What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
Following in the footsteps of Michael Fremer, one of many Stereophile reviewers who visited the room, I listened to Hartman and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato on both amplifier pairs, switching between the top of the line TL-7.5 Reference Line preamplifier Series II ($18,500) and the new, internally retrofittable phono stage of the TL-5.5 Series II Signature preamplifier ($8000). As you might expect, the more expensive electronics boasted a lusher and smoother midrange. But despite different topologies and tubes, and a major switch between Nordost Odin and Valhalla power cabling on the amps, both preamps radiated the wonderful, gracious, impactful sound that defines the greatness of VTL. I'm eager to hear this set-up again in a larger room that can do the mighty TAD loudspeakers full justice.
Postscript: Wait. I need to revise that. On Saturday, I stopped by the VTL room again to snare a bottle of water. Seated before the system, way at the other end of the room, was VTL's Russian distributor, playing a CD I haven't played in years: the out-of-print recording of Alfred Schnittke's Gogol Suite that I believe was issued by Sheffield Labs. This is the recording that turned me on to the fantastic side of Schnittke's music.
Anyway, I had no idea how much dynamic range this recording has until I heard it on the big TADs and VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks. With the volume turned way up, the impact was tremendous. Equally tremendous was how nothing flinched. Nothing except Bea Lam, half of the Bea Lam/Luke Manley team that is VTL, who braced herself during the climaxes. But the equipment sailed through with not a bit of distortion. Marvelous. Classical aficionadossearch for this recording. I actually have two copies, one of which I hope to remember to carry to the Stereophile-sponsored Axpona show in Jacksonville in March. It will make a perfect demo.
Post-postscript from Brian Damkroger: Being most interested in analog, I asked Bea to play an LP, that system being a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable, Tri-planar tonearmmy reviews of both are scheduled for the April issue of Stereophileand Lyra cartridge, a Skala or Helicon perhaps? The setup fed VPI's TP-6.5 Signature Phono Stage. Very, very nice, but the ambient din really made it hard to enjoy the performance. The remote-adjustable loading feature of the TP-6.5 is something every serious phono stage should have. Obviously, I need to buy a TP-6.5, so this is shaping up to be an expensive trip. Bea also suggested, in her extremely polite and gentle way, that I might consider upgrading my VTL Ichiban amps to a pair of the MB450 monoblocks. To review the plot line, the Ichibans are a 20-ish year-old set of mono amps that have been updated multiple times. I think of them as equivalent to the now-discontinued MB750 Signature model. Bea tends to think of them as "FrankenAmps." This trip is getting more expensive.