VTL MB-450 Series III Signature monoblock power amplifier Page 3

Switching back to the Titan produced more satisfying bass weight and drive, but nothing seemed to be missing from the MB-450 III's reproduction of a recent AAA reissue of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Axis: Bold As Love, mastered by George Marino for 180gm vinyl (Legacy Records). In fact, the shimmer of Mitch Mitchell's cymbals seemed to extend more cleanly and with greater clarity further into the stratosphere than I'd ever heard it. The decay of that shimmer was notably more clean and graceful than the Titan's somewhat darker rendering. However, the big solid-state amp produced more visceral weight with electric bass and kick-drum that more effectively propelled the music forward.

When the Musical Fidelity was in the system, I missed the VTLs' crystalline cymbal shimmer and air. When the MB-450s were in the system, I missed the Titan's stomach-slamming low-frequency weight. But if there's a single amp that does both as well as each of these two doing what it does best, I've yet to hear it.

Missing from the sound of the MB-450 III was the slightly "splashy" quality to transients that gave cymbals and sibilants that "more prominent role than I was used to hearing from familiar recordings" that I noted in my review of the MB-450 II. Instead, as already noted here, sibilants were consistently rendered cleanly and precisely, as were cymbals and other instruments that produce high-frequency transients. In fact, the MB-450 III set a new standard in that regard for my listening room.

The MB-450 III's reproduction of female voices was mesmerizing. Ella Fitzgerald's Twelve Nights in Hollywood (4 CDs, Verve B001292002), recorded live at the Crescendo in 1961, hadn't yet been released when I reviewed the Series II, but she always sounded full-bodied and clean through the big Titan, as did Aretha Franklin when I played her I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (gold CD, Atlantic/Rhino/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 574).

The MB-450 Series IIIs produced a different perspective on Fitzgerald's voice: one more spotlit, with less body and more throat, more room context and somewhat less intimacy. Through the Titan she sounded richer, but through the VTLs she sounded smaller, more precisely drawn, and more of her singing technique was revealed. I could visualize more of what her mouth was doing, but less of the picture's completeness. Which was better, or more "correct"? Who knows? What seat in the house was more "correct?" What picture was the engineer trying to reproduce? Who knows?

The Aretha Franklin album produced a similar shift of perspective: Her voice was more generously drawn through the Titan, and was heavier in her lower registers. The MB-450 IIIs' picture was airier and more tightly focused, with greater emphasis on the vocal cords, less on the chest sound.

The MB-450 Series III was voiced with VTL's tubed preamplifier, and I suspect a tube preamp would better match its personality than the solid-state darTZeel NHB-18NS I use, which so well complements the warmer-sounding, solid-state Titan.

Power to Spare
I found that 425W into 5 ohms was more than enough power to drive and effectively grip each of my Wilson MAXX 3s, which are more sensitive than the MAXX 2s. The MB-450 IIIs never ran out of gas, even at the climaxes of orchestral crescendos played at realistic SPLs; overall, their dynamic capabilities were complete at both ends of the scale. Considering the cost, the complexity, and the heat, the MB-450 struck a pleasing balance of power, finesse, and practicality.

That the Musical Fidelity Titan swamped the MB-450 IIIs in bass and midbass dynamic thrust was immediately apparent when I switched back to it—but some of the attractive qualities produced by the VTLs were now gone. My immediate response on switching from the MF to the VTLs was "Where's the weight?" In the opposite direction, it was "Where's the air and shimmer—and how can I live with that thickness?"

The VTL MB-450 Series III Signature is a significant evolutionary advance from the MB-450 Series II Signature. It's a much better sounding amplifier—a clearly smoother-sounding performer that's less likely to show its sonic seams, as the II occasionally did. Their unquestioned transparency and wide bandwidth made them difficult to "hear"—about as high a compliment as can be paid any audio component.

Through the MB-450 IIIs, the top and the bottom ends of the audioband sounded and felt complete. The lower octaves, in particular, were tightly drawn and well extended. I never wished for more grip or extension. In some ways, particularly on top, the MB-450 sounded more like a spectacular solid-state amp. Only its superior flow—its long sustain and clean decay—gave away that it it's a tubed design. It sure wasn't hissy or noisy, and it never sounded like a pleasant "tone control," as some ripe-sounding tube amps are accused of doing. In fact, the MB-450's sound was more on the lean side, with a somewhat less-than-generous lower midrange and upper midbass combined with fast, airy, sparkling upper octaves and tight, nimble lower ones.

The MB-450 Series III Signature combined a great solid-state amp's upper-frequency speed and clarity and bottom-end extension and grip with a great tube amp's musical flow, though there remained still more true weight (not bloat) to be had on the bottom that, in my experience, can be produced only by a big solid-state amp.

I know I could live happily with either the Musical Fidelity Titan or the MB-450 Series III Signatures because, for a few months, I lived happily with both, switching between them to enjoy and appreciate what each brought to the sound of my system and recordings. I appreciated the Titan's added weight and punch on bottom and its rich yet detailed upper octaves. When the MB-450 IIIs were in circuit, the air, space, and speed made listening engaging and enjoyable, and though bottom-end dynamics were somewhat less pronounced, the VTLs' speed and extension more than compensated, to produce fully satisfying bottom-octave performance and exceptionally fine rhythm'n'pace with even the hardest-rocking records.

Like the MB-450 Series II Signature, VTL's MB-450 Series III Signature is easy to recommend.

VTL Amplifiers Inc.,
4774 Murrieta Street, Suite 10
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 627-5944