed

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I went back a few decades to Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love (Experience Hendrix) and prepared to blow out any potential cobwebs in my system. I have been a huge Hendrix fan for thirty years now and this is one of my favorite albums from the master, so I was set to see how the Krell Evolution 707 did with this classic. From the start of "EXP" and the swirling effects to the deep bass lines in "Wait Until Tomorrow" and "If 6 Was 9," I was constantly amazed at how well the Evolution 707 did with bass. Not only did it give me amazing bass definition, it had a rich midrange and detailed but not harsh or edgy highs with tons of air, making even this dated recording sound phenomenal. Krell is known for having the best bass performance with an audiophile amp, but this preamp was pulling off the same feat, much to my amazement.

I cued up Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company (Monster Music), and from the smooth and subtle nature of Norah Jones' voice on "Here We Go Again" to the luscious depth of the stand-up bass on "Fever" to the a cappella version of "Unchain My Heart," all the vocals were clearly discernable. I couldn't have asked for more. Everything was accurately placed and clearly distinguishable, with huge amounts of air around the instruments giving them each their own place in the massive soundstage.

A favorite SACD of mine is Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Island). The keyboards that open "Funeral for a Friend" not only had air and space, but also depth and weight. The surround effects were well-balanced. Vocals were clear and crisp without being biting and the dynamics were unbelievable. The ability of the Krell Evolution 707 to go from absolute silence to massive sonic output is astounding. The subtle nature of the title track was wonderfully handled, drawing you into the music making you forget about the world around you.

Moving onto movies, I cued up the Blu-ray version of Wanted (Universal Studios Home Video). The uncompressed DTS HD Master Audio track was incredible. The surround effects and sound space were not only wide but also deep and tall, while even the subtlest details came through clearly. Gunshots rang out across the room, with the sounds perfectly following the image. Though the movie is utterly implausible and frankly dumb, the effects offered by it made for great amusement and kept me rapt throughout an otherwise lame film. Explosions could be played at realistic levels, but sounded as deep and complex at civil ones. If I wasn't reviewing this gear, I would have stopped the film and moved on, but it sounded so good, I finished the film before ejecting it. Trust me, with a pile of gear needing my editorial attention in the middle of the holiday season, this is no small compliment.

I cued up the new Batman movie The Dark Knight (Warner Home Video) and was fortunate enough to have both a Blu-ray and a standard DVD for comparison. I started off with the standard-definition DVD. The Krell Evolution did a great job portraying a large soundstage and powerful explosions, but after awhile, I switched to the Blu-ray version with its uncompressed Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and I was just floored. The uncompressed audio made the standard-definition DVD audio soundtrack, which had until now sounded very good, seem outright thin and lacking in depth. Explosions were deeper and fuller and the soundstage much wider and more open. Voices were not only clearer but also truer, and subtle details became completely evident. I switched back briefly to the standard-definition DVD and found I had missed things that were utterly apparent on the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. I have heard these new uncompressed audio tracks before, but never on my reference rig, and they are just that much better there than in smaller systems. If you have not yet heard what these new uncompressed audio codecs can do for home theater, you are sorely missing out. The Krell Evolution 707 reproduces them better than anything I have heard to date.

I ran my Scientific Atlanta high-definition DVR by component video and HDMI to test the scaling of the Evolution 707. Like the audio sections of this preamp, the video scaling was exceptional. I know my Sony TV doesn't have the greatest internal video scaling, but I was amazed how much better the Krell's scaled output was from 480i sources than when fed directly to my TV over HDMI. Images had better edge detail and smoothness, even with fast motion. The scaling was excellent. Though not as good as with a native 1080p source, such as Blu-ray or HD DVD, it was clearly better than when handled by my TV's internal processor. If I needed another HDMI input, I would be perfectly happy to let the Evolution 707 handle my cable feed from component and let the Krell scale the lower resolutions up rather than giving the job to my Sony XBR. While using the scaler, I watched many shows, from Boston Legal to House and others that have 5.1 audio tracks. The reproduction from the Evolution 707 was impressive. Compressed audio of cable channels can be weak, but the Krell portrayed them with openness and space, making everything from background music to voices that much clearer. At this price point, you should expect to find a component that is great at everything, including bringing legacy formats to HD standards. The Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp can pull off this feat without breaking a sweat.

Low Points
Those looking for each and every one of the latest technologies and features won't appreciate the Krell Evolution 707 for what it truly is. It doesn't have XM or Sirius satellite radio inputs, nor does it have direct iPod interfacing, for that matter. The second zone is limited to stereo analog audio and component video, and there is no way (like a USB input) to directly connect it to your PC or Mac for use as a music server, but this is not what the Evolution 707 is really about. It is a statement component designed for the absolute best sound from all current and existing formats. Those interested in adding these features can do so via other components, like a satellite radio tuner or a Krell KID iPod doc, but at an additional cost above the asking price of $30,000.

The Krell Evolution 707 is the biggest physical AV preamp I am aware of and will require a large and solid shelf to support its massive size and weight. The display is functional, yet you cannot rename your inputs and the panel can't be dimmed. I really want the scaler to handle HDMI inputs as well, and the issue with the unit accepting DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD via bitstream needs to be resolved, but all these gripes are trivial once you hear the sound of the unit. Krell reports than in Janaury 2009 there will be a gree software upgrade to the 707 that will allow HD audio formats to flow into the 707 via HDMI.

Conclusion
When striving for the best of the best, you take no prisoners and accept some compromises in features. Just like the Ferrari FXX, which lacks things like powered windows and air conditioning, the Krell Evolution 707 skips on many of the modern bells and whistles, like iPod interfacing or an Ethernet port for connecting to your computer music library. Instead, it maximizes everything else, making it perform better than any other unit available. Offering exceptional analog and movie performance, with decoding of the new uncompressed codecs (though only via LPCM in my early production model) and an exceptional video scaler for analog sources, this piece is designed for the customer who wants the absolute best in an AV and music system. Diehard audiophiles used to running a two-channel preamp with home theater pass-through can get rid of that other preamp and know they've got the best of both worlds in one box. This is without a doubt the best-sounding AV, two-channel and multi-channel preamp ever made.

My father always told me, "You get what you pay for." In the case of the Krell Evolution 707, he was without question correct. The Krell Evolution 707 simply is the best AV preamp I have ever heard to date in my home, at any trade show or anywhere else, for that matter. The Evolution 707 reveals bass extension and definition and keeps the mids and highs detailed and accurate, but never lets them become edgy, while providing plenty of separation and air around the components of music or movies. The background is as quiet as I have ever heard, making the dynamics and transients even more amazing. This piece is designed to satisfy the most demanding audiophiles in the world who want both home theater and audio from one system, and to those people, I say go listen to it, but bring your checkbook, because you won't want to leave the store without one.
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