The VAC Statement Components: Breathing Life into Recordings
At the outset, I hope it is understood just how fortunate I consider myself to have the honor, trust, and privilege of being asked to bring you my informed opinions on products like the VAC Statement Components; products that not only represent the finest craftsmanship, engineering, and build quality available today, but machines that open the clearest, most revealing and expressive of windows into our most beloved recordings.
Their ability to offer the highest level of musical expressiveness and to recreate the musical experience in our personal spaces with such astonishing authenticity is not only admirable and to be lauded, but it is also markedly rare, and supremely addictive.
Words and Photos by Greg Weaver
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kevin Hayes, the founder and president of the Valve Amplification Company, or VAC, for over twenty years now. And while I must admit that I didn’t closely follow his work from VAC’s genesis in 1990, by the mid-2000s, roughly coincident with the introduction of his noteworthy Phi Beta 110i integrated amplifier, I have never again lost track of his path. For those of you who would like to know more about Kevin’s remarkable journey, may I suggest that you watch my extended interview with him here?
VAC Statement Series
For those who are unfamiliar with this remarkable manufacturer, the Valve Amplification Company builds four tiers of valve-based products, starting with the most affordable Renaissance series. Those fine machines are superseded by the Signature, then the Master, and finally, the subject of today’s discussion, the VAC Statement Series.
The VAC Statement Series of products originated when Kevin was moved to create the Statement 450 amplifiers, including both the two-chassis 450S iQ stereo, and the 450 iQ monos. With encouragement from Keith Sequeira, principal of The Audio Company in Marietta, Georgia, those were soon followed, first with the two-chassis Line Stage, then the stunning two-chassis Phono Stage, a product that I awarded “Phono Stage of the Decade: 2011-2020,” in Episode 50 of The Audio Analyst.
But it would take the realization of the extraordinary Statement 450i iQ integrated amplifier in 2018, a product I reviewed for TAS in February of 2020, to inspire the innovations that led to the creation of the game-changing Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc™ amplifiers, which I first heard in their world debut at the 2019 Capital Audiofest.
Common to all VAC Statement Series products is VAC’s commitment to execution and attention to detail. They all enjoy a level of architectural design and layout that is meticulously addressed, including the identification, understanding, and subsequent reduction, of the three-dimensional radiated fields of interaction between the components in their intricate circuits. And because every electronic circuit and wire is susceptible to degradation through microphony, the management of resonance plays a large part in their design. To this end, several specific approaches are leveraged, from the use of special bonding and isolation techniques, to machining the chassis from high-grade, non-ferrous aluminum.
VAC Statement preamplifier and iQ power amplifier parts are also treated to a series of plating steps, with the use of a unique sequence of metals, a resultant sandwich made of aluminum, plated with copper, then plated with nickel, and finally plated with chrome (AlCuNiCr). This amalgam helps create more coactive circuits from among the vaster pool of “finest parts” available, to achieve a whole that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. To this end, not only do the Statement instruments utilize the finest components available, like “naked” z-foil resistors, film and foil capacitors, and their unique 750-kHz bandwidth transformers, but many combinations are matched and listened to before final selection, in search of both a specificity and a sonic synergy that cannot be discovered by measurement alone.
This methodology carries over to their customized power supplies as well, which utilize either massive external mono, or dual mono, power supplies. Their large power transformers are stick-wound, EI core designs, affording superior rejection of power line hash and noise, as well as high tolerance of DC line offset, and each is encapsulated in a special gel to lower mechanical noise and damp magnetostrictive vibration. VAC further engages proprietary techniques to achieve bridge rectification performance that preserves the low noise and musicality typical of vacuum tube rectification, while offering the speed and inherent passive regulation associated with silicon rectifiers.
What should come as no surprise here is that the audio paths of all VAC Statement instruments are hand wired, with careful selection and routing of each conductor, and the boards and chassis-mounted components benefit from the use of more costly silver turrets for junctions and interconnections. Such exceptional measures are taken to ensure superior, wide-range RF rejection, increase purity and transparency, and realize the greatest resolution and blackest of backgrounds. Finally, all VAC Statement components carry a two-year parts and labor warranty, excluding tubes.
Finally, to be able to critically evaluate such products requires only the very best sources and ancillaries. To that end, you may see my entire reference system – should you care – here. One further stipulation was made for this audition; that I use an entire loom of Master-Built Ultra cabling. You may see that full loom listing, with pricing, along with the associated details on the VAC Statement products at the end of this evaluation.
VAC Statement Components: Form
Both the VAC Statement Line and Phono Stage are comprised of two separate bodies. The audio chassis for each is seven inches tall, by seventeen and three-quarter inches wide, and sixteen and one-sixth inches deep, and each weighs some fifty-six pounds. Their tops are fitted with transparent glass, exposing the beauty of the circuitry and its tube complement, a pair of Electro-Harmonix 6922 tubes in the Line Stage, or a half dozen 12AX7s, and a pair of E88CC/6922s in the Phono Stage, beneath.
Their front and side panels are available in either a hand-rubbed gold-flake gloss black lacquer, or a hand-rubbed metallic gloss silver lacquer (as a special order), and all control knobs are chrome. Its sturdy base has only three footers, one centered in front, with two to the rear, a choice I completely applaud. As only three points are necessary to describe a plane in Euclidian Geometry, the more common, and less effective, use of four footers almost guarantees that one of those four will never be in contact with the surface beneath it.
Both face plates share the same, symmetrical switch and knob layout, an elegant, distinctive, blue backlit VAC logo, and offer more than enough options and versatility to please even the most demanding of listeners.
The modest remote control included with the VAC Statement Line Stage presents a comfortable fit in your hand, offering a round mute button, and pair of opposing arrows, one for volume up, and the other for down, all in one vertical line on its face. While I would love to see the option to switch inputs as well, it nevertheless affords the essential remote options.
The intricate, dual mono power supplies for both the Line and Phono stage are each five and three-quarter inches tall, by seventeen and three-quarter inches wide, and sixteen and one-sixth inches deep, and weigh some sixty-four pounds, with the Phono Stage supply employing some minor circuitry modifications to account for the different current draw of the different circuit components.
The VAC Statement 452 iQ Musicbloc™ features a vertical rather than horizontal profile, standing some twenty-eight and a quarter inches tall by eighteen and a quarter inches deep, and is just eight and three-quarter inches wide, sitting atop four footers attached to two twelve-inch wide traversing outriggers.
The VAC Statement 452 iQ circuitry is fully balanced, necessitating that single-ended inputs be converted to balanced operation before amplification, which is accomplished by the use of wideband transformers at the single-ended inputs.
By design, it may be configured as a 450-watt mono amplifier, as I used them during this evaluation, or with the flip of a switch, it may be used as a 225 Wpc dual mono amplifier, both ratings developed into 4 ohms, with a stated frequency range of 4Hz to 75kHz, and a stipulated power bandwidth of 20Hz to 70kHz. The design allows this versatility, without compromise, in either mode. And its nine transformers alone, eight VAC-designed, bespoke, US-built, and one less glamorous one used only for unceremonious housekeeping duties, tip the scales at an impressive one hundred twenty pounds! Once packed in its custom flight case and ready to travel, the entire package weighs in at a staggering two hundred eighty pounds!
This unorthodox vertical architecture necessitates lateral tube mounting, and we find the tube compliment to the uppermost right side of the amplifier. Using four Tung-Sol 6SN7GTB drivers and eight Gold Lion KT88 outputs, all twelve valves are pointing to the right at 90 degrees, rather than being mounted vertically on its top surface.
While horizontal tube mounting is not a customary practice today, it is not unprecedented. Yet the benefits that may be realized by that orientation, and the advantages that would present, struck a chord with Kevin. This orientation is not exploited for its novel appearance; it is fundamental in achieving its new, groundbreaking, vacuum tube-based performance and was first pioneered and applied with the original, revolutionary VAC Statement 450i iQ integrated amplifier.
Think about it this way. Arranging the amplifier’s circuit components as follows, starting at the very bottom and building up, you start with the power transformers at the very base. Above them come the power supplies, followed by the output transformers, then the output tubes, followed by the driver tubes, then the preamp stage, with the selectors and inputs nearest the top. This not only allows for the immediate benefit that ALL relevant signal, power, and ground pathways can be as direct and concise as possible, it locates the high current demand points as close to the high current supply as possible, and so on, resulting in having the noisiest sections of the amplifier placed physically as far away from the more delicate and electrically sensitive circuity as possible. Simple, yet sublimely effective.
An added benefit of the transverse orientation of the tubes comes in the form of a natural assist from gravity, which imposes a bit of internal damping on them, helping to further abate microphony and resonance. The benefits obtained through the implementation of these innovations are responsible for their significantly increased resolution and dynamic authority over the previous Statement 450 amplifiers.
You’ve seen the appellation iQ used several times to this point, and it represents an important and singular compliment to the VAC amplifier lineup, as it describes VAC’s patented iQ Continuous Automatic Bias System. This sophisticated, extremely effective monitoring system eliminates concern and the need for owners to check and re-bias their amplifiers from time to time, as was common with the designs of yesteryear. With the iQ system on the job every second, improving reliability and optimizing the sound, it will even let you know when it is time to change the Gold Lion KT88 output tubes.
As you may imagine, the installation of these larger-than-average machines is challenging and best accomplished with help. I was fortunate enough to have the invaluable assistance of Gordon Waters, also of The Audio Company, who drove to my home from the Atlanta area to simplify my setup woes and to insure everything performed as expected. I must add that The Audio Company is one of the finest retail establishments known to me. Their knowledge, capabilities, and dedication to serving their customers represent a fitting model of how things should be done. Bravo, Keith, Gordon, and Jim…
While you may glean some sense of the style, beauty, craftsmanship, and build quality of these VAC Statement instruments from photos, until you are in their presence, until you have had personal tactile interaction with them, you just can’t begin to conceive how remarkably well-executed these machines are. The sense of confidence and pride of ownership such interactions instill is unlike that of all but a handful of equally exotic components from an even smaller handful of other worthy manufacturers.
Yet as engaging as they are to interact with, it is only when hearing the beautiful musical tapestry that they so effortlessly and coherently recreate, that you begin to understand why these products are so widely praised and highly desired. As you would expect, the VAC system’s voice makes, forgive the pun, a compelling statement!
Before I relate the soundscape that this remarkable system can regenerate, I need to touch on something that must be seen as inevitable when reviewing three individual devices as a system. In such cases, you must accept that I am discussing the aggregate of the individual contributions. Because the contribution of each single component is inextricably tied to the other two, they are, in fact, speaking as one.
I also should mention that the VAC Statement units in for my audition had been well run-in, having been used on both the showroom floor and at shows, so I was unable to assess what their run-in cycle might be. But I can share that they spoke with their most cogent voice after they all reached their thermal stability, which corresponded to anywhere between forty to sixty minutes after being powered on.
Let me begin by revealing one of this system’s most overwhelming strengths, its unfailing ability to accurately render timbre, and with not only an unassailable truthfulness but by conveying tonal color in the most remarkably fine gradation of shading and articulation.
This system’s ability to portray accurate tonality, and with an arguably almost faultless balance, is simply as good as it gets. This is due in part to its ability to differentiate individual hues of tone so concisely, and to present them with such refinement and specificity that its harmonic envelope is revealed to the ear much in the manner that viewing white light refracted through a prism allows the eye to distinguish all the finer differentiations of each color band more readily.
Just one example could be found when listening to the violin recordings included in the 1998 book, The Miracle Makers: Stradivari * Guarneri * Oliveira. Full of illustrations and histories of thirty different vintage instruments, the included media (which I have ripped to my NAS) features fifteen different works, each played first on a Stradivari, then again on a Guarneri del Gesù. It also includes recordings of the same excerpt from the Sibelius Violin Concerto played on all thirty instruments.
The VAC Statement gear presents these recordings in a manner that lucidly differentiates their individual tonal characteristics, allowing you to readily appreciate the often-used wine analogy – that the Stradivari is like white wine – with a light, sweet, precise tone, where the Guarneri is more like a red wine, with deep, dark richness.
Further, the overall spectrum of sound from this system of VAC Statement products is also among the most balanced, coherent, and color-free I’ve ever encountered, particularly given that this is a tube-based system. There were no discontinuities or accentuations to be found anywhere across the entire audio bandwidth. Don’t expect to encounter the lumpy, thick, or syrupy colorations, or the euphonic accentuation of warmth, richness, or bloom, which were so common with the tube gear many of us grew up with – a sonic signature I have always eschewed. In short, this is NOT your father’s tube gear, with skewed frequency balance, overly ripe, and accentuated tonality or body. This is a world-class performance, pure and simple.
Whether playing LPs or high-resolution files, I was continually moved by this system’s ability to present such meticulously expressed musical resolution, while being able to convey it with one of the most organic, natural, and coherent voices I’ve ever experienced. Many other fine systems are forced to trade one for the other, offering remarkable resolve, bordering on being harmonically antiseptic or sterile sounding or generating lush, seductive tonality and texture at the expense of inclusive intelligibility. The exceptional degree to which these instruments accomplish both transparency and musicality is, in my experience, unparalleled.
For those who’ve not given this issue much consideration, one of the most significant contributors to a system’s ability to communicate with exceptional resolution comes from its own absence of self-noise, from the degree of the blackness of the background from which it allows the signals coursing through it to emanate.
Simply put, the ability to preserve, or to move closer to, the highest resolution of a signal may only be accomplished through greatly diminishing (or ideally, completely stripping away) anything other than the applied signal. Typically, such reductions of signal contaminants are only achieved by somehow improving or advancing upon the circuit design. That may include the redesign or shortening of the signal path, or the introduction of devices that offer lower noise or more linear performance, BOTH of which are strategies VAC employs in the creation of these products. Such augmentations lead to lower distortions in the form of a more unobstructed or less reactive response to the driving signal or the reduction of otherwise self-induced noise, both electrically and/or mechanically. Such advances result in the unmasking of previously obscured information, not by enhancing or emphasizing any particular bandwidth or frequency range. In short, I would apply the term “unmasking” to express what true resolution represents. And to that end, transparency is the sum result of a system’s resolution.
Another near absolute in performance comes with this system’s effortless ability to convey the dynamic range of musical scaling, including its weight and impact. To this end, each of the VAC Statement 452iQ’s not only delivered an unflappable 450W to my Von Schweikert Audio ULTRA 9s, but they never broke a sweat doing so. These are über quiet, ultra-fast valve-based amplifiers, offering unsullied transient response, and exhibiting a vise-like grip of control of the loudspeakers.
And unlike many other high-powered tube amplifiers, even with their prodigious output, the VAC Statement 452iQs seem to be very conservatively biased, never generating enough heat to significantly change the overall ambient temperature in my room, regardless of my demands on them. But they have no difficulty accurately expressing the power, slam, and impact of drum whacks, the plucked snap or bowed resonance of a double bass, or the punch or weight of an electronic bass guitar, all with an authority and pitch definition virtually indistinguishable from that of a real instrument, played in a real space.
Addressing the other end of the spectrum, this system’s capacity to express microdynamic shadings, to render both detail and subtle nuance, is unmatched by any other tubed gear in my experience. From things that may be as elusive as guitar or piano noodling’s to other subtle cues and articulations that are captured down closer to the noise floor, characteristics like the sounds of a hall’s air handling system or nuanced breathing, trumpet valving, saxophone keying, or fret fingering, this system establishes benchmark performance from the world of valves.
The VAC Statement system easily delivers the finest performance in the areas of macrodynamic scaling, microdynamic nuance, perceived speed of transients, and assured control of the lowest bass frequencies I’ve yet to enjoy from any valve-based electronics. However, when compared to a more stringent reference, as exemplary as they are in these respects, these characteristics also represent the only minor weakness that I am able to identify in this system’s performance envelope. In my experience, these are attributes where transistor-based electronics still set the bar and establish the absolute benchmark. But even falling just perceptibly shy of that mark, the VAC Statement system is not merely just knocking on the door of solid-state performance, it establishes a standard that other tubed electronics will have their work cut out to approximate, let alone meet, or best.
Moving to yet another of this system’s unparalleled strengths, one that I have never heard surpassed by any other combination of electronics, valve or silicon-based, let’s talk about its completeness in
rendering the space and other acoustical properties of the recordings it is asked to recreate.
It should come as no surprise that when paired with my Von Schweikert Audio ULTRA 9 loudspeakers, speakers from a company that in my opinion demonstrate an unsurpassed native ability to accurately express the spatial attributes of a recording, the resultant spatial reconstruction of recordings is simply stunning. The ensuing space that these components so effortlessly and precisely reconstruct is so authentic, so corporeal, and so credible, that you can almost believe that you could reach out and touch the performers and their instruments.
Whether startling you with the sudden “appearance” of Sting’s softly spoken, “Good night…” off your left shoulder in the final moments of “When the Angels Fall,” closing out The Soul Cages, or the immediate realization that Soprano Pilar Lorengar is conspicuously shorter than both Tenor Stuart or Bass vocalist Martti Talvela during the closing moments of the fourth movement of the 1972 London Records performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the amazing Sir Georg Solti, the VAC Statement system simply excels at the recreation of space and the veracity of both the placement and size of the instruments within it.
The inescapable dimensional reality with which this confluence of gear consistently portrays the physical placement of instruments and artists, the characteristics of individual instrumental size and body, as well as their interrelationships and layering specificity, simply must be experienced to be believed. Let me be clear that its corporal acuity, this system’s ability to capture and accurately convey the body and the related harmonic and spatial bloom of instruments throughout the soundstage, it is second to none.
When you reflect upon and add up all the singular gifts that the VAC Statement components have to offer, their unmatched tonal purity, fluency, and balance, their unforced, natural, relaxed, organic, presentation, their exceptionally refined resolution, and their visceral, corporeal spatial acumen, you soon come to an amazing realization. These products are simply among the absolute best of the absolute best available today! They are firmly situated in that rarefied stratum of products, that very select, and scant, handful of world-class hyper audio systems, those rare devices that possess the ability to accomplish that grandest of deceptions – that of permitting us to believe that we are in the presence of live music.
These VAC Statement products unquestionably represent a pinnacle of performance available today. They are indicative of the level of accomplishment that is possible today if one is prepared to pay the price of admission. When Kevin Hayes asked me at this past Capital Audiofest if I could point to one of the components as being the most accomplished, even though I had singled out the VAC Statement Phono Stage as one of my “Products of the Decade,” I told him I felt that the performance of the VAC Statement 452iQ Musicbloc’s represented a new benchmark for valve-based amplification. In terms of tonality and spatial presentation, they simply have no equal among their tubed challengers. And their enormous advances in the areas of dynamic prowess and nuance, cleanliness and speed of transients, and low-frequency grip, have put silicon-based super-amplifiers on notice!
My time with these incredibly special products routinely resulted in the most engaging, emotional, and credible sounds I have ever heard recreated in my listening space. While these magical, music-making machines are beyond the reach of the disposable income available to most music lovers, I can assure you that if it were within my means, they would be products that would enjoy a well-deserved, long-standing, musical residency here in my Mid-West music room.
Valve Amplification Company
Address: 2172 10th Street, Sarasota, FL 34237
Statement Line Preamplifier
- Weight: 2 chassis, 120 pounds
- Dimensions: Audio chassis – 7 x 17.7 x 16.15 in. /Supply chassis – 5.8 x 17.7 x 16.15 in.
- Tube Compliment: 6 x 12AX7 / 2 x E88CC/6922, ECC88/6DJ8, or 7308
- Inputs: 2 sets RCA line input, 3 sets balanced/RCA selectable inputs, 1 set balanced/RCA cinema bypass input
- Outputs: 2 sets RCA, 2 sets balanced XLR (EIA “pin 2 hot” studio standard)
- MSRP: $80,000
- SN of unit reviewed: 1236501
Statement Phono Preamplifier
- Weight: 2 chassis, 120 pounds
- Dimensions: Audio chassis – 7 x 17.7 x 16.15 in. /Supply chassis – 5.8 x 17.7 x 16.15 in.
- Tube Compliment: 2x 6922, 8416, 7308, E88CC, ECC88, 6DJ8, (or 12DJ8 twin triodes)
- Inputs: Four – single-ended or balanced
- MSRP: $80,000
- SN of unit reviewed: 2130001
Statement 452iQ Musicbloc™ Amplifier
- Weight: 280 pounds in a custom flight case
- Dimensions: Tower – 28.3″ high x 18.25″ deep x 8.75″ wide. Base outriggers – 12″ wide, by 0.5″ tall
- Tube Compliment: 4 x Tung-Sol 6SN7 GBTs / 8 x Gold Lion KT-88s
- Power: 450 Watts into 4 ohms mono/225 Wpc dual mono amplifier (stereo operation)
- MSRP: $75,000/each
- SN of units Reviewed: 1929701/1929704
Master-Built ULTRA Cable Loom
World-Wide Distributor: Von Schweikert Audio
Address: 1040 Northgate St. Suite A, Riverside, CA 92507
- 2M XLR IC – from Statement Phono stage to Statement Line Stage – $22,000
- 9M XLR IC – from Statement Line stage to each Statement 542 iQ Musicbloc™ – $50,000
- 2.5M biwire speaker cables –from each Statement 542 iQ Musicbloc™ to each Ultra 9 – $35,000
- 1.5M AC Power cords – 2 used – Line Stage/Phono Stage – $17,000 ea. ($34,000)
- 2M AC Power cords – 2 used – 542 iQ Musicbloc™ – $21,000 ea. ($42,000)
- 2.5M AC Power cords – 2 used – for each ULTRA 9 – $23,000 ea. ($46,000)
- Loom total price – $229,000
[Part-Time Audiophile welcomes Greg Weaver to the fold! Greg has written for many high-end audio publications including Positive Feedback Online, Enjoy the Music, The Absolute Sound, and more. He has his own site, complete with YouTube channel, known as The Audio Analyst, which you can check out here.]
Cool listening room.
It was a privilege to audition this system in your home, Greg! Truly spectacular in all respects. Hats off to Kevin and the VAC team for a mountaintop experience.
Hey, where did you get that Nipper Dog?
Just a hunch: https://parttimeaudiophile.com/2019/11/16/classic-audio-loudspeakers-atma-sphere-purist-audio-design-tri-planar-caf-2019/
LOL, John, you should know! You sent it to me a few years back! I hope to see you soon, my friend. Be well…