Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier Page 2
Further up the audioband, the ARC's clean, extended, detailed reproduction of high frequencies made it a good match for jazz and classical recordings. Miles Davis' trumpet on "If I Were a Bell," from Relaxin' (CD, Prestige VICJ 60125), had perfect transient bite, a golden burnished decay, and the natural breathiness of the real thing. Violinist Arturo Delmoni's stunning performances on Ysaˇe Kreisler Bach: Solo Violin Works (CD, John Marks JMR 14) were rendered with pristine, extended, and airy detail and delicacy; every ambient nuance of the recording space was captured with breathtaking three-dimensional verisimilitude.
In my high-ceilinged, 18' by 35' listening room, I didn't expect to hear much of the bottom end of the audioband from a 50Wpc amp driving speakers capable of producing 20Hz. Boy, was I surprised. Bass guitarist Peter Freeman's entrance in "Aurora," on John Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD, ECM 2077), came crashing into the room like rolling thunder, but with no trace of coloration, distortion, low-end rolloff, or compression. "Lord's Tundra," a solo performance on eight-string electric bass by Dean Peer on his Ucross (LP, Jazz Planet/Classic JP 5002-1) kicked me in the chest during the repeated, high-level transients in the arpeggiated phrases. Chris Jones's rapid-fire electronic-synth blasts in Overcast Radio's "Midnight Sun" (45rpm single, Surface Tension STNSN 002) had a visiting friend frantically writing down the name of this disc; the look on his face said, "I wonder if this record can make my speakers sound like this!" Finally, I cranked up to 95dB Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611): the room slam-danced with clean, pristine, high-level dynamics and no trace of smeared transients.
Speaking of loud, I thought this was one area where this little tube baby would peter out. Most of the time, it didn't. The full-throated orchestral tuttis on "Bluesville," from Count Basie's 88 Basie Street (CD, Pablo/JVC JVCXR 0021-2), burst into the room without a hint of compression or smear. I then analyzed Mark Flynn's drumming in "Fruit Forward," from my quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2): All of his subtle dynamic swirls and heaving crescendos were reproduced as I've heard them through more powerful amps, and as I heard it onstage during that concert. From my notes: "Full weight. It's missing nothing!" On the rock front, Bruce Katz's Hammond B3 solo in "Too Proud," from Mighty Sam McClain's Give It Up to Love (CD, AudioQuest/JVC JVCXR 0012-2), was captured with all his subtle dynamic phrasing intact, even as the bass guitar and drums did some high-level slamming in the background.
Where the ARC VSi60 fell a bit short was in full-throated, densely orchestrated fortissimo passages in large classical works. The massed Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Choir rarely exceeded mezzo-forte in the loudest passages of the opening movement of Helmut Rilling's recording of Penderecki's Credo (CD, Hanssler CD 98.311), and there were traces of compression and smearing. I hadn't heard this compression of dynamics when my Alón Circes were driven by more powerful amplifiers. And even though, in the loud passages of Antal Dorati and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence SR 90226), the bass drum was reproduced with perfectly clean shudder and bottom-end depth, I felt there was a bit of tension in the upper midrange in the loudest and densest passages.
With every recording I played, the VSi60 reproduced all transients with flawless speed and articulation and no trace of smear or hardness. Christopher Thomas's machine-gun snare action in the frantic instrumental interludes of "Cousins," from Vampire Weekend's Contra (CD, XL XLCD429), was reproduced in all its rapid-fire glory with the transient envelope of each drum stroke perfectly intact. For a slower drum showcase, Ringo Starr's delicate tom-tom action in "Come Together," from the Beatles' Abbey Road (CD, Apple 382468 2), was reproduced with perfectly paced, linear dynamics. easily revealing all the percussive subtleties on this superb remastered release. The combination of the ARC's dynamic articulation and transient resolution shone in Charles Wuorinen's arresting reading of his own Ringing Changes for Percussion Ensemble, with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble (LP, Nonesuch H71263). The broad range of timbres of the various instruments reproduced here were perfectly placed on a wide, deep soundstage, each instrument entirely separable from the rest, even in the densest passages. With the ARC, there was no trace of coagulation.
The VSi60 unraveled an extraordinary amount of detail from all recordings, at a level I've heard only from amplifiers costing into five figures. I found myself analyzing flutist Carol Wincenc's playing on Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2). Her breathing technique, all of her flute's upper partials, and her phrasing in pianissimo passages were as captivating as I've heard with any other amplifier. As I analyzed the ARC's reproduction of this entire work, which by now I've practically memorized (John Atkinson was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the score), I compared it with its sound through the many more expensive amps I've heard, and concluded that the VSi60 wasn't missing a damn thing.
The ARC made me want to compare various recordings. I began by analyzing saxophonist Sonny Rollins' playing on "Pannonica," from Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners (45rpm LP, Riverside/Analogue Productions RLP-2226), and felt he sounded much more boisterous and not nearly as mellow as he did on "I'm an Old Cowhand," from his own Way Out West (CD, Contemporary/JVC VICJ60088). The VSi60 made these differences quite apparent.