VAC Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc mono/stereo power amplifier

VAC's Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc amplifier ($75,000 for a single amp; $150,000/pair mono, as reviewed) is tall, young, and lovely, but unlike the girl from Ipanema, it isn't tan. Nor, at 280lb in its flight case, is it likely to "go walkin'." Getting the pair moved into my listening room required considerable effort—fortunately not mine.

Sized similarly to many modestly sized floorstanding loudspeakers, a pair of 452s makes for a striking physical presentation. They were first introduced to the public at the Capital Audiofest, November 2019—though at AXPONA earlier last year, VAC demoed, in a large room, the Statement 450 iQ integrated amplifier, which shares the 452's stellar industrial design and, no doubt, much of its circuitry.

In my much smaller room, the look is even more dramatic and appealing. The thick aluminum chassis is finished in a clear metallic base coat, while other parts are copper, nickel, or chrome-plated—including the stabilizing feet, which also call to mind the appointments of some floorstanding speakers.

The banks of horizontally situated tubes may at first seem unusual, but the arrangement has both formal and functional benefits. The layout is claimed to help air circulation efficiency, since warm air rises, resulting in better tube cooling and a narrow footprint: approximately 9" wide and 21" deep (and about 2½' tall), which makes this big amp more small-room–friendly. In addition, according to VAC, the vertical alignment helps keep signal runs short, allows for a ground reference that's very tightly shared between stages, places the power supply as close as possible to the circuitry that needs high current, and locates the sensitive circuits as far as possible from potential sources of noise. And gravity, it's claimed, helps damp the tubes.

A powerful and versatile tube amp
The 452 is a fully balanced, direct-coupled (no coupling caps between input and driver tubes), class-A input, point-to-point hand-wired design that uses four Tung-Sol 6SN7 twin-triode tubes (new tubes, not new old stock) for voltage amplification and as drivers. The output features eight Gold Lion KT88 beam power tubes operating in Ultralinear. The design is fully compatible with KT90, KT99a, KT120, and KT150 output tubes. Each 452 amp employs a total of eight VAC-designed transformers in aggregate, weighing a total of 120lb.

VAC specifies the amp as outputting 225Wpc in two-channel mode or 450W in single-channel mode (see below), both into 4 ohms, though this varies somewhat depending upon powerline "stiffness" and output tube condition. Output into 6 or 8 ohms isn't specified. Frequency range is spec'd at 4Hz–75kHz, with power bandwidth listed as between 20Hz and 70kHz. If the amp meets or comes close to meeting those specs, there's power aplenty for all but the most insensitive loudspeakers. The published specifications are minimal; I wish more information was provided.


According to VAC, the output design achieves class-AB operation using its patented iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System, which the company claims is "the only known approach to allow the true underlying quiescent current (bias point) of the output tubes to be monitored" and held steady at all times, resulting in more stable tube operation and thus a more stable loudspeaker interface. In other words, the system monitors and adjusts the bias current in real time, compensating as the amp warms up, as the power line varies, as tubes drift, and when you change the volume. The system is claimed to also prolong tube life.

Premium parts are used throughout, including metal film and wirewound resistors, custom film and foil caps, and Cardas rhodium connectors.

The versatile design allows the 452 to be used as a dual-mono stereo amplifier or, at the flip of a pair of rear panel-mounted switches, as a single-channel amp; VAC loaned me a pair of 452s, which I used only as monoblocks. There are three sets of binding posts: a single set for mono operation and a pair for stereo. The amp can accept single-ended RCA inputs, but those are converted via a transformer to balanced operation, which is not the ideal way to create a balanced input—so it's best to use a fully balanced preamplifier. The front panel's blue LED-lit VAC logo can be either brightly or dimly lit or turned off, which is a nice feature.

Setup and use
Flip the on/off switch and, in a minute or so, the amp is ready to go—but I found that it takes about a half-hour's warm-up time to sound right. Upon turn-on, the sound is somewhat thick and veiled, with soft transients. Designer Kevin Hayes suggested turning the amps on in the morning and off at the end of the final day's listening session, which is what I did. Many of those sessions ended stupidly late at night—actually early the next morning.

The iQ system includes a front-panel LED monitoring system, one LED per output tube. If an LED glows green, it means the associated tube is weakening and should be replaced when possible. Meanwhile, the circuit will automatically compensate by upping the bias. If an LED glows red, the associated tube is drawing excess current, causing a possible "runaway" condition, usually produced when a component within the tube fails. In that case, the system will shut down the main power supply before a fuse can even blow, preventing amplifier damage.

Hayes left a box of extra tubes "in case," but none were needed during the two-month–long review period, nor did an LED glow green. The amps ran trouble-free and so cool that it was like not having a tube amplifier in the house at all. If I were designing a big tube amp to be used in VAC's Florida home, I'd aim for that.

Smooth but not too smooth?
In case you're wondering where my "The Girl From Ipanema" reference came from: When I wrote that opening paragraph, I was listening to an original pressing of Stan Getz and João Gilberto's Getz/Gilberto (Verve V6-8545), engineered by the late, great Phil Ramone in March 1963. So, why not start the sonic description using that familiar record, which has been reissued on vinyl by Mobile Fidelity, Speakers Corner, Analogue Productions, UMe (an awful-sounding version on orange vinyl cut at GZ Media from a digital file), and, soon, by Impex—is this last one sourced from tape? We'll see.

If any record can be ruined by an overly warm and soft-sounding tube amp, it would be this one, which already has so much built-in warmth in the upper bass/lower midrange. On "The Girl From Ipanema," percussionist Milton Banana's jingly accompaniment is distantly miked and placed purposely down in the mix—it's barely audible—while João Gilberto's bossa nova– rhythm guitar plucks hover gently in the air just below his warm, chesty vocals. Pianist (and composer) Antônio Carlos Jobim, barely striking the keys, taps out occasional piano fills, and an uncredited bass player—it's Sebastião Neto—adds an equally gentle, minimal foundation. Only Getz's feathery, wet sax pushes well forward in the mix—and of course Astrud Gilberto's almost whispered voice floats subtly out of one channel (right on the original, left on the reissues; mastering engineer Kevin Gray insists that the original had the channels reversed).

The VAC amp nailed this track, as if it were voiced specifically for it. Especially noteworthy was how the 452s reproduced the subtle jangle of Banana's percussive accents: metallic, not "velvet," and in a discernible space well back in space, the envelope of which was visible (sonically) in the backdrop. Neto's bass lines were supple, yet the attack was sufficiently forceful and well-defined to rhythmically drive the tune. Gilberto's plucked-chord rhythm guitar fills were fast and cleanly delivered in a well-delineated three-dimensional space. Getz's breathy sax sat centerstage, well in front of the rest in three-dimensional relief. The whole was vivid, relaxed, well-defined, and as wide open and naturally delivered as I've ever heard the track—and I bought the original pressing in 1964 when it was first released.


By the time I wrote my opening paragraph, I'd spent almost two months of solid musical enjoyment, marveling at the relaxed and fully immersive presentation. No wonder Herb Reichert described the sound produced by two pairs of these amps, biamping a pair of Von Schweikert Ultra 11 speakers, as "Bigger than any Wilson WAMM or giant Western Electric theater system I have experienced. The soundstage went from heaven above and around the globe."

Herb needs to hear the WAMMs driven by the Statement 452 iQs to be sure of that, because the soundstage produced by a pair of these amps on the Alexx in my room was wider, taller, and especially deeper than anything I've ever experienced here (other than through the enormous Sonus Faber Aida loudspeakers, which have a rear-firing multidriver array).

As expected, individual images, too, were larger than the somewhat more compact ones produced by my reference amp, but both were soundstage proportional. (Which is not to say my amps produce too small a picture, or the VAC amps too large!)

Sometimes I felt these amps produced a picture that was too large for my room, which of course is a room issue, not an amp issue—if it is an issue at all. Other times, the volume of space produced was simply breathtaking and transportive, as on the recent AudioNautes Recordings reissue of O Magnum Mysterium (AN-1801), originally released on LP in 1993 by Chesky Records (CR83) and cut by Paul Stubblebine.

Valve Amplification Company
1911 East Ave. North
Sarasota, FL 34234
(941) 952-9695

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is more like third harmonic distortion :-) .........

darTZeel NHB-468 has second harmonic distortion :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

They could have chosen 'crimson and gold' colors like the darTZeel amps :-) ........

JRT's picture

"...the shortfall in maximum power into 4 ohms and the supply-related spuriae present in the noise floor did concern me." —John Atkinson

I would point out to any reader that a pair of Benchmark Media AHB2 amplifiers configured as monoblocks and operated within design limits would provide transparent load invariant gain to higher power output levels than this amplifier is capable of providing at a small fraction of the price.

While those MUCH less expensive MUCH more highly transparent AHB2 amplifiers would not include the (perhaps euphonic) nonlinear distortion products that this amplifier might provide, one could insert tube amplification at line level to provide some euphonic distortion at much lower cost in the system budget. And with that configuration, the tube gear could be dis-included when more transparency is desired, when the added nonlinear distortion products are not desired.

Some garlic and onion might improve the taste of some things, but not everything, and likewise some nonlinear distortion products might sometimes provide euphonic effects in the signal chain, but likewise not always euphonic with everything, because in some cases the recordings are already very good as-mastered and don't need any further modifications with added nonlinear distortion products in the playback signal chain.

Just to be perfectly clear on this, any deviation from ideal transparent gain is some combination of linear distortion, nonlinear distortion and noise, and nothing else. Any audible characteristic contributed to the signal within the amplifier beyond ideal transparent gain will be caused by some combination of those, and by nothing else.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

MF's room evaporated and JA1 said 'wow' ........ Can any other amp do that? :-) ........

JRT's picture

But later flip-flopped and added a similar comment further below.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

So, if we use AHB2s, room re-appears ......... Just kidding :-) ........

JRT's picture

In an electrical transmission line, a large change in impedance results in reflection, and terminating the transmission line with a matching impedance (most usually just a resistor) can very significantly reduce that reflection.

Likewise with a cone diaphragm midwoofer, structure borne sound traveling from the voicecoil former to the edge of the cone, if not properly terminated at transition to the surround with a well matched acoustic impedance will reflect from that transition and set up a "cone edge resonance" modal standing wave visible in the measured response of the raw driver, both in the impedance response curve and the frequency response curve (electroacoustic SPL with respect to frequency).

With the PSI Audio AVAA C20 located in a room corner, you can force the corner and adjacent region of walls (room boundaries) to disappear acoustically with bandwidth limited active interference, changing the acoustic impedance from that of a non-displacement pressure node to that of a velocity displacement anti-node. In the acoustic response, that removes the effect of room boundaries near the AVAA C20, acoustically removing a region of those boundaries, making some portion of the walls disappear to the sub-Schroeder frequencies.

Here is a picture of Bob Katz providing visual scale next to an AVAA C20.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to JHL (see, below), all we need to do is use tube gear ....... We don't have to worry about room acoustics and Schroeder frequencies ....... Tube gear makes room disappear :-) .......

JHL's picture

...babbling isn't your only talent. Now you invent entire conversations to attribute to others.

Long-time listener's picture

Good stuff

JHL's picture

...actually. It's a simplistic reduction of all amplifier behaviors down to the few that have been shown to have little if any effect on the sound of the amplifier in real use. Visually they attract the eye but we're not in this to argue about things we haven't heard, and we're especially not in this to over-simplify based just on what we've seen in specs or charts.

That is correct, right?*

The objective audio expert would never let such a bias creep into his spiel, not when he fears seeing the stuff he's purportedly listening to for the purpose of getting real and organic with his most musically cherished recordings. Objectivists are scared of seeing their components because of waves of bias.

Tube amps - although perhaps not this particular specimen - have been analyzed on a theoretical level for decades and how they do special things to make great sound has been well cataloged. It tends to get shorthanded in these comment threads, however. That's what digital Stereophile attracts: The second-guessers.

*in another publication a novice with a measurement set threw over a Schitt amplifier because - get this - it's point-oh-something percent distortion was mid-pack. Couldn't recommend it. Point-oh-something-infinitesimally-less surely was the better amplifier.

We ditched that nonsense at least 40 years ago and here it is again.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you knew the answers 40 years ago, why are you wasting time reading audio magazines and comments sections? :-) .......

JHL's picture

...of your chattering deserves a reply but try this:

Because we're still doing real hifi and because we know how things sound and why, more or less.

That beats expecting my own personal magazine editors review every possible combination of things I have no intention of ever hearing.

Jack L's picture


So please tell us "why" a tube amp measured THD 5% sounds so much better than a sold state amp measured 0.00005% ???

Listening is believing

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

Schiit distortion and mid-pack.


Reviewers have been talking distortion shit for decades. I'd guess that Reviewer is an Old-School Veteran .

Tony in Venice

JHL's picture

...with a machine to tell him what sounds good.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Which 'listening machine'? ....... Siri, Alexa, Cortana or some other one? :-) ..........

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, don't newcomers already know good sounding music, recorded or live ?

Reviews, like this one, part of the Marketing behind "Higher- Authority" type Selling strategey.

The manufacturer needs to "Introduce" this important product in some manner. ( since there won't be any Audio Shows in the future )

If the reviewer found greater performance, it simply explains some weak deficiency in the "Reference" system.

Of course, we should've expected the Component's designer to do a presence visit to solve/resolve any critical discrepancies, especially at this price point and especially considering all that's at stake here. Can we anticipate the same level of service when we choose to invest "House-level" prices for the Amplifier we purchase ?

I'd like to ask why the Amplifier looks like an Office Building, if I get the chance. I'm not much into Industrial Art forms ( with Steam Punk being possible the exception ).

I don't know any "checkbook" audiophiles able to impulsively drop 1.5 hundred K.


Wilson owners seem to have a "Budget" in common so I'll guess that this device is aimed at them, exactly, "If your budget allows".

Tony in Lock-Down Heaven

Michael Fremer's picture

Was very entertaining and made me laugh.

Michael Fremer's picture

Can’t spell strategy and your “thoughts” on what an audio review is and how and why they are written combines foolishness with paranoia. Nice job!

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, I got that spelling from Oxford English Dictionary.

Of course, spelling can be regional.

I used to have three ladies proof reading my stuff but those days are lonnnnnnnng gonnnneeeee.

Mr. Dudley was Stereophile's Proof Reader, I wonder who is his replacement ?

I liked the New Mexico previous guy's writing and proofing.

I'll double check with my Phychiatrist again but I think that we eliminated Paranoia from my list of deficiencies, are you qualified to make these types of diagnoses ?, are you recommending me to revaluate?

Foolishness, hmm. You may be onto something here. Obsessing about minor details like High End could be considered foolish. I can't disagree with anyone on this.

I've read that some Wilson Loudspeakers have phase reversed on drivers, would that present inconsistent build quality or intentional imaging issues?

Tony iin Venice

JHL's picture

...and "phase reversal": Wilson have no such deficiency. DC polarity is not AC phase, Tony. Speakers work in AC signal.

If these hypothetical phase reversals were present the transfer function(s) involving such drivers would null.

tonykaz's picture

I was referring to the discovery by JA1 of one of the drivers in Jason's loudspeaker having it's phase reversed. I presume ( perhaps mistakingly ) that it is intentional construction from the manufacturer. I was a Wilson Dealer ( decades ago ) and would not be surprised by such discoveries considering the complexity of those multiple driver loudspeakers. Mistakes happen.

In addition, the review of this tall amplifier was seeming to reveal differences in the reviewers loudspeaker performance suggesting, again, the possibilities of a driver having its connector reversed. ( or something untold causing exaggerated imaging issues ). I would've expected the Manufacturer to investigate this reported issue but that didn't seem to happen. I was, and am, disappointed in the lack of thoroughness
considering the amounts of money involved in these products.

From Stereophile, I expect the typically exceptional reviewer insights and manufacturer commitments.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You are correct Mr.Tony ........ In most of the Wilson speakers, the midrange driver is connected in the opposite polarity in relation to other drivers, which is an intentional design ....... There are also other speaker manufacturers who do that ....... You can read about that polarity reversal connection in JA1's speaker measurements :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

I am not at all troubled by Manufacturer's imaging trickery and I'm consistently delighted with our JA1 having a "closer look" at the measured performances.

JA1 has always been the Giant in Consumer Audio Publishing, even Tyll was a JA1 in the headphone world.

I'm sometimes disapointed that ultra pricy gear brings out a measure of reviewer hubris arising from a presumed privileged position. ( if budget allows )

However & conversely:

The upcoming ZOTL piece by Mr.HR is about the most brilliant piece of Audio Journalism I've ever read. HP ( rip ) never wrote anything as deserving of superlatives.

The Best is yet to come.

Tony in Venice

JRT's picture

Your comment was both dismissive and devoid of substance. I look forward to your seminal white paper on your discovery of that new effect which is not included in a combination of linear distortion, nonlinear distortion and noise, in any deviation from ideal transparent amplifier gain. Not sure what you have called this, but I would just refer to it as bullcrap until you prove otherwise. So we now have some combination of linear distortion, nonlinear distortion and noise, and the new inclusion of JHL's bullcrap. Amusing. The entirety of the IEEE may be awaiting the disclosure of your new discovery.

On a more serious note...
I am not dismissing that some may desire some deviation from "perfectionist audio" (a phrase sometimes used by Stereophile), and rather some may sometimes prefer the addition of euphonic distortion in the playback signal chain, most especially for enhancing poorly engineered recordings and masking their flaws. But also, such modification may not be useful or desirable with well engineered recordings which may or may not already include a healthy dose of euphonic distortion if and where appropriate in the creation of the music as it exists in the final master.

In an interview Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering mentioned that he had sometimes utilized the mastering variant of the Manley Massive Passive to add some euphonic distortion to mask "digititis" (poorly executed digital audio processing) in mixes provided to him for use in his expert mastering efforts. He does not use it with everything that he masters. Would you hamfistedly re-engineer a well cut jewel with random addition of nonlinearities that do not exist in the master? Do you also trot out your kazoo to play along with John Coltrane?

It is usually less expensive to include vacuum tube circuits at line level, and can be easy to place those in a switch selectable processing loop to include or not include those line level circuits as desired. Adding the euphonic distortion is a form of processing, adding something that did not exist in the master.

JHL's picture

...a fallacy and look what happens. You just repeated things - this euphoric distortion slogan that plagues all circuits you don't approve of - and you've dropped names as a decontextualized show of this bias, appealed to the crowd, and beg the question to beat the band: Have I published a paper condensing the enormous reference library behind me? Have I solved audio?

You obviously haven't. I'm just expressing a credible fact.

The question isn't whether I can point out the bias in an abbreviated view so you can demand I serve it with another approved paper in a collection you don't know the sum of, but if *you* can. What you have is a snippet and a foregone conclusion.

It's fine if you want to stand pat. I'd prepare to analyze every audio circuit not as to some of its abstract metrics but as to every last one of its inherent behaviors. There isn't a good audio circuit designer alive who isn't aware of this and hasn't thoroughly accepted the latter.

Of course there's no white paper. That's the whole point. That concluded, where *is* the synthesis of all electrical circuit behavior, JRT? I already know where I can find all sorts of peer reviewed pieces of puzzles.

JHL's picture

In reading the review, by a highly experienced listener and presented in the vernacular of that experience, a service provided readers of this digital edition free of charge, I see half a dozen references to the exact sort of sound I've heard myself when auditioning another top-level, four chassis, no-holds-barred tube amplifier of approximately the same type: It wasn't a triode amplifier, and it was also fit with multiple parallel tubes in a push-pull arrangement. This is not exactly the tube purist's amplifier type.

Yet the description fits the type and the narrative explicitly follows the form. Amps like this do indeed present an overwhelmingly vast soundstage with images in palpable relief, natural colors intact. It's what they do. The reviewer told you so but you knew better.

It is then the height of bad form to call the reviewer a deaf fool, make unsupported and unsupportable assertions probably intended to showcase oneself as savior of audio sensibility, even as great as that other little solid state amplifier is.

It's crapping on your neighbors doorstep. It serves no justifiable purpose. It pleases anonymous experts and alludes to how bloody stupid the guy with his name on the article must be.

Michael Fremer's picture


Michael Fremer's picture

That higher distortion vacuum tube preamp microphones are now favored by many if not a majority of recording engineers? Prices on Neumanns have gone through the roof. There’s more to a successful recording and playback system than low distortion. I’m not sure why this review so upsets some readers when many of their favorite recordings were made using the recording chain equivalent... art and science.

JHL's picture

...that you're having so much fun connecting to performances they'll never appreciate. Their superiority is reduced to quoting figures while you're off doing the real thing.

JRT's picture

JHL, Do you better connect to a recording by playing along with your kazoo? ...adding some crap that did not exist in the final master?

JHL's picture

...the typical Objectivist fallacy: It's impossible to connect with the performance by any means the Objectivist prohibits out of hand, and if there *is* a risk of connecting, then we must presume that the way the lowly music lover employs is "adding some crap".

This is like the "euphonic coloration" the Objectivist assumes must ruin any amplifier that an actual listener finds highly authentic-sounding.

Yet in no case has an Objectivist come within a demonstrable yard of the lowly music lover's system because Objectivists don't deal in sound, they deal in argument.

It is a conundrum. And it is the mechanical, unhearing heart of the Objectivist.

JRT's picture

Microphones, microphone preamps, and microphone cables are some of the many variables that affect the sound while engineering the music recordings, adding different blends of linear distortion, nonlinear distortion and noise. That is all part of the creative process. If the recording is well engineered, it should not need more nonlinear distortion products added in the playback signal chain.

Some recordings of worthwhile performances are not so well engineered, and those might benefit from some modification, some further processing. But that should not be applied the same to everything.

Ortofan's picture

... this "catalog" of analysis "on a theoretical level" which explains how tube type amps "do special things to make great sound."

JHL's picture your work for you?

I'm thinking of getting that law degree. Kindly link me the collected works.

Ortofan's picture

... now your turn.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

After getting the Harvard law degree, JHL would be qualified to become the President :-) ........

Joonas Viinanen's picture

Can you ellaborate what "special things to make great sound" tubes do? As someone who built tens of DIY tube amps and was educated in electronics I really would love to know about those magical properties of tubes

mmole's picture

Who amongst us hasn't seen Sanders, Thelonious, and Ciccone in our listening rooms?

georgehifi's picture

All I know this amp has a bad layout, as the top tubes would be running around 50% hotter than the bottom tubes, top tubes getting the rising heat from the bottom tubes, seriously bad design.

Cheers George

Tomtin's picture

For MF and NOT for publication.
You wrote a great review of a great product.
I can't believe you put up with the shit in the comments section which adds absolutely no value in either understanding the product, or, more generally, audio. Just saying.

Michael Fremer's picture

To read people so incensed by a HiFi review.

JHL's picture huge fun.

The record lives on.

Objectivists take their technical level so seriously that they'll take a hard pass on the joy of music from lumps of metal and wood. Their experience must not be contaminated by such enjoyment, and come to think of it, neither should be yours, Michael.

The Objectivist does us all a service by never using the ninety-seven percent of unholy audio kit no that right-thinking Objectivist should.


jeffhenning's picture

...that Michael Fremer thinks that an obsolete, incredibly expensive and ridiculously heavy amp is one of the greatest things he ever heard.

I wonder if he'd feel the same way if the amp weighed 15lbs, used newer technology and cost $1,500?

Ortofan's picture

... 12.5 lbs and $3,000?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Coming soon ....... PS Audio Stellar Strata, 21 lbs, 200 WPC, $2,999 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

PS Audio Stellar S300, 13 lbs, $1,500 :-) ........

jeffhenning's picture

Everyone knows that the quality of an amp is measured by its weight and price tag.

If it has meters or glass panels to show its innards, then it's even better. Meters and glass panels? Best amp ever.

The AHB-2 with its lack of distortions, noises and non-linearities can't be any good.

JHL's picture

Everyone knows that the quality of an amp is measured by its point oh oh percent THD and plotted noise floor.

If it has plots and graphs to show its innards, then it's even better. Metrics and abstracts? Best amp ever.

The fabulous-sounding tube amp with its proper rendition of natural space and tone, and it's elimination of electronic grain can't be any good.

SpursGator's picture

...who disagrees with the objectivists even though I still consider myself an objectivist. In fact, I actually have the Benchmark amp sitting in my living room, which I've had for about a year. It's connected to the same company's DAC1, which I have owned since buying one, in person at the factory, in 2000 before Benchmark had any idea they were going to become an audiophile company (and the DAC1 still sounds f-ing amazing). I have also owned a bunch of tube gear.

I don't know why I'm jumping in here but I have a very different take on this oft-repeated debate. I used to live in France and over there I found a used BAT tube amp in France, really cheap, a $10k machine for three digits. It lasted three glorious years before it died (and would have cost insane money to repair). Sticking that thing between my two hyper-accurate components (I had a similarly "clean" solid state amp) was like going from 1920's film to 4k HDR video. The difference was JUST INSANE. Nothing has sounded as good since.

So look, I accept as an objectivist that I likely added distortion. But what exactly are we trying to do? Here is the problem with the "objectivists" in these online debates: they also tend to be reductionists, which is just about as dangerous as being irrational. If the purpose of hifi is to create some kind of mathematical reproduceability from sound, we already know how to do that. Talk to the folks who build DA and AD converter chips. It is old tech to go from one to the other and back and have a signal that is mathematically identical to the original.

That isn't hifi. By the rules of the objectivist, the things that audiophiles want to do (e.g., make their living room sound like a symphony hall), are IMPOSSIBLE. It is objectively impossible to do that - living rooms objectively don't sound like that. No speaker that I have ever heard accurately reproduces the sound of a very low organ pipe. It is objectively impossible for a speaker that fits in a house to do that.

One has to be slightly less reductionist (and a lot less dogmatic) and take a step back and look at this like an engineer. What are the design objectives? Hifi has certain features (for example, having a right and a left speaker) that are inherently designed to fool the human brain. The anti-objectivists' arguments do not need to rely on some yet-undiscovered natural law. It is actually a natural phenomenon that has already been discovered, but which is far less understood than sound waves: the human brain.

Once hifi is understood this way, as akin to an optical illusion or a brilliant bit of stage magic, rather than something like the Space Shuttle, the anti-objectivists start to make more, well, objective sense. The design brief is to use technology to fool the human brain into hearing something that sounds real, with a GIVEN that it will never approach something truly identical to the actual performance. The goal is NOT to achieve some kind of on-paper engineering victory that no one could appreciate without having measuring equipment and practically being an engineer themselves.

All of this equipment falls short, no matter what all of these graphs have convinced you. HOW it falls short, and what that sounds like, is up to individual taste, which for sure cannot be measured. This is why the audio market manages to support so much diversity of products and companies for its small size. I tend to pick very accurate equipment because as an objectivist, the burden of proof will always be heavily on anything that is adding complexity or, even worse, inaccuracy. But if hear something that my ears tell me sounds a LOT better, and I deny it because it can't be true based on measurements? Sorry, denying observation is NOT being objective - quite the opposite. It's more like being a flat-earther.

I've built seven pairs of speakers and nary a metal cone in sight. Why, if they are more accurate? For me their decreased sensitivity drives the amp much harder and the whole thing sounds different - and for me, not often better. The speaker and the amp interact electrically, the speaker cone interacts with the air mechanically, and every link on that chain affects the performance of the link above and below it. Most of this can be measured and this is useful data. However, it takes a lot of hubris to think that any one of these components can be "transparent" or "perfect" - they aren't.

And yes, I have read Benchmark's blurb about the stupidity of putting a preamp between their DACs and this power amp. I am 95% with them on this, but it's also a vision of their uniqueness in the marketplace. Ikea is the most successful furniture store in the world. It doesn't mean everybody wants self-pick, self-assembled, Danish-style laminated particle board furniture. It is a preference. Other companies also have audio engineers with the same laws of nature who also build very good amps that are supposedly hyper-accurate. Trust me: they ALL sound different.

Sorry for the long post - my first in years - but I really don't see the debate. Unless you're arguing that ears aren't connected to brains and/or we already know everything about the sensory part of the human brain, you are just arguing about taste.

JHL's picture

I've always found audio objectivism and subjectivism reversed by definition, and my overall point is that assumptions from the objectivist camp do offense to the putative subjective camp who rely on open ears. Somehow the very limited measured portfolio has swamped high end audio's purpose, which is the original performance.

The Benchmark is a fantastic-sounding amplifier by many counts; whether it can be automatically inserted into some sound quality hierarchy by way of its measured behaviors is, as a point of simple argumentation, highly questionable.

With regards to a tube stage in the audio chain, tubes have splendid fundamentals: "Fastest" bandwidth, lowest inherent distortion, and practical uses superior to similar transistor circuits in many cases. Naturally, *similar* is the nub of the problem because we know that support circuitry is not only tremendously important, it's also fundamentally different for transistors than it is for tubes. Any blanket assumption is therefore subjective while any ears-on analysis like MF's is more objective to the original performance.

In your example the tube driver system can't be reduced to the highly subjective claim that the tube invariably include "euphonic coloration". It does not, and an objective analysis of the entire system must be made just to partly grasp why. The objective/subjective dichotomy is inverted again.

Excellent comment, SpursGator. All of your hands-on experience aligns with a long term audio science. None of those preferences are unfamiliar or unexpected.

Michael Fremer's picture

Is my favorite personal troll. I truly think he has dreams about me. My preamp is solid state, my amps are solid state. He’d rather ignore that so he can troll a comment about me Jonesing over “obsolete” tube gear. Of course tubes are not obsolete. His thinking is.

JHL's picture

...has gone so far as to laugh at the reviewer's choice of speaker because Jeff is going to build a state of the art speaker in the future.

This is objective audio, Michael. So objective that when it's not dealing in the theoreticals of sighted biases, it deals in the theoreticals of things that don't exist.

Michael Fremer's picture

What exists as always is envy, self doubt and lack of self control.

Joonas Viinanen's picture

Seems like an accurate discription of high-end audio lovers

Michael Fremer's picture

If it sounded good I’d write that as I did reviewing the moderately priced Stellar Phono Preamp. Oh! I Forgot! Jeff hates vinyl. He used to be an AnalogPlanet troll. Anyway Jeff, price doesn’t control
my opinions.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

MF could review the Audio Research Ref.750 SEL mono amps .......... They cost less than the VAC Statement amps and can put out more power :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... up to 220W/ch into 8, 4 and 2 ohms (far exceeding the 150W
rating) and costs a mere $15K.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Add the $7k, C70 tube pre-amp and the total is $22k ....... That would be tube lovers hi-fi heaven :-) ......

daveyf's picture

Last year when I heard these amps demoed at a show, I held my hand over the top of one of say they were giving off a lot of heat would be an understatement. Having the tubes lined up one on top of the other in that formation would seem to be a disaster waiting to happen. IMHO.

jgossman's picture

Get outside people, even if it means breaking the law. Back away from the Hi-Fi. Hug your kid. Do something else.

I've been reading Mikey since Listener. I know for a fact he enjoys less expensive equipment. And tube equipment. And solid state equipment. For the love of God. It's just audio.

I've had both and all of the above and love them all, and just because I'm in a different budget range doesn't mean I can't appreciate his opinion. As to the cost, first of all they are review equipment. If he loved them so much he wanted to save his hard earned cash or take out a loan to buy them it's his damn business. Just because I personally think the cost of high-end audio has got out of hand doesn't mean I should hold a grudge against people who can afford them. If you can afford it, it's your business. If you can't afford it, save your pennies and buy a great little British or French or Japanese integrated amp. They are wonderful. And even the esteemed editors and writers in Stereophile would likely walk into your home and say "Hey great system!".

This thread turned into such a shitshow because of some people's refusal to just let those who disagree with them have a little fun.

whitebirdranch's picture

To answer your question (and with a small amount of research you could of found this out yourself), the "Drums and Bells" CD you gushed over in your review was recorded and produced by Tony Minasian ( of Tonian Labs fame. The "Drums and Bells" CD is one of several CDs that Tony and his musicians have produced over the last few years. Check out "Moon Jazz" and "Hang Around" -- these will make most systems sound their best.

Lets give credit where credit is due and buy and promote small labels that produce the highest quality original sound and music. Please note I have no association with Tony other than a long time client and admirer of his work.