Inside Track: Invision UK’s Krix Ultimate Home Cinema Installation
John Archer experiences the Australian home theatre brand that's obsessed with putting Hollywood into your home…
If you're familiar with the Krix brand, then you are probably one of three things – either a specialist AV dealer with a passion for serious audio gear, a full-on hi-fi or home cinema audio enthusiast, or an inhabitant of the company's Australian homeland. Already something of a sensation in its home country, Krix now has the knowledge and product range to be a truly global force. This didn't come easy, though, resulting from many decades of hard graft…
Like so many of today's finest audio names, the brand was born out of one man's passion for sound, his expert background in engineering, and a garage. Scott Krix began building speakers – initially just for his fortunate friends – from a rented lock-up in Hawthorn, South Australia, in 1974. However, it wasn't long before his tinkering led to his first commercially available speaker, the LF-1. Sold under the company name of Krix Speaker Systems, it combined a Plessey Rola eight-inch bass unit with a two-inch cone tweeter. One of Australia's first true hi-fi brands was born.
By 1976 Scott had his own shop, where he demonstrated the superiority of his speaker designs over those of more established brands from other countries with supposedly more hi-fi heritage. He also developed a reputation for bespoke speaker solutions at this time, often working with clients to design their own speakers while simultaneously branching out into making speaker systems for nightclubs. So successful was he in these ventures that by 1979 the garage had given way to a 120 square metre factory near Adelaide, South Australia.
This scaling-up of the business became more invaluable in the nineteen-eighties, when Scott started working in the area that ultimately came to dominate his business – cinema, in both its commercial and home iterations. His first foray into Hollywood came when a local cinema approached him to solve the audio problems it faced, as the movie industry started to use ever more sophisticated audio mixes.
In typically innovative style, this debut Krix cinema project famously resulted in the world's first infinite baffle for cinema use. The company's success with its first proper cinema installation led to projects with one of Australia's biggest cinema installers. These days, it is estimated that Krix products can be found in nearly two-thirds of Australian cinemas.
The company's remarkable Australian success story brought a wealth of experience that fed into the development of advanced consumer market home cinema speakers. In fact, the explosion in multichannel audio-visual in the nineties saw Krix expand from five dealers to forty in just a couple of years!
Crucially though, Krix has never allowed its success to diminish the single-minded obsession with sound quality that motivated Scott all those years ago. In fact, Scott is still so renowned for his passion for engineering that it's common for people to actively lobby the company for jobs – and for high-end dealers and installers worldwide to move heaven and earth to get Krix gear on their product books.
SOUND AND INVISION
To get an accurate impression of what Krix loudspeakers are capable of, I visited the company's UK distributor, Invision. Installed inside the perfectly-sized demonstration room, the 11.1.10 channel system is practically invisible thanks to Krix's expertise in designing low profile, 'in-wall' speakers that don't compromise on dynamic power despite their convenient dimensions.
The system comprised Krix's immense MX-40 speaker system, delivering the main front soundstage from behind a 175-inch Screen Innovations Zero Edge Pro projection screen, plus four subwoofers with two Cyclonix 12s for rear duties, AS325 spacers, three Megaphonix Centre speakers sited above the screen, eight Megaphonix Flat speakers doing surround duties, and seven Phonix speakers providing height effects.
Speakers as powerful as these need to be partnered with equally uncompromising sources. Which in the case of the Invision installation, comprise a Trinnov Altitude 32 AV processor, a trio of Trinnov Amplitude 8 power amplifiers, and four Audio Control RS500 subwoofer amps. The various (mostly 4K HDR) film clips we were shown were streamed from a Kaleidescape system, and Sony's fantastic VW790ES laser projector provided projector duties.
This proved to be an absolutely stunning sounding system and a testament to what Krix can do. Indeed the demonstration clips that I experienced were so sensational that the only way to do justice to them is to describe each one in turn. Here are my findings:
Planet Earth - Jungles
The 4K HDR versions of the BBC's Planet Earth series have become staples of the AV demo circuit. Normally though, this is for the astounding visuals rather than the sound mixes. However, the Krix system revealed incredible amounts of sonic detail during the Jungle episode, bringing out the precise placement of the insect noises and animal calls that I'd never really registered before. The effect of this cacophony of natural sound coming from all around, brings the jungle into the room with profound intensity.
The sequence ends with the wail of a monkey that rose so clearly and powerfully up through the trees to the skies above, that no Hollywood mixer could have created this sound of nature so effectively. What initially felt like a rather strange option to present as the opening clip of the dem, actually turned out to be a perfect choice. It showed me how the Krix system can elevate what I'd always assumed to be a fairly mundane clip sonically, into a stunning and immersive audio experience.
Tom Cruise's sci-fi epic is a more predictable pick for an audio demo than Planet Earth, boasting as it does one of cinema's finest Dolby Atmos mixes. The sequence picked by Invision for the dem is where Tom enters an underground library looking for a missing orb, only to find himself heavily outnumbered in a ferocious shoot-out. The Krix system creates an incredible sense of scale for both the exterior and interior sections of this sequence, before pumping out huge dynamics for the orb's massive electronic noises. The sequence's many explosions hit with fearful impact too. At the same time, the placement of every sound, from the most negligible footfall to the loudest shot, is sensational – even when the system has to track sounds moving at speed around the soundstage. It was amazing how effortlessly the Krix system delivered the colossal power needed to create the full impact of such a potent scene.
A Monster Calls
Another surprise appearance on the Invision Krix demo reel. The film is only available in HD rather than 4K currently, and while the movie is an underrated gem, I hadn't previously fully appreciated just how good its soundtrack is. The Krix system quickly and comprehensively put me straight. The clip used was Conor's first visit by the monster. In this system's hands, it comes over as a masterclass in scene building, escalating from the quiet scratches of Conor's pencil at the start to the gentle introduction of the ominous score. Then the ever more intense audio drama as the tree on the hill turns into the huge monster that gives this film its name.
The scale of the giant as he moves is created fantastically well by the system's height effects, and massive impact sounds – not to mention the exceptional depth and power of his voice when he eventually speaks. This scene was basically the point in the demo where I realised that as well as taking immersion in films to a whole new level, the Krix system actually gives another level of appreciation for the work of movie sound mixers. In fact, in its hands, this Monster Calls scene is nothing short of audio art.
A Star Is Born
Yet another staple of AV demos these days, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born is the concert scene where Ally is first called on stage to perform with Jack. The Krix's stellar delivery of the live concert finds vocals sounding astonishingly clear and powerful without a hint of harshness or muddiness. Variations in the volume and tone of the singing are also beautifully managed, while the forceful bass delivery has just the right level of 'live' hardness.
Guitars soar and twinkle without ever sounding over-aggressive or hemmed in, the dynamic range is nothing short of Olympian, and the surround soundstage builds a perfect impression of the size and mood of the crowd, giving you a spine-tingling sensation of what that first moment of on-stage public adoration must feel like. Best of all, the mix does a peerless job of creating the scene's intense mixture of the intimate and the huge, capturing the sense of a live show from the 'inside'.
The Greatest Showman
This film's combination of memorable songs, superb staging and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack has established it as one of the most demo-worthy around. It was no surprise then to find Invision using two clips from it to show off this installation – Jenny Lind singing Never Enough, and the film's closing moments. While this system's clarity leaves no hiding place for the slight lip-synchronisation errors contained in the film's master, the sense of escalation as Lind's song builds, together with the purity and projection of the vocals, takes the scene's spine-tingling power to a whole new place.
On the other hand, the closing scene proves notable for the emotion of its abrupt shift from the loud euphoria of the resurrected show to the much smaller and more intimate celebration of the simple, quiet satisfaction of familial love. It's hard to describe just how much more affecting this closing scene is in this system hands than via any sort of regular audio set-up.
Ready Player One
I have heard the first race sequence in this Spielberg classic sounding spectacular before. Its extraordinarily powerful Dolby Atmos mix feels tailor-made to eke out every last ounce of power, impact and dynamics from whatever sound system it's playing on – as well as revealing any weaknesses a system might have. But I've never heard it as immense, impactful and dynamic as on this system. The sound is so big and loud that it's almost 'hyper-real', precisely as it should, given that the race is actually taking place in an amped-up virtual world rather than a real city.
This scene is particularly good for showing off the system's bass performance. The depth and attack of the lower frequency sounds that accompany the arrival of King Kong and the T-Rex on the race track is viscerally massive, leaving you in no doubt as to the size of these king-sized adversaries. Despite the heft of the bass though, the Krix system is also nimble enough to adjust the depth and level of low-frequency output at the drop of a hat, as the mix demands.
While the system scores hugely with its power and dynamic range with this sequence, perhaps its greatest achievement is that it also shows love to the little stuff. As cars disintegrate all around you, for instance, every tiny bit of flying metal seems to be perfectly placed above, behind or to the side of you. You can even track its transition as you hurtle past, just as you can accurately track the vertical positioning of the race's cars and bikes as they make their jumps and hard turns. Spectacular!
Transformers - Revenge of the Fallen
The clip chosen from this film is the massive shoot-out at the old factory. And it's clear from the off that this one was selected for the way it shows off the system's super-clean transitions when portraying objects moving around the soundstage, and its ability to create a large but defined sense of space within which objects are placed with extreme accuracy. This is particularly true when it comes to the vehicles involved in the shoot out, which are positioned so keenly by this system that it's hard to believe just how much trouble the mixers have taken with steering so many sounds around so carefully. Again, it's so good that it brings a whole new outlook on just how much work goes into a top-quality movie mix.
No audio demo would be complete without a bit of this. In this case, the nightclub scene was chosen because it lets you hear how well the Krix system can combine the constant thumping bass and large scale of the dance music with the more incidental and specific impact sounds of the brutal combat. Gunfire spits out with so much venom that you feel like you're actually being shot at, and fists fly past your ears as if you've just dodged them yourself. When the bones break or knuckles crack, there's just the right amount of wince-inducing crunch. Best of all, the system simultaneously delivers both the large space of the nightclub and the intimate feeling of the up-close hand-to-hand combat without one overwhelming the other.
Hans Zimmer: Live In Prague
The Dolby Atmos mix of this Blu-ray really is something. Again, the system nails the particularly potent Jack Sparrow theme section like no surround system I have heard before. The escalation from the near solo cello at the start to the final epic cacophony of drums, strings, keyboards and strings is stupendous. Each extra layer is added with harmony and balance, and the physical scale of the sound constantly grows with total conviction. It washes forward as effectively and viscerally as if you were actually watching it from the front row of the concert, with the track's climax shifting so much air – especially when the male choir kicks in – that it literally blows your hair back. Huge, deep bass sits alongside the tiny contributions from a piccolo flute without the former being too dominant or the latter sounding either overwhelmed or shrill.
Blade Runner 2049
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack of this sci-fi classic might just be my favourite movie mix of all time, and the opening scenes seem spine-tinglingly good on Invision's Krix installation. The colossal opening bass drop has never dropped further or expanded more vicariously. The eye-ball shot appears accompanied by an escalating wave of sound so massive it almost feels like it's going to push you backwards across the room.
Alongside its fearsome power though, the system also gave me a new appreciation for the beautiful tone and construction of the quiet music that accompanies the opening explanatory text. That it could present me with so much new appreciation of an audio mix I have listened to dozens of times before, even on some excellent 'mainstream' speaker systems, is another testament to its ability. Maybe the greatest compliment I can pay to this system's handling of Blade Runner 2049's massive and masterful soundtrack is that it felt epically cinematic, turning Invision's compact room into the best seats of the most technically perfect commercial cinema I have ever been to.
This is surely the finest home cinema system I have ever heard, but then it's the most expensive too. The kit used in the Invision demo suite will set you back a cool £154,000, including the Trinnov and AudioControl kit as well as the projector, screen and the room's seven home cinema seats. The Krix loudspeakers by themselves still come to just over £53,000 though – and speakers this spectacular do need to be driven by some serious audio sources!
On top of this, you're going to need the system to be professionally designed and installed – a process that could cost any amount of money depending on the size, shape and layout of the room you're turning into your personal luxury cinema. This is simply the price level where a sound system as extraordinary as Invision's Krix/Trinnov extravaganza has to live. And actually, I would argue that the Krix system is pretty good value for something that makes every movie you listen to, no matter how mundane, sound like it should have won a Best Sound Oscar.
I’ve spent the past 25 years writing about the world of home entertainment technology. In that time I’m fairly confident that I’ve reviewed more TVs and projectors than any other individual on the planet, as well as experiencing first-hand the rise and fall of all manner of great and not so great home entertainment technologies.
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