VTL MB 175 Signature monoblock power amplifier Page 3
The MB 175s replaced a pair of Cary 805s I'd been auditioning for the previous few months. When Luke Manley told me "bass punch" with large woofered speakers was not the 175's strong suit, I was concerned about losing the Cary's luxurious, single-ended, triode midrange purity and getting nothing compensatory from the VTLs.
So I was more than pleasantly surprised by the 175's low-frequency performance; to my ears, it bettered what I got from the larger 300 in every respect save that of sheer power. In fact, the MB 175 proved to be an ideal match for the Audio Physic Virgos, which displayed a bit of midbass warmth when driven by the 300 (see my September 1995 review,). While some of this warmth is endemic to the speaker, the 175s proved a better match.
Powered by the 175, the Virgo produced deep, well-controlled, well-damped bass down to the speaker's low-frequency limit of about 30Hz. Blending the Virgos with the solid-state Audio Physic Terra powered subwoofer, which goes down well under 20Hz, proved relatively easy—far easier than with the Carys, which, though seductive and pure down below, were somewhat slower and warmer overall. While the better solid-state amps still have the bass edge in terms of sheer brute force and control, the 175 has nothing to apologize for.
If your prejudice is that tube amps produce soggy, warm, rolled-off bass, a few minutes with a pair of VTL 175s driving appropriate loudspeakers will straighten you out quickly. Ditto if your prejudice is that tube amps are soft and rolled on top. The 175 offers "fast," extended high frequencies that are neither etched nor edgy, though lovers of creamy warmth might be put off.
I've yet to hear a solid-state amplifier that can deliver the combination of high-frequency extension, sweetness, and harmonic complexity of a good tube amp. The better solid-state amps I've heard are convincing on top but tend to either homogenize transients or accentuate them. The better tube amps have a much easier job finding that in-between point where the magic sound of "real" occurs, surrounded by genuine air. Of course, maybe that's my prejudice—but look at the unlikely proliferation and increased popularity of tube amplifiers over the past few years. I think this is one of the reasons why.
Beyond its surprising extension and control at the extremes, the 175's tonal balance is neutral, if tending toward the lean side. If you like your sound lush and ripe, with a well-padded harmonic envelope surrounding instruments—the sound some listeners consider to be the "classic" sound of tubed amplification—the MB 175 will probably not be your choice.
Returning to the Carys produced a midrange purity, transparency, and luxuriousness the VTLs couldn't match. But there's a pretty stiff price to pay for that opulence, in the forms of a clear loss of bass authority and a diminution of the large-scale dynamic swings that, even at high spls, the 175s pulled off with ease. The Carys deliver a warm, deep, rich bottom end; the VTLs put out a punchy, taut, articulate one.
And even if the harmonic portrayal and textural presentation the Carys deliver on guitar records like Laurindo Almeida's Impresoes do Brasil (Capitol P 8381, LP), or Manitas de Plata's famous Connoisseur Society Recordings, is more redolent of wood and nylon (or gut?) than that served up by the VTLs, the transmitter-tubed amplifiers come close enough, after a few minutes with them, for the differences to be rendered meaningless.
What little you lose in tonal purity is more than compensated for by the impressive reach-out-and-touch-it three-dimensional image of a guitar hanging between the speakers. The amplifier's bass control ensures that the instrument's warm lower register and resonant signature don't get mixed up with the surrounding space.
The VTLs deliver solid images that are impressive for their clarity, focus, and etch-free three-dimensionality. The best recording of Wes Montgomery I've ever heard is Smokin' at the Half Note, a Verve LP reissue (V6-8633) recently issued by the German Speaker's Corner label. Each pluck of the guitarist's thumb on the string carves a space in your chest—if you know what I mean—that combines the tonal weight and transient speed of both the real physical event and the electronic one reproduced through the guitarist's onstage amp. It just sounds, feels, and looks right. Both the Carys and the VTL 300s—the only other tube amps I've had in my system—diminish the illusion somewhat with their added lower-midrange warmth.