Krell DVD Standard DVD-Video Player Reviewed

Krell DVD Standard DVD-Video Player Reviewed

Krell's first DVD player was built so beautifully that it almost doesn't matter that its performance has been eclipsed by Krell's newer offerings. Still solid, visually impressive and sonically spectacular, the DVD Standard ranks as a classic.

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So this is the way it's gonna be, huh? (1) You guys hate video. (2) The rest of the world loves it. (3) The manufacturers - high-end, middle or low - have to keep everybody happy if they're to survive. So now we have from Krell that most delicious of role reversals and panaceas: a DVD player which was designed from the outset to sound as good as any CD player you're likely to encounter. In one fell swoop, an answer to the question of whether to buy two separate machines or one-size-fits-all.

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No, Krell isn't replacing its standalone CD players with the DVD Standard. Yes, the DVD Standard will be upgradeable to DVD-Audio - "if, as and when". And, no, they are not the ones who pushed the 'sound' side of things on me. That came from the British importer. You see, outside of the British audio community (and certain elements of the US stereo brotherhood), there are no problems in the high-end with 2-vs-5 channels, movies-vs-music. But in the UK there are, so Absolute Sounds' was almost apologetic about this device. And quick to add that it's worth being reviewed just as a CD player. So let's be honest: none of you has any intention of dropping the price of the new Mini on a DVD player. Unless, maybe, just maybe, the sound quality is good enough to keep you from feeling like a traitor.

Indeed, there was puzzlement mixed with amusement from Krell's Peter McKay. You see, this review is almost accidental, since the DVD Standard justifies its £9498 price tag by half of that fee accounting for full-blown Faroudja video processing - probably the finest in the world. That's what really makes this whole situation so deliciously cruel from where I view it. Not only is its raison d'etre the reproduction of cutting-edge video, the very features which make it a 'DVD standard' are applicable only to NTSC (e.g progressive scan), or to video systems with projectors or plasma screens. [See sidebar: Here Be Dragons.]

Irony? You can almost taste the ferrite, and I can hear the drip-dripping on the floor as reader Mike Turner pees himself laughing: KK doesn't own a projector, doesn't own a plasma screen, and therefore cannot access even for his private pleasure the superior video reproduction which the DVD Standard is alleged to provide. A conventional TV barely does it justice; I would suggest that anyone seriously interested in this player for video use insist on a demo through a bleeding-edge projector of Barco/Runco/IMAX pedigree, and have similar at home. So, by default, I was finessed into reviewing this for its sonics alone. Which is kinda like hanging a carrot in front of a donkey: OK, Ee-yore, you can smell it, see it, but don't taste it...

Externally, the DVD Standard does nothing to tell you that it's quite so sophisticated a DVD player. Sure, the beautifully-made and -finished box is bigger than it needs to be at 17x16x5in (WDH), but that's so it can sit/stack with other KAV components. Take off the lid, and you'll be as disappointed as you would looking inside a tuner or cassette deck. I guess modern, state-of-the-art componentry is simply microscopic, so there's no need to fill the space with macho hardware. But here's where a slight bit of schizophrenia works against Krell, because the styling of the KAV range - since it includes entry-level stuff like the 300iL integrated amp - doesn't send out the same signals as the anodised black, butch attire of the big CAST amps, the KPS25sc and the like. But high-end it is; it just happens to sit between two stools.

Size aside, it could be any old CD or DVD player, with a central tray, an orange display and tiny, chic buttons - transport on the left and menu navigation controls to the right. Power on is via remote or a button in the lower left-hand corner; the unit enters stand-by when switched off, and it runs unbelievably warm for a DVD player. It needs a long warm-up period, so don't switch it off at the mains. The tell-tale LED is red in standby and blue in 'on' mode.

Look at the back, though, and you know you're entering a whole 'nuther universe: this player has no less than 27 sockets and fittings to accommodate analogue and digital audio output, remote triggers and RS232 communication ports, as well as a bewildering array of video outputs. [Again, see sidebar, which was isolated so those of you who hate video can skip it...] On the pure audio side, you have both single-ended (phono) and balanced (XLR) outputs, plus coaxial and TOSlink digital outputs. AT&T is missing, and there didn't seem to be a CAST output, but then I don't have a Krell pre-amp, so I used balanced and single-ended for pure audio purposes into the GRAAF WFB13.5 pre-amp. I also used it in stereo mode through the Lexicon MC-1.

A modular design with a motherboard and plug-in circuit cards, the DVD Standard can be upgraded painlessly, including as mentioned above the accommodation of future formats, such as DVD Audio and Dl Digital Video. The player's firmware, too, can be upgraded via the disc drive; there's a setting for upgrades on the comprehensive menu. Audio is handled by 24-bit/192kHz ultra-high-resolution DACs, implemented in a differential current output configuration, which facilitates a superior relationship with Krell's Current Mode, discrete Class A, direct-coupled, fully-complementary analogue output circuitry.

Operationally, its behaviour suggests a high-quality, DVD-ROM grade transport, which is a polite way of saying that every thing takes time with this machine. And Krell thought carefully about the user interface, while at the same time committing the odd boob. The remote, for example, is a slim, sexy version of the that used with the KAV300iL. But, hey, this is a DVD player...and you watch films in dark rooms, right? Well, this baby's remote isn't illuminated, and all of the buttons feel the same, so prods in the dark continually resulted in returning to the menu when I wanted to see the playing time, or stopping when I wanted to pause.

Maybe I'm stupid, but I couldn't find a way to customise the display, which shuts itself off after a short period; re-illuminating requires pressing a button on the remote. Right above the pause button. Sorry, fellas, but I'm not one of those who thinks that the display affects the sound all that much - at least, not enough to counter the convenience of leaving it on at all times. So, if there's a way to keep it lit, I stand corrected. And what's this with only two fixed - and slow, I might add - scan speeds? Even my crappiest Chinese rip-off DVD machine has a fully-variable rotary...

Read more about the Krell DVD player on Page 2.Krell_DVD_Standard_DVD_Player_review.gif

But these are minor ergonomic details which affect different users
in different ways. Where Krell must be commended is the control it
provides in other areas, just by hitting the set-up key. The menus
allow the user to configure - and easily, I must say - the sound for
mix-down, 96/24, digital output (Dolby/DTS or PCM), access the myriad
Faroudja functions, trigger the parental controls and more.

With all of the DVD-related aspects to avoid, it was a clear case of
wresting the DVD Standard away from my A/V system and setting it up in
the two-channel chamber, through the GRAAF, the Wilson WATT Puppy
System 6, and amps including the Halcros and the McIntosh 6900.
Considering that it arrived as the KPS25sc departed, it acquitted
itself better than I had hoped - no matter how much hype I was being
spoon-fed by the importer. Yup: the DVD Standard-as-CD-player is so
good that someone, somewhere is gonna buy one for the sound alone.

Whether or not this has ANYTHING whatsoever to do with its primary
role of replaying films, I can't say, but the sound was positively
cinematic - wide, open, deep and with a luscious, ear-friendly gloss to
it. What I certainly did not expect was for it to be so sweet and free
of fatigue-inducing edge, yummier even than the Musical Fidelity 3D.
Unlike its dearer, top-loading sibling, the DVD Standard doesn't err on
the side of detail and lab-like precision. It leans instead toward what
we call the musical. So, if the DVD Standard and the KPS25sc are
sisters, then the latter is the brainy swot, while the DVD Standard is
the soppy romantic. And yet there's an underlying Krell sound which the
brand's followers will recognise instantly: 'extreme' dynamics and the
bass extension.

Make no mistake: the CD playback of the DVD Standard is big, robust
and rich. It will charm the pants off lovers of swelling, sweeping
orchestral music - appropriately, I fed it assorted Bernard Herrmann
soundtracks - while the sheer speed means that it handles punchy
transients with aplomb. Particularly impressive (and, in their own way,
cinematic, too) were Kodo drums, with plenty of impact and just the
right amount of decay. Where the sound differed from the KPS25sc was in
the amount of damping applied. With the KPS, it was as if the drum
heads had been stretched a bit tighter. And if it sounds like I'm
heading toward a 'tube vs tranny sound' analogy, then you guys know me
better than I thought.

Yup, the DVD Standard has the requisite warmth in the midband,
especially on vocals, to make you think of valve pre-amps like the Quad
QC II-forty, while the KPS is unabashedly solid-state. The divergence
isn't so great as to negate a family resemblance, but it is certainly
audible. What's so damned impressive about the DVD Standard is that it
apes the 20k KPS25sc in the areas of dynamics and speed.

So, is the DVD Standard worth close to ten grand? Hmmm...there are
plenty of stunning CD players around for under 5000 - which is
probably what the DVD Standard is worth minus the Faroudja-isms. So
it's a qualified 'Yes'...but ONLY if you're using it as a high-end DVD
player as well as a CD spinner. Which sorta eliminates most of you
then, huh?

Absolute Sounds, 58 Durham Road, London SW20 0DE. Tel 0181 971 3909, FAX 0181 879 7962

Sidebar: HERE BE DRAGONS
(Please: pass over this section if you abhor video. I'm not in the mood
for receiving hate mail about it, but I have to include this, so you've
been warned: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS DISCUSS DVD VIDEO.)

Krell's DVD Standard is the first standalone player fitted with
Faroudja Laboratories' newest high-performance digital video chips: the
P132220 Digital Video Enhancer and FL12200 Digital Video
De-interlacer/Line Doubler. The former employs Faroudja's patented
adaptive nonlinearly luminance and chrominance processing technology to
enhance image detail and sharpness, while the latter implements
de-interlacing and post-processing algorithms to provide the best
progressive-scan video output.

Krell admits that the "video output is optimised for solid-state
video display technologies, including plasma, LCD, DLP, and DILA,"
whatever DILA is. The progressive-scan output employs triple 10-bit
DACs and provides a choice of RGB or component interfaces, so you have
the following video output options: standard composite via phono,
S-video, three-phono component (employing 2x oversampling and a 10-bit
video DAC for interlaced-scan video output) and - for the Big Boys -
RGB via BNC connectors and component via RCA-type phono or DB15
connectors. Also fitted are switches to select between NTSC and PAL,
and RGB or component.

Just how good is the video side of the DVD Standard? On the Philips
36in I just purchased, I was hamstrung by noise bars if using anything
other than the set's SCARTs. Alas, the Krell lacks a SCART output
amidst its 27 sockets, so I ran it into the SCARTs via an adaptor,
which didn't get rid of the two noise bars. But even through the
'compromised' S-video input, it still matched the very best I could
muster from top-end Rotel and Philips players, especially for detail
and 'blackness'. Which has me hankering to see it strut its stuff
through a more worthy monitor. Then again, you guys simply don't give a
toss, do you?

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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