VTL has always been an exponent of power, power, and more power. The Siegfried delivers it in spades. Upon firing up the amplifier, it was immediately apparent that it threw a wider and more precise soundstage than the 750 amplifier. One of the first pieces I listened to was a lovely Handel organ concerto. With the Siegfried it was as though the aperture through which I was hearing the music had increased. It was also notably purer. The sheen and grit of the stringed instruments was simply more precise, more realistic, if one can use that word, or, to put it another way, closer to the absolute sound than the 750s. The Siegfried simply took command of the music and never got bogged down.
A lot of this can probably be ascribed to the exceedingly robust power supply of the Siegfried. On the Kharma Midi- Exquisites, it seemed as though the Siegfried produced another octave of bass. More than that, the bass that it produced was simply prodigious in heft and impact. This wasn’t just a matter of more slam, but also considerably more solidity. No VTL amplifier that I have heard has matched the tautness of the Siegfried in the bass, whether it was driving the Wilson MAXX II or the Kharmas. Yes, the Wotan was richer sounding, but not quite as iron-fisted in the subterranean regions. The Siegfried simply would not quit when presented with the most punishing loads. This is quite a contrast with most tubed amplifiers, which simply cannot provide the kind of punch that solid-state delivers. To be specific, on Jimmy Smith’s sensational CD dot com blues [Blue Thumb Records], which was mastered by Bernie Grundmann (and sounds like it), the bass lines plunged down with an authority and impact that I have seldom heard. At the same time, the congas and background choirs never became hazy, congested, or indistinct, as can sometimes be the case when an amplifier becomes overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that’s being delivered to it by a good frontend.
Two pieces of vinyl were stunning. The first was The Soulful Moods of Gene Ammons, on a marvelous pressing released by Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds on 45 rpm. Via the Continuum turntable, the saxophone sounded meltingly sweet on the cut “Two Different Worlds,” which has to be one of the prettiest jazz ballads around. It was possible to discern precisely where Ammons was standing in relation to Patti Brown’s piano. On the next cut, “But Beautiful,” which was, if possible, even more beautifully played, the Siegfried clearly revealed the clacking of the saxophone pads just as Ammons prepared to launch in. Audiophilia? No doubt. But such little details also provide a sense of realism and are a tribute to the vanishingly low noise floor of the Siegfried. Another album that left me marveling at the transparency of the Siegfried was John Lee Hooker’s Burning Hell. In particular, on “Graveyard Blues,” Hooker’s piercing, gravelly voice had a you-are-there quality, with the guitar twangs vivid and forceful.
The new version of the VTL 7.5, Series II preamplifier also distinguished itself. Comprising a “clean” and “dirty” box (the former contains the audio circuits, the latter the microprocessor and control electronics), this preamplifier, which uses a 12AU7 tube as opposed to the first-generation’s 12AX7 tube, nicely supplemented the strengths of the Siegfried. It was wide open, passing a tremendous amount of information—the most that I have heard from any preamplifier, excepting the Messenger, which passes a pinch more. Once again the VTL trademarks were there: an extremely dynamic, transparent, and fast sound. No part of the frequency spectrum was unduly emphasized, but the presentation was far from the traditional tube one. Lovers of a more romantic sound will find the 7.5 to be too stark and neutral. I didn’t. The verve and zest, the dynamic power and scale with which it reproduced music made it hard to fault. Using the 7.5 preamplifier also allowed me to run the Siegfried in balanced configuration, which is the way VTL prefers it to be used. VTL uses what it calls a “superbalanced input stage” in its newer amplifiers to create common-mode noise rejection and the additional 6dB of gain that is inherent with balanced operation.
To be sure, the lover of low-powered tubed equipment is never going to be convinced that the VTL sound is for him or her. VTL is striving to meld the best of solid-state and tubes. The result is, for lack of a better word, far more neutral than what tubed equipment customarily sounds like. This can translate into an opaque window on the music for some; and for others, it will simply be too much to bear. The 27-watt Audio Note Ongaku amplifier that I had on hand for a few months offers a radically different presentation. Nothing like the majesty, drama, and excitement of the Siegfried, but it does have a tonal sweetness that no high-powered tube or solid-state amplifier can match. (Is the Ongaku colored? Of course, it is.) Nor is the Siegfried going to convert the dyed-in-the-wool solid-state aficionado. Despite the excellent black backgrounds it produces, the Siegfried remains at heart a tubed amplifier. As someone who has a soft spot for the glowing filament, I believe this is very much a good thing.