VTL MB-1250 Wotan monoblock amplifier Page 3

There's something special that all really great amps do—they set up a big soundstage and disappear the speakers, even ones so imposing as the tweaked-out, tri-wired Avalon Ascents. On the big VTLs the Avalons well and truly evaporated. The sound was extremely transparent: huge, deeply layered, and detailed—"encompassing" springs to mind—all in the best tube sense. And, like the best tubes, the harmonics were lovely and engaging.

In fact, the Wotans developed harmonic information to the point where I found that the music regularly drew me in with that pleasantly human quality that we audiophiles seem so attracted to. Seeking out this harmonic G-spot may be part of what draws us all so deeply into the pursuit. You know what it's like; you hear an oboe or another midrange-rich instrument playing live or (less often) on a good recording, and it strikes some kind of reciprocal chord in you.

Perhaps we're all searching for that almost Om-like harmonic resonance of life—the heart chakra—that may be as naturally attractive to audiophiles as riding in a moving car is to kids and dogs. Is this the mechanism by which we find ourselves more easily falling into the music—its rhythms and timing—divining more deeply the artists' intentions? Might this be the quality referred to when we speak about experiencing a system through which music is somehow more involving?

Back on earth...
When Luke set up the first pair of Wotans, we listened to the Gounod Faust ballet music on Classic Records vinyl, backed by Bizet's exuberant Carmen Suite (LSC-2449). It's a wonderful record that really highlights the Wotans' ability to handle the Wide Open Spaces of a large concert venue, here the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden with conductor Alexander Gibson.

In spite of punishing crescendos, the Wotans never lost their ability to hang a perfectly transparent curtain of sound about the speakers and the listener. They never faltered for a nanosecond in keeping musical lines separated from each other, even during crashing dynamics and complicated scoring. There was never a moment of confusion or murk, limitless power reserves seemingly at our beck and call.

The Wotans developed a real sense of scale and impact without sounding ponderous. Listening to the Gounod at crashingly realistic sound levels, they presented the music in a clean, illuminated, and beautifully set-up fashion. Power weight, extension, air, and lovely, sweet highs predominated, drawing me ever closer to the music.

The structure of the bass as rendered by the Forsell/GH IV on this LP laid the foundation perfectly. It was a highly acoustic sound, a "real" sound of timpani in a hall, with a fine blend of transient energy and power building to delicious, musical bloom.

While macro in the extreme, the Wotans resolved microdynamics quite naturally, acoustic decay dropping deep into the noise floor. This was not a characteristic reserved just for a few well-recorded discs, by the way. Listening notes: "I'm trying hard to remember when I enjoyed string tone as much as this before, and I can't. Bite and bloom in all the right places. The bells are remarkable, their perfect shimmer lending credence to the original acoustic event. There's a quickness to the way the amps start and stop that belies their huge demeanor."

For a closer and more intimate view of the bass and upper bass, I turned to Dean Peer's Ucross (Jazz Planet/Classic Records JP 5002-1) on HG-180 premium vinyl via RTI. Just terrific—the speed, dynamics, and fullness of tone throughout the bass range illuminated Dean's peerless bass playing. Usually, one finds components that get the fundamental right, but perhaps not the initial transient or the bloom. Sometimes it's the other way 'round. The Wotans blended these elements so well that my laptop was often as not left idling its processor while I listened and enjoyed the music.

What happens when the Wotans get up-close and intimate? I spun my favorite cut, "Moon Maiden," from The Intimate Ellington (Pablo 2310-787). Listening to this record on single-ended had always left me stunned. On the opposite-universe Wotans, I still found the inner light of tubes much in evidence, despite their push-pull nature. It was magic—the shimmering celeste accompanying The Voice, charming and full of tenderness.

Looking for more evidence of the Wotans' light touch, I played the CD of Arturo Delmoni's Sonatas of Brahms and Beach (John Marks Records JMR 2), with Yuri Funahashi on the piano. To me, the imaging was vague. (I understand from John Marks that recording engineer David Hancock used a pair of Cambridge C35 ribbon mikes in a spaced figure-8 pattern, slightly angled in toward the performers, at either end of a 6' crossbar about 8' off the ground—rather than the coincident figure-8 pattern used in strict Blumlein.) The recording was made on an analog Studer A80 running at 30ips. Since the imaging isn't the point, then what's the tonal balance like?

To die—just...to die. As sweet and evocative a violin sound as I've ever heard from a CD source. If the music encoded on this disc doesn't carry you along, you're brain-dead. Turn yourself in. The recording is a walking advertisement for what can be done with 16 bits at 44.1kHz. The accompanying piano is beautiful and ambient-sounding.

To investigate the balance between speed, harmonics, and imaging, I turned to a finely rendered CD of the harpsichord, The Buxtehude Project, Vol.II (PGM 105, engineered by Gabe Wiener). My notes: "The recording nails the initial transients of the instrument and blends it with a balanced and appropriately tightly wound bloom. Super-precise location in a deep and airy acoustic. Clarity, speed, and transparency without sterility or any stripping away of harmonics."

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