Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 CD player Page 2
All of the BAT VK-D5's best qualities were those I most often associate with tubes. To begin, the VK-D5 turned out one of the most developed midbands I've ever heard from a digital product. I'm not talking about smarm, euphony, or an over-sweetened, time to make the donuts glaze? On the contrary, there was always a ton of information available in the mids, and the naturally heightened resolution served the music in a most appealing and gratifying manner. This was certainly enhanced by the totally grainless, airy, and bloomy soundfield the VK-D5 presented without ever breaking into a sweat. I would say this special resolution was slightly more in evidence in the midband than at either frequency extreme, but this is a minor cavil.
The overall tonal balance seemed natural, smooth, and without apparent aberration. Imaging within the soundfield was corporeal, highly palpable, and presented with lots of body and presence. The upper midrange through the treble was detailed, liquid, and inviting, even transparent and incisive, all at the same time. If you like inner light and openness in your female vocals, the VK-D5 is likely to set your heart on fire.
Once again, I'd characterize the highs as sounding natural—anything but in-your-face or zippy. However, the treble could, when called upon, soar on strings and blat mightily with brass. In fact, when I put the Nagra PL-P preamp back into the system, I thought it might be impossible to find another player with a treble more fully explicated and filigreed than what I was hearing. As before, the Nagra hauled me up close onto the stage for that vivid, intimate perspective it presents—see my review in the January Stereophile. The PL-P beautifully complemented the VK-D5 and allowed the player's basic neutrality and lack of coloration to shine right through.
The bass range was excellent, while not getting down quite as far or as tight as the ultra-extended and utterly linear Ensemble Dichronos. (Could it be any other way? The full-bore Ensemble front-end—DAC, Drive, cables, platforms, and isolation transformer—costs more than $20k retail. Happily, though, even given the inevitable law of diminishing returns and silly-money pricing, you can sometimes get what you pray for.) Comparing the VK-D5 to the YBA CD-1 Blue Laser, which clocks in at a more competitive $6k, I found them running about neck-and-neck in overall bass quality—a high compliment to both players.
Let's say the VK-D5's acoustic, high-quality bass goes down quite low enough, then slightly bulges out in the very stygian depths. Ironically, the slightly fulsome bottom end increased the sense of slam, power, and room-filling authority of concert-hall timpani, for example. It could have been a touch tighter; it could also have cost a great deal more money, honey. Victor made quite a point about designing intelligently to a given price. But for me, spoiled bastard that I am, it was absolutely no problem: I always found the BAT's bass convincing and lively.
Which leads me neatly to the VK-D5's dynamics—an interesting consideration with this player. Microdynamics were presented in a fantastic "only-with-tubes" kind of way that I found immeasurably attractive. It was a construct of perfect balance, of refined leading-edge transient information in natural progression to rich harmonic development and acoustic decay. These lovingly crafted sonorities were always solidly placed within the velvety blackness of acoustic space.
The sound in general wasn't altogether as smooth, velvety, and refined as the YBA CD-1, or as transparent and linear as the far more costly Ensemble Dichronos. But the extraordinary way in which the VK-D5 handled the all-important low-level shifts in dynamic contrasts breathed life into the music. It always enriched the listening experience while barely calling attention to itself. Special, very special. And macrodynamics were hardly given short shrift. The player always served up a large, powerful, coherent, dynamic soundstage, alive with music and performance.