Krell HTS 7.1 AV Preamp Reviewed

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Over the past several months, I've hadthe opportunity to review a significant number of surround sound processors and I've been on a personal quest to find those processors that are not only feature-rich and technologically up-to-date, but also sonically excellent.

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With the advent of high-resolution multi-channel audio (i.e. DVDAudio and SACD), a surround sound processor must now also excel as a multi-channel premp. Although many of the units that have graced my listening room have done an admirable job at this latter task, it was not until I reviewed the Krell HTS 7.1 that I felt I had reached a level of analog pre-amp excellence that satisfied my neurotic needs.

Krell has been represented in my system for some time now with the Showcase Processor and the DVD Standard. The HTS 7.1 (MSRP $8,000) has a digital front end similiar to the Showcase, with many of the same processing chips. But, for the larger hole that it places in your wallet, you get such goodies as a higher-end analog stage, second zone output and a modular, fully upgradeable architecture. Krell graciously sent me the HTS 7.1 because I wanted to see what a better analog pre-amp stage could do not only for multi-channel audio listening, but also for 2-channel listening in a home theater. The HTS 7.1 is part of the Standard line, which consists of the aforementioned DVD Standard, the Amplifier Standard, and the 7.1 Processor. Krell calls this the HEAT system (High End Audio Theater). Considering the fact that the FITS 7.1 ran hot enough to seemingly heat the average home by itself, the HEAT moniker seems to have a dual meaning [sic].

Unique Features - As I said, the HTS 7.1 looks very similar to the Showcase, except it has silver buttons, extra LED lights for the second zone functions (and extra LED for all sources), and a display that has red letters on a black background. Thus, it has the same inherent good looks, excellent quality, and a high level of fit and finish. There are no rough edges with the HTS 7.1. It looks and feels like you spent scandalous amounts of money on it. Although it is similar in weight to the Showcase, due to the different analog stage it definitely runs hotter and seems to generate as much heat as many amplifiers. The remote is the same credit card type remote as the Showcase, except the new one now has glow in the dark buttons. Inside, the HTS 7.1 is modular in nature, allowing for future hardware upgrades in card fashion, as well as software upgrades. This is a big difference between the Showcase and the 7.1, as the former is only software upgradeable. The major difference lies in the better analog output stage in the 7.1,
which is called the Krell Current Tunnel. This uses a zero-feedback configuration which results in 1 MHz of bandwidth. This, combined with 24 bit/192 MHz DACs, assures that audiophiles will sit up and notice this processor.

Due to the modular nature, the rear panel is laid out differently than the Showcase, grouping inputs by cards. Present are balanced and single-ended outputs to the amplifier, a pair of balanced inputs, single-ended audio inputs, digital coaxial/TosLink inputs, and the normal bevy of video inputs. Unfortunately, there are only two component video inputs, but the good news is they have ample bandwidth to carry a high definition signal. OSD is available on the composite, S-Video and component (interlaced only) outputs. It has a 7.1 input for multi-channel sources such as a DVD-Audio or SACD player. The HTS 7.1 decodes all of the usual formats, including DD, DTS, EX, DTS-ES 6.1, Dolby Prologic II, DTS Neo:6, and is THX Ultra certified.

Present in the HTS 7.1 is the digital room equalizer, a very powerful tool to help compensate for room issues, and something that a custom installer can really take advantage of to improve the sound in your particular room.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - The FITS 7.1 was fairly straightforward to set up.
All the inputs are freely assignable, so you simply need to keep track of what you plugged in and where. You can make any combination for any source. One thing that was missing was the auto-migration, which automatically switches from an analog signal to a digital signal if one is available. This feature is especially handy for use with some digital cable boxes, which inexplicably use the digital output only for channels above 100. (Note for HD cable aficionados: the new Pioneer cable box outputs all channels via the digital audio output.) The folks at Krell explained to me that this feature (included on the Showcase), will be included as a software update on the HTS 7.1.

My associated equipment was the Parasound Halo A51 amp, KEF Reference 207/204c/201 speakers, REL Strata III sub, Krell DVD Standard and Marantz 8300, plugged into a Monster HTSP7000 power conditioner with a Wireworld power cable. Cables used were AudioQuest Python and Wireworld Silver Eclipse 5 interconnects, and Wireworld Silver Eclipse 5 speaker cables.

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