VTL MB750 monoblock power amplifier Page 4

Similarly, if you're coming at the MB-750s from the perspective of a more traditional triode amp, you may be unimpressed by their reproduction of harmonic structure and instruments' inner detail. In comparison, the MB-750s had less of that vivid harmonic "bloom," and could even sound (dare I say it) solid-state—or at least a lot less like a triode amp. Just as with the spectacular detail, as beguiling as the overly rich harmonic structures that some triode amps give you are, they're nowhere near reality. The MB-750s' portrayal was much closer to what I hear in the concert hall, and, if anything, erred a little on the side of a bit of extra richness. On the lovely BIS recording of Frans Helmerson playing Bach's Solo Cello Suite 2 in d (BIS LP-65), the cello was perhaps just a bit sweeter and warmer, and not quite as crisp and airy as it might be live.

Overall, the MB-750s did a super job of balancing all the various aspects of music reproduction. Power and subtlety, micro and macro detail, image specificity and dimensionality, everything you can think of. Their creation of a huge soundstage and ambience retrieval, for example, was excellent. On each of the orchestral works noted above—the Holst, Mussorgsky, and Bartok—the soundstage and recording space were clearly defined, and just as clearly distinct from one another. Stereophile's own Rhapsody CD (Stereophile STPH010-2) provided an excellent example of the MB-750s' ambience retrieval—it was easy to close my eyes and imagine being inside Albuquerque's First Methodist Church.

Classic Records' reissue of The Dave Bailey Sextet's One Foot in the Gutter (Classic BA 17008) is a stunning example of a small jazz group in a natural acoustic environment. With the MB-750s, not only were the individual instruments just about perfect—disarmingly natural, three-dimensional, with just the right balance between detail and harmonic richness—they floated in a seamless ambient environment that was as nearly holographic as I've heard: wall to wall, from just in front of me to the far recesses of the stage rear. When I closed my eyes I was there, almost as if I could step out into it. Part of the magic was low-level detail resolution, sure, and part of it was recovery of inner detail and harmonic structures. But I'm convinced that what really allowed the VTLs to pull it off was their ability to precisely and effortlessly track the leading edge of a transient, from something as simple as a rim shot to the subtly modulated dynamic gradients of Clark Terry's trumpet. It's that power thing, I tell you.

Two final characteristics contributing to the MB-750s' sound were their tonal balance and handling of dynamic transients, both of which slightly favored the midrange and below. Part of this impression no doubt arose because the MB-750s' bass was unusually powerful and articulate. But part of it, I think, was due to some diminution of dynamic transients as the frequency rises through the upper midrange and treble. When I listened, for example, to Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole on the Iberia reissue (Classic LSC-6094), the bass had ominous weight and power, to be sure, as did the double reeds and lower brasses. However, when the harp rose in pitch, it didn't swell and fill the hall the way it does live. At the top of their range, the violins didn't have quite the power and presence that they can, and even the trumpets' punch seemed to increase as the frequency dropped into the heart of the midrange. At the very top, the MB-750s didn't have quite the delicacy and air that I've heard with some other amps.

The cymbals on the Dave Bailey and Ray Brown albums were crisp and floated nicely in space, but had a bit more of the bell-like ring and a little less of the airy shimmer than they might. Similarly, I noticed that the triangle at the very end of Iberia didn't sound as steely, and didn't soar above the orchestra as clearly, as it should. Throughout, there was a slight but consistent sweetening of the sound and a bit of a liquid texture superimposed on the instruments and filling the surrounding space. A piano—Gene Harris' on "That's All" from the Ray Brown album, for example—showed the slight sweetening and texture clearly. The notes, particularly near the top of the keyboard, tinkled and rang, but didn't have quite enough impact, and seemed to have a faint halo around them rather than cutting cleanly through. The piano also pointed out, though, that there were no significant differences, and certainly no discontinuities, in either tonal balance or dynamic contrasts across a very wide frequency spectrum. What deviations did exist were slight, and may have had as much to do with the midrange and bottom-end excellence as with any perceived deficiency on top. Hmm...maybe if the MB-750s just didn't have quite so much power and slam on the bottom...

Seriously, though—in trying to describe how the MB-750s sounded, I'm picking nits around the edges of their performance, which is nothing short of superb. This amp did virtually everything extremely well. I can run through the audiophile categories and rattle off the superlatives, but that's not what the 750 is about. What it's about and where it succeeded spectacularly was in bringing music to life. As on an intimate vocal recording like Diana Krall's new CD Love Scenes (Impulse! IMPD-233)—her voice was so three-dimensional, hanging and breathing right in front of me—a little more real, just a bit more there. When I put on the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra and turned out the lights, even in the delicate opening passages I got a sense of the size of the hall, an ominous suggestion of the orchestra's scale and power. Even during the massive crescendos there was none of the strain or congestion that makes the illusion fall apart—just the white-knuckle, sweaty-palms ride you get in the concert hall. And with Tab Benoit's Standing on the Bank (Justice JR 1203-2), the VTLs perfectly captured the recording's live-to-two-track feeling.

But for me, the clincher was the Dave Bailey album. I listened to it three times in a row one night, completely mesmerized. It was one of those times when the system is just so, and what a kick...I swear, I was at that session. It's a great album on any decent system, but with the MB-750s there was a little something extra, an extra twist, that moved me a step closer to the real thing. Something extra? Naw...just a good, simple design that's been fine-tuned and optimized over 15 years—and, by the way, supercharged with 750W of power.