The VK-42SE did not lack for dynamism, either. Keb Mo’s CD Peace…Back By Popular Demand [Epic/Okeh] proved an excellent test of the VK-42SE’s ability to maintain its composure at ferocious sound levels. The BAT preamplifier never faltered. It belted out the bass lines with gusto, while clearly distinguishing between the soloist and background chorus on tracks such as “Wake Up Everybody.” The organ zipped around its own space on the CD. Throughout, the VK-42SE’s control over bass information was noteworthy. Bass lines sounded taut but also had excellent decay, lending an organic character to the overall presentation. But the VK-42SE did not plunge down into the bass as deeply as preamps such as the Messenger. It lacks the ultimate oomph in the nether regions.
This may help explain why the soundstage was not quite as large or deep as the Messenger’s, which, at over three times the price, simply offers more. In comparison, the BAT seemed to be slightly more forward and two-dimensional. It did not reach back and offer as many layers.
If the BAT is not the absolute last word in detail retrieval, this is what the Catholic Church calls a venial sin—a forgivable one. For pulling more information off CDs or LPs, the new top-of-the-line BAT Rex preamplifier is one answer. Still, the VK-42SE possesses such a lovely sound that it invites long listening sessions. These qualities extend to the preamplifier’s phonostage. While it may not rival the Aesthetix Io or other top-notch units, it was hard to fault. The Duke Ellington orchestra came screaming out of the Magnepan 20.1s through the VK-42SE’s phonostage. It conveyed a real sense of hall space and captured the shimmer and decay of cymbals very nicely.
Ultimately, the most surprising feature of this preamp is the extent to which it matches or even betters tubed competitors in its price range. It just doesn’t seem possible that a solid-state preamp could have as unforced a character as the VK- 42SE. But it does. Why? Some of this may be due to the use of oil capacitors and MOSFET circuitry in the VK-42SE. MOSFETs just seem to have a more relaxed and musical sound than bipolar transistors. The alleged “MOSFET haze” at times decried by some audiophiles really does, as the VK-42SE demonstrates, belong to the past. There is no trace of turgidity with the VK-42SE. While BAT equipment has at times been accused of having an excessively dark character, it wasn’t apparent with the VK-42SE.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be all that surprising. In visiting the factory and listening to its small reference system that in-cludes a wonderful crossoverless speaker called AudioStatic, it quickly became apparent that BAT prizes musicality. It’s not a company that’s after booming bass or sizzling highs. If you’re looking for hours and hours of profound musical experiences, the VK-42SE will provide them.
This preamplifier is a big step forward for BAT, which has always moved at a slow and deliberate pace in offering new products. (The Rex, for example, is its first “statement” preamplifier at $18,000.) Despite its focus on tubes, the company has clearly made great strides on the solidstate front, offering both convenience and flexibility in the VK-42SE. It demonstrates what a crack designer such as Victor Khomenko can produce when he puts his mind to tackling the solid-state conundrum. Will BAT’s heart always be with tubes? Sure. But the VK-42SE will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with glowing glass bottles. Anyone convinced that tubes are the one and only way to go might be taken aback by the VK-42SE’s pure sound.