Maybe it’s a leftover habit from my days as a high-end audio salesman, but I’m always on the lookout for great demo material. Funny, I never really thought about Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls CD that way before, but I’d never heard it over Krell’s Modulari Duo Reference speakers.
They have the sort of sound that stops you from merely thinking about music — you feel it. The Purple One was definitely in the house.
Like all Krells, the Modulari Duo Reference is a daringly personal work from the company’s CEO and Chief Engineer, Dan D’Agostino.
Over the past three decades, the man designed some of the world’s greatest solid-state amplifiers. In 2000, he started working on speakers.
When I queried D’Agostino about the difference between the two disciplines he put it this way: “We approach speaker design like an electronics design; the speaker’s crossover and drivers are both part of the electrical circuit.”
He explained that small design changes that barely show up in measurements loom large when you sit down and listen to a speaker.
D’Agostino was candid enough to admit that previous generations of Krell speakers were “voiced” to sound best with CD and other digital sources. For the Modularis, he also used LPs.
The Modulari Duo Reference is a blatantly original, thoroughly masculine design; but at 44 inches tall, 11 wide and 29 deep, it can still fit in average-sized rooms. Each speaker weighs 345 pounds.
It’s fair to assume the bulk of the weight can be attributed to its thick-walled aluminum construction. If the goal was to make an absolutely dead cabinet, I’d say D’Agostino’s done it.
The speaker’s heavily ribbed flanks contrast nicely with broad expanses of beautifully machined metal. There’s a clear aesthetic kinship with Krell electronics.
The Modulari Duo Reference is a two-piece system. The top speaker, available separately as the Modulari Primo ($20,000/pair), is a two-way design featuring a 7-inch aluminum woofer and 1-inch ring radiator tweeter, with a rather lethal-looking point in its center. The lower cabinet houses three 8-inch aluminum woofers in its vault-like enclosure. All of the drivers are displayed behind acoustically transparent rubber “string” grilles.
D’Agostino nixed fuses or any form of protection for the drivers. “They truncate the signal and restrict current flow. The drivers were made to handle gigantic amounts of power,” he explained.
The woofer and midrange drivers were in fact designed in-house and built in Europe. The tweeter isn’t a proprietary Krell effort, but it’s a highly regarded design.
The back of the woofer cabinet has a large, bass-enhancing slot/port, fed by two internal all-metal ports. There’s no discernable port noise or turbulence. Indeed, most of the time I could barely feel any air coming out of the port.
Bass. Oh boy, these speakers love bass. It’s nice and deep, and definition is as nimble as I’ve heard. With so much low frequency potential on tap, the Modulari Duo Reference can be demanding about placement.
It needs to be where it needs to be; too close to a wall or corner and the bass can easily turn into too much of a good thing. Midrange and treble were brilliantly resolved, without a hint of grain. The speakers treated less than perfect recordings with a deft touch.
The Modulari Duo Reference’s sound provides an open window to the music, with nothing added or taken away. The speaker doesn’t favor any type of music over another and sounds superb at low, moderate and thunderously loud volume levels.
The Krells were designed to serve the music, not limit it.
Naturally enough for this review I used Krell electronics, namely an Evolution 505 SACD/CD player, Evolution 202 stereo preamplifier, and Evolution 302 stereo power amplifier. Synergy was obvious from the get-go. The soundstage was unusually broad and spacious, floating free of the gleaming cabinets. Center image focus was rock solid and stable. With the better audiophile recordings from Chesky, MA and Reference, the soundstages focused with great precision and each instrument appeared wholly formed and three-dimensional.
The Modulari Duo References had the remarkable ability to transport me back through time. Live recordings, especially ones that I was present for, were as perfectly re-created as I’ve ever heard. I have seen folk singer Loudon Wainwright III at the Bottom Line club in New York City more than a dozen times over the years. Playing the Wainwright CDs recorded at that club, the speakers didn’t just nail the sound of Wainwright and his guitar, the resolution was so high I felt like I was back at the Bottom Line. It was as perfect a re-creation of a musical event as I’ve heard.
The Modulari Duo Reference gave me a new appreciation for Led Zeppelin II. Oh man, the band was a gigantic rhythm machine, and John Bonham’s drums, unleashed by these amazing speakers, took my breath away.
I don’t have room here to give a blow-by-blow rundown of the experience, but if you love this music I hope you get a chance to hear Zeppelin over these amazing speakers. II was a much better recording than I thought it was.
It was that kind of trip living with the Krells. Each CD and LP always led to the next. The sound is that addictive, and with this sort of potency on tap, I have to admit I listened a lot louder than usual. Still, the speaker must plead guilty to over-ripe bass, bordering on too much at times.
I’m reviewing the Modulari Duo Reference in stereo, but home theater applications are possible, using the Modulari Primo as surround speakers.
A Modulari center speaker and subwoofer are in the works, due out sometime in 2009. You can get yours decked out in natural or black, anodized aluminum. Custom-painted finishes are also available.
The Modulari Duo Reference is an ambitious, no-holds-barred assault on the state of the art — a guilty pleasure of the highest order. Your heart will beat a little faster when the Modulari Duo References are on the job.
CONTACT: 203.298.4000, krellonline.com