VTL Audition results....LONG....
Here are more details on the VTL audition...
Today I got the chance to audition a VTL ST-85 Amp. I have brought it home and have been switching back and forth between it and my Luxman M-117 amp.
First, let me say I have listened to the VTL in both Tetrode and Triode mode. The Luxman is SS, so no changes there. I have listened with the CLSIIz high end switch set to Flat and Soft.
In Tetrode, the VTL is 90 Watts. In Triode mode it is 45 Watts. Triode mode is better than Tetrode mode for me and my tastes.
With the Luxman, I like the CLS with the High Frequency Switch set to SOFT.
I listened to many many discs - Remember I am digital only. James Taylor - October Road, Dire Straits - On Every Street, Loreena McKennit - Live. Each of these has different parts of music - Acoustic Guitar, Violin, Female Vocal, Male Vocal, Piano, Bass Guitar, etc. etc. And each of these instruments are highlighted in one song or another from these albums - so I had a good selection of music and different types of instruments and vocals to listen to. I am also VERY familiar with these albums.
The VTL in Triode mode is much better sounding than Tetrode mode - much much better with more detail and instrument separation.
The Luxman is more forward sounding than the VTL - which I expected - but not as grainy sounding as I thought it would be.
The Luxman has better low end than the VTL - which I expected.
The VTL had better vocals than the Luxman - which I expected. But were the vocals more upfront due to the rolled off high end sound of them?
I also auditioned a Bryston Amp at the store in comparison to the VTL, and it sounded very much like a Solid State Amp - I was very unhappy with the sound of the Bryston.
I was listening to Mangepan 1.6 Speakers at the Stereo Store as that is the only Planars they had.
I paid $300 for the Luxman used (it was $1200 new back in the day). The VTL would cost me $2200 new or around $1300 used - If I can find one used. Was it $1000 - $2000 better sounding that the Luxman? No, not at all... the difference is not that much in my opinion with testing that I have done so far. In fact the differences between the two amps were subtle at best and not as far apart and I thought it would be.
I have been talking to the guy with the VTL MB-125 amps. Will a VTL MB-120 sound better than the ST-85? 45 Watts Tetrode vs 65 watts Tetrode - 20 watts difference. 85 Tetrode vs 125 Tetrode 40 Watts difference.. This is not that different and as we know it takes double the power for a 3dB difference in sound. I am just not sold on the sound of the VTL for the price they want compared to the sound I am getting from my Luxman.
Day 2 of the testing...
Triode mode is definitely the way to go with the VTL.
CLS Soft setting and the Luxman is definitely the way to go.
Morning listening is better for me and my sinus issues, as sounds are clearer and balance is much better for me. As the day wears on the sinuses get more clogged up (when medicine is not working) and it can be tougher to do comparisons.
After a couple of hours of listening to some other discs - All SACD this time: A Love Affair - Celebrating the Music of Ivan Linns, Saint-Sens Symphony #3 - RCA Living Stereo, Carpenters - Singles
I have tried lower volume levels, higher volume levels, and many different
pieces of music.
I have come to the same conclusion as last night. This VTL is just not that much better ($1000 - $2000 better) in sound than the Luxman. Like before, the Luxman is a little more forward sounding, the Luxman has better low mids and low end, the vocals slightly better on the VTL.
For forward sounding: When listening to a song, the drummer on the VTL seems like they are WAY BACK from the performer. With the Luxman they seem to be right behind the performer.
On the "A Love Affair" disc, the first song by Sting, has Michael Brecker playing an Tenor Sax - on the VTL it is smooth and laid back sounding. On the Luxman you can hear the reed vibrating more - I guess you might say it has a very slight more edge to its sound.
On the full orchestral pieces, the power behind the Luxman shows when compared to the 45 Watts Triode of the VTL. The sound starts to jumble up a little - but that was expected.
On the Low Mids and Low Bass, the Luxman is just better all around.
Conclusion of Day 2:
For now, I will stick with my Luxman and the CLSIIz speakers set on the Soft Position. Note: Soft position is 3dB down from the Flat position at 18kHz.
Other options available at this time:
Now there is another deal going on for the following Tube Amps. But there is NO WAY to audition them first....
$2000 for the Dodd's...
I know others here have the TAD1000 Amps ($2,000 for a pair???) and like them. TAD offers a return policy but it carries a $200 fee plus shipping....
So many decisions...so little time...