Balanced Audio Technology VK-150SE monoblock power amplifier Page 2

Bill Evans' Piano Player (Columbia/Legacy CK 65361) sounded fine, the VK-150SEs laying out a beautifully recorded piano. Or take the first two cuts from side two of Duke Ellington's Indigos LP (Columbia CS 8053). You'll be in shock as you're instantly transported to the set of a 1940s film noir. But instead of a B flick's bad soundtrack, Ellington, sitting straight at his grand piano, transfixes all and sundry with his mastery of his huge-sounding instrument. The size of the soundstage, the cushions of air around each performer, the utter truth of timbre, the glow from within, the swing and timing that tubes do so well—all were perfectly rendered by the VK-150SEs. What an unmitigated joy. These amps were not euphonic pigs with which to play harsh CDs or digitally mastered LPs in a search for Golden Honey Glaze.

Then, unable to help myself, I was back listening to Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder, and Ray Nance's trumpet was driving me crazy as usual, coming so perfectly formed from the middle of the orchestra, which was spread out on a huge soundstage. In fact, it was a bit like sitting on the edge of the stage and catching the rehearsal. I could almost see the Duke, sleeves rolled up, hard at work. (No matter how fastidious he was, he musta rolled up his sleeves once in a while.)

While I was enjoying vinyl, I spun the cover tune of "Mood Indigo" and listened for the essential blattiness of the horns. It made this audiophile feel good to hear them like that as the clarinet provided a smooth, soothing sound—striking an almost ladylike sonic pose in relation to the big, brawlin' trumpet. Just delightful.

And the midrange, like almost everything coming through the BATs, was textured, colorful, and lovely enough to make me toss my wig into the next room and start to dance.

The MJQ's take on "It Don't Mean a Thing," from For Ellington (East-West 90926-2), was a thing of wonder: wide, not terribly deep, Connie Kay's perfectly rendered drums driving the music with urgency and a whole lotta air, with fabulously shimmery but quickly damped cymbals. If you've got music that can make it with a solo cymbal, you've got good music, pure and cymbal—er, simple.

The big thrill for me on this recording was Milt Jackson's vibes, especially the way he plays 'em in "It Don't Mean a Thing." He's into it, and I was party to it. Each note is lovingly struck—no, dedicated. The accompanying tap on the snare's rim sounded so quick, so natural and impactful, the whole round and delicious but not at all euphonic (heaven forbid). The last few seconds of this track oughta be in a museum, they're so fine and real—and that bell tap at the end puts paid to the time and money you've invested in your system.

Finally, when I switched from Synergistic Research's Discrete Shielding on the front-end components to SR's Active Shielding with their Designer's Reference interconnect, by the way, everything took on a more spacious character. The bells were that much more shimmery and present, the piano had a tad more power, tonal color, and dynamics, and the bass was a bit more defined and in control. There was a drive, an urgency to the sound that was lacking in Discrete Shielded interconnect mode. The sounds of the piano and bass were totally captivating—as were the drums for their impact, dynamics, tonal color, speed, fullness of tone, and extreme palpability.

Just take my plastic and make sure it's here by this afternoon
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-150SE monoblocks were fantastic amps to listen to, especially when matched with BAT's still-stunning VK-50SE preamp. But while I'd long held Victor Khomenko and partner Steve Bednarski in high esteem, I'd always felt they hadn't quite reached the pinnacle of what's possible in terms of nuance and finesse.

With this monoblock amplifier, BAT has reached the pinnacle of nuance and finesse and more. While the VK-150SE is anything but cheap at $17k/pair, its super-accomplished and refined, ever-so-musical presentation gives a good run to anything out there I've heard in the $15k-$20k range. This is a first-rank amplifier, absolutely the best and most successful of the BAT designs I've heard, especially considering other super-amps that are out there.

Is the stereo version as competent? Read RD's assessment in his July '01 Follow-Up, or his original review in Vol.18 No.12. Listen to both versions at your local dealer, then try to think of a way to tell your sweetie you've just spent $17k on amps. Do I think the VK-150SE is worth the price. In every single way there is to judge such amplifiers, the resounding and unequivocal conclusion is: yes.

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