Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Balanced Audio Technology VK-55SE power amplifier and VK-32SE preamplifier

(This was intended to be a sidebar to Jeff's review of these amps. I don't think the actual review was published until several months after I left. I do have to say that BAT gear is world-class, right up there with the likes of Audio Research, conrad-johnson, etc. These amps were among the very best I have used in my own system.)

It's been a few years since I've spent time with Balanced Audio Technology gear, but this company has quietly and steadily moved into the top echelon of amplifier manufacturers over the last few years. I was eager to hear their latest efforts, the VK-55SE power amplifier and VK-32SE preamplifier.

I immediately felt that the BAT combination was simply superb in terms of bass weight and power, with low frequency control that rivaled some powerful SS amps I've been using over the last year. In fact, I was amazed to learn that the tubed VK-55SE only offered 55 watts per channel, since it sounded much more powerful. Through the 90dB-efficient DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Nines, the BAT seemed to offer an unusually high level of control and heft, with all of the low frequencies coming through with a convincing amount of impact and authority.

The BATs were also champs when it came to creating wide-open spaces in my listening room. The soundstage extended easily beyond the room boundaries, and offered a panoramic view of almost every musical performance. On Shearwater's Rook, for example, my brain was able to make sense of the large numbers of performers occupying the space in front of me on each song. These complex passages sounded like they were captured live, with no compression or loss of dynamics as each new bit of musical information flowed effortlessly into the mix. Not only could I hear each musician existing in his or her own space, but I can also sense the interplay between instruments, such as guitar amps bristling against snare drums, or the slap of the bottom E-note on Kim Burke's upright bass bouncing off her body.

Like most great tube amps, the VK-55SE and VK-32SE do need to be warmed up at least an hour before the magic appears. That unlimited sense of bass depth and openness doesn't quick click until everything is hot and glowing. I do mean hot. The BATs are what you might call “winter amps,” which means these babies heated up my listening room like nothing before. If you're used to something like EL34s, you might be surprised at the sheer energy that emanates from the VK-55SE's chassis. Those giant 6C33 output tubes don't just glow—they throb and undulate like a lava flow. As you stand over the '55, you may be tempted to slide off your wedding band and toss it into the bright orange incandescence just so everything will return to normal back in the Shire.

But despite these geothermal concerns, I was very impressed with these amplifiers. They combined the weight and control of the best solid state amplification with the natural, lifelike sound produced by the finest valves. I enjoyed them thoroughly, and recommend them highly.

1 comment:

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