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Newport 2016: VTL, Wilson score another knockout

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If VTL’s megawatt Siegfried amplifier were a boxer, it would be a heavyweight champ who was still striking fear into rivals many years after its first fight.

Indeed, a number of challengers have risen up since the hulking VTL reference amp first entered the ring in 2003. But few have been able to give the titleholder a good contest. While there are some promising new kids out there now slowly making a name for themselves, this judge still scores the Siegfried ahead on points.

While many tube amps output anywhere from a few watts to maybe 40 or 50 watts, the Siegfried ($65,000 a pair) is a two-fisted monoblock capable of smacking speakers in the jaw with 650 wpc in tetrode operation and 350 wpc in triode mode (into 5 ohms). Tube complement is 12 6550s or KT-88s, two 12BH7s and one 12AT7. Total harmonic distortion is 2.5 percent over the amp’s output power range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

With such skills and credentials, it’s no surprise Wilson Audio Specialties chose the Siegfrieds — now in Series 2 fighting shape — to provide muscle for the introduction of its new Alexx speakers ($111,200 a pair) at T.H.E. Show in Newport.

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The Alexx is something of a successor to the Maxx, only designed from a blank sheet of paper and significantly improved. The 62-inch-tall, four-way transducer weighs in at 450 pounds (each) and contains five drivers. While sensitivity is 91 db and minimum power is rated at 50 watts, it’s the Wilson way to hit a finishing nail with a sledgehammer. Hence, the call to VTL, which the speaker maker often joins at shows.

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I made several thrilling trips to the VTL-Wilson room during the event. A demo by Wilson sales manager Peter McGrath showed off how the system could perform on a wide variety of recordings, ranging from pipe organ to classical.

After McGrath finished, I asked VTL co-owner Bea Lam to play a few of my demo discs (CDs, I know, so five years ago). Lam started with the title track of my remastered import copy of Roxy Music’s Avalon. The song, which features a moody rhythm track featuring an assortment of percussion accents and the occasional bass burp, was silky-smooth, with an enormous soundstage and good air around Brian Ferry’s hung-over croon.

Next, I switched to the Cowboy Junkies’ “Rock and Bird,” a fine, underheard composition with a rolling bass line, a nice mandolin solo and writer Michael Timmons’ deceptively simple-sounding rhythm guitar. The Siegfried-Alexx combo did a good job of capturing lead singer Margo Timmons’ hushed delivery and also excelled at presenting both the notes and the spaces between them.

When “Rock and Bird” was about halfway through, Stereophile Editor John Atkinson entered and plopped down in the center seat in front of me. I wouldn’t have blamed Bea Lam a bit if she’d pushed stop right then and flung my disc out the door like a Frisbee. But ever the sweetheart, Bea politely told Mr. Atkinson she would get to him after my demo. I was relieved to see the high-end publishing legend settle back in his chair and enjoy the remainder of the track. He seemed unfamiliar with the low-key Canadian band, so I briefly gave him the 411.

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As I hung around for Atkinson’s audition, I began to analyze exactly what makes the Siegfried a world-beater. It goes beyond tube warmth and glow. Somehow, this monoblock amp portrays the texture of the music, much the way you would experience it live. In addition to that, Bea and her husband/business partner Luke Manley have figured out a way to offer massive tube power while retaining speed and bass control that approaches solid-state gear.

Like the much-missed Muhammad Ali, the Siegfried floats like a butterfly and — when the source material dictates — stings like a bee. I predict this champ will continue to wear its title belt.

 

VTL-Wilson Audio room equipment

  • Speakers: Wilson Alexx, $110,200
  • Amplifier: VTL Siegfried series 2 monoblocks, $65,000 a pair
  • Preamplifier: VTL TL-7.5 series 3, $25,000
  • Phono stage: VTL TP-6.5, $12,000
  • Turntable: Grand Prix 2.0, $37,500
  • Tonearm: Tri-Planar Mk VII U2 SE, $7,500
  • Cartridge: Lyra Etn, $6,995
  • CD transport: dCS Vivaldi, $41,999
  • DAC: dCS Vivaldi, $35,999
  • Four-shelf isolation stands: Grand Prix Silverstone F1, $28,995 each
  • Isolation platforms: Grand Prix Formula, $3,795 each
  • Cable and Power cords: Transparent Reference and Opus, $170,000 total.

 

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About John Stancavage (185 Articles)

Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile