Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 CD player John Atkinson compares
The analog output levels of the $4500 Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 and the $4950 Wadia 850 matched to within 2mV, so no additional level matching was necessary. All comparisons were done using the Levinson No.380S preamplifier. As well as side-by-side comparisons involving disc swapping from one player to the other, I used the BAT to drive one of the Wadia's coaxial data inputs via a 0.5m length of Mod Squad Wonderlink I fitted with BNCs. Interconnects were balanced: initially, the softer-balanced CZ-Gel for the Wadia and the more upfront AudioQuest Diamond for the BAT; then the reverse.
Given the convergent evolution of state-of-the-art CD players, the VK-D5 has a surprisingly different presentation from the Wadia 850. As J-10 correctly noted, the tubed player has quite a midbass bloom to its sound that can be very seductive. By contrast, the Wadia sounded drier in the bass, with a greater emphasis on the leading edges of notes. There was still plenty of low-frequency body to its character, and which one I preferred was dependent on the music playing. If the recorded balance was itself on the lean side, I preferred the BAT; if not, then the greater delineation of the notes led me to prefer the Wadia overall.
There was a similar story at the high end. The slightly more laid-back treble of the BAT gave recorded strings a slightly more mellow nature, which was very welcome on typical fizzed-up classical recordings. By contrast, the 850 was definitely more upfront, with a very slight emphasis on the metallic nature of violin strings. But with naturally balanced recordings this became inconsequential, allowing me to appreciate the wealth of recorded detail, the Wadia presenting a clearer picture into the soundstage. On Anthony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity's excellent new recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, for example, issued with and thoroughly documented in the April 1998 issue of the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review, you can more clearly hear the supportive acoustic of London's Henry Wood Hall on the Wadia, even though there is more bloom overall from the VK-D5.—John Atkinson