It's been 10 years since Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) introduced their first products: the VK-5 line-stage preamplifier and the VK-60 power amplifier. (I reviewed both in the December 1995 Stereophile, Vol.18 No.12.) The success of these and other BAT products has allowed designer Victor Khomenko (the "VK" of the model designations) and partner Steve Bednarski to quit their day jobs at Hewlett-Packard; they were joined by Geoff Poor as a partner to handle the sales end of the enterprise. BAT's current lineup includes several preamps, phono stages, a CD player, and tube as well as solid-state amplifiers. The top of BAT's preamp range is the VK-51SE, which costs $9000; their top tube power amp is the VK-150SE monoblock ($17,000/pair); if you want their best phono stage, the VK-P10 will set you back $8000.
For those who frequent the audio discussion groups on the Internet, the method by which Stereophile selects products for review seems to be a continuing source of fascination and conjecture. Supporters of fledgling manufacturers—whose products these Webcrawlers just happen to own—rail against the rule that products to be reviewed in the magazine must have at least five US dealers. Some suggest that Stereophile's selection of review products is all about catering to advertisers and friends in the industry, a process that seems intended to exclude their favorite products from consideration.
Ah, Brazil...land of coffee, the samba, Pelé, Rio-by-the-sea-o, and tube amplifiers. All right, so perhaps the amplifier connection isn't quite as well-established. But one Brazilian amplifier designer, Eduardo de Lima, has published articles in Glass Audio magazine that are viewed by many as groundbreaking, and his evolving products have been seen at various specialist tube equipment shows. De Lima—president, founder, product designer, and principal owner of Audiopax Sistemas Eletroacusticos—is an electrical engineer who started out designing equipment for a telecommunications company, but since 1995 he's devoted his talents to designing a wide range of audio products, including speakers as well as preamps and power amps.
Single-ended triode amplifiers (SETs) have a considerable following, but even their most devoted fans admit that its maximum power output is not among an SET's strengths. You'd be lucky to get an SET that puts out 7Wpc, and some (like those using the 45 tube) are closer to 2Wpc. Highly sensitive speakers (eg, horns) will tend to offset the power limitation, and SETs usually sound more powerful than their measurements indicate, but the laws of physics still apply: 2W is 2W, regardless of the kind of amplifier that produces it, and an amplifier's manner of clipping and recovery from overload take us only part of the way toward achieving greater volume.
Single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers are typically paired with horn loudspeakers, for good reason: most SETs produce very low power, so to get acceptable loudness you need a highly sensitive speaker, which means horns. Similarly, horn owners are often advised that the best amplifier for their speakers is a SET. Certainly, the horn-SET combination can be magical, but, in my experience, SETs are not the only type of amplifier that can sound good with horns.
Is it the low exhibitor rates? The excuse to visit Montreal, perhaps North America's most cosmopolitan city? The efficiency and charm of organizer Marie-Christine Prin and her assistants? Whatever the reason(s), Montreal's Festival Son & Image has become a real success story, attracting an ever-increasing array of exhibitors and audiophiles from far and wide. Last year, the Festival spilled over from the downtown Delta Hotel to the Four Points Sheraton across the street; this year, there were exhibits in the Holiday Inn next door as well.
PS Audio's Power Plant AC-regeneration devices have taken the audio and home-theater worlds by storm. The P300 was voted 2000 Accessory of the Year in Stereophile (December 2000), and the P600 won the Editors' Choice Platinum Award in Stereophile Guide to Home Theater (January 2001). The Power Plant differs from conventional power-line conditioners (PLCs) in that it doesn't just "clean up" AC but actually synthesizes (or regenerates) it. Each Power Plant is essentially a special-purpose amplifier, producing AC to run the equipment plugged into it, the maximum output wattage indicated by the model number. (The most powerful Power Plant available is the P1200, which produces 1200W.)
As technology develops, things get more and more complicated. With every update of Windows, the program offers greater flexibility, but runs slower and makes greater demands on hardware. Automobiles have become so complex that only the most highly trained mechanics are able to fix even a minor malfunction. Surround-sound processors come with inch-thick owner's manuals.
Few topics will get audiophiles into an argument more readily than a discussion of the relative merits of tubed and solid-state equipment. A poll on the Stereophile website showed 53% of respondents choosing solid-state as their preferred amplifier design, while 38% indicated a preference for tubes—the remainder choosing "other," which presumably means digital amplifiers. (There has been no corresponding survey regarding preamplifier designs.) Opinions tend toward the dogmatic, with one respondent declaring "solid-state is more accurate," another stating unequivocally that "tubes sound closer to the real thing."