June 3, 2011

Hot Stuff! Krell S-350a CD Player.

Krell S-350a CD player, with a slot loaded DVD ROM transport, supplied by TEAC.

The end is near for CD players, I proclaimed not too long ago! Ladies and gentleman, like all dooms day nay sayers, the rush of new great sounding players lately is making me choke in my own words. The arrival of the Ayre DX-5 Universal AV Engine is just the beginning, then now, this brand new Krell S-350a CD player. Next, I am holding on to the promise of a TAD D600 CD player to be delivered to my man cave(with bated breath).

The focus today though, falls squarely on this China built Krell S-350a CD player. Krell's past CD players have being highly sought after in the used market, often transacted with good second hand resale value. The S-350a is a modular design disc player approach, with the option to add a DVD video board should one desire, at extra cost. Today, we are only interested in it's performance as a stereo source.

The rear panel of the Krell S-350a. I only used the XLR outputs for this review.

This Krell is rather heavy in built, and cosmetically styled to match the S-300i integrated amplifier of the same series. This means a decent front aluminium armour plate and 2U epoxy coated, steel casing of clamp shell design, which results in a very rigid box. The front panel buttons are clearly marked and has excellent finger/action feel. There's a contemporary blue back lite display for CD status, input bit/sampling rates and other functions, when in use. The hand held remote is rather heavy duty, with clearly marked buttons and offer excellent handling ergonomics. I only wish it was back lited too!(Big E always asking for more, more, and more!)

Round the back panel RCA and XLR outputs are provided, along with coaxial and toslink digital inputs and outputs. An IEC power socket and 12V remote trigger jacks completes the back panel features.
The handy all aluminium remote, which is clearly marked and very ergonomically sorted out is use. However, the remote refused to work in the first two days after putting in the batteries(supplied by Krell). On the fateful third day, a good whack of the remote on my thigh woke it up. it never failed again since! Hmmm......

The slot loading transport takes a bit of getting used to. There's a few hesitant notches one could feel when pushing the CD in to the slot, but with some practice, disc loading is quite effortless.

The sound of this CD player is so very complete, that I find it hard to pin point any faults. In my years of reviewing CD players, I've admired players like the Esoteric X-03, Wadia 381i and perhaps even the Metronome Technologies CD One T. What does all these great players have in common with the Krell, you asked? Let's see, how about the way the S-350a digs out information from the CD pits remind me of the Esoteric? The robustness in sound that was reflected in the Wadia? And perhaps, half the measure of the way music is portrayed with such humility, much like the Metronome?

Yes! The S-350a is tonally neutral, with just a hint of warmth thrown is for comfy measure, but the way it presents music is pure Krell, in terms of dynamic power and transient response. This is one player with balls of steel, are you man enough to handle the way the bass is kicked right in to the room from the sound stage? Listening to well performed orchestral music, such as those in the Arabesque, selections by Crystal Cable, is pure joy, with roller coaster thrill ride type exhilaration! Even the more subtle solo piano tracks brims with energy and realism, only because of the way this player handles music transients with confidence that is a Krell hallmark. Even the choir tracks, especially track 5 Rutter Requiem Pie Jesu, is rendered with such detailed measure, along with the hall ambiance fully reproduced, turning my man cave into an old European styled church, acoustics wise. The choir section contrasting with the female Soprano voice is rendered so realistically, I get goose bumps feeling of the un real kind! Now that's eerie.

With performances rendered this believe able and life like, need I further describe it's staging and imaging qualities?

This Krell certainly deserves to be on the top shelve of any decent high end audio system.

This is a player that will faithfully reward the listener with every genre of music thrown in, be it, pop, rock, jazz, classical, even world music. Every CD I played thru the Krell, I enjoyed tremendously. I sometimes question, how can a player this revealing of recordings, warts and all, always manage to sound enjoyable too?

For all the kind words and high praises I heaped on this player, are there any negative areas that I should highlight? Well...... if I've to nit pick, it would be the noise floor, which is subjectively not as quiet(back ground noise) as the RM$30k+ heavy weight examples mentioned above, but that's just me being audiophool anal about such things. I bet most people would not even be bothered about it.

Another area that I had trouble with was the digital input. I used the Bryston BDP-1 to stream CD ripps at 16/44.1 FLAC and AIFF music files and it played beautifully, just like the CD playback. However when I tried to stream at higher bit rates, such as 24/96 or even 24/192 FLAC files, then the Krell would replay them with an accompanying irritating high frequency distortion. The higher the sampling rate, the louder the distortion. I find this rather puzzling, given the latest Burr Brown DAC spec,equipped inside this player, should be able to handle hi-rez files up to 24/192.  Perhaps a firmware upgrade is in the pipeline to fix it?

This is a fine CD if one loves well recorded and performed classical music. It is an excellent introduction for newbies venturing in to this genre. I just loved the music selection here! Ms Gabi van der Kley of Crystal Cable has such wonderful taste in music.  

In honour of joining ranks with the elite company of Esoteric, Wadia and Metronome, one would wonder if this Krell s-350a is truly afford able, despite it's China made origins? I now tell you, this Krell S-350a CD player cost only RM$10,500.00!

It's one CD player anyone shopping for a disc based digital source should not ignore, at any price!

Krell is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 019-2813399 or 03-78738325.


Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Wow...sounds like a great player and really affordable too...

unker vic said...

Enjoyed track 7, Mussorgski's Picture at an exhibition - The Great Gate at Kiev. Different systems' presentations differed greatly.

Big E a good album to listen.

Big E said...

Yes, Felix, if there's a giant killer in CD player land today, this Krell is it!

It's performance is head and shoulders with reference players mentioned in the review at a trully affordable(by high end standards anyway)price!


I've being playing with the Arabesque CD for a few months now. The track selection is excellent.

andy linkner said...

I must respectfully dissent from the high praise heaped on this CD player here and elsewhere. I purchased a 2 year old, lightly used S-350a due to problems I'd been having with my Audiolab 8200.

The "noise-floor" issue mentioned in the review here, and downplayed by comparing it with players 3 times more expensive, is extremely misleading. This machine (I assume it's the transport mechanism itself) produces a noise clearly audible from 10 ft. This noise introduced into my listening space I found to be highly distracting. Any claim to audiophile status for such a piece of audio equipment is ludicrous.

My Audiolab player which retails for $1,300(US) less than the Krell is dead silent

I inquired regarding this issue with the tech-support at Krell and they confirmed that this noise is a feature of "some units". To quote-- "We are not sure why this is, but know that this can be so for some units." The "we are not sure why this is so" part strikes me a particularly disingenuous. Of course they know why this machine makes this noise.

So, to anyone who values quietness in their gear, stay away from this CD player.