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.

Additional Resources
Read more Krell Reviews and about the Krell brand by clicking here.
Check out high end audiophile grade AV Preamp reviews from Krell, Meridian, Arcam, Classe and many other brands at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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.

Read The Final Take on Page 2

HTR Product Rating for Krell HTS 7.1 AV Preamp

Criteria Rating

Performance

5

Value

4

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Final Take
I started using the HTS 7.1 for two channel CD and SACD listening. The first thing I noticed was that the sound had achieved an openness and depth greater than with the Showcase. There was greater, deeper and richer bass, and the top end had even greater clarity. The Krell DVD Standard plugged into the balanced inputs sounded absolutely fantastic--open and crisp, with a wide soundstage. Bass output exceeded any processor that has been in my system save the McIntosh, yet was always taut and fast. As Krell products usually create a large soundstage, the perspective was wide and imaging was wonderful. Interestingly enough, the analog stage of the HTS 7.1 is so good that it was able to almost match the sound of the DVD Standard when functioning as a DAC, which is quite an achievement in itself.

More of the same was heard while using the multi-channel inputs for DVD-Audio and SACD. Again, the range of sound and the detail put this processor at a level above many others I have heard, and helped bring out the best of high-resolution audio tracks. In fact, this processor has the best multi-channel analog preamp of any I have heard and really made music listening special.

When I moved on to movies, the processor maintained that crisp, taut midrange and wide, laid back perspective that I was familiar with in the Showcase, but it sounded a bit better due to the better analog stage. Again, the better bass reproduction added that extra boost of dynamics to movie soundtracks.

Flaws are few and do not significantly affect the performance. Some complain that the remote is not one of the fancy programmable jobs, but I just appreciate that it is small. Auto-migration between digital and analog inputs would be much appreciated, as well as a slightly larger display, although the black background is a significant improvement over the Showcase's red background. That third component input would be just ducky, as would a price lower than the $8,000 it costs to get all of this audio goodness. As of this writing, Krell is offering a trade-in program that allows you to get a substantial discount on the HTS 7.1 something I would encourage taking advantage of. Like all Krell products, it has enormous top end resolution, and will lay bare the flaws of any bright soundtrack, bad source electronics, or even less than stellar cabling that smears all that top end information.

That said, I cannot think of a processor that has performed to the level of the HTS 7.1. Sonically it is simply excellent. The pre-amp section is top-notch in the world of home theater processors, and Krell's audiophile roots really shine through in the HTS 7.1. For those of you who take audio very seriously, the processor simply must be on your list to audition. Your wallet may implode, your children may have to go to a state college, your wife may leave you, but your ears will thank you. Once I finish this review, I will be calling Krell to convince them they really don't need this piece back right away.

Additional Resources
• Read more Krell Reviews and about the Krell brand by clicking here.
• Check out high end audiophile grade AV Preamp reviews from Krell, Meridian, Arcam, Classe and many other brands at HomeTheaterReview.com.

Krell HTS 7.1 Processor
17.25"H x 5.65"W x 16.45"D
Signal to Noise Ratio: 94dB "A" Weighted
Analog audio inputs:1 pair XLR, 7 RCA,
one 7.1 multi-channel input
Analog Outputs: 8 XLR, 8 RCA,
1 multi-channel DB-25
Digital audio inputs: 5 coaxial, 2 TosLink
Video inputs: 4 S-Video, 4 Composite,
2 Component
2 Pairs of analog tape inputs
Decoding Modes: Dolby ProLogic II, DD, DTS,
Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix 6.1.
DTS Neo:6, 9 Krell music surround modes
1 RS-232, 1 RC-5, 4 12V out triggers,
one 12V in trigger
MSRP: $8,000


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