VTL MB 175 Signature monoblock power amplifier Page 4

While the 175s imaged superbly through the Virgos, they didn't offer the ultimate in soundstage depth. Both the VTL 300s and the Carys push the rear of the sonically visible stage somewhat farther back and out to the corners. The 175's stage picture is more ovoid than square, probably due to the amp's faster, more prominent top end. Brighter balance equals more forward picture—not that the VTLs sound bright. I've come to find the 175s more neutral and pleasingly "analytical," if not as seductive as the Carys or as "massive"-sounding as the 300s.

Despite its outstanding high-frequency extension, transient speed, and airy overall presentation, the 175 proved to be essentially free of grain or other high-frequency electronic artifacts. Nor did it unduly emphasize vinyl defects (though the Cary masks these more efficiently, at the expense of some top-end air and sheen).

The Virgo isn't known for its high-frequency veiling—it's quite Germanic in that respect, measuring "remarkably flat," according to JA. Rich recordings sound rich, brittle ones brittle, rolled ones rolled. In the many months I had VTL's MB 175s in my system, I never felt that these amplifiers imparted a particularly strong character to the sound—or one I could readily identify, even after a hundred listening sessions. Perhaps information was missing; if so, I won't find out until I install some other amplifier capable of retrieving it.

The fact is, the combination of components I've had in my system over the past few months has produced the best, most musically convincing, and balanced sound I've ever had at home. Many visitors, some owning far more expensive systems situated in far better rooms than mine, have come away telling me that the performance I'm getting just sounds "real," tonally, spatially, and dynamically—save for large-scale orchestral works with which my smallish room and speakers can't quite cope. Nonetheless, the illusion comes pretty close to the concert hall despite the compressed space.

When I play what I consider to be the great recordings of the past few decades—like Mel Tormé and Friends (Finesse W2X 37484), Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-013), Joni Mitchell's For the Roses (Asylum SD 5057), Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (Analogue Productions APP 027), The Clash's London Calling (CBS Clash 3), Miles Davis's In Person—Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, San Francisco (Columbia CS 8469/70), Pulse (New World 319 original or Classic Records reissue), or any of the better Classic Records RCA or Speaker's Corner Decca reissues (or any of the originals)—the sound I get often surprises, and always satisfies.

Voices sound of flesh, drums have skins, nightclubs and concert halls have boundaries and reverberant fields, strings have wooden bodies, brass instruments terminate in bells, and electric basses have balls. Live recordings sound like I'm there, only more so than they did before. And for pure rhythmic get up'n'go, the VTL 175 gives the better solid-state amps a run for their money.

Because each of the components is the best there is? Or is utterly neutral? Of course not. Because the strengths and weaknesses of the various components have combined to achieve that rare synergistic system balance we all seek but rarely realize. While components in my system have come and gone over the past nine months—various arms, cartridges, CD players, phono sections, and the like—and the sound has changed to various degrees, the one constant has been the pair of VTL 175s.

And the 175s' constant has been their big, open, detailed, reasonably neutral, and smooth sound—tonally balanced, harmonically convincing, dynamic at both ends of the scale, and seemingly not in need of more or less of anything. The 175s do rock, jazz, vocals, and classical with equal grace and skill. What more could you ask for? Perhaps a dollop of "rich and luxurious"?

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