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Product Review
 

Krell DVD Standard DVD Player

June, 2003

Kris Deering

 

Click photo above to see a larger version.

Specifications:

  • Video Outputs: Composite, Component, Progressive
        (480p, HSYBC, VSYNC, DB-15, YPbPr,  NTSC/PAL
         Switch
  • Digital Audio Outputs: Coaxial, Toslink Optical
  • Analog Audio Outputs: One Pair RCA, One Pair XLR
  • RS232 Port, RC-5, 12 VDC
  • Size: 5.65" H x 17.25" W x 16.45" D
  • Weight: 19 Pounds
  • MSRP: $8,000 USA

Krell

www.krellonline.com

Introduction

DVD players are in a semi state of flux right now. Ever since we at Secrets have started our benchmark testing for progressive scan players, weíve learned that what separates great players from lousy ones isnít price but the components that make it up.

One would think that the higher the price you pay for the player, the better the internal components. This may be true in some high end electronics but it doesnít always seem to be the case with DVD players.

When I received the Krell DVD Standard I was a bit skeptical on how it would perform since it has been my experience that most high dollar players donít seem to perform any better than entry priced players despite what their price dictates. However, once I got this player up and running I was treated to something far better than what I expected.

The DVD Standard is Krellís first offering of a high end video component. For those of you familiar with Krell, you know that their focus has always been state of the art, top end audiophile gear. As youíll read later, this player stays true to that form but is also a very notable freshman effort in the video playback realm.

Inside and Out

Krellís KAV (audio and video) line of products definitely makes a statement in the looks department. For all their recent lines, including A/V processors and this player, they utilize a brushed stainless steel cabinet that is very pleasing to the eye and to the dťcor. Compared to most DVD players, the DVD Standard is rather large with the same dimensions of most A/V receivers, and it weighs a good deal too. While this may not necessarily mean anything when it comes to performance, it is still nice to know that when you spend the big bucks on a product you get solid build quality.

The front panel is nicely laid out, although I had some issues with the readout panel. Like the Showcase Processor, the DVD Standard  LED readout is red on red. This makes it is very hard to read from a distance in a room. It does shut off though after a few seconds of no use, which I loved, since I need a totally darkened room for playback. There is also a blue LED indicating that the power is on that can be quite bright, but I remedied this with a piece of electrical tape placed over it.

For controls you get the standard fare. On the left side youíll find the normal operating controls such as chapter skip and search, stop, and play. On the right side youíll find a few more advanced controls, enabling you to enter the on-screen menus and setup. Youíll also find the directional keys and Enter button to make selections right from the player.

The back panel is where the real goods are, and youíll definitely see why this player steps up over most players out there. The outputs are divided into four main sections. Starting on the left youíll find a pair of analog outputs. One is a standard two channel analog output, the other is a pure Class A balanced audio output.

For video outputs, the DVD Standard has two sections, interlaced and progressive. For interlaced outputs there are the typical component, S-Video, and composite outputs. Each uses the standard RCA connector. Youíll also find a selector switch for PAL or NTSC output. In the progressive section are located the real treats. You can choose from the standard component video, a RGB/HV BNC output, or a DB-15 RGB/VGA output. There is a simple selector switch to choose between which outputs are active. I loved this feature since it makes the need for a component to RGB converter unnecessary for those using a high end projection system. Last up you have a coaxial and Toslink digital audio output.

For control systems you have a RS-232 input as well as a RC-5 input and a 12VDC input and output. This makes integrating the DVD Standard into a high end automated system a breeze.

Usability

The user interface for the Krell is a totally original one from the ground up. The setup menus are quite large and easy to navigate. This piece of gear is obviously set up so that even a beginner wouldnít have a problem manipulating it. There are the normal adjustments for display type and parental controls as well as basic audio setup controls. The Krell however was the first DVD player to incorporate the Genesis/Faroudja FLI2220 enhancement chip that is similarly found on the Kenwood Sovereign line. The controls for this chip are also found here. We werenít totally satisfied though with the controls available since we knew the Faroudja chip offered more tweaks than what was available. After talking with Krell and getting them together with some of the engineers at Faroudja, they came up with a software update that exposed more of the controls available from the Faroudja solution. This software update is the current software now being shipped with the DVD Standard.

The software update allows for service modes that let you take control of Y/C Delay settings for the progressive outputs as well as the interlaced outputs. It also allows for individual controls for brightness and contrast as well as color controls. The only disappointment we had was the lack of control for the cross color suppressor. There is an option in the Krell setup that says animation mode which should toggle this on and off. Unfortunately it doesnít do anything presently and the CCS remains on. This can cause a subtle flickering in solid colors similar to what was noticed on the Panasonic RP-56 and the new Yamaha S2300. Krell has mentioned that they will work on this and try to get a software fix for it as soon as possible. Itís nice to know that a company as reputable as Krell is listens to suggestions and makes changes to offer the best possible performance to the end customer.

To operate the DVD Standard, Krell includes the same remote used for its processors. This is the little credit card look alike that I have grown to dislike. In a completely lighted room it is fine, but once the lights go out, good luck. The buttons are just little bubble like bumps that have no distinguishing attributes from one another. Therefore, trying to use this in the dark is like trying to read Braille for the first time. Impossible.

The insides were even more impressive then the exterior. The design is very clean but each part tells a big story. Immediately I was impressed with the power stage of the DVD Standard. It uses a massive transformer that is easily as big as many found in stand alone receivers. This is also coupled with a massive number of capacitors. Krell doesnít recommend connecting this piece to any other power conditioners since they have gone to great lengths to make their own power stage.

Next up is the audio board that feeds the balanced and unbalanced two channel outputs. Here youíll find the audio DACs and Op-Amps used to make this piece such a sonic powerhouse. Krell has employed an Analog Devices 1853 DAC. It also uses three Analog Devices Op-Amps per channel to completely eliminate feedback from the outputs. The DAC is a Multi-Sigma Delta modulator that is known to completely eliminate jitter. It was the first DAC to meet the 192 kHz standard of DVD audio, although this player does not support that format. It features a dynamic range of 120 dB.

The video board is also impressive, the hub of which is the LSI MPEG decoder. This chip does all of the processing for the video stage with the exception of the digital to analog conversion and deinterlacing. This chip is similarly found in many Sony DVD products, but Krell has worked with the engineers at LSI to rid this decoder of the chroma bug that affects some Sony players.

Below is a photo of the printed circuit boards used in the player.

For digital to analog conversion of the video signal Krell chose the Analog Devices ADV7172 chip. This Digital Video chipset utilizes six 10-bit DACs to convert the component 4:2:2 8-bit signals to a useable analog form. But this converter is only used for the interlaced portion of the player!

For progressive outputs, the Krell uses the Analog Devices ADV7196AKC multi format encoder. This has three 11-bit DACs for D to A conversion. It feeds the RGB, VGA, and component video outputs in the progressive section of the back panel.

It was very evident that this attention to detail on Krellís part made a huge difference in its video playback abilities. This player had the flattest video frequency response of any player we have ever measured. You can find more information about the video performance and how it did as far as de-interlacing in our Benchmark tests of this player.

Audio Nirvana Has Arrived!

Well now itís on to what I believe to be a real highlight of this player, its audio performance. The DVD Standard does not feature any onboard Dolby Digital or DTS decoders, so I will not comment on that aspect of its sound performance since it just passes the digital signal on to an outboard processor. What I will comment on is its two channel audio abilities that I believe are second to none.

At almost $8000 this is a player whose price is well beyond most players on the market. But most of Krellís CD transports are priced the same if not more than this player. Therefore if you were already considering one of their CD transports, this may be a better option since you get an excellent video section as well. In fact, you could almost take the approach of looking at this player as a CD transport with DVD playback thrown in as a bonus. Judging from my time with the piece, it seems Krell almost went this route.

Now some of you may scoff and say that there is no way a DVD transport can sound as good as a dedicated CD transport, but I dare you to take the blind challenge with this one. I did just that and brought along a few other people for the ordeal.

In Silverdale, Washington, there is a great Audio/Video dealer called Nuts about Hi Fi. This shop is owned by Bill Benson and is one of only three dealers in the country that is allowed to carry Master Reference Krell products. I canít tell you how lucky I am to be living right near this store. Billís assistant Jim Lee is the salesman who deals with Home Theater and Audio, and is without a doubt the nicest salesman I have ever had the chance to deal with. This store truly breaks the mold in regards to attitude, product knowledge, and dedication to this field.

Both Bill and Jim did me a great favor for this review to do my audio testing. I willingly admit that there is no way I can afford a piece like the DVD Standard and that my personal home theater would probably not do it justice for audio playback. The caliber of this piece would definitely benefit more from a much higher end playback system that I am sure many discerning audiophiles already have. So, I asked the folks at Nuts about Hi Fi if I could do some of my tests there. They were more than happy to accommodate me and even went a step further. Jim informed me that he was going to be hosting a local schoolís band class for a sort of career day. He asked if I might be interested in doing a blind comparison test between the DVD Standard and one of Krellís other CD transports and use the class as well as a few other attendants as judges. I thought this would be a great idea. Where else could you get almost forty unbiased ears together??

When I brought the DVD Standard in for the test I got a bit more than I bargained for. The evaluation system was no less than a complete dream system by anyoneís standards. We mated the DVD Standard to the Krell KPS 25cs. This is a high end CD transport that is coupled to a Class A preamp. It costs about $25,000 and this also ended up being the CD transport we used for comparison. We coupled the 25cs to a pair of Krell Master Reference Amplifiers. These things are absolutely incredible. Each is the size of an ottoman and requires an engine lift to move. I would give you an output rating for them but they are unrated! For interconnects we used Cardas Golden Reference cables. Last but certainly not least we used Wilson X1 Grand Slam Series II speakers mated by Krell CAST interconnects. I donít even want to go into how impressed I was with the Wilsonís, but needless to say it was a sad night when I finally went home.

Before the class got there, Jim and I played with the setup and made sure everything was dialed in accordingly. My father-in-law was also on hand to lend his discerning ear. He is an electrical engineer who has a passion for music and is a musician himself. We began our comparison of the products, and I was immediately impressed with the DVD Standard. The detail in the soundstage was absolutely phenomenal and far better than any DVD player I have heard before. The sound was crisp and very fast. The low end was very controlled and had excellent presence. When we did the A/B testing with it and the 25cs I could barely tell the difference at all. I would give a very slight edge to the 25 in terms of imaging and low end detail but the two were VERY close. When the other guests arrived, Jim told them what we were planning on doing and the guests seemed very enthusiastic. We passed out blank sheets of paper and told them to judge as either A, B, or neither as their preference. We picked an assorted mix of music including some classical, jazz, and good old rock. I think the guests were easily as impressed as I was if not more with the quality of sound these components offer.

In the end, the KPS 25cs ended up the winner, but the results were very interesting. In all, there were forty guests who voted. The results favored the 25cs with 23 votes. But the DVD Standard garnered 9 votes (all of which were more of the seasoned adults in the crowd), and 8 votes were cast as no preference either way. This means seventeen people thought the 25cs was either the same or not as good as the DVD Standard. Since the KPS 25 is considered one of the best CD/preamplifiers made and costs three times as much as the DVD Standard, this is quite an achievement for the DVD player.

I cannot stress how thankful I was for Bill and Jim letting me use their outstanding listening facilities for my comparison. I often have only contempt for A/V retailers that I meet, but these guys truly break the mold and show that some retailers truly care about the products they sell.

I continued my listening session at home over the next few months. I mated the DVD Standard to the Krell Showcase processor using its balanced outputs. I always bypassed the Showcase processing and used it strictly as a preamp. My listening choices varied from Jazz and Classical to Rock and Industrial. Every time I was pulled into the music more than I ever had using other players. Cymbals sounded much more defined with this player. Most players tend to have a slushy sound with rolling cymbals making it all sound clumped together. The DVD Standard made the detail more prevalent in that I could really tell what the instrument was doing.

I also noticed a huge improvement in bass. Kick drums were much tighter and focused and really hit hard. I compared an excellent track by Nine Inch Nails that features a lot percussion and bass. When I played it on my Denon 9000 it sounded great and the bass was very rich although a bit thick. When I played the same track on the DVD Standard, the bass was very quick but hit much harder. All of the thickness was gone, but the detail and low end were still spectacular. I also noticed an appreciable drop in the overall noise floor with the Krell. Silence truly sounded silent with no static or feedback at all.

Conclusions

I could go on and on about how impressed I was with the Krell from an audio standpoint, but I have to finish this review sometime. I think for most people this player would be a worthwhile investment from an audio standpoint alone. I would have loved it if it offered DVD Audio playback or SACD playback (universal player) as well, but unfortunately that doesnít look like it will happen anytime soon. (Krell's dedicated SACD player is now available though.) Otherwise I would rate this player as one of the best products on the market for DVD. The video section has its quirks but I am hopeful Krell will fix those soon. Most are not offensive with casual viewing. But, a real selling point is the audio performance; this alone is worth the price of admission.



- Kris Deering -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

DVD Benchmark - Part 5 - Progressive Scan DVD  

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