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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: Krell KRC-2 Preamplifier (SS) by Luminator

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REVIEW: Krell KRC-2 Preamplifier (SS)

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Model: KRC-2
Category: Preamplifier (SS)
Suggested Retail Price: $3700.00
Description: line-level preamplifier
Manufacturer URL: Krell

Review by Luminator on February 10, 2009 at 12:36:13
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Think back 15 years, to early 1994. Though grunge itself died, it made every rock band want to down tune and distort their notes. Bleh. At the other end, music went completely electronic, as Hi-NRG took over. The NFL's salary cap had not yet neutered football, so play was still at a very high level. In fact, those 1993 Dallas Cowboys arguably were the best ever. The New York Rangers were awesome, and were on their way to winning the Cup. MLB did not yet go on strike, and the Expos (!) were among the league's elite. The NBA (or was it NBC, which was a major NBA broadcaster?) used, among others, The Outfield's "Winning It All" in promotions.

The economy was pulling itself out of a recession. Consequently for audiophiles, more products, both new and used, were in reach.

I was fresh out of college. I was still working in education, not accounting. I had long saved up my birthday, holiday, and paper route monies. So what did I blow it on? Dining out? Nope. Traveling? Nope. Prostitutes? Nope. Drugs? Nope. Gambling? Nope. Clothes? Nope. Jewelry? Nope.

So what did I spend my monies on? Why, I spent in on Krell , baby! Yes, the Krell KRC-2 was my first truly way-above-middle-class audio component. As such, I've always wanted to review it. 15 years later, here it is:

Part 1 history, innards
Part 2 front
Part 3 rear
Part 4 cables
Part 5 remote
Part 6 volume control

If you read the above, you'll learn that, with my initial system, the KRC-2 was okay. With those 2V single-ended sources, the KRC-2's volume was at the second LED dot. It should be noted that in the June 1994 issue of Stereophile , Martin Colloms did warn about high-output sources. Personally, I did not acquire balanced sources (and their high outputs) until early 1995. The KRC-2's mute or full off position, of course, yields no sound. But as soon as I turned the knob to the first step, or hit the volume up button on the remote, the sound was too loud. The KRC-2 had to go.

Now, now, blame shouldn't be assigned all to the preamp. The chief culprit, of course, lies in sources having way too high outputs. Number 2, power amps often have too much gain. And 3, speakers, especially those nowadays, have way too high sensitivity. Still, any intelligently-designed preamp should accommodate for these real-world problems. Instead of gong down to -50dB, where most listening is done, preamps really need to go down to -80dB.

So for all these years, my KRC-2 was in the hands of other audiophiles. After more than 12 years, the KRC-2 made it back to me. 'Cept this time, I lived in a different home, and had completely different audio gear. Nevertheless, isn't it interesting to bring back a product which is years old?

No, the KRC-2 isn't as transparent as, say, today's Jeff Rowland Capri. With the KRC-2 in the system, you cannot "see" through the soundstage as clearly. Furthermore, the KRC-2 has this filtering effect in the upper mids and lower treble. You lose texture, breath, nuance, and timbre.

Where the KRC-2 shines is in that critical upper bass/lower midrange transition. It sounds turbo-charged there. This is where kick drum, bass, and synth lines often meet. Assuming your sources are capable, the KRC-2 does not lose sight of bass players' fingers on the strings. The KRC-2 does not muddle, soften, or blunt the snap of drums.

I no longer have Krell's KPE Standard, but via a quality phonostage, the KRC-2's firm grip helps the Koetsu Black tremendously. If you are tired of speakers bloating the upper bass, the KRC-2 won't lessen the quantity of bass, but it will help firm things up.

No, there is a sure-footedness, a sense of purpose and determination, the KRC-2 still possesses. Is it as neutral or transparent as today's similarly-priced preamps? Probably not. But the KRC-2 has a grip, punch, and no-BS personality which, sadly, are hard to find in typical high-end audio products. If you love to dance, if you enjoy moshing, if you like playing along with your music, the KRC-2 is an oldie but goodie.

Most of you think of Roberta Flack as slow and sleepy. The KRC-2 can't change that overnight, but it does allow you to hear, for a change, the bass which underlies "Killing Me Softly." Most of you never knew that the bass has size, movement, direction, and purpose.

Motley Crue's "Wild Side" doesn't move air, but you'll thrill to the way the KRC-2 allows you to thumb along to Nikki Sixx's bassline runs.

In the early 90s, I saw Cannibal Corpse several times in Bay Area clubs. I pulled out their Butchered At Birth CD, and popped it into the Krell KAV-250cd. Producer Scott Burns compressed the drums too much, and did not allow for much soundstage depth. While other systems crumple this recording into a soft little ball in between the speakers, not so the Krell combo. The sound is spread from speaker to speaker. You can hear the down-tuned guitars, which are de rigueur for the genre, so there is a bit of softness. No, you can't make out lead singer Chris Barnes' Cookie Monster words. But the whole musical landscape is like turning on your garbage disposal, and seeing everything flow nicely down the drain. And that's how it's supposed to be. It isn't harsh, sharp, or bright. It's like grindcore. After the CD finishes, you go, "Wow, I can't believe we sat through the whole thing," and that's a testament to the Krells. Makes you want to see Cannibal Corpse in concert.

The KRC-2 leaves intact the side-to-side jump of Linear's "Sending All My Love." And when the piano takes the lead above the driving rhythms, such as on Bruce Hornsby's "The Valley Road," the KRC-2 will have you tickling your imaginary ivories. And if your speakers are begging you to clean up the semiquaver kick drum intro on New Order's "Blue Monday," the KRC-2 will oblige.

The KRC-2 also excels in the area where you need to chew out guitar lines. Paul McCartney is, obviously, a lousy songwriter. But every now and then, he'll find a killer melody, and he does so on "Live And Let Die." This recording (especially on 7" vinyl) is thin, and the KRC-2 can't mask that. But it chews out the guitar lines with such vigor, you start to question whether Guns N' Roses really needed to re-record this song.

Speaking of GNR, watch how the KRC-2 weaves through the Elton-John-esque "November Rain," then compare that to the runnin'-off-the-rails of "You Could Be Mine."

So where will the KRC-2 work? In large rooms, where the preamp is not asked to operate at levels lower than -50dB. Otherwise, forget it. And that's too bad, because the KRC-2 has an awesome, shoot-'em-up sound which others preamps just can't touch.

-Lummy The Seahorse

Product Weakness: discontinued long ago; not enough volume control steps/range; no input offset; remote doesn't work that well
Product Strengths: still works after 15 years; low profile

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: Jeff Rowland 501; Krell KAV-150a; Muse Model 100; Simaudio W-7
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Jeff Rowland Capri; Krell KRC-HR; Simaudio P-8
Sources (CDP/Turntable): EAR Acute; Krell KAV-250cd; Theta Data Basic, Cobalt 307, DS Pro Prime IIA; Wadia 581i SE
Speakers: Signet SL-280 B/U; Totem The One
Cables/Interconnects: Kimber PBJ & KCAG; Wireworld Platinum Eclipse; XLO Limited Edition
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Rock, pop, metal, TV
Time Period/Length of Audition: 15 years
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Krell KRC-2 Preamplifier (SS) - Luminator 12:36:13 02/10/09 ( 8)