I remember my first audiophile-grade CD player like it was yesterday. A Rotel of some early vintage as I recall. It was a fun little player that sounded odd, but that was par for the course back then. While my Rotel plugged along and my obsession with audio bloomed I spotted an ad for the Krell MD-1 transport in Stereophile. Wow! What an un-believably cool piece of gear. And that was the beginning of a lifetime obsession with all things audio and a commitment to where that road would lead.
It was not long before I began devouring my way through the Krell line up, always starving for the top of the line. It would not be until I got the Krell KPS-25 did I feel satiated. That was a bit short lived however. A few months later, I had a shot at reviewing the Linn Sondek CD-12. That diminutive CD player delivered texture, liquid decay and sweet harmonics in a way the Krell could not muster. That would result in a hiatus from Krell Digital that would last nearly fifteen years, with players from Gryphon, Wadia, Behold and Esoteric filling in the gaps. Each step represented an improvement in sound in one area or the other, though no single player rendered a complete picture, in my opinion. When my Behold decided to stop working I had to find something contemporary, something that represented the state-of-the-art without the huge price tag. “I wonder what Krell is up to?” I mumbled to myself as I stared contemplatively into the distance. A quick call to long time compadre Bill McKiegan, President of Krell and Voila, the Connect was sent over for a prolonged stay.
The Krell Connect is a streamer/DAC with one set of RCA and XLR analog out puts. No inputs are available. As for operation simply download the Krell software that clones the 3-inch display on your smart phone tablet or laptop and you can begin listening to music from internet Radio; more on this later. The Connect supports FLAC and WAV files while also streaming Ogg, WMA and MP3. Coaxial and optical outputs and a USB input round out the back panel.
From the moment I got the Krell Connect up and running, it was clear I had stumbled onto something stunningly superb. Yes, the Krell Connect needed sometime to really blossom, but it was evident immediately of the great things to come.
Where to start? First off, the Krell Connect is greater than the sum of its parts, so breaking it down into pieces does not tell the whole story. I will do so, however, as it is instructive, but the Connect’s ability to reproduce music with a deep level of emotional connection is the real story here. Through a tapestry of dynamic life, textural rendition of colorful timbre, transient speed and endless bloom, the Connect throws everything at you at once rendering the music with such a sense of completeness and impact, there is little to do but sit back and try not to be overwhelmed, which happened to me too many times to count. You might think this sounds like something that would tire the listener over time, let me tell you, I am just as enamored with the Krell Connect now as I was 7 months ago.
Another joy to result from the time with the Connect was the ability to listen to Internet radio through its DAC. I have spent countless hours discovering musical gems from my youth through the huge variety of available stations. Favorite stations were saved to the Krell Connect’s own list. Having only heard many of these songs over a car radio, most were rendered nearly unrecognizable as a result of the huge amount of musical information presented, not to mention the clear delineation of all sorts of reverberant fields surrounding the instruments. While it was always fun to hear deeply into the production, that never got in the way of connecting deeply with the music.
I guess if pressed, I would have to say that the dynamics of the Krell Connect is the fuel that really ignites the fire. Here is where the Connect’s lineage stays true to form. Krell Industries has always been known for powerful dynamics, and the Connect takes it to a new level. Not just capable of huge dynamic swings and devastating slam, the Connect gets the subtle dynamic shading of the music so right. It is within these vast dynamics that all the Connect is capable of is delivered. I have heard other players that were very smooth, non-fatiguing and musical yet lacked that measure of life, and forward momentum. Here the Krell Connect offers all the smoothness and musicality along with vibrancy and direct connection with the recording.
The words silence and digital have had a rocky time co-existing over the years. At first we all seemed enamored with digital’s black background. Yet, we quickly recognized that infused in the harmonic structure of instruments existed new un-analog type of distortions that perverted the timbre of instruments and flattened images. Jitter, ringing, poorly addressed power supplies added up to a glary brittle picture we barley recognized in our cherished recordings. The Krell Connect does a phenomenal job at getting out of the way of a recording to such a degree that it may be the most transparent piece of audio I have ever heard. With the startlingly transparent Verasstar V2 balanced interconnects hooked up to, now get this, the D’Agostino Momentum Integrated amplifier, how about that for strange bedfellows, I am getting the best sound I have ever had in my room.
Now having said all of that, some may find the vibrancy, particularly in the upper mids, just a little forward. In my system, the music within that region just blooms without breaking up into distortion. If your system has a bit of excess energy or distortion in that region, it may be well served elsewhere. The Krell Connect is not a tone control, it is a powerful music-making machine that will tell you all you will ever need to know about your downstream gear. Through the D’Agostino Momentum Integrated, the sound is just so satisfying- sophisticated yet capable of visceral chaos; I never know what is coming next.
When strapped to the Wells Audio Innamorata stereo tube amp, the upper mid band became super smooth, creamy really. This is one seductive amp. Rich, colorful mid-band, full plumb bass, the music really sinks in via the Wells.
Being a huge Bee Gees fan, listening to “Jive Talking” via the Krell was just stunningly cool and funky. Tight punchy bass and wide open from the mid –band right through the treble. Separation of all the vocals and orchestration was a breeze to sink into with great layering. Saturday Night Fever is one of the greatest pop recordings ever IMHO.
This is not to say that the sound cannot offend at times. Paul MaCartny’s “Band On the Run,” despite very natural vocals, its guitars and synth get a bit blaring, forcing one to turn down the volume. Not a crime, more of a misdemeanor.
I can give all sorts of examples of bass recordings that the Krell Connect just devoured, from the heaviest metal from Skillet or Godsmack The Enemy chilling in its slam and propulsion to Pat Martini Angular Blues with its pitch perfect, image- and timbre-rich bass line. Fleetwood Mac’s “Say that you love Me” surprises with bass that is pretty spectacular through the Krell Connect. The bass on this track was really deep yet perfectly focused and pitch perfect from the lowest notes through the upper registers of the bass. Not an easy task.
The variety of sounds, textures and images is a calling card of neutrality- that rare gift that gets the device out of the way of the signal. It may be a stretch to call the Krell Connect completely characterless as I described its forward-ish upper mid band in a previous paragraph. I hesitate to call it a coloration as it does not hide detail or blunt transients in any way. Nor does it shout notes or alter timber. I guess it’s more of a first five rows perspective is a good way to put it.
“Don’t let the sun go down on me” from Elton John is a great example of how layered the Krell Connect can be. Background singers, brass sections strings and orchestra just fills the stage with dead stable imaging. Another great example is “Theme from Shaft” by Issac Hayes. The stage is really deep as is the voluminous bass. There is much going on, but the sense of layers and depth is never lost. A great recording.
Yes, I am keeping the Krell Connect. It has opened a world of music and fidelity all in one classy package. There may be more feature-laden devices of the Connects ilk out there, perhaps some less financially challenging. There exists a great compatibility between the Connect and my D’Agostino as well as the being a great partner for the Pass Labs XA200.5 amplifiers that hold court in my system.
Musical density, effortless transparency and a bass presentation that takes you all the way there — with the Connect Stream Player, Krell is back on top as far as I’m concerned.
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