Krell Foundation AV Pre/Pro at New York Audio Show

The 2013 New York Audio Show, held at The New York Palace Hotel, was practically bursting with esoteric audio products; many rooms contained systems priced in the 6-figure range. The overwhelming majority of the show was about 2-channel audio, but Krell was there with the new Foundation AV processor, a moderately priced (by Krell standards) 7.1 surround-sound preamp/processor with a number of features that help differentiate it from rather stiff competition.

Half of a 6-figure, 2-channel system—Wilson Maxx 3 speakers, VTL Siegfried amps

photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger

Taking a peek through a window at the New York Palace Hotel revealed this amazing view

photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger

The complete system that I auditioned consisted of:

Krell Foundation multichannel preamp/processor

Krell S-1500 7-channel amplifier
Martin Logan Speaker Package including:

2 Motion 40 (front L/R)
1 Motion 30 (center)
4 Motion 20 (surrounds)
1 Dynamo 1500 subwoofer

Wired with MIT interconnect and speaker cables

Vizio 70″ E701i HDTV

Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player

Krell Foundation, Krell S-1500, Oppo BDP-95  

photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger

One of the more impressive aspects of the Krell HT demo system was the relatively mainstream components used to highlight the new processor’s prowess. This system was not a “price no object” Krell showcase—it was more of a “high price is justified by superior engineering” system—yet engineering without compromise is the precise heritage it comes from. After a long talk with Krell President Bill McKiegan, I came away convinced that the new Foundation completely justifies its $6500 price tag.

I had the room essentially to myself, and I chose a seat in the second row, perhaps 11-12 feet back from the front stage, just in front of the side surrounds and perhaps 8-10 feet from the rear surrounds. I chose the helicopter attack on the ranch from Skyfall to serve as a reference scene, because I am very familiar with it.

The front stage, which turned out to be the least interesting part of the demo

photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger

What I heard was quite stunning—a rear soundstage that had the same depth and definition I am used to hearing from the front. I know that is the multichannel ideal, but up until that point it had not occurred to me that the soundfield could truly be seamless and three-dimensional around the full circumference of the system.

I asked McKiegan about the impressive performance of the Foundation, which resulted in a brief lesson about Krell’s priorities—specifically, to treat each pair of adjacent channels as an engineering challenge, optimizing those preamps to match each other so they form a perfect envelope around the listener. When the balance between the channels approaches perfection, the audio illusion is seamless. Each “channel pair” in the system becomes its own discrete, high-end 2-channel system, with the same 2-channel qualities that audiophiles are always looking for—the sonic image from two speakers takes on a three-dimensional character, with each sound discretely rendered in its proper position.

Since a 7.1 surround system has seven channel pairs, there are seven stereo soundfields that ideally surround the listener seamlessly. That is exactly what I heard from the Foundation—a rendition of a key scene in Skyfall that was well beyond the capabilities of my Pioneer Elite SC-55 and 7.1 speaker system, which I used to re-watch the same scene later that day. The proof? Krell’s Foundation-based system immediately triggered involuntary goosebumps—something that only happens to me when I listen to the very best high-fidelity systems.

I asked why someone would choose Krell for a surround preamp/processor in a world where there are many choices at every level of price and quality. The result was a lengthy discussion about the company’s history, the state of 4K and HDMI, and why a Vizio E701i was used in the presentation.

Then there’s the issue of room correction. Instead of using something like Audyssey or Trinnov, Krell designed its own algorithms from scratch for the Foundation. Why? As a rule, the company designs and engineers everything in-house, to its own extremely high standards. In this case, the result is called ARES—Automatic Room Equalization System. Here is what the company has to say about it:

Quote:

“ARES analyzes all the speakers in the system, their location, phase, and distance from each other, to determine the best crossover frequency, delay, and more. In addition, ARES incorporates the acoustics of the room to determine unique EQ curves for each of the 7.1 output channels. Unlike other room EQs, ARES can be programmed to only adjust the troublesome low frequencies, leaving high frequencies unaltered.”

The Foundation is a decidedly premium product with a price to match: $6500. That is not quite unobtainium to a serious home-theater enthusiast, but at that price point, there is concern about the risk of becoming obsolete, especially since audio and video standards keep evolving. I asked McKiegan how Krell would deal with future changes in video technology, and I liked his answers.

I mentioned that the home-theater market is poised on the edge of a revolution in resolution. 4K is on the way, and HDMI standards will need to be updated to accommodate 4K at higher frame rates than 30p. What happens when that day comes? McKiegan assured me that Krell could upgrade the video components, prompting a discussion of the company’s long history of updating and upgrading gear as technology progresses. Faced with evolving standards, buyers of the Foundation will likely have the option of upgrading the existing unit or trading it in toward a newer model that includes the updated components.

So what else sets the Foundation apart? First and foremost is an all-balanced output stage—7.1 channels of it, with two summed subwoofer outputs. Another very nice feature: All ten HDMI inputs are concurrently active, so switching between them is instantaneous. Two-channel audio aficionados can also take advantage of a stereo preamp mode, featuring a dedicated all-analog signal path.

The Foundation features balanced outputs and always-active HDMI inputs

photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger

More than anything else, the new Foundation amazed me with its fidelity, which has always been Krell’s mission—to deliver the ultimate in sound quality. In my conversation with McKiegan, he touched on the past and future of high-definition audio. SACD and DVD-Audio are simply not mainstream products, but Blu-ray discs with uncompressed high-resolution audio sell in every Wal-mart, Target and Best Buy across the nation. The vast majority of audio equipment is ill equipped to extract the total fidelity found within these high-resolution yet ubiquitous soundtracks. Krell’s Foundation brings the listener closer to that ideal than any 7.1 AV processor I have heard to date.

The fact it’s priced at the same level as moderately expensive projectors and speakers makes Krell’s AV processor a relative bargain for the sound it produces. The Foundation is a fantastic 7.1 AV processor from a company with a long record of accomplishment, producing some of the best solid-state electronics in the entire audio industry. The Foundation deserves an audition from anyone who is truly serious about home theater and considers it to be within his or her budget.