Back Issue Article
Beauty and the Beast
Details, details . . .
When I was approached by Marc Mickelson to write this months "Standout Systems" column, I immediately accepted believing that by simply describing my two-channel rig, everyone would agree what a wonderfully synergistic system I had assembled. Then after thinking about it, I concluded how some people might actually not consider my system to be synergistic at all. Over the years, as I experimented with various components, my tastes in audio hardware have continually tended to lean towards detail and transparency. While I still value attributes such as warmth, given the choice, I would still choose detail and transparency over most other parameters. The decisions that I made in choosing components for my system have manifested themselves in a very fast and immediate sound. While some might prefer a warmer and more tubelike sound, I hope that in describing my system I can instill a sense appreciation for its positive attributes to even those who might not necessarily consider assembling such a system for themselves.
The Infinity Composition P-FR loudspeakers ($3500 USD) were one of the first components I acquired for my current system. They are a four-way design utilizing seven drivers for midrange and treble that are located in a tall narrow enclosure which is situated on top of a sealed, powered woofer section. Even though these speakers were designed for home-theater use, they are some of the most revealing and elegant-sounding speakers that I have heard at their price point. They are capable of incredible imaging, due in part to the very narrow front baffle, and a great sense of depth. Although the sealed woofer enclosures are rated down to 25Hz, the bass is still very tight, articulate, and perfectly integrated. There is a subtlety and refinement to the sound of these speakers that is not normally associated with a home-theater design, but is more reminiscent of a high-quality minimonitor. The Infinity speakers also have an unusually high efficiency rating of 96dB/W/m. This makes them suitable for use with everything from mass-market receivers to low-powered triode tube amplifiers.
and the Beast
Perhaps the last thing that you might consider using to power a highly efficient pair of home-theater loudspeakers is a monster integrated amplifier. The Krell KAV-300i ($2500) is just that. Rated at 150WPC into 8 ohms and 300WPC into 4 ohms, the Krell is a beefy integrated with enough raw power to drive just about any reasonable pair of speakers. Why then would I use such a powerful amplifier with such an efficient pair of loudspeakers? Well, I just happen to be one of those audio Philistines who believes that you can never have too much amplifier power. Even at excruciating sound-pressure levels, the Krell is loafing and there is still plenty of headroom remaining. The result is a total lack of strain at normal listening levels, especially in the critical midrange. While it is a given that Krell amplifiers will have prodigious amounts of power and bass control, they also sound very neutral and transparent, and this Krell integrated is no exception. It does all the little things right as well as the broad stuff. In designing and manufacturing the KAV-300i, Dan DAgostino has brought the distinguished sound of Krell amplification down to a price point that many more of us can afford and in a more convenient and compact package to boot!
Teaching an old dog new tricks
Just when I thought my digital front-end was nearing the end of its days, the MSB Link DAC ($399) breathed new life into it. This budget 24/96 DAC has received rave reviews here at SoundStage! and throughout the audiophile press, and for good reason. But Im here to let you in on a little secret. While the stock MSB Link is a very good DAC, it can be substantially improved upon by adding jitter reduction and resolution enhancement. I use the MSB in conjunction with an Audio Alchemy DTI v2.0 ($599 no longer available) and DTI Pro 32 ($1599 no longer available). The two jitter-reduction devices and the resolution enhancement of the Pro 32 take the MSB DAC up to another level of performance. In fact, this setup, with the MSB linked via the coax SPDIF interface, easily surpasses even the Audio Alchemy DDE v3.0 DAC ($799 no longer available) via the I2S interface, which was my previous reference DAC.
The addition of the DTI units to the MSB Link smoothed everything out. There was an increase in the amount of air and resolution, and the sound was, well, less digital. For those of you out there with resolution-enhancement devices, the MSB Link or any of the other new 24-bit DACs may be the most cost-effective way of getting the last bit of performance out of your 16-bit CD collection. Remember to adjust the setting of your resolution-enhancement device to the highest word length that your DAC will support. In the case of the MSB Link and the DTI Pro 32, this would be 24 bits. However, similar devices like the Genesis Digital Lens and the Camelot Dragon Pro only go as high as 20 bits, so they will not be able to take full advantage of a 24-bit DAC like the MSB Link.
The digital rig is completed by the TEAC VRDS-T1 transport, which features the Vibration-Free Rigid Disc-Clamping System. This CD mechanism reduces mechanical vibration by utilizing a heavy-duty overhead clamp that holds CDs securely in place as they are being played. Transports that utilize this mechanism or Pioneers excellent Stable Platter mechanism are among my personal favorites for spinning discs.
The final touches to the system are provided by Nordost cabling and an MIT Z-Cord II power cord. Except for an Audio Magic Mystic I2S cable ($100 for a one-meter length), I use Nordost cabling exclusively throughout the system: Blue Heaven interconnect ($200 per meter pair) and speaker cable ($400 for a two-meter pair) and Moonglo coaxial digital cable ($200 for a one-meter length). All of the Nordost products that I have experimented with can be characterized as having a very fast and detailed sound with very little coloration. I have never been disappointed with the results of Nordost cabling in my system and find my current batch of interconnects and speaker cables from the company to be the perfect match in terms of price and performance to my system. The MIT Z-Cord II ($175), which provides power to the Krell KAV-300i, adds just a touch of warmth to the Krells sound without sacrificing any detail or transparency, and it is also very reasonably priced.
Home theater plus
One unique feature of the Krell KAV-300i that I did not mention earlier is its Theater Throughput mode that allows it to be easily integrated into a home-theater system. For many of us, combining an audiophile two-channel system with a home theater is not possible without compromising the two-channel system in some way -- such as having the signal pass through an additional set of interconnects or through a surround processor. With Krells Theater Throughput mode, one of the KAV-300i's standard inputs can be converted to a direct amplifier input (bypassing the preamplifier section) and effectively turning the integrated amplifier into a power amplifier. When the Theater Throughput mode is disabled, the KAV-300i goes back to behaving like a normal integrated amp through its other inputs. Thus the left and right outputs from a surround processor can be connected to the Krell and only utilized for home theater, while not interfering with its normal use as a high-quality two-channel integrated amp. This feature will come in very handy when I move out of my current residence later this year and integrate this system with a Sherwood Newcastle AVP-9080R processor and an Anthem MCA 5 multichannel amplifier into a high-end, multi-use system. Check back with me then.
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