VTL: The Next Generation

Luke Manley was muttering about the problems he was having naming the latest iteration of the VTL TL-5.5 line preamplifier ($6000). "I've already done a signature version and I don't want to confuse people—it really does represent major improvements in sound."

"What about next generation?"

"NG? No good."

"What about TNG—the next generation?"

"Maybe . . . ."

So what's new and improved, you ask? The volume control software and chip, the all-tube gain stage topology, the relays, there's, an improved precision power supply, and space for an internal phono stage. Oh yeah, and RS-232 inputs and outputs.

The sound? Well, Luke was comparing it to the 6.5 and at twice the price the 6.5 ought to sound better—it did, but dang, the 5.5 was hanging in there impressively. However, I was also listening to the VTL S4000 ($27,500), which really made the Avalon Indras sing.

About that S400—I've been listening to the VTL 450s and they are really special, but the S4000 just had more air and it had an iron grip on the Indras that really made them pop—especially on the deep bass tones on Raising Sand's "Trampled Rose." Since I'd criticized the low bass of the Indras in my review in Stereophile, hearing them produce bass far deeper than I would have suspected possible was a total ear-opener.

I'm sure the 5.5 TNG will be impressive, but VTL's Reference line is still champeen.