VAC Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc mono/stereo power amplifier Measurements

Sidebar 3: Measurements

Because of the VAC Statement 452 iQ's bulk and weight, I drove my Audio Precision SYS2722 system and its host PC (see the January 2008 "As We See It"), test loads, digital and analog oscilloscopes, cables, and other gear to Michael Fremer's place for the measurements. The only space available for me to set everything up was in the garage, along the corridor from Michael's basement listening room. I ran two extension cables from a 20A outlet in the corridor, one for the test system and the other for one of the amplifiers (serial number 1929703). I later repeated some of the testing on the other amplifier, SN 1929702. The graphs in this report show the results with SN 1929702, which has slightly lower distortion in the treble. The two samples otherwise behaved identically.

The Statement 452 iQ can be used as a two-channel amplifier, but as Michael had exclusively performed his listening with a pair of the amplifiers connected as monoblocks, that is how I tested it. I made sure I connected the test loads to the third, right-most pair of binding posts, which were labeled Mono, and that both switches on the rear panel were set to Mono. As the VAC amplifier's output in this mode floats with respect to ground, I left the analyzer's input floating. I connected the Audio Precision's signal generator outputs, balanced or single-ended, to the right channel's input jacks, which is how Michael had been using the amplifiers. I let the amplifier warm up before performing any testing, and the LEDs on the front panel indicated that all was well with the eight KT88 output tubes.

The VAC's voltage gain into 8 ohms measured 27dB from both inputs, and the amplifier preserved absolute polarity (ie, was noninverting). The balanced input impedance was a usefully high 96k ohms at low and middle frequencies, dropping slightly and inconsequentially to 92k ohms at the top of the audioband. The unbalanced input impedance was a high 83k ohms at 1kHz but, unusually, dropped to 3.2k ohms at 20Hz and 8.85k ohms at 20kHz.

The Statement 452 iQ's output impedance was 0.94 ohm at all audio frequencies, which is low for a tube amplifier. As a result, the modulation of the amplifier's frequency response, due to the Ohm's law interaction between this source impedance and the impedance of our standard simulated loudspeaker, was relatively small, at ±0.7dB (fig.1, gray trace). The response into resistive loads (fig.1, cyan, blue, magenta, and red traces) was flat in the audioband, with then a steep rolloff above 100kHz. A very small peak just before the ultrasonic rolloff is associated with the VAC's reproduction of a 10kHz squarewave (fig.2), which features a small amount of overshoot and three damped cycles of ultrasonic ringing. A 1kHz squarewave was reproduced with superbly flat tops and bottoms (not shown), confirming the extended low-frequency response, a tribute to the amplifier's output transformers.


Fig.1 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, frequency response at 2.83V into: simulated loudspeaker load (gray), 16 ohms (cyan), 8 ohms (blue), 4 ohms (magenta), 2 ohms (red) (1dB/vertical div.).


Fig.2 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, small-signal 10kHz squarewave into 8 ohms.

When I repeated the frequency response measurement with the single-ended input (not shown), the ultrasonic rolloff started a little earlier, at 60kHz rather than 100kHz, and the low-frequency output gently sloped down below 400Hz, reaching –1dB at 30Hz. This behavior might have been associated with the reduced input impedance at low frequencies. It wouldn't have affected Michael's auditioning, as he exclusively used the balanced input. However, it does suggest that the VAC amplifier's balanced input is to be preferred to the single-ended input.

Measured with the balanced input shorted to ground, the amplifier's unweighted, wideband signal/noise ratio was 68.7dB ref. 1W into 8 ohms, increasing slightly to 69.2dB when I restricted the measurement bandwidth to the audioband. When the reading was A-weighted, the S/N ratio improved further to a good 83.75dB. With no signal (fig.3, blue trace), spuriae were present at the 60Hz power-supply frequency and its harmonics. The odd-order harmonics, which will be due to magnetic interference from the power transformer, were lower in level than the even-order harmonics, which are due to a nonzero impedance to ground somewhere in the circuit. Peculiarly, when I drove the amplifier with a balanced 1kHz tone, with the output equal to 1W into 8 ohms, not only did the low-frequency noise floor rise by about 10dB (fig.3, red trace), but sidebands spaced at 120Hz now accompanied the 1kHz tone. I have no idea where these sidebands come from, but they remained unchanged when I experimented with different cables and grounding arrangements between both samples of the amplifier and the Audio Precision analyzer.


Fig.3 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, spectrum of 1kHz sinewave, DC–1kHz, at 1W into 8 ohms (red) and with no signal (blue, linear frequency scale).

VAC specifies the Statement 452 iQ's maximum power when used as a monoblock as 450W into 4 ohms (23.5dBW). With our usual definition of clipping, which is when the output's percentage of THD+noise reaches 1%, the VAC clipped at 235W into 8 ohms (23.7dBW, fig.4, footnote 1). However, less power was available into 4 ohms at 1% THD+N: 183W (19.6dBW, fig.5), though 370W was available at 3% THD+N (22.7dBW) and 410W at 10% THD+N (23.1dBW). I doubt that this shortfall in maximum power into 4 ohms would have affected the auditioning. Given the high sensitivity of the Wilson speakers, Michael was never asking the amplifiers to deliver more than 40W or so.


Fig.4 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, distortion (%) vs 1kHz continuous output power into 8 ohms.


Fig.5 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, distortion (%) vs 1kHz continuous output power into 4 ohms.

I examined how the percentage of THD+noise changed with frequency at 12.65V, which is when the distortion in figs.4 and 5 begins to rise above the noise floor. This voltage is equivalent to 10W into 16 ohms, 20W into 8 ohms, 40W into 4 ohms, and 80W into 2 ohms. The THD+N was commendably low in the treble into 16 and 8 ohms (fig.6, gray and blue traces), but rose at lower frequencies and into lower impedances. The distortion at 40W into 4 ohms (magenta trace) was still acceptably low, but at 80W into 2 ohms, it rose above 1% at the frequency extremes. This suggests that the single secondary winding of the Statement 452 iQ's output transformer is optimized for loads of 8 ohms rather than the 4 ohms specified by the manufacturer.


Fig.6 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, THD+N (%) vs frequency at 12.65V into: 16 ohms (gray), 8 ohms (blue), 4 ohms (magenta), and 2 ohms (red).

Fortunately, the VAC amplifier's distortion in the midrange and above was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic (fig.7). The level of the third harmonic was below that of the second at low frequencies into 8 ohms (fig.8) but, peculiarly, spurious tones were present at frequencies mathematically related to the 50Hz signal and 60Hz and its even-order harmonics. This odd behavior was also present at the same voltage in 4 ohms, though the third harmonic of the 50Hz tone was now equal in level to the second (not shown). Intermodulation distortion when the amplifier drove an equal mix of 19 and 20kHz tones at 20W into 8 ohms (fig.9) was commendably low, the second-order difference product at 1kHz lying at –82dB (0.009%). Higher-order products were also low in level.


Fig.7 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, 1kHz waveform at 1W into 8 ohms, 0.047% THD+N (top); distortion and noise waveform with fundamental notched out (bottom, not to scale).


Fig.8 V.A.C. Statement 452 IQ, spectrum of 50Hz sinewave, DC–1kHz, at 20W into 8 ohms (linear frequency scale).


Fig.9 Valve Amplification Company Statement 452 IQ, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–30kHz, 19+20kHz at 20W peak into 8 ohms (linear frequency scale).

In some ways, the Valve Amplification Company Statement 452 iQ did well on the test bench. The wide small-signal bandwidth, the excellent squarewave reproduction, the low intermodulation distortion, and the very low distortion in the treble at low-to-moderate powers into high impedances are commendable. But the shortfall in maximum power into 4 ohms and the supply-related spuriae present in the noise floor did concern me.—John Atkinson

Footnote 1: With the amplifier idling, the AC line voltage was 119V. This dropped to 117.5V with the amplifier clipping into 8 ohms. The shortfall in power wasn't due, therefore, to an unusually low line voltage.
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 :-) ........

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.

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.