Krell Showcase Surround Sound Processor
(Click photo above to see larger version.)
Processes DD, DPL-II, DTS, DTS Discrete 6.1, DTS Neo:6
One of the toughest decisions in Home Theater is deciding on which processor to use as the hub of your system. With so many choices and differences between products not always being obvious, making the right decision can be downright frustrating.
stepped up to the plate and now offers a solution in a price category never
before entered by the audio heavyweight. Dubbed the ÒShowcaseÓ, this new
surround sound processor (SSP) offers new levels of performance almost untouched by other
offerings anywhere near this price point, with a level of flexibility and
customization that is unmatched and that serious enthusiasts will probably
The front panel consists of a red LED display and the same small steel buttons found on their other units. Personally, I prefer a dial rather than buttons, but that is just me. This makes things a bit easier in a dark room. However, buttons are fine for many people.
From the front panel you can
choose your input, surround mode, and manipulate any of the menu functions.
Selecting the input is rather easy, but using the panel to select the
surround mode and other functions takes some getting used to. While the
manual does do a decent job of walking you through these controls, even a
seasoned veteran of A/V equipment will find himself scratching his head at
first (as one does with just about any consumer electronics instruction
manual). Gone are the days when there was just an on-off button, volume
control, and channel selector.
video side, you get three sets of component video inputs (with 80 MHz
bandwidth for HD switching) for DVD or High Definition sources, and one
output. I did find it unusual that you must specify whether the input source
is interlaced or progressive/HD in the setup menu. By stating that the
source is progressive or HD, you cannot pass an interlaced source through
that particular input, and you also disable the OSD for that source. There are
four S-Video and four composite video inputs. There are two outputs for
each of these two input types, one for the OSD and one for a recording loop.
The volume readout is relative, with 0 meaning no volume, and 100 being maximum. Not that you would ever go that far. THX Reference level is 31 and the letter R appears next to this volume. I never needed to venture past this setting and the processor allows you to set a maximum volume level to prevent overdriving your setup. It also defaults to this volume when you use the internal test tones to set your speaker levels. The industry standard way to denote volume is absolute, where infinity is no volume and 0 dB is reference.
The Op Amps are Analog Devices OP275s. These are high quality amps that
donÕt have the heat problems associated with many Op Amps. Krell has
dedicated one stereo amp per channel. These Op Amps allow the balanced
outputs to have a lot more resistance to feedback from the amplifier itÕs
When setting the size, there are two
choices - Full Range and Limited. The limited function allows you to set a
universal crossover point for your smaller speakers. The range for the
crossover frequencies is 40 Hz- 120 Hz in 20 Hz steps. This setup menu also allows the
user to configure which surround speakers should be used for which purposes.
In other words, it gives
you the option to use the rear speakers for surrounds in 5.1 if you prefer
them over the side surround speakers. It also allows you to use both the
rear and side surround speakers for 5.1 material using a matrix algorithm
developed by Krell. This is similar to THX Ultra 2 processing for movies,
although I felt the THX processing did a slightly better job with imaging.
Once you are finished with the initial setup, the Krell Showcase processor offers a parametric equalizer for each channel, giving an unheard of amount of flexibility to the end user. In fact, such a feature is unusual in SSPs at any price. There are four memory modes that can be set up, allowing the user to make adjustments based on the source material. This means you can have one memory for movie playback, another for music, and one or two just to drive your neighbors crazy.
Filters for the equalizer include Notch, Peaking, High Pass, Low Pass, High Shelf, and Low Shelf. These filters allow you to dial in the sound to your room. For those not familiar with parametric equalizers, they allow you to flatten the response of the room by dealing with peaks and valleys in the overall room response. While this function cannot completely eliminate these problems, it can go a long way in dealing with certain issues. If you want to go the extra mile and use acoustic treatments as well, you can be sure that almost any problem with your roomÕs response can be handled.
To really take advantage of this feature we would advise the use of a real time analyzer (RTA) or even an acoustic program for the PC. While these types of adjustments can be made using an SPL meter, it can be quite difficult. I was not able to fully utilize this function as I would have liked.
A really nice addition to this processor would have been the
inclusion of an outboard microphone for the setup and processing features,
similar to PioneerÕs new receivers. You put the microphone in the seating
position, and the processor or receiver then goes through a series of tones,
automatically making adjustments in loudness, delays, and frequency
response. Note that it is always best to bring peaks down rather than trying
to raise the valleys. We suspect that such automatic configuration
processing with be a staple on SSPs and receivers within a few years.
Whoever comes up with the best little chip for that procedure will make a
lot of money.
also the inability to deactivate Re-EQ from the THX processing. There are
some studios releasing DVDs that have been mixed with home theater in mind
and donÕt benefit from this processing. The new Ultra 2 spec mandates that
THX products offer the ability to turn off this function if desired.
Krell also offers a DSP mode which will decode the back
channels using their own algorithms. This would enable you to use the rear
channels without the THX processing but it is not the same as Dolby Digital
EX. While I did think the DSP mode did a fairly good job with test material, including
"Blade 2" and "Star Wars Episode 2", I thought the THX
EX processing edged it out in terms of transparency when sounds panned
across the stage. Of course, this was just my preference.
For THX processing, the Showcase employs a second DSP engine, the Crystal
49330. This chip was specifically designed by Crystal Semiconductor to be
used in THX applications. It is capable of all THX post processing, including
the new Ultra 2 requirements, although Ultra 2 processing isnÕt offered on
the Showcase. This DSP also provides the processing power for the parametric functions. I asked
Krell if the Showcase will be updated to the new Ultra 2 specification
anytime soon, and they said that, at the present moment, there are no plans to do so.
However, it is
reassuring to know that the processor has the head room for future upgrades
and wonÕt require hardware changes to accomplish it. Buyers may also be
interested in knowing that both of these DSP engines are what Krell uses in
its top of the line Home Theater Standard 7.1 processor.
Without a doubt the Krell Showcase is the
best processor I have had the
pleasure of using in my system. It increased the depth of my soundstage
quite a bit over others I have tested. When I listened
to film soundtracks, the front soundstage had a great transparency and
excellent dynamic range. Bass seemed tighter and more focused than before,
and there wasnÕt a hard edge to any of the higher frequencies.
For music, I would categorize the Showcase as a very neutral piece.
As with movies, the soundstage offered excellent dynamics. Most recordings
seemed richer when I listened to them, especially in the lower end. It did
especially well with precise notes like a rolling cymbal. Instead of the
milky sound that blends into itself that I hear with a lot of audio pieces
it seems, the Showcase offered a discernable distant sound with tiny
details. Krell has definitely proved that it can still provide excellent
audio performance at a reasonable price.
- Kris Deering -
Related to the article above, we recommend the following:Primer - Surround Sound Processors