Balanced Audio Technology VK-P10 phono preamplifier Page 3

Let's start with Beck! (He won a Grammy, you know. There's hope for the world.) When I spun Odelay (Bong Load Custom Records BL30), the illumination, clarity, and air were astounding—as was the imaging. Big Boogie Factor, lots of pace, and terrific dynamics. Before too long that old sense of analog awe fell over me, and I yearned to drop something serious on the platter.

That would be Patricia Barber's Café Blue LP (Premonition 737). Small adjustments of VTA brought her into astonishing focus and presence. It was a snap finding the balance between sharpness of focus and harmonic integrity that I look for when setting VTA.

I sat back and wallowed in the burnished textures, reveled in the coherent, transparent soundfield. The Symphonic Line cartridge was strutting its stuff, dishing out detail, dynamics, and timing right on the button! It had a snap-factor even Martin Colloms would like.

If you don't "associate" the RG-8 with the finest of amplification blocks, it's bound to sound bad. I'm not being a snob—some components are, by their nature, more revealing than others. It can be both a blessing and a curse.

But during extended listening sessions, it came to me that I'd never heard the RG-8 sound so good. The burnish and shimmer of the cymbals at the end of "Too Rich for My Blood" was so apparently real to the event that it just wasn't possible to differentiate. The midrange textures were filled with velvety nooks and crannies. The bass and dynamic slam gave me goosebumps.

You think that happens all the time in a reviewer's system? Forget it. Work, work, work... Yet surely worth it, I thought, as I sat back in the Ribbon Chair, stunned by the soaring emotional energy pouring out of the Ascents at the climax of the cut.

Something else came to me during an extended analog orgy I enjoyed one evening after scoring a dozen or so OJCs in perfect shape for $8.98 each in the East Village. Just to tantalize you...Monk and Coltrane; Kenny Burrell and Coltrane; Red Garland with Trane and Donald Byrd; Art Farmer's Farmer's Market; Gene Ammons with Byrd, Jackie McLean, and Mal Waldron; Clark Terry with Monk; and Dexter Gordon's Tower of Power!

But the prize of the evening was "The Timekeepers": Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson, on Pablo 2310-896. (I'm always saying, "Oh, it's just a Pablo." But Pablos are great. They deliver more quality for your analog buck than practically any other jazz label out there. Look for them.) "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" jim-jam-jimmies along so well, and with such an engaging warmth of purpose, that I felt like Oscar Peterson at his keyboard as I tapped out my listening notes. The music came across perfectly good-natured, emotionally warm and inviting.

Is finding that emotional component part of re-creating the live event in the high-end sense? Or is it simply a sense of communing with the music? Can home reproduction ever get a listener back to the original acoustic event? Look at the equipment Kathleen and I have the privilege of auditioning, and still I'm asking the question!

Back to the music. Let's consider the last cut on side A, "Rent Party." This marvelous set piece contains one of the sweetest piano duets ever recorded. The two instruments are, of course, set to the left and right of center. One could be pessimistic and expect nothing more than early Atlantic/Blue Note ping-pong stereo. (I'm beginning to see that these same recordings in mono may hold the true key to the music.) But as I settled into my chair to listen, the sense of total ambience was very strong.

The music began as I scanned the back cover. I picked up a few phrases from the notes by producer Norman Granz, who describes Basie and Peterson as having very different (if complementary) styles: "Peterson's technique is prolific and flawless, Basie's sparse and flawless." So I think I'm on strong ground when I say that it's Basie on the left, Oscar on the right. Basie just sketches a theme to start with, one so natural and gentle that I hardly noticed it. Soon after, Oscar rings in, taking the theme and polishing it in that filigreed style of his. As his first notes sprang out of the soundfield, I was startled enough to involuntarily turn my head to the right. How'd that piano get in here?

You could hear the thunk as I fell into the magic of the moment. Peterson's piano was placed closer to the listening position, sounding altogether BIGGER. As a result of the more close-up perspective, the strike of hammer and string was more pronounced, becoming part of the fabric of sound from that instrument.

Basie appeared to the left and more to the rear of the soundfield. His piano, while still potent and colorful, emphasized less the initial strike and more the coherent tonal balance.

At some point in the ceremonies Basie begins to tap his foot. This comes through the rich tapestry of sound quite naturally—he's not hitting us over the head with it. It's just a suggestion, but it's completely irresistible. If you don't find yourself nodding or keeping time with at least one of your appendages, you're just not with us.

When Louie Bellson finally comes in on drums with John Heard on bass, it's all in the family. The charm and warmth are undeniable, no matter how big a grouch you might ordinarily be. Heard's bass sounded wonderfully acoustic, not bloated at all: natural, full, tight, pitch-differentiated, expressive, and very present. Bellson's restrained drum work perfectly balanced the quartet's harmonious tonal comings and goings. This, my dears, was a little slice of analog heaven.

Conclusion: It's alive!
The BAT VK-P10 allowed every part of the amplification chain to work its best. The P10 was clearly a device that remained transparent to its purpose at all times: not the omigawd transparency of the Avalon Radians or the limitless view deep into the soundstage that the YBA 6 Chassis offers, but rather a sense that the phono stage was transparently letting the 'table/cartridge/interconnect combo develop their sound to their best ability, and sending their signal along to the line-level preamp.

The combo of the VK-P10 and the VK-5i wasn't "ruthlessly revealing," as I've described the CAT SL1 Signature (a heavily regulated cathode-follower design) in the past. Nor did it present the lush, beautiful imagery of the Jadis JP-80. Actually, if this phono front-end sounded similar to anything at all in our experience, it would be the four-chassis Jadis JP 200...which costs a cool $25k or so!

During the course of the review, I threw everything I had at the VK-P10: Big Symphonic, Big Rock, Big Band, and lots of smaller, sweeter recordings of all kinds. The P10 never failed to deliver the musical goods. Its character was always the character of the associated components.

By virtue of its design, its power supply, and its eschewal of feedback, the BAT breathes. In so doing, it effortlessly lets the music through. This is one fine effort, worth every penny of its asking price.

Balanced Audio Technology
800 First State Blvd.
Wilmington, DE 19804
(802) 255-4228