Vacuum Tube Logic TL-7.5 Reference line preamplifier Page 2

Microprocessors also control a myriad of background functions, including turning the tubes on in stages and warming them up gradually (you can watch the 90-second warmup countdown on the front-panel display), applying the high plate voltage only after the filaments are properly warmed. VTL asserts that this will dramatically lengthen tube life, which they estimate at 4000-5000 hours.

The software allows for an outstanding degree of flexibility and ease of use. Inputs can be set for single-ended or balanced operation (all inputs and outputs on the TL-7.5 are duplicated on excellent-quality RCA and XLR jacks), each source can be set for its own level of gain so that all will have the same loudness level, and any input can be assigned for unity gain and processor pass-through. Mute, fade, an absolute phase inversion switch, and tape-monitoring facilities are also provided, and everything you'll regularly use is accessible from the comprehensive but friendly remote.

Once programmed, the TL-7.5 remembers the configuration for each source until you choose to change it; the stored settings can be locked to prevent accidental resets. Should you want to use the VTL in a full-blown home entertainment system rather than a two-channel music setup, the TL-7.5 is ready to oblige. Programmable triggers can be used to turn on power amps remotely, and there's a rear-mounted infrared receiver for centralized control systems such as those from Crestron and AMX. The comprehensive owner's manual presents all of the options and features clearly; even an audio reviewer can quickly get the hang of the TL-7.5.

The TL-7.5 is no stripped-to-the-bone, built-for-speed racing machine. Its clean, handsome, functional styling, exhaustive complement of features, and exceptional flexibility make it the audio equivalent of an Aston Martin Vanquish—envelope-pushing performance is available, but so are all of the thoughtful touches, useful convenience features, and luxurious feel that mark a dignified gentleman's express. Once the TL-7.5's capabilities are fully understood, it's no surprise to learn that it took more than four years to design and build. The buyer gets his money's worth.

The sound of one hand clapping
At first hearing, the TL-7.5 did not overwhelm me. Though it was clearly a superior product with impeccable sonic breeding, nothing leaped out at me. Its performance proved to be so balanced and free of weaknesses that no single quality stood out. The VTL required some get-acquainted time to appreciate how good it truly was. It neither accentuated nor glossed over anything.

String tones were extraordinary. The full-blooded, whipped-cream-lush sound of Debussy's Clair de Lune and Elgar's Dream Children (Raymond Agoult, London Proms; LP, RCA/Classic LSC-2326) came through with irreproachable clarity and ravishing transparency. The imploring, creamy tone of the solo violin in Massenet's "Meditation from Thaïs" was plush as goose down, but superbly defined and focused. The top octaves had a silkiness and openness that promptly became habit-forming.

The TL-7.5 was every bit as distinguished when handling the lighter textures of Ravel's "The Beauty and the Beast Converse," from the Mother Goose Suite, on the compilation The French Touch (Charles Munch, Boston Symphony; CD, RCA Living Stereo 68978-2). Electronics that can capture the full measures of overstuffed richness of the Elgar and Debussy recordings sometimes thicken and obscure the lacy textures that are the essence of the Ravel. Not the big VTL. Delicacy and power have seldom sat so comfortably and easily together as they did here.

Fairport Convention's XXXV (UK CD, Woodworm WRC 2035) is yet another glory of the band's enormous catalog, and it may be their best overall effort since the Sandy Denny era. A longtime fan, I was a bit nervous that the loss of guitarist supreme Martin Allcock and his replacement by singer-fiddler-mandolinist Chris Leslie would change the band's chemistry. I needn't have worried. Leslie is a wonderful songwriter and a soulful singer and player. Hearing his "My Love Is in America" through the TL-7.5 was to be on the receiving end of a musical TKO. This song, a beautiful and musically soaring story of loss, acceptance, and endurance, could wring tears from a stone; the TL-7.5's ability to evoke emotion as well as sound made it a magical experience. Ric Sanders' sweetly swinging violin on "Portmeirion" was a warm and gentle sea breeze, while the rocking "Madeleine" made me want to dance around the room with a pint of real ale in hand (footnote 1).

The TL-7.5's sound was entirely grainless and as transparent as can be imagined. With Silly Wizard's rousing "Wha'll Be King But Cherlie" and the beautiful "Lover's Heart," from A Glint of Silver (LP, Green Linnet SIF 1070), Andy M. Stewart's warm, sonorous voice was, respectively, inspiring and gloriously touching. The sweetness of the guitars and the aching melancholy of the piano on the coda of Derek and the Dominos' immortal "Layla" (LP, Direct Disk Labs SD2-16629) were superb, Duane Allman's little orbits around the main theme like sprinklings of stardust.

Bass was true, deep, and tight. Those massive bass drums on "Journey to the Line," from The Thin Red Line soundtrack (CD, RCA 63382-2), and Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man (Eiji Oue with the Minnesota Orchestra; CD, Reference RR-93CD), had tremendous definition; I could hear the skins of the drums rippling as they returned to rest. Other Big Stupid Bass, from the likes of Kruder & Dorfmeister, Kraftwerk, and Virgil Fox's never-to-be-equaled performance of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in c (CD, Command CC11018 SD), was just as impressive.

Footnote 1: It's funny how these (mostly) graybeards can make music with more real life and passion than can most musicians half their ages. Fairport's music is made by men who have lived, loved, and learned; it remains a treasure, especially when heard through the TL-7.5.