Krell Showcase AV Preamp and 7 channel Amplifier Reviewed

Krell Showcase AV Preamp and 7 channel Amplifier Reviewed

The Krell Showcase is a nostalgic piece that doesn't include HDMI functionality but offers solid analog audio and video performance. It's sleek lines are classic and it's sonics are well respected. Bring a little bit of Dan D'agostino into your home theater system today.

Upgradeitis (a constant search for better picture and better sound) is afflicting more and more of us as DVD has upped the ante in digital picture and sound, and as DVD-Audio and SACD are changing our expectations of digital music reproduction. For those that have fallen in love with surround sound, the search begins for components that create a sense of immersion within a presentation.

Often, that search results in separates: a separate processor and amplifier. Krell has introduced the Showcase line. This line incorporates many of the attributes of their up-market Standard line, but at a much lower cost, and at the expense of very few features. The Showcase line currently consists of the 7.1 Processor, and the Amplifier. For this review, I received the Showcase Processor and 6-channel Showcase Amplifier (also available in 5-, or 7-channel).

Additional Resources
• Read the Dr. Ken Taraszka review of the Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp
• Read the Home Theater Review coverage on the Krell 402e by Andrew Robinson
• Check out the Krell 403 three channel amp review here from Dr. Taraszka.

• Learn more about the Krell Brand on their Krell Page.
• Read about Krell's latest "affordable" AV Preamp the Krell 1200 and Krell 1200U

Unique Features: Showcase Processor - The $4,000 Showcase Processor uses the same gorgeous casing seen on the Krell DVD Standard. This consists of brushed aluminum on all sides and the top (not on the underside), and polished aluminum rounded ends. The effect is nothing short of stunning, and the only aesthetic shortfall with the Showcase line is the use of black instead of polished silver buttons. This small change did lead to a decrease in the Lady Jacqueline Aesthetic Factor (LJAF, a very rigorous form of the WAF wife acceptance factor test), which had scored the DVD Standard at a 9.5 (10 being the highest), but with the black buttons the LJAF decreased to about 8.5. Fabulous scores to be sure, but the Cartier-like build of these Krell pieces impresses immensely. Both the Processor and the Amplifie deserve to be openly displayed for the eye to savor, and should not be hidden in a cabinet.

The Showcase Processor is THX Ultra Certified, and decodes Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Surround EX, DTS-ES, DTS NEO:6, and Dolby Pro Logic II. It also has 9 proprietary music surround modes, and a set of 7.1 inputs for a DVD-A or SACD player. Furthermore, there is an analog bypass option that can be used with any of the analog inputs. The Showcase has balanced and unbalanced connections to an amplifier, as well as a set of balanced audio inputs. There are 7 analog audio inputs, and a tape NCR set of loop inputs. There are four each of coaxial and Toslink digital connections. Video connections consist of 4 composite inputs and 2 composite outputs, 4 S-Video inputs and 2 S-Video outputs, and three wideband component inputs (80 MHz bandwidth so high-def signal switching is not a problem) and one component output. The onscreen display is available on one composite and one S-Video output, as well as on the component output (unfortunately not in progressive mode, just interlaced). There are also 4 12-volt triggers. The Processor is software upgradeable, and this can be accomplished using the RS-232 port on the back. This capability is extremely important, as it provides you not only with fixes, but also access to new or changed decoding formats. The back panel has all of these various connectors laid out in an orderly fashion, making hookup relatively straightforward and easy.

The front panel has the Showcase logo above the central red LED display with input device selection buttons to the left, and processing mode buttons to the right. Right below the latter are the individual channel trim buttons, as well as the level buttons. All the LEDs are red except for the power LED which is blue. Right below the display are the recall and save buttons, which are used for the Room Equalization (EQ) feature. Overall the effect is quite pleasant, but the LED display is a bit difficult to read from a distance.

The remote is of the small, slim variety, and controls many functions. It is not programmable, as Krell seems to (probably correctly) assume that most prospective clients will have some sort of master controller. I happen to like Krell's small, thin remotes, so it was not a negative in my book.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use: Showcase Processor - The on-screen display is fairly straightforward, and the Showcase is very easy to set up. Analog, digital coaxial/Toslink, and video hookups are all assignable, allowing for a tremendous amount of flexibility. In fact, you can have two different channels using some of the same connections, as I did when I connected my digital cable box. Since there is no scaling on this box, I would use its S-Video output for regular television, and component outputs only for high-definition programming. I was able to assign the same digital connection to two separate channels with different video inputs making switching back and forth easy. There are, of course, the requisite trim, time alignment, level controls, and the subwoofer crossover can be set to 40, 60, 80, 100, and 120 KHz.

Final Take: Showcase Processor - After hooking up everything, and allowing appropriate break-in time, I started my listening by using it in analog bypass mode for 2-channel and multi-channel music to get a feel for the sonic signature. The Krell is a very accurate processor, and has a smooth neutral sound with occasionally slightly sibilant highs, and a fast dynamic low end. I was especially struck by the delicacy, crispness, and smoothness of the midrange: it provided vocals and string instruments with incredible texture. Every texture in the midrange is crisply audible, making for a very dramatic presentation. The soundstage is very large and deep, and the presentation is slightly laid back as on the DVD Standard (which uses the same DACs). More of the same was found on using the Showcase as the processor for decoding music, using my player as a transport, and its overall 2-channel performance was excellent, with a presentation
that was slightly more laid back and expansive than my Marantz player. The overall character of the Showcase Processor's sound can best be described as dramatic and even passionate--characteristics which are very appealing indeed.

Performance for movies is also impressive, with excellent steering and clarity of vocals. I found the crispness of the midrange made watching movies a joy, and THX processing took care of the occasional bright soundtracks. Pro Logic II is wonderful for watching 2-channel sources such as television, but although PL II is fun for listening to 2-channel music, I still find that I prefer good old regular stereo. The LED display turns itself off after a period of time--great for darkened rooms, and re-lights with the press of a button on the remote. The processor makes an audible clicking noise when switching between sources, giving a real machine like feel to the unit, which seems to fit its metallic, precision image.

One of the features that sets the Showcase Processor apart from the pack is the Room EQ feature. This is not your average old equalizer, as it does all of its equalization in the digital domain. This is a first for a home processor, and allows for compensation of room and equipment problems. Room EQ consists of four memory settings that you can set for different conditions such as movies, music listening, games, etc. There are six different filter types that can be applied: Notch, Peaking, High Shelf, Low Shelf, High Pass, and Low Pass. For each of these filters, the frequency, shape, and level can be configured. Room EQ is an extremely powerful tool that allows you to change and adapt the sound of the unit
to your particular room and listening tastes. It is a complex tool that is not thoroughly explained in the owners manual, but Krell will soon put out a special guide just for this feature. Krell should be congratulated for bringing such powerful flexibility to a home processor, and in the time that I spent with the Showcase Processor, I feel I only scratched the surface of what Room EQ can do.

Unique Features: Showcase Amplifier - Now, it was on to the Showcase Amplifier to complete the dynamic duo. The Amplifier has the same brushed aluminum casing as the Processor, but the front only has the logo in the center and power controls/LEDs on the left side. It is also a very attractive piece cosmetically, and is rated at 125 watts per channel at 8 ohms which doubles to 250 watts at 4 ohms. The amp weighs a solid 58 pounds, and has vent holes on top and bottom. The back panel has both balanced and unbalanced connectors for all channels, and solid, well-spaced binding posts for speaker cable hookup. One of the great features of the amp is that it can be upgraded with extra channels, so if you buy the 5-channel version and then migrate to a 7.1 system, the amp can be upgraded by the factory for the extra channels. The amp can be connected via trigger to the processor. I would not be fooled by the relatively "low" rating of 125 watts/channel on the amp, as what matters as much as wattage is the ability of an amp to supply current. Krell amps have always been exceptional at this, and this characteristic allows for excellent control of speakers that are more difficult to drive. This shows up in the ability to double wattage output as the impedance is halved. Bottom line: this amp can drive difficult speakers and fill a good-sized room with copious amounts of sound.

Read The Final Take on Page 2

Final Take
Krell's Showcase Amplifier - After hooking up the amp, and allowing appropriate time for break in, I first went through a series of two-channel CD recordings, two-channel SACD recordings, and multi-channel DVD-A and SACD recordings. The Showcase Amplifier shares (naturally) some of its sonic characteristics with the Processor, and has a very smooth, clear midrange that really impresses. The textures on vocal recordings such as Diana Krall's DTS "Love Scenes" are excellent, with a smoothness and delicacy of texture that simply drips from the speakers. This is accentuated by the very quiet, dark background of this amp. The bass region is very dynamic and fast, and not overstated. The soundstage is large and deep, and there is excellent air around voices and instruments, allowing for the mind's eye to discretely pick out different instruments in the ensemble.

There existed some level of sibilance to the highs that was on occasion displayed with less than optimal recordings. On the two-channel SACD Billy Holiday "Lady In Satin," this propensity combined with the Amplifier's analytical nature made listening at moderate to high levels fatiguing. I spent some time playing with the Room EQ on the Processor, and this did alleviate this propensity to some extent. A good portion of this effect might well be due to the tendency of my B&W Nautilus speakers to be slightly bright under certain conditions, as well as the live nature of my listening room.

On movie soundtracks, this Amplifier performed admirably. There was no shortage of power or lack of control during complex sound-tracks such as Lord of the Rings, or Gladiator. The smooth midrange really made voices crisp, clear, and incredibly intelligible. I usually watch movies at moderate levels of sound, and the Amplifier was just loafing at these levels with large amounts of reserve. The dark, quiet background enhanced the experience as on music recordings, and added to the dynamic energy of soundtracks.

The Showcase Amplifier leans toward a somewhat analytical sound. In other words, it will give you back the quality of the recording that is put in. It does not add discolorations to the sound to make it seem more "musical," rather it will show you what you have in your source. This is not a fault of the Krell, it is simply doing what a good amplifier is supposed to do: get out of the way and present the original source material with power and clarity.

After using the Showcase Processor for a couple of weeks, I felt that I had found a cure to my personal Upgradeitis affliction; it is that good. The combination of the Processor and Amplifier give you a cosmetically and functionally beautiful system. The depth of the soundstage and clarity of the presentation create a sense of immersion in movies and music that every person who loves great sound longs for. The Showcase Processor is very flexible, stays on the cutting edge of technology with features like digital room equalization, and sounds simply wonderful. The Amplifier adds excellent power, detail, and control, and the two units make for a pricey but formidable combination. When you are ready to step up to truly excellent music and movie reproduction, this combination should be on your short list to consider.

Additional Resources
• Read the Dr. Ken Taraszka review of the Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp
• Read the Home Theater Review coverage on the Krell 402e by Andrew Robinson
• Check out the Krell 403 three channel amp review here from Dr. Taraszka. 
• Learn more about the Krell Brand on their Krell Page.
• Read about Krell's latest "affordable" AV Preamp the Krell 1200 and Krell 1200U

Suggested Retail Price:
Showcase Processor $4,000
Showcase Amplifier $5,000

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