Krell LAT-1000 Loudspeaker

Equipment report
Krell LAT-1000
Krell LAT-1000 Loudspeaker

the Krel LAT-1000 is Dan D’Agostino’s effort to bring the same kind of no-holds barred approach to speaker design that he has brought to his Evolution Series electronics. He led the design team and voiced the speaker using Evolution gear— some of the best equipment around—and though the LAT-1000 is by no means the most expensive speaker ever made, at $55,000 it is costly enough to put it firmly in the “superb or failure” category of high-end products.

Happily, the speaker does, indeed, come close to being superb. With the right amplification and setup, it can be one of the most musically realistic speakers around. However, that very musical realism makes the LAT-1000 highly controversial in terms of accuracy in frequency response and timbre. It is deliberately voiced very differently from most speakers on the market, and, as a result, raises a question that deserves far more attention in the high end: Is it the purpose of the high end to create the most technically accurate component in each link of the audio chain, or to create the most realistic and enjoyable illusion of listening to live music?

As you might expect for the price, the LAT-1000 is a physically imposing speaker. Its cabinet, made of incredibly solid extruded aluminum, weighs 250 pounds, which is a lot for an enclosure with a relatively modest size of 54.6" high by 14.7" wide by 14.7" deep. Just watching it being carried up my front stairs made my back ache in sympathy. In practice, however, the LAT-1000 slides easily enough on a carpet to allow one person to experiment with different room placements and setups.

As you might expect for the price, the LAT-1000 is a physically imposing speaker. Its cabinet, made of incredibly solid extruded aluminum, weighs 250 pounds, which is a lot for an enclosure with a relatively modest size of 54.6" high by 14.7" wide by 14.7" deep. Just watching it being carried up my front stairs made my back ache in sympathy. In practice, however, the LAT-1000 slides easily enough on a carpet to allow one person to experiment with different room placements and setups.

The LAT-1000 is not designed to be all things to all amplifiers. It has a nominal impedance of 3-4 ohms, but this includes areas between 1kHz and 2kHz that drop to nearly 2 ohms, and major peaks below 50Hz that rise well above 30 ohms. Its complex mix of second- and third-order crossovers also seem to put more strain than usual on an amplifier.

As might be expected, the LAT-1000 worked perfectly with Krell’s new Evolution series electronics, and equally well with my high-power, high-current Pass X600.5s. It did not, however, work well with solid-state amplifiers that do not have high-current as well as high-wattage capability or have trouble with very low or complex loads. Not only do dynamics become restricted, but I could hear small changes in imaging and coherence. Low-to-medium-power tube amplifiers are simply out. They can’t properly drive this speaker and can’t control its bass with the damping needed to show just how tight and accurate it can be. I can’t tell you how well it will work with more modern high-power tube amplifiers, having none on hand, though my experience indicates that lots of clean power solves most tube-amp drive problems.

Speaker cables can also be an issue. My Kimber, Discovery, and Straightwire cables worked fine, but I’d advise against speaker cables with load networks or with minimum impedance and capacitance, unless you are willing to sacrifice microdynamics and a bit of detail to make the load easier on the amplifier. One other point in passing: The LAT-1000s have no provisions for bi-amping or bi-wiring, and no frequency adjustments. The speakers are obviously not designed for tweaking.

The Krell LAT-1000s have an unusual frequency-response curve. The manufacturer’s specifications for their nearfield response shows a -5dB down point of 30Hz in the free field, but there is a +2dB peak around 60Hz, a slow drop of about -5dB from 130Hz to 800Hz, and then a very gentle drop of about 2–3dB to 20kHz. I’ll touch upon the sonic impact of this frequency response in a moment, but—like all speakers with truly deep bass—the LAT-1000s need a bit of attention to room boundaries, and getting this right is slightly more difficult than usual.

The Krell rep (who came with the speakers) did very well simply placing the LAT-1000s in my usual room location. To get the very best results, however, I needed to find the rear-of-the-speakerto- rear-wall distance that provided just a touch of bass reinforcement in the 30–40Hz range, without reinforcing the peak around 60Hz. I got the proper result in a few hours listening by ear, and in about an hour using a one-third-octave frequency-response meter. (Let me stress, that I’d recommend such adjustment for virtually any serious monitor. You don’t get accurate deep bass in real-world listening rooms unless you are willing to work for it.)

Krell did not provide vertical and horizontal dispersion data for the LAT-1000, but it became obvious that this speaker sounds best with the height of its tweeter nearly at ear level, far enough from the side walls to limit reflected energy to reasonable levels, and with its “feet” adjusted to the angle recommended in its instruction manual. It is also far more coherent, and has far better imaging stability, at a reasonable listening distance (10 feet or more).

Finally, the speaker “grille” consists of thick rubber strands. These are very attractive but vibrate constantly when the speaker is playing loud, and have some impact on the smoothness and dispersion of the upper octaves. You might consider removing them. The differences may be slight, but they’re real.

Though you will get very musical sound out of this speaker even with minimal setup, if you give setup the right attention, the LAT-1000 is one of the few speakers that does come close to reproducing the illusion of live music. Transparency, excellent smalland large-scale dynamics, deep bass, and smooth, extended frequency response over most of the spectrum are sound qualities you can take for granted, but what really makes the LAT-1000 sound different is its unique timbre. Like Sonus Faber’s and Wilson’s, Krell’s speakers are voiced more to sound like music than to meet some laboratory standard.

As I have explained earlier, the manufacturer’s frequency curve does not claim flat response and—within the severe limits of home measurement— the curve Krell specified is the frequency response I got and heard. This means the overall response of the LAT-1000 is “warm” by the standards of most of today’s speakers. It definitely has been tuned to give more of the kind of deep-bass power you hear in a concert hall or club than to win a race for flat response. You also don’t get the high levels of dispersed treble energy you hear in many competing speakers, and the midrange does not have the punch and detail of speakers that have flatter frequency-response curves.

I believe, however, that Krell is right and the other designs are musically wrong. As someone who travels enough to hear concert halls and live performances all over the world, my interest lies in reproducing the live listening experience and not what has become an obsessive interest in upper-octave detail at the cost of anything approaching musical realism. I want the timbre I hear live, not the frequency response that measures well in a lab.

This may sound strange coming from a reviewer who uses TAD-1 and Thiel 7.2 speakers as references. Both measure flat and both are capable of extraordinary detail. A reviewer, however, needs reference equipment that can act as a reference and not simply provide the most musical sound. Moreover, speaker and listening-position layout and the choice of warm electronics and/or warm eq can provide the same musical realism as tuning the speaker.

These choices aren’t necessary with the Krell LAT-1000. The low midrange and upper bass have the warmth they should. Strings and brass do not glare or harden; flute sounds the way it does live; a grand piano can fill the room without suddenly changing its timbre on high notes and losing much of its warmth; female voice becomes balanced and aspirants natural. The character of individual instruments becomes much more apparent. In short, the LAT-1000 offers audiophiles something they really need if they listen to live acoustic music.

Other audiophiles may have a very different reaction. If you don’t listen to a lot of live acoustic music you are going to be conditioned to listen for more upper-midrange energy and more upperoctave “air” than you will hear with these speakers. This is particularly true of highenders who have grown up listening to CD, without having had the analog LP experience and without spending a great deal of time listening to live, unamplified acoustic music. Most CDs are mixed in ways that provide far more close-miked upper-octave information than you are ever going to hear in a live performance. A lot of jazz recordings on CD suffer from the same problem. I rarely hear a CD that has the same bass content as a club, even though most clubs do use sound reinforcement systems.

A speaker like the LAT-1000 not only brings back the music in music, it gets the best out of a far wider range of CDs, DVDs, or SACDs than a speaker that exaggerates the upper octaves. I also found it to be as realistic with my older LPs as with modern, close-miked, complexmixdown CDs. Having grown up listening to Reiner in the old Orchestra Hall the Chicago Symphony used in the 1950s, I found the sound of RCA Red Seals do a good job of getting the timbre right from Row D backwards. After all, most classic LPs were mastered using speakers with this kind of timbre—not today’s brighter-sounding designs.

I did find the deep bass voicing of the LAT-1000 somewhat controversial. The speaker does raise the energy level of the deep bass without providing the kind of added energy below 40Hz that some audiophiles who use subwoofers have gotten used to. It also requires careful placement. As I already noted, you don’t want to reinforce standing wave energy in 50–60Hz region, and you do want a bit of room reinforcement below it.

But, this kind of response does have musical virtues with the right room setup. Go out to any good orchestral hall or decent acoustic jazz environment and listen carefully to the bass energy you actually hear live. Forget about reference recordings, and really listen. Audiophiles who obsess over bass below 45Hz miss the point. Relatively little music takes you down to the true acoustic depths. Almost all music depends for much of its aesthetic impact on the bass between 45Hz and 100Hz, and far too many systems now lack natural musical energy below 60–70Hz.

For organ, electronic music, and the odd note or passage below 40Hz, there are bigger speakers that do provide more energy and more realistic sound at the true bottom of the bass. I suspect, however, that with most such music you’ll find the LAT-1000s sound remarkably natural. They may not be the ultimate speaker if your goal in life is to spend a few minutes of listening to low-frequency test tones, but they’re great for hours of actual listening.

One other caution. The LAT-1000 is scarcely a mini-monitor and does not provide the same kind of driver integration and coherence at close listening distances that you get with a fullrange ribbon, a full-range electrostatic, or a dynamic speaker’s integrated tweeter and mid/bass drivers. You do need to give the LAT-1000s space: a big listening room and enough distance between the listening position and speakers to allow the drivers to blend seamlessly. I’d also adjust the space between them so a naturally miked solo grand piano recording, or string quartet, have natural width, image size, and depth.

With this kind of set up, the LAT- 1000s become truly musical and “alive.” You get the kind of Row F sound that anyone who loves live performances almost inevitably prefers to what you hear sitting in the front rows. Jazz, vocals, and solo instruments come together with equal realism and warmth.

Like every speaker in this price range, you would be insane not to listen and buy on the basis of your own taste and judgment. You, and many of my fellow reviewers, may well not agree with me that the high end has tended to drift away from musical realism and become obsessed with upper-octave detail and energy. I would, however, make it a real point to listen to the LAT-1000s simply to hear one of the speakers that dares to be different. I would do so after listening to live acoustic music rather than “hi-fi.”

This speaker provides real musical pleasure and does so with virtually every decent recording, not just a few that suit its timbre. I believe it shows it’s time we went back to creating high-end systems based on core values: Reproducing the actual sound of music and not seeking maximum information at the cost of music’s soul. TAS