Today is Monday, February 5, and it's so buttercupping cold outside that the custodian couldn't get our school's oil burner started. Consequently, my daughter is home for the day, playing on the rug in front of the fireplace. (Santa brought a wooden castle and a fine selection of medieval figurines, some of which are headed for the dungeon as we speak.) I'm at my desk in the music room, on the upwind side of the house—and the wind is murder. The west wall is cold. The north wall is cold. The floorboards are cold. But the air inside is warm as toast: I'm driving my Quad ESL speakers with a Joule Electra VZN-80 amplifier ($12,000) that isn't at all bashful about squandering a goodly amount of energy as heat. I can't think of a more delightful quality for an amp to have, at least on a day like this.
When I unpacked the Rogue Audio Atlas, I didn't know how much it cost. After examining its chassis of high-grade steel, its silver-anodized aluminum faceplate, its sleek and slightly rounded edges, and, above all, its two chunk-o'brick transformers—for such a little thing (a foot-and-a-half square by half-a-foot high), it's heavy—I guessed around five grand. Then I called Rogue Audio and learned that it retails for $1395.
The McIntosh MC 275 power amplifier has been born yet again. It's the Count Dracula of power amps. It refuses to stay dead. Introduced in 1961, the Mac 275, in its original hardwired edition, was produced until 1970. This was the amp I desired while in college but couldn't afford. I remember the Mac 275 fondly—rather like girlfriends from my college years.
Everybody loves a bargain. No—make that: Most people love a bargain. Some just want the best, and they don't care about the cost. Some even distrust and reject out of hand any product that's not expensive enough. If you're one of these people, you might as well stop reading this review right now—the PrimaLuna ProLogue Three and ProLogue Seven are not for you. $1395 for a tube preamp? $2695 for a pair of 70Wpc tube monoblocks equipped with four KT88 tubes each? Must be based on old designs in the public domain using cheap parts carelessly assembled...
During the time of the Native-American Comanches, a young brave had to undergo many trials by fire before he earned the respect of the tribe's adults. He was violently beaten by the men, humiliated by the women, and forced to endure physical torture such as the slow flaying of the foreskin with smoldering pine saplings drawn from the fire. Alienated from the tribe, exiled until he proved his manhood, he had to survive on wriggling cream-colored larvae and infrequent rainwater. Legend speaks of these Indian youths, dehydrated and disoriented, crawling around on their hands and knees and baying like wolves at the moon.
In this hobby, nothing's for nothing. To get that gorgeous midrange, with its harmonic depth and inner detail, tube-amp enthusiasts are willing to give up some things in the bass. Tube folks put up with heat and occasional maintenance—routine or otherwise. To get the ideal middle, fans of single-ended triodes are even willing to shave off considerable dynamic range and settle for ultra-efficient speakers that often have limited response at the frequency extremes. Those who say nothing is lost by preferring tubes are in denial.
My stepfather wore only second-hand clothes as a child and never understood why anyone would deliberately wash the color out of his new dungarees. By the same token, the senior members of our hobby, many of whom recall with fondness the transistor's advent, don't understand why anyone would now wish to throw away their newfound power. Some people deserve to be blessed for their point of view, even as the world moves away from it.
Just who does Bruce Rozenblit think he is? And why is he saying those things about the late Julius Futterman? Rozenblit, relying heavily for guidance on his Electrical Engineering degree, has crafted an OTL (output-transformerless) amplifier that flies in the face of contemporary design dogma. To hear Bruce tell it, he's tamed the breed—this is how OTLs should have been done to start with, Futterman notwithstanding.
When I reviewed VTL's MB-750 monoblock amplifier in the December 1997 Stereophile (Vol.20 No.12), it was a transitional time for the company. Luke Manley had recently taken it over, and he and his wife and partner, Bea Lam, were aggressively retooling. They introduced new business systems, including rigorous inventory and quality control; rebuilt VTL's dealer network around top-rank dealers; and systematically upgraded the products themselves to improve their consistency, reliability, manufacturability, and performance. VTL's goal, Luke explained to me at the time, was to build amplifiers that competed with the very best, and to "make the tubes invisible to the customer."
Although I retain a firm hold on the established audio world, and recognize and value all that it has achieved, I feel inexorably driven to make some space in my life for single-ended amplifiers—more especially, those that eschew negative feedback (footnote 1). A classic if costly example of the art is the Cary CAD-805C, which, to my ears, has earned the right to teach audiophiles what negative feedback really sounds like, and what damage it can do to the musical message when poorly handled. This shouldn't be taken as an out-of-hand dismissal of those many great pieces of electronics and amplification that use negative feedback—it is simply an acknowledgment, or even an assertion that negative feedback generates a sound of its own.
It's been 10 years since Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) introduced their first products: the VK-5 line-stage preamplifier and the VK-60 power amplifier. (I reviewed both in the December 1995 Stereophile, Vol.18 No.12.) The success of these and other BAT products has allowed designer Victor Khomenko (the "VK" of the model designations) and partner Steve Bednarski to quit their day jobs at Hewlett-Packard; they were joined by Geoff Poor as a partner to handle the sales end of the enterprise. BAT's current lineup includes several preamps, phono stages, a CD player, and tube as well as solid-state amplifiers. The top of BAT's preamp range is the VK-51SE, which costs $9000; their top tube power amp is the VK-150SE monoblock ($17,000/pair); if you want their best phono stage, the VK-P10 will set you back $8000.
"The realistic reproduction of orchestral music in an average room requires peak power capabilities of the order of 15 to 20W when the electro-acoustic transducer is a baffle-loaded moving-coil loudspeaker of normal efficiency."
—Peter Walker and D.T.N. Williamson, writing in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society in 1954
At the last few audio shows, whenever I heard a pair of the big Cary CAD-1610-SEs, I fair licked my chops. The two-tiered monoblock looked positively stunning in black and polished aluminum, exotic tubes bristling from the top "floor" of its two-story edifice. The Cary always induced pelvic tilt in me—you know, when your lizard brain takes over and tube lust is in the air.