Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 CD player

Man, has Balanced Audio Technology come a long way in a short time. I think partners Steve Bednarski and Victor Khomenko have comprehensively put the kibosh on the notion that newcomers can't succeed in high-end audio.

"After one year of setup," Bednarski told me, "we debuted our line at the January '95 CES. You know, Victor and I came out of Hewlett-Packard, a real pay-as-you-go company. And that's how it is here at BAT—no outside financing, no debt, and, I'm happy to say, a loyal and growing customer base." BAT is one of the few high-end companies that can claim a genuine Russian Rocket Scientist for its production manager!

The subject of this review is BAT's hot-selling VK-D5 CD player with HDCD. It's fully balanced in both the digital and analog domains. Four Burr-Brown PCM63K DACs are arrayed in a true differential configuration. The player has a beautifully implemented high-current tube output section using six Russian 6922s. In keeping with BAT family values, the VK-D5 is a zero-negative-feedback design: no buffers, followers, or op-amps obstruct the signal path.

The VK-D5 follows standard BAT chassis-design criteria. It's housed in a typically well-perforated case, the tubes glowing warmly within. As in other BAT components, a toroid transformer sits vertically at the right front of the chassis with the transport mechanism off to the left. The player weighs in at a dense 30 lbs, so you'd best keep a firm grip when heaving it about. The cosmetics are typically BAT, the large blue display easy on the eyes. On the fascia, Phase, HDCD, and Operate pilot lights tell their tales in bright blue. The VK-R2 remote provides complete control of the VK-D5, in addition to volume, fade, and mute functions for the VK-3i and 5i preamps.

There are both XLR balanced and single-ended output jacks on the rear apron, along with a BNC digital out. I stuffed the IEC mains in with Ensemble and Synergistic Research power cords, as found elsewhere in the system. (For more details regarding the VK-D5's innards, see Sidebar, "I Sing the Body Electric.")

A Tweaker's Tale
"Aw c'mon, Scull, can't you just review a component like it comes out of the effing box? What's with all the footers and Embingo discs? Gimme a break! Whyn't you stick one a' them——"

Ahem. Well, actually, that's an interesting question. Take the VK-D5. On second thought, hands off. The VK-D5 is designed in a manner that should, by rights, obviate the effects of tweaking.

Not quite. When I first heard the VK-D5, I'd plunked it down on top of a small Michael Green ClampRack. The YBA Blue Laser typically sits there, and I've wired up the Expressive Technologies SU-1 step-up transformer from this handy perch.

Therein lies the tale. The VK-D5 sounded fine—I loved the midrange—yet I was disturbed by a certain lack of clarity, transparency, and incisiveness. Bummer. Soon after installation, short on room, I moved the VK-D5 aside to replace it with the Expressive step-up for analog duties. I accidentally rapped a shelf while the gain was up, and I—was—shocked. It produced a dull thonk from the surprised Radians. This provoked a quick rethink about resonant-sensitive components placed on this particular stand. Back to the drawing board...

The solution of the moment proved to be a liberal and extremely effective application of Black Diamond Racing shelves and footers. I'll bring you up to date on the BDR products in a future review, but they worked wonders at decoupling components from the heavy 27" by 24" MDF Signature ClampRack shelves (Clamping is another kettle of fish that can be quite effective, but it's far too much of a logistical nightmare for feckless reviewers such as I.)

So you understand: I consider a basic tenet of the job to be an obligation to get the best possible sound from the device in question. Even a component like the BAT, a player that should be immune to footering considerations, clearly benefited from them. "What?" he said in his best Jackie Mason voice, "I should keep this a secret from you?" And before getting apoplectic at the cost, remember please that this is a guide, not an edict. That the player is best decoupled from the support is, I suggest, the key piece of information.

Balanced Audio Technology
26 Beethoven Drive
Wilmington, DE 19807
(800) 255-4228