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Balanced Audio Technology VK-40 Stereo Preamplifier Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 April 2000
ImageOne of the best complements one can pay to Balanced Audio Technology is that in a world where two channel manufacturers are going out of business like never before, BAT is thriving with a product line filled with high value and high performance tube and solid state electronics. The BAT VK-40 is a $4000 audio preamplifier designed for the serious enthusiast. It is a completely balanced design that features a full function remote, an alphanumeric front panel readout and an advance 140-increment Vichay volume control.

The BAT VK-40 is incredibly easy to set up and its back panel is very logical. I simply directed the balanced output from my Mark Levinson No. 36s DAC into the VK-40 and ran the balanced main outs to a Mark Levinson No. 333 power amp. The VK-40 is outfitted with three balanced inputs and two unbalanced inputs as well as two balanced outputs that can be modified to accept single-ended RCA inputs with BAT's nicely made plug-in adapters. These came in handy when using the VK-40's second set of outputs to feed my two Sunfire Signature subwoofers. If you are a vinyl junkie, BAT makes a phono section for the VK-40 that easily plugs in to the main chassis and is priced at $500. Other options for the VK-40 include the SIX-PAK™, which is a factory-installed, triple-sized output capacitor section that you'd use with a low-impedence amplifier like a Threshold. My review unit was not outfitted with the SIX-PAK™. Strangely, the solidly built aluminum remote is an extra $500 above the $4000 retail price.

The VK-40 has an upgraded look from the earlier line of BAT products. They are smoother and less symmetrical to the eye, which I like. The Vacuum Fluorescent (VFD) readout describes the input used, as well as a value for the volume ranging anywhere from 0 to 140. While the look of the unit is better than the previous VK5I, it still is a bit utilitarian compared to its sexy competitors from Krell, Mark Levinson and Jeff Rowland. The judgment will have to be made with the music.
The Music
My first test of the VK-40 was a tough one, as I require my music system to be able to reproduce lesser recordings with emotional impact equal to, if not greater than, what you'd find on a more advanced recording. With that in mind, I broke out The Very Best of James Brown import (Polydor) and spun up the volume for "Super Bad Part 1." The most striking part of the sound of the BAT product line, not just the VK-40, is its presence. The reason why it can compete in the big leagues with Krell, Levinson, Classe' and Rowland is the fact that the VK-40 can produce a three-dimensional sound that grabs you and brings you into the music. On "Super Bad Part 1," the staccato guitar chops were pointed, Maceo's horn was groovin' way in front of my WATT Puppies and the Godfather of Soul's voice was warm and alive.

During a late night listening session, I found myself fully absorbed into Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar" from Wish You Were Here (Columbia Remaster). Even on a track I have heard hundreds of times, I was able to suspend my disbelief to the point where I almost forgot where I was. I had to play the song over again in order to assess how I had been transported to another world. The signature Roger Waters baseline sets the foundation for this lethargic and psychedelic anthem, while David Gilmore's bluesy chops rip with a soulful vengeance. I returned to Earth at the end of an amazing Gilmore solo when, using some sort of tape effect, the song comes to a swirling conclusion. If I had rear channels in my music system, I would have sworn they were on, but I knew that this was just stereo through the BAT VK-40.

The Downside
For an extra $500 on top of the $4000 retail price, the remote could be cooler, even considering that it does control nearly all of the features of the preamp from afar, unlike other high-end preamps that skimp on input switching. When you increase the volume, there is a slight clicking sound that denotes one of the 140 increments of the volume pot. This is not uncommon in high-end preamps, but I found it somewhat annoying during high volume listening sessions. Similar products, like the Mark Levinson No. 380, are silent when the volume is increased.

The Balanced Audio Technology VK-40 deserves to be considered among the finest in two-channel preamplifiers and, for its base price of $4000, you will find it a great value. It is an extremely well-built component worthy of a lifetime of musical enjoyment. It is clear that lots of love went into the design under the hood, which is evident upon the first note of auditioning the VK-40. If you are searching for the Holy Grail of high-end audio, you may or may not be hip to BAT. Take this chance to go and hear the VK-40. You could just save yourself a cool $10,000, because this preamp leaves very little performance behind on the drawing board.

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