Balanced Audio Technology VK-5 preamplifier & VK-60/75 power amplifiers Page 7

When I started the Rowland/BAT comparison, I hadn't listened to the Rowland Model 2 for at least a couple of months. Firing it up again, I was quickly reminded why I'd been so enthusiastic about this amplifier in the review. It is a truly excellent amplifier, worthy of Class A status. I required several back-and-forth changes between the Rowland Model 2 and the BAT VK-60 to identify their differences.

The comparison between the amplifiers confirmed that the VK-60 is quite special when it comes to harmonic accuracy. The Rowland Model 2 is no slouch in this area; in fact, its preservation of the natural timbre of instruments and voices outpoints any other solid-state amplifier of my experience. Still, whenever I switched over to the BAT VK-60 (matching levels, and remembering to reverse absolute polarity), a layer of artificiality was removed, and I came closer to feeling that I was listening to the real thing. Also, although the depth of the soundstage with the two amplifiers was comparable (with the right recordings, very deep), the VK-60 evinced superior three-dimensionality of images within the soundstage. Thus the trombone solo in "Winter Wonderland" (Big Band Basie, track 13) seemed to have a more rounded physical presence, and there was greater differentiation of the individual voices that make up the Turtle Creek Chorale in Postcards (Reference RR-61CD).

Well-designed solid-state amps tend to have better bass responses than tube amps; indeed, this was an area in which the Rowland Model 2 was superior to the BAT VK-60. However, the differences weren't as great as one might expect. With my usual torture-test, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (Rykodisc RCD 10206), the bass from the VK-60 was actually quite impressive: deep and well-controlled, with perhaps just a bit of added warmth, but a far cry from the warm-and-woolly bass that characterizes so many tube amplifiers.

Only when I switched over to the Rowland Model 2 was I reminded that the Dunlavy SC-IVs are capable of even better extreme-low-end performance. For those with speakers whose bass responses doesn't go much below 30Hz, the point is academic. For those with speakers that have subwoofing capability and who like to play music that tests that capability, the Rowland Model 2 might well be a better choice.

"Excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" goes the setup for the old joke. The punchline is, of course, "Practice." For anyone who wants to get into high-end audio design and manufacturing, desire and talent are not enough. Those who succeed in this highly competitive area really have to do their homework—which is just what Balanced Audio Technology has done. Starting with theoretical analysis of design alternatives, through extensive measurements and listening, they've produced a pair of audio components that, in my opinion, are in the front rank of their respective categories. For a company that no one had heard of a year ago, this is a remarkable accomplishment.

The VK-5 retains the transparency of a minimalist line-stage, but has enough facilities that make it convenient to use. The VK-60 offers the natural rendition of instrumental/vocal timbres that the best tube amplifiers are known for, but has enough power to drive most speakers to very satisfying volumes, especially when used in the monoblock configuration. In balanced or unbalanced mode, used together or with other high-quality amplifiers/preamps, the VK-5 and the VK-60 performed in a way that was always musical and true to the spirit of high fidelity.

BAT out of hell? Heaven is more like it!