The Story of Greek God, Cronus
As Greek mythology would tells us, the Gods were born from the union of the Titan CRONUS (master of time) and GAYA, the earth. Kronos, worried that his children would dethrone him, ate his children, but the youngest, ZEUS, was spared. Later, he killed his father and released his brothers from his father’s entrails and became the reigning god of all gods. Louis Desjardins, the designer and owner Kronos (Cronus) chose this name as he believes that the ultimate analogue music source can transport us through space and time ...back to the moment of the original recorded performance.
Kronos Audio's flagship turntable, the (Limited Edition) Kronos Pro has received rave reviews from the world’s prominent analogue audio journalists. When I reviewed it, I went further and declared it to be the very best turntable I had heard until then. Most who have followed my audio journey know I ended up buying the Pro. Today, it still stands above its peers in my audio den. My ‘crowning’ of the Pro created quite a bit of controversy. Eventually, most agreed the Pro had an advantage over my other turntables even if they had a much higher price tag. The Kronos Pro has been playing in my room for more than 6 months and it remains the ‘star source’ of my listening sessions.
I am sure you could understand my skepticism when Louis Desjardins told me of a new optional power supply that substantially increased the performance level of the Pro. “It is a game changer!” he said. I started wondering if the fate of Cronus was to be repeated: would the Pro be dethroned by its descendant? ‘Cronus’ defeated, killed and dethroned by his heir? I first saw this new optional power supply at the Munich High End 2016. Its price and release date were not yet announced. It was to be named "Super Capacitor Power Supply" (hereinafter SCPS-1).
Another chance to meet 'Zeus’?
A few months later, early July, we meet again at Malaysia's KLAV (Kuala Lumpur Audio Video). Here the Pro/SCPS-1 combo was in the HIFI CREATION room with gear I am more familiar with. I was asked by a few local Kronos owners what to expect. Upon hearing it, their questions became “when will it be available?” . As far as I was concerned, the optional power supply enjoyed another successful ceremonious unveiling event. As a side comment, this presentation earned Kronos, Absolare and Ocean5 best sound of show, unanimously from the four official show judges as well as the public choice award... a first at KLAV. Still I wanted more time to make up my mind.
Right after the show, a full set Kronos Pro/SCPS-1/Black Beauty tonearm with ZYX Universe Premium cartridge were demoed in the system of a close friend of mine. I was invited to join, but I was not in a listening mode to gauge the difference between the 'with and without’ of the new power supply', Surprisingly, my friend, not a fan of Kronos turntables until then (owning a competing high end turntable), became ecstatic about the difference SCPS-1 made and even went as far as to say that it actually was a necessity. The plot was thickening with more to follow...enjoy.
Was ‘Zeus’ to appear in my den?
I invited a small gathering of audiophiles to my audio den for the installation SCPS-1 on my Kronos Pro. The whole exercise was conducted by Louis Desjardins, and also involved fitting a Black Beauty 12" tonearm. The cartridge used throughout this review was my Koetsu Blue Lace Platinum. The set up took Louis less than an hour.
To better evaluate the impact of SPCS-1, I chose to play a record everyone present was familiar/comfortable with: "Kit Chan" (New Century Workshop Records NCKCLP001), a famous Singaporean Chinese diva with over a decade of performing and recording. On a good analogue source the LP playback will bring out the unique tone and texture of her voice. A better analogue source will showcase her artistry and performance. A great one will introduce 'presence' in her voice, while presenting the acoustics of the recording venue. The Kronos Pro with its standard power supply easily acquitted itself of these tasks, as I came to expect.
Referring to my review in Mono & Stereo, The Kronos Pro "is able to allow the retrieval of that extra detail at subsonic lows, and at a much lower noise floor than the other turntables in my keep. In addition, it does 'bass' at a whole new improved level ... a positive attribute to the "wholeness and completeness" of the presentation, within a soundstage that represent the venue of recording... In addition, it made each listening session of even familiar records afresh or anew. There were times that I said out loudly to myself that this was not what I had heard earlier from the recording. What I want to emphasize here is that the diva's true recorded performance and presence had such fluidity and fidelity with the standard Pro. Much more so than with the others turntables I had at hand.”
These were still my thoughts. And then SCPS-1 was added to the Kronos Pro. Immediately there was a reaction of surprise from all attendees! Everyone could identify improvements in the playback. Someone asked Louis to finalize the VTA and VTF adjustments of the tonearm. This was done and a consensus was reached. I did not see this need of a slight adjustment as a negative, instead I felt that the new level of clarity with SCPS-1 provided more information to better tune the arm setup. The impact of SCPS became obvious enough but I reserved my comments for later, as I prefer to listen to a new component quietly in private. Furthermore, I thought the SCPS-1 might require some time to charge up to perform at its best (my usual belief). Louis assured me that while this was not necessary, it was best to leave it powered on standby mode.
I decided to take a break from serious listening for a while. In the meantime, Victor of HiFi Creations (the Malaysian distributor of Kronos Audio) prepared my Kronos Pro for the review’s photo shoot. He cleaned the turntable and added some oil into both platter bearing wells to a higher level ...a new manufacturer recommendation to further improve the performance of the turntable (The guys at Kronos Audio keep busy upping their game!).
Now with everyone gone, I could really sit down on my sofa, take a sip of tea and listen to the SCPS’d Kronos Pro. I first played an album that I am particularly familiar with, "Shin Miyashita"(JVC SGS-21) featuring traditional Japanese strings. Upon hearing the ‘first musical note’ of this recording, I had the strongest impression of feeling that I was transported elsewhere. This sensation was very different from what I am used to in my audio system. It was as if I was hearing that ‘first musical note’ for the first time, in a very different room or space than I was accustomed to. After years of listening in my audio den, never has the introduction of a new component (including the standard Kronos Pro) brought about such a strong impression. Literally, I put down my cup of tea, and approached the turntable to re-cue the track. I had to listen to it once more, just to be sure. Again, I was struck with that ‘first note’! My next reaction was to reach for my iPad to note what I was feeling. It is not my style to start writing first impressions of a new component. I prefer to start writing only after a month or two of exposure to it. This time, I felt inspired and motivated, as an artist who stumbles upon a muse.
That ‘first musical note’ came out from a 'real' location (although virtual) and not from my playback equipment as I have come to expect and/or as I am prepared to accept. Of course, I am used to sound that has depth, width and height and to have boundaries that may exceed my own physical listening room ( or should we say borderless?). Instead, I was treated to that musical note from a soundstage that felt absolutely real... a place where Shin Miyashita did perform.
I know that readers of audio journals are used to reading that ‘this or that’ audio component is able to bring the listener closer to the recording venue, and make him feel 'the sensation of jamming with the band’ ,etc... this is not quite what I mean. Some of you might think I am trying to describe a jet black or dark soundstage. Again, that is not what I am trying to say. I have heard such presentations in my audio system often. The feeling I am describing was different. I believe that for the first time I was hearing a complete fusion between the space of recorded venue and my own listening space. Alternatively, the whole recording venue 'came out' or 'extended' itself into the listening space of my room. It was there with me. I was there with it.
It made me feel as if I could walk through space and time... back to the recording venue. I think this was now possible because the noise level of the playback disappeared and left only the low noise level of the 'real live' event. I am not stating that all noise was erased, the background hiss native to the recording remained. I am rather referring to veils being lifted and the true resolution of the recording showing through. Alternatively, we may refer to this as extreme high transparency to the source. With this extreme low noise floor (high achieved transparency), I noticed that each musical note was surrounded by its own space... and this space itself was supported by 'another layer of depth'. Imagine that ‘first musical note’ standing in its own space, in the bigger space of the hall.
Listening further, I played one of my favorite female vocals albums, "Nah Youn Sun's Voyage" (Silk Road Music SRM008LP). Here, I noticed that her voice was not only surrounded by space but was also supported by a depth of air that reached to a wall (boundary) of the recording venue. I have written often about hearing the acoustical space of a venue, but not about it a perceived volume of air almost palpable. If the recording permits, the SCPS’d Kronos Pro will bring the listener to the inner depth of the recording venue. To me, this new resolution of the soundstage is the ‘game changer’.
This added resolution ‘around’ each musical note allowed me to visualize their position precisely within the soundstage. If I may be so bold, I would say it is possible to experience each musical note coming out from its respective area even within musical ensembles. One is able to experience the full size, depth, weight, presence and location of each musical instrument played, within the soundstage.
In my previous review of the regular Kronos Pro, I commented that "there is more separation between the performers and their respective musical instrument". I noted that each musician enjoyed his or her own space separate from the others. I had also stated that I could "hear more into the musical instruments played .. not just the performance but the actual materials musical instrument are made of."
Here again SCPS-1 added more of that. I could identify the location of each artist, his musical instrument and the spot where the musical note emanated from the instrument, within a ‘real’ three dimensional soundstage. I listened to The Syd Lawrence Orchestra "Big Band Spectacular!" (Disc 1, Chasing The Dragon VALDC002). Here the location of the individual musicians could be ‘seen’ within their ensemble and itself within the physical space of the recording venue (an old english church) in all its grandeur grandeur. On top of that, the air around each instrument could be felt. The more complex the musical passage, the more amazed I was with the SCPS’d Kronos Pro.
The power of ‘ZEUS’
As previously stated, the lower noise floor helped to build a foundation for the music. Upon this, the SCPS’d Kronos Pro presented a tonal rendering similar to its standard powered brethren. There are no exaggerations of particular frequencies, unless present in the recording. If different, I would say that the tonality with SCPS-1 was cleaner, while never being analytical. I did notice that the SCPS’d Kronos had better imaging with better edges. It improved in vividness, palpability, density, tangibility and weight and was more three dimensional. Add such strong and rich textures with extreme separation of space and images ‘popped out’ from/within the soundstage".
It was that quality previously mentioned with the Shin Miyashita album that initially surprised me. I felt the impact of that "musical note". That sensation continued with each and every note and was augmented as one note flowed to the next, coming from different locations and depths within the soundstage. The heightened level of transparency allowed notes and their respective energy to travel from the recording venue to my listening space and touched my soul, as if we shared the same space and time.
If the standard Kronos Pro could satisfy the most avid audiophile with its dimensionality, weight, presence and vividness of tones, the SCPS’d Pro added all the energy and life stored in the recording. It presented dynamics and low frequency energy at a whole new level, which brings us to the next point: there was an additional fourth element to the three dimensional presentation. I became aware of tonal information as 'vibrational energy'. Musical notes became lively tones that not only floated with appropriate 'anchors' to the soundstage, but also vibrated with their own levels of energy, as if the tones had a life of their own. This provided more accurate timbres. Wood never sounded more organic, metal more shimmering, and strings more distinct than through the SCPS Kronos Pro.
I dug out "Fairytales" by Radka Toneff (vocalist) and Steve Dobrogosz (pianist) [Odin LP03] for its well recorded piano. The artistry of the pianist includes, amongst other things, the art of pressing or playing each key at the right tempo, force or pressure. Here, each keystroke produced a emanating from different parts in the piano. The tempo of the pianist was never so clearly presented as if the listener was attending a masterclass. It was as if the tempo had been somehow slowed down, each key stroke’s origin and destination becoming clearer. I had the eery feeling that my ear were placed where the microphone would have been.
On the highly recommended album "Memoirs of a Geisha" (Sony Classical, Music On Vinyl, At The Movies MOVATM074), I could feel the hard journey of the geisha within the script of the orchestral score. As if I heard this album for the first time, I knew it was more than the grandeur of the presentation that captivated me, it was more than the dynamics of the orchestra, it was the feeling of connectedness with this powerful story (interpreted by the actor ZiYi Zhang). That fourth element, the vibrational energy rendered each note alive from its beginning to its ultimate ending. Listening to any musical instrument in this complex ensemble and directing my attention to the lifespan of each note coming from it, I could experience its most vibrant stance as it captured my attention and then near its end, I could realize the note would be missed, as if life itself. This alone brought a better appreciation of the musicians’ control over their respective instruments. It brought home that with music, it is not only important for musicians to play at the right volume and tempo but with the 'proper energy' level. It communicates the emotional intent of the performance and touches the listeners' soul.
Time done right!
I remember advertisements of the famed Linn turntable manufacturer that emphasized the importance of pace, rhythm and tempo (PRaT). It stated that a turntable rotating at a steady speed will result in hearing each note's beginning and end, and follow through to the next note. Today, most high end turntables (including the standard Pro) come with electronic speed controls that ensure rotational speed accuracy. The SCPS-1 uses the same speed control system as the standard powered Pro. What it does, as described by Louis Desjardins, is to provide 'pure’ dc power to the control system and the motors.
With it comes a higher level of timing accuracy and better tempo beyond all other sources I have heard until now. Tempo is something we can easily take for granted in live musical presentations. If a note is played wrong, we can easily identify it and blame it on the musician..."there is a mistake!" In an audio system playback pitch is no easy feat. The standard Kronos Pro was already great at exacting the tempo; after all it is named after Cronus, the Greek titan, Master of Time. With the introduction of SCPS-1 there is a new appreciation of tempo. With it comes faster decays, better attack and improved modulation strengthening tempo.
Playing another favorite soundtrack "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" (Sony Classical, Music On Vinyl, At The Movies MOVATM056), the orchestra revved up at high octane, braked into a drum followed by the flute blowing away. The amazing thing was that the SCPS’s Kronos Pro maintained that level of excitement and energy without losing its grip. Every minute detail from each note's life from every musical instrument was heard. The recording space was huge. I could feel the presence and scale.
The right tempo and timing accuracy in playback is crucial in achieving the ultimate transparency. On the same album, there are tracks recorded elsewhere. I could hear these differences in recordings. The other analogue sources that I have at hand can showcase such differences as well, but not as quickly and distinctly.
Both the Clearaudio Statement and TechDas Air Force One turntables have speed adjustment featuring, "Pitch Control". This feature allows users to manually set rotational speed to obtain the desired pitch enhancement (thus the name of the feature). I have used Sutherland Time Line to fine tune or adjust the rotation speed of both turntables. Comparing with the Pro, keeping in mind that all three turntables were not having the same cartridge, tonearm, phono cables and audio racks, but still connected to the same audio system, fed by the same electrical phase and in the same audio room, all three turntables rotated with perfect rotational speed, but I found the SCPS’d Kronos Pro had a higher level of transparency to minute detail and so forth. If I may, rotational speed accuracy of a turntable is very important but other design issues may be just as important towards the ultimate performance. The SCPSed Kronos Pro has proven that this is the case.
The Voice of Temptation...
Most audiophile, perhaps more in Asia, love to use the human voice to evaluate audio components. It is most recognizable as we encounter it so frequently. The better or higher the resolution of an audio component, the more emotional the voice should be. IMO, higher resolution is achieved when an audio component allows more of the native recording to be heard, with all its details and colors, but with the least amount of adulteration.
I chose to listen to Lyn Stanley "Interludes" (A.T. Music LLC 3104).
Here, I could easily evaluate how the SCPS’s Pro reproduced her voice because I heard it live. I recently chatted with Lyn at the Munich High End 2016 show. She appeared at audio shows all over the world (United States, Europe, Japan and etc). Lyn controls her voice well without forcing it and sings in a natural way, that is intimate, emotional, soulful and playful. What would SCPS-1 add to the already excellent reproduction of her voice on the standard Pro? It did not change her voice, but brought about 'more' intimacy that reminded me of our little chat... it brought her 'closer' into my listening den. There were more nuances, fluctuations and clarity in her expression and pronunciation of the words she sang. Her breathing became more apparent thus lent more realism.
Vanessa Fernandez is another show favorite : "Use Me" (Groove Note GRV 150-1). Here we have a wonderful vocalist with an original voice and style, backed by wonderful and energetic musicians. With a good turntable, it is easy to enjoy this album. It is recorded to preserve the atmosphere of the studio. With SCPS-1, it felt real. The extreme low noise brought the sensation my listening room becoming an extension of the studio space. It was as if they were sharing the same air. The 'vibrational energy' of the tones communicated the excitement of the performance. In this fine recording, I discovered that the human voice can have the same properties musical instruments possess. Vanessa Fernandez's voice had a presence that could be felt even right in front of my seat. Her voice was thrown at me with all its details of weight, energy, emotion, artistry and soul. Their were absolutely no veils. It was most enjoyable. The accompanying musicians also played with full energy and dynamism; it was refreshing and alive as in live music. In some turntables, the band can easily overwhelm the vocals. The SCPS’d Kronos Pro kept everything in place. The vocals took the lead, distinct from that of the accompanying musicians, but still together with them. That was as real an experience as it gets from analogue playback.
When the SCPS entered my audio system, it was to simply supply better dc power to my turntable 'Titan'. To my amazement, it did more than I could ever anticipate. It replaced a Titan with a new God, one that has so much more 'power and energy'. It showed me 'time done right'. It is in every way imaginable superior to the the standard powered Pro. It is the 'voice of temptation'. It will stay with me.
At this relatively rational price level, Kronos Pro Ltd with SCPS-1, remain a 'no`brainer' choice for those who can afford the best. I would award the SCPS’d Kronos Pro as the Analogue Fellowship Ultimate Analogue Source 2016
Text: Dato' Danon Han - Mono & Stereo Senior Contributing Editor
KRONOS Pro turntable: 38.000 USD
KRONOS Black Beauty tonearm: 8500 USD
KRONOS SCPS-1 Super Capacitor Power Supply: 13500 USD
4035, rue Saint-Ambroise, suite 414
Montréal (Québec) H4C 2E1