CES 2013: VAC

Anyone else have a tube fetish, or is it just me? I mean, aside from Kevin Hayes of VAC. He’s clearly lovin’ hisself some thermionic goodness. Mmm hmmm!

Kevin’s one of those fixtures at audio shows, and with his confident poise and dry wit, he’s also not one to trifle with. It took me a few meetings to realize that not only did he remember who I was, but was also making fun of me. In my defense, I am a bit daft. Anyway, Kevin and crew at VAC have been consistently putting on some of the most elegant presentations that I’ve been privileged to hear — and did I mention that his gear is drop dead gorgeous to look at? Just not too close — his high-end gear comes with a bloody forest of glass and glowing wire.

His newest offerings are no exception to the rule, but they do stake out some rather rarefied territory. The newest crown jewel is the Statement 450 iQ monoblocks, which retail for a startling $58,000 … each. Now, to be fair, this amp puts out a staggering 450 watts at a whopping 39dB of system gain. Inputs are a quintet of 6SN7 (one of my favorite tubes), fed into octet of KT88 tubes. Oh, and did I mention that there’s two chassis — each? Yes, indeedy — the main chassis is a … robust … 130lbs — the power supply adds another 85lbs.

The real story here isn’t any of this, however, it’s in the “iQ” bit. What that means is that this amp has a new biasing system, the “Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System”. This isn’t a trivial thing, and I won’t do it justice here. Here’s the highlight reel:

After sixteen years of research, VAC reached the conclusion that is was not mathematically possible to achieve an automatic bias circuit that was theoretically precise. It was at that point that a new insight arose, giving rise to a new heuristic approach. Two additional years of research, modeling, experimentation, and testing proved that VAC’s heuristic approach results in an underlying Iq in each tube that is always within 1% of the set target Iq under all conditions, from silent passages to the most explosive and sustained musical peaks, and in the process, ensures that the individual tubes as well as the overall output stage are always delivering optimal performance.

The VAC iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System advantages:

  • Always the best sound
  • No user adjustment
  • Supreme reliability
  • Longer tube life
  • Indication of weak tubes
  • Automatic protection from and indication of failed tubes

A lot more detail can be found on Kevin’s blog, here. Note that this new system, which Kevin claims levels the performance of his amps beyond anything he’s been able to achieve to date, is available only on the mono Statement amps. The new circuit is simply too big to fit into the stereo amp, though he assures me that they’re definitely looking into it.

Other new bits from VAC include the matching Statement Line Preamplifier ($46,000), a dual-chassis/dual-mono/external PSU job that includes the following features: 2 RCA in, 3 XLR in, 1 cinema bypass, dual outputs (RCA and XLR), <150ohm output impedance, and 11db of gain. The new AlCuNiCr chassis (so plated for “superior RF rejection”) is all glittery, too [insert suggestively wiggling eyebrows here]. Me likey.

Last but not least is the new Statement Phono preamplifier ($50,000 — clearly, I need a better paying gig). Same chassis plating (and glittery!) as the Statement Line preamp, and up to 76dB of gain with no negative feedback in a dual-chassis/dual-mono/external PSU level of fitment. Step-ups for the MC inputs, variable capacitive and resistive loading and four inputs (RCA and XLR) means you can have way too much fun with your turntable.

So, all this is way too rich for my blood, but I’ll tell you what, if I could I would. This is some seriously awesome stuff, and the sound pouring out of this room was easily summed up as “outstanding”. Another Best in Show contender.

Shown here with gear from Esoteric (didn’t hear it) and a turntable from Clearaudio. Speakers were the Magico S5.


  1. Ahh….the green. I’m in the same boat. Say no more. Do the S5’s have as much bass authority as, say, Sasha’s or Salon 2’s? Are they as transparent as your Maggies? Sorry about the pesky questions but nobody here carries the Magico line. I’d like to make it up to Chicago in March so I can listen for myself.

    • Do yourself the favor and make the trip. I think the S5 has both bass and transparency … but it seems contingent on gear and setup (as usual).

    • I got a slammin’ deal? Honestly, it wasn’t any more complicated than that. If that deal hadn’t have come along, I might have gone for the Rockports just for the sheer exclusivity (who of all your audiophile friends has a pair? I don’t know anyone!), but the Magico might have been a better solution for me as a reviewer.

  2. I noticed that all the wire, pc’s and power conditioning were Shunyata Zitron, including the new Typhon. With all that you should have a good idea of how the S5’s really sound. What did you think?

    • They’re my favorite Magico! Before I purchased a pair of TIDAL loudspeakers, the S5 was right there in a rather short list that included the Joseph Audio Pearl 3 and Rockport Avior.

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