Krell ShowcaseThe Showcase has fewer features than the other two preamps, in part because it's an older design that was certified THX Ultra before the Ultra2 specs were formulated. So while it has two back surround outputs, they're driven by the same signal and don't have the additional THX Ultra2 processing to make them sound different.
But the standard THX Ultra features are always welcome, and they can be applied as postprocessing to a variety of multichannel and stereo formats. Krell is developing a dealer- or user-installed circuit card to upgrade current units with new features and processing modes. But that won't be available until after the newest Crystal DSP-engine chip set is released.
Like the other two preamps, the Showcase provides a useful set of subwoofer crossover frequencies, and its equalizer functions are also unusually ver satile. You can create three EQ presets using six different types of adjustable filters: notch, peaking, high-frequency shelf, low-frequency shelf, high-pass, and low-pass. The presets can then be assigned to specific channels - for example, to correct for speaker-response imbalances.
SETUP Of the three preamps here, the Krell is the simplest to operate from the front panel. There's no knob - separate buttons move the volume up and down - and the other controls merely select the input source and surround sound mode or let you adjust speaker balances. How well you can read the small front-panel display depends on how you're looking at it - it's actually easier to read from a slight angle than straight-on - and how well you can see the lettering against the red backlighting. From more than about 10 feet away, it was pretty much illegible.
Also, except during setup, the display turns off after 60 seconds if you don't execute a command. This means you can't see the volume setting or the selected input without hitting a control, which might alter the setting you were checking - call it high-end audio's application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
The flat, thin, palm-size remote is about as easy to use as the front panel and duplicates most of its controls while adding cursor keys and a menu button used for setup. While the buttons are all the same shape, size, and feel, they glow in the dark. The remote controls only the Krell, but in an unusual twist, you can use an LED on the front panel to program a learning remote.
Setting up the Showcase is pretty straightforward once you accept that only some of the video outputs carry the preamp's onscreen menu, and then only when a video signal is actually being fed to the selected input. But after the menu shows up, you can change any of the settings regardless of the input selected when you called it up.
Besides the normal multichannel setup steps (crossover selection, speaker balancing, distance compensation, and the like), you can use the menu to reassign audio and video sources to the named inputs. For example, you can assign the DVD input to a specific component-video signal in conjunction with one of the coaxial digital audio inputs.
You can't, however, assign different crossover frequencies to different speakers as you can with the Anthem. This means the Showcase is best suited for use with sets of speakers that all have the same bass cutoff. And while the EQ functions are versatile, the most potentially useful filters for taming low-frequency problems with room acoustics - the peaking and notch filters - can only be adjusted in 1/3 -octave steps.
If you're a fan of SACD and DVD-Audio, you'll be disappointed to find that the Showcase doesn't provide bass management or speaker-distance compensation for its multichannel analog input. You can only get the bass balance of SACD or DVD-Audio playback to come out right if you use full-range speakers for every main channel, including the surrounds - in which case all preamp and player bass management should be switched off (set all speaker sizes to "full range" or "large") - or if your SACD/DVD-Audio player's bass-management settings happen to match the optimal Showcase settings for your speakers.
PERFORMANCE In lab and listening tests with a THX-certified speaker system, the Showcase did fine with both stereo playback and surround playback using its various modes. Even the most demanding material - such as the first DVD-Audio disc of Morton Subotnick's electronic music (on Mode) - sounded as good as with the other two preamps in their comparable 5.1- or 6.1-channel modes. The sonic character of a preamp is determined mainly by its basic audio performance, which is covered by the THX certification process, and the type of surround processing employed, which has to pass tests by THX, Dolby, and DTS that pretty much guarantee identical results.
The Krell Showcase is a fine performer that is capable of providing nearly all of what you can get from today's multichannel movie and music recordings. If you have no desire, or space, for a 7.1-channel speaker setup, then it's a solid choice for playing standard Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks as well as CDs.
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