THE KRONOS COMPLETE ANALOGUE SOLUTION with REFERENCE PHONO
The ‘Unstoppable’ Kronos
The Kronos Pro turntable is now six years old. During its illustrious life, it has received many upgrades and it has maintained its position as the industry standard. Indeed, Kronos has been chosen by many High End audio manufacturers such as Magico,Von Schweikert Audio, Absolare, Kubala-Sosna, Joseph Audio, Shunyata Research, Triode Corporation Japan, 2XHD Mastering and Nagra, as their reference analogue source to further their Research & Development, and as a demonstration source at audio shows the world over. Louis Desjardins, its designer, told me with a ‘devilish laugh’, that continuous advances in the design and performance of the Kronos Pro Ltd Turntable have made it ‘unstoppable’.
These improvements brought new motors, the Super Capacitor Power Supply One (SCPS1), the carbon fibre arm-board and refinements to the Black Beauty tonearm base. Oh yes, you read it right. Even the arm-board went through changes, from being made from aluminium bronze to an assembly of stainless steel and carbon fibre. The Black Beauty tonearm base also benefited from material and assembly upgrades, and torqued installation procedure. I have reviewed these upgrades as they became available and I have reported the incremental improvements to be cumulative, truly audible and highly enjoyable.
The Birth of the Seventh Child of Kronos
I thought Kronos Audio would take a breather after the success of SCPS1. It seemed to this Kronos Audio founder and owner that the pursuit of analogue perfection had been achieved more or less… but there was more to come. After the introduction of three turntables (Pro Ltd, Sparta and 0.5), two tonearms (Black Beauty and Helena), and SCPS1, Kronos Audio was to have a seventh child. As in the movie titled “The Seventh Son”, would this seventh Kronos product have “special” powers? Could Kronos live up to this challenge?
Three years ago, Louis Desjardins (LD) shared his desire to complete the Kronos experience with a true state of the art phono amplifier. At that time, he met Velissario Georgiadis (VG) of True Life Audio (TLA) and was beginning a partnership to develop it (more on that story in a follow-up interview with LD and VG).
After two years of hard work, Kronos Audio showcased its reference phono prototype at the Munich High End 2017, along with Goebel speakers and CH Precision electronics. The feedback I got was unanimously positive. This presentation received many Best Sound of Show awards. Nevertheless, I was told Kronos Audio and TLA continued improving the phono amplifier until its final launch at the 2018 Munich show. LD stated most of the work took place in chassis design and materials (to cut down resonances and heighten vibrational control).
The Complete Analogue Solution
Kronos Audio is quick to comment that this introduction of a phono amplifier is much more than what it seems. The Complete Analogue Solution (CAS) refers to the development of a complete playback package where all the components are optimized and tuned with each other to offer Kronos Audio’s vision of the ‘perfect sound’. The phono amplifier is suspended (a la Pro) using SCPS1 as its base, the Black Beauty tonearm connects directly to the phono (avoiding an interconnect and a few connectors) while the signal cable inside the phono is the same as the internal tonearm cable (also to preserve the delicate electrical signal), etc…
LD described the design philosophy as such, “You could not expect to build a great car using a BMW engine, a Mercedes Benz body and an Audi suspension. Engineers work hard to make all systems work together to create the ultimate driving experience. We also wanted to ensure the ultimate playback performance by controlling and optimizing all major variables.”
Back to the Phono
I’ve experienced quite a few tube phono amplifiers, namely from Audio Research, Thomas Wosnick Audio (TWA, Germany), Conrad Johnson, and most recently, the Triangle Art Reference, and have found them to be musically satisfying, rich in tonality, well textured and airy. Sadly, I felt they had a lower signal/noise ratio than solid state phonos resulting in clouded transparency, a loss of recorded details, and a lack of control and definition in the low frequencies. There is a belief amongst audiophiles that tube components will have a certain sound coloration while solid state will have another type of coloration, some preferring one over the other. LD stated that the Kronos phono would bring together the best of both worlds, and then some…
The Kronos CAS’ First Greeting
I was there when LD set up the Kronos CAS at Perfect HiFi’s showroom, a well established audio boutique and the new Kronos Audio distributor in Malaysia. I was also excited when he showed me his copy of an original early pressing of The Royal Ballet-Ansermet (RCA Victor/Living Stereo LSC-6065).
I could not wait until the actual launch event to listen to it. I had heard the mono edition, and reissues from Classic Recordings and from Analogue Productions. My previous experience with those did not prepare me for what I was about to hear; an incomparably airy, spacious and open soundstage. It was as if the the Sonus Faber Lilium opened up a portal to the recording venue. Each musical instrument was rendered with vividness, definition, and palpability. It had much more of everything than what I was used to… even if many collectors’ claims that the reissues can sound quite close to first pressings. With the Kronos CAS, the differences were obvious, as if the reissues were recorded with ‘muffled mics’ placed far from the stage. With this early pressing it felt like the mics were closer to the musicians. I remember saying to LD that I could hear each musician in the orchestra as if they were each given a personal microphone!
During this event, LD played a number of impressively recorded albums, in particular The Carmen Ballet (Melodya EMI ASD 2448) where the Kronos CAS delivered explosive dynamics, impact and well-defined and controlled bass. The owner of the Perfect HiFi, Andy Tan, privately exclaimed to me that he had not realized the Liliums could be ‘so explosive and exciting!’ The highs were clear, solid, vivid, extended and energetic, not to mention the soundstage was realistic, open, airy and spacious. It would seem, this ‘analogue solution’ was delivering much more than I anticipated.
As the Old Chinese Saying Goes,”Will It Be a Phoenix or a Chicken?”
The real test came when LD installed the Kronos Complete Analogue Solution in my own room. It was paired with the Koetsu Blue Lace Platinum MC cartridge. The rest of the audio components used throughout the review were FM Acoustics 268C & 223, Audio Note M10 Signature, Aries Cerat Incito S, Pilium Audio Brutale Ares & Achilles, Vitus Masterpiece MP-L201, MP-P201 & MP-M201 and the Gryphon Kodo Loudspeakers System. The connecting cables on duty were from Skogrand, Vermouth and Shunyata.
The Beginning of a ‘HARD TO BELIEVE’ Review?
Now was the time for some serious listening. I started with Doug MacLeod, Come To Find (Audioquest Music AQ 1027), and the first track, “Bring It On Home”. From the first word “Baby…“, I knew something very special was happening: this was going to be a “HARD TO BELIEVE” review.
His voice was anchored, solid and raw with high octane energy. Additionally, his voice (and shout!) was well defined, dense, palpable, articulated, extended and (most importantly) natural. Next came the guitar… I could go along for pages describing these plucked, vibrant and snappy guitar strings hitting me with such impact as if I were ‘slapped’ by them.
More than that, these ‘strings-slaps’ started and stopped in a split second. I have to conclude that the Kronos CAS aced in ‘Speed’ and ‘Pace’, Rhythm and Timing’ (PRaT) but never sacrificing natural bloom, body, density, palpability, definition and delineation.
In addition, the bass had agility, attack, release, extension and retraction with similar speed. This is not an attribute easily found even in the very expensive or ultra high end analogue audio components. This, I am tempted to say, so far in my experience, is exclusive to the Kronos CAS performance.
Let me explain. Throughout my journey as an audiophile and reviewer, I found that (too) many ultra high end audio designs would rather go for a feeling of ‘speed’, above all else, to achieve an ‘initially impressive audio presentation’. This representation is at the expense of bass extension and energy. Unfortunately, some (un)seasoned audiophiles are initially impressed by this but live to regret it soon enough, as they grow tired of a sound lacking in real depth, body, weight and substance.
The Kronos CAS is the only analogue source I know of (so far) that manages to present ‘Speed’, PRaT, bloom, body, density, palpability, definition, delineation and energy without losing sight of the whole feeling of music. I am sure most listeners will agree with this statement upon listening.
Back to the Drawing Board!
After this initial experience, I took the opportunity to fine tune the positioning of my Gryphon Audio Kodo loudspeakers. I knew I could wrestle out a few more ounces of audio performance from them with the assistance of the full bandwith provided by the Kronos CAS. I also decided to glance over my previous reviews of Kronos Pro Ltd and SCPS1. There, I recalled impressions that would help me organize this review.
First, I brought out again, Shin Miyashita”(JVC SGS-21). It has traditional Japanese instruments accompanied by strings. This time, in comparison, the very first musical note struck me differently. It was more energized and intimate (emotional). It touched my soul in a deeper way. Notes were more solid. The precise and differentiated atmosphere of the recording venue flowed into my own listening den.
If the introduction of the Kronos/SCPS1 brought about a ‘third dimension’ to the presentation, the Kronos Complete Analogue Solution brought a fourth and fifth dimension to the audio presentation.
The Fourth Dimension…”Air from the Atmo-Sphere”
I wrote the earlier reviews of the Kronos Pro Ltd/SPCS1 with my two reference phonos, the FM Acoustics 223 and the Vitus Masterpiece MP-P201 (updated to current specs). Both of them are solid state units, chosen for their low noise floor. In my previous review of the Kronos Ltd/SCPS1, I noted that “the whole recording venue ‘extended’ into my listening space; it made me feel as if I could walk through time and space, going from my listening space into the recording venue”. I think this was achieved because the extreme low noise level of the Kronos Ltd/SCPS1 playback, emulating a ‘near live’ listening experience.
Previously, I had a negative bias towards tube design phonos. I admit that I am still dazed with my experience with the Kronos phono amplifier. Not only did it retain all the sonic attributes of the Kronos Pro Ltd/SCPS1 coupled with my reference Solid State phono amplifiers, but frankly, this experience was heightened with the Kronos phono amplifier. The tube designed Kronos phono amplifier further reduced the noise floor. I could now ‘hear’ the venue’s ambient air distinctly, including differences in air thickness and weight. In other words, the dimension, definition, boundaries, depth and size of the actual recording venue became much more articulate and vivid than what I was accustomed to.
If the reader concludes this perception was the result of switching to a tube phono, let me say that I have never heard the same realism and resolution in any other tube phono. While I liked many of them, none came even close in that regard. The Kronos CAS delivered both the weight and substance of notes, and ALSO the delicate nature of the recording venue’s atmosphere.
To illustrate, when playing ‘Calypso Blues’, from “Nah Youn Sun’s Voyage” (Silk Road Music SRM008LP), I could hear both the vocalist and the cellist ‘moving air’ throughout their performance and this ‘movement of air’ extended all the way to my listening position! In terms of frequency distribution, I noticed that the mid bass was seamlessly connected to the lower and deep bass, creating a real feeling of depth. There was no exaggeration or bloom throughout the bass lines of the cello. The phase coherence, low noise floor and ultra high resolution worked together to create the ‘perfect illusion’.
…What About Large Scale?!
I had the same experience, with a much larger scale recording, while listening to The Syd Lawrence Orchestra “Big Band Spectacular!” (Disc 1, Chasing The Dragon VALDC002). Similarly, another notable album further illustrates this point; in La Fete De L’ane / Clemencic Consort (Harmonia Mundi HM 1036) , not only the instruments, the space and air around each musician, and their distance from each other were vividly, spaciously and individually separated (within a spacious and large sized recording venue), they also came together to perform as a whole.
Spacial clues were particularly well defined in sections that had hand clapping. The dynamism and explosiveness of the trapped air and the energy created from the clapping of hands were surreal. It felt as if the sound originated from behind my towering Gryphon Audio Kodo Loudspeakers and moved all the way to my listening chair. These were the most realistically reproduced hand clapping sounds I have heard thus far in any audiophile system!
The Fifth Dimension…”Intimate Palpable Dimensionality”
LD did not leave behind his original early pressing of The Royal Ballet , even after much begging from me. As an alternative, a dear friend brought over some precious early pressings of classical albums. Let’s highlight a few here:
I played Overtures In Hi-Fi (Decca SXL 2008) with Albert Wolff conducting The Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. Again, Ibegan to recognize the strengths of the Kronos CAS. Even though both classical albums, The Overtures In Hi-Fi and The Royal Ballet, are quite different, I believe them to be of equal recording quality.
Here, within my own environment, I could feel even more transparency, immediacy, dynamism and intimacy (compared to what I heard at the launch event at Perfect HiFi)… of course, one usually prefers listening in their own environment. The heightened resolution of the Kronos CAS presented the atmosphere of the recording venue and its resolution played a crucial role in introducing a Fifth Dimension in the recording, which I’ve termed “Intimate Palpable Dimensionality”.
Again I could feel an intimate connection to the orchestra in Espana – A Tribute to Spain (Chasing The Dragon, A Binaural Recordings VALLPBR001) with Debbie Wiseman conducting The National Symphony Orchestra and Rosie Middleton as the vocalist for the track ‘Habanera’.
The Kronos CAS presented the studio’s space and air as a respective entity. It also provided a stage on which each musician’s performance shone forth clearly and brightly as if ‘spotlighted in a dark room’. Each musician was like a lit torch on a dark stage and each could easily be seen, identified and localized. Thus, the images of the musicians ‘popped out’ with dimensionality, separate but together, within the same atmosphere and space.
…”Energized”…”Intimate Palpable Dimensionality”
In addition, I could feel the ‘vibrational energy’ of each tone and various natural transitions from the attack, body and decay. The Kronos CAS was able to convey nuances and transients accurately. Additionally, no instrument, no matter how far from the actual microphone, lost its presence or its definition.
On Andre Previn and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Holst’s The Planets (Telerc DG-10133), The Brighton Festival Chorus was placed farther away in the recording hall and of course presented at a lower volume. The Kronos CAS presented them as natively recorded, ‘soft’ but with all the fullness, weight, presence and energy of a choir.
On another album, Rudolf Kempe conducting The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing Brahms, Symphony No.1 in C Minor, Op.68 (EMI ASD 350), I realized the Kronos CAS allowed me to easily ‘flow and fly’ with the musicians. There was that sensation that musicians from the different sections of the orchestra were trying to woo me for attention.
I was not just ‘hearing’ and ‘seeing’ the musicians of the different sections of the orchestra, but I could feel different levels of weight and energy in all these sections. I realized the more complicated a musical content was, the more I appreciated the Kronos CAS’ ability to transmit the emotionality of the whole performance.
…”Dimensionality from the Tonal Accuracy”…
How to explain this increased connectedness to the music? Maybe it might have to do with tonal accuracy and texture integrity. I repeatedly heard a ‘fullness of tone’ that allowed the elements of recordings to come together and form a new sound experience.
As an example, in “Music of Old Russia” (EMI SAX 2563) , the violinist Nathan Milstein sounded as if he was singing with his violin. Through the Kronos CAS his performance became an expression of his life. This audition was both mesmerizing and hair raising.
Another true to form experience was found with “Anja Thauer, Violoncello / Jean Francaix, Piano” (Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 138 990). Here, Ms.Thauer’s cello solo work was incredibly fluid and agile as if she controlled the cello like a small feathery light instrument. It revealed the artist’s musical prowess in making the cello as ‘playful’ as a violin could be.
Are You Ready for a New Sound ?
I must confess this is probably the most difficult review I’ve had to write. For one thing, I felt like I constantly had to refocus on writing as I was constantly transported by the music. In my heart of hearts, I just wanted to listen and not have to write at all!
Then there was also a sense of disbelief I had to contend with as I was always drawn by a new level of appreciation for what I was hearing… How was I to convey these feelings in a review?
The Kronos Complete Analogue Solution revealed more details, emotions, weight, energy, power, atmosphere, intimacy and musicality than I had ever heard in my system. It had all been there in the recordings but it had been hidden by a veil. That veil was now removed by a considerable margin. If we needed to gauge that margin, I would state that the Kronos CAS represents an big step forward in the analogue payback state of the art. As a complete analogue source, the Kronos CAS has no peers that I am aware of.
In terms of its asking price, it is beyond the reach of most audiophiles; but it does offer a unique and un-parallel experience in today’s high end, and to those with the budget, this is priceless. It is a ‘MUST HAVE’ for those who already have the Kronos Pro/ SCPS1 combo and a ‘MUST AUDITION’ for all those truly serious about analogue playback. With this in mind …
The Kronos Complete Analogue Source Solution is awarded the Analogue Fellowship’s “ULTIMATE ANALOGUE SOURCE 2018”.