Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 CD player Scull in 2002
There's plenty of nail-biting over digital these days, and with good reason: SACD, DVD-Audio, "Red Book" CD...it's enough to get an audiophile totally confused. Balanced Audio Technology's solution to the dilemma is the VK-D5SE, a $6000 one-box player that simply gives you, according to BATman Victor Khomenko, the best playback possible of that big collection of 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs bending your shelves.
The VK-D5SE is an updated version of BAT's VK-D5, that I reviewed in the May 1998 Stereophile (footnote 1). It uses the latest-generation Philips transport, a fast reader with CD-ROM specs that makes slightly different noises from the average CD player—curiously, it won't do a thing until it finishes reading a disc's Table of Contents, which occurs mercifully quickly.
One big change is the VK-D5SE's use of 6H30 SuperTubes instead of the VK-D5's 6922s, which in turn mandated changes in the power supply to accommodate those juice-suckers. You also get a 24-bit (rather than the previous 20-bit) DAC section and digital filter.
The VK-D5SE's bass had excellent definition, leading-edge snap, roundness, fullness of tone, and a fine integration of the entire bass region into the soundscape. No bumps or grinds, just impressive bass and a transition to the midrange that was without anomaly of any kind. This was especially apparent on Air's 10,000 Hz Legend (Source/Astralwerks 8 10332 2). There's tremendously deep bass to be found on this recording, my friends.
The midrange has always been a strong point with BAT CD players, and this one was simply to die for—maybe even the state of the art for a "Red Book" player. It was smooth as could be, yet very detailed, warm, flowing, attractive, alluring—like a gorgeous babe in a tight dress. Playing the MJQ's For Ellington proved it.
The BAT player's highs have been the subject of some debate among audiophiles. Right off the BAT, I must say that the VK-D5SE did not sound "dark," as another writer recently claimed. I turned out the lights and it still wasn't dark! But here's where the absolute spoilage it has been my privilege to enjoy came to the fore. There is no way in heaven or hell that a straight 16/44.1 machine, even one costing $6k, can better the $19k dCS Purcell/Elgar Plus combo—or, for that matter, the $28k Accuphase DP-100/DC-101. It just ain't in the cards.
So the VK-D5SE's highs bumped up against the limitations of 16/44.1. The sound was ever so slightly grainy and somewhat—a tiny tad—less elegant and musical than 24/192 or SACD. But for what the VK-D5SE is—a straight 16/44.1 machine—bravo. It was more than fine. For me, however, it was a little opaque and somewhat less pellucid up top than what I've become accustomed to.
So sue me. This is a great 16-bit/44.1kHz CD player. If dropping a bazillion bucks on much more expensive up-over-around-and-through oversamplers isn't an option for you, I highly recommend Balanced Audio Technology's VK-D5SE.
Enjoy! I did.—Jonathan Scull
Footnote 1: To upgrade your VK-D5 to a VK-D5SE: 24-bit architecture cost $800; that plus 6H30 tubes, an upgraded power supply, and a six-pack of capacitors, $1200.—Jonathan Scull