But the Siegfried does close the gap between high-powered and lower-powered tubed equipment to a remarkable degree. It is a more refined and transparent amplifier than its predecessors. What’s more, the grip and control that come with high power are very enticing.
If you want an even cleaner sound, you can substitute the KT-88 tube for the 6550s in the output stage. The KT-88 had about another octave of air on top and was a purer sounding tube, while the 6550 was more aggressive. My own preference hands-down was for the KT-88. In any case, whatever tube you deploy, the Siegfried will allow any audiophile to poke about in the recesses of the soundstage to his or her heart’s content. At such low levels of distortion, how much more can really be extracted is an open question, though designers seem to be doing their level best to find out, which is one reason audio equipment keeps sounding better and better.
Inside the VTL Factory
VTL may have a soft spot for Teutonic terminology, but the company’s firmly rooted in sunny Chino, California, where its large factory is dedicated to turning out, on an assembly-line basis, amplifiers and preamplifiers. Unlike some other firms, VTL insists on doing its work in-house. I was impressed by the thoroughness with which the process of building, or repairing, a piece of equipment is conducted. No matter how often a technician has built a piece, VTL insists that he follows a picture guide to ensure that no one is relying on memory and, in addition, that each individual stage of work is tested upon completion. VTL relies upon a team of engineers to execute its designs, and I had the good fortune to get to watch one such confident employee stress a Siegfried to the max on the test bench. Even though the amp was sent into clipping by driving an enormous loudspeaker cone directly, the voltage to the tubes dropped less than 2 volts out of a maximum 600 volts—a testament to its rugged power supply. The sound, however, was, I can assure you, dreadful.
Fortunately, before I headed over to the factory, Luke had deposited me for a few hours at the eponymously named Brooks Berdan Ltd. Berdan, a well-known purveyor of audio goodies who is an expert on turntables, had the ravishing SPJ Centovani feeding the VTL 7.5 preamplifier into the Siegfrieds, which were powering the Wilson MAXX II loudspeaker. Though the room was a little on the smallish side, the system sounded splendid playing a Duke Ellington “Uptown” LP that I had brought along. The ability of the Siegfried to control the bass frequencies was once more brought home to me.
The factory itself boasts nothing along these lines; it’s strictly business. Luke played me his small system in his office, which was enjoyable enough. But the doublebreasted blue blazer hanging on the door made it clear that he is almost constantly on the go, regularly visiting Russia, Asia, or Europe. Meanwhile, his extremely capable wife Bea Lam, a former Hewlett-Packard employee, gourmande, and music lover, keeps everyone on their respective toes, serving as the ultimate judge of the sonic qualities of new equipment and ensuring that the factory is humming smoothly. To encounter her disapproval would be a daunting experience, indeed, which may help account for why VTL boasts such a successful track record
Anyway, if you’re in the market for an amplifier on the level of the Siegfried but wonder whether you really need all that power, think again. The blunt fact remains that most loudspeakers need a lot more power than their designers would like to admit. On the Kharma loudspeaker, I found that running four VTL 750s was the only way to try and approximate the size of the soundstage delivered by the Siegfried. And it still wasn’t as tight in the bass. Put bluntly, the Siegfried offers stratospheric performance, mating high power with finesse to deliver the musical goods. There are few other tubed amplifier in production that can challenge its dynamic sweep. It’s not an amp for the equipmentswapper, but represents a destination point. If you have the floor space and the necessary change, the Siegfried should be on a very short list of exquisitely made high-powered amplifiers.