“A passion for music is a passion for life”
Apt words indeed. I couldn’t cope without music in my life on a daily basis; it nourishes and feeds the soul, makes me smile, laugh, cry. The perfect antidode to the busy lives we lead today.
VTL are an American company operating out of Chino, California. With a proven track record of over 20 years in the specialist audio industry VTL has an impeccable heritage and a remarkable reputation.
Led by the incredibly talented Luke Manley, VTL’s passion for music has brought forth a fabulous range of tubed audio components with the sole aim of recreating the experience of live music in your home.
The very essence of VTL is the marriage of music and technology, expressed in elegant design, attention to detail, value, and reliability. Their goal is to make the experience of music come alive for you.
Good question, and it’s one I get repeatedly asked by customers. Before you read on I must apologise as the next few paragraphs get a bit techie; some of the information below is from VTL, some of it from me, please stay awake!
Tubes use simple circuits –
VTL have found that in general, passing the signal through a fewer number of components yields a purer, more immediate sound. Simple circuits with fewer components have been found to sound cleaner than complex circuits with many components in the signal path. This is because there are fewer components to change, or distort, the sound (add to or degrade the signal). Simple circuits also have inherently higher reliability, since there are less parts to fail.
Tubes overload more gracefully –
Music can have enormous dynamic swings, and in tube amplifiers the onset of clipping/overload as maximum power is reached is gradual, with a low even-order harmonic.
Even-order harmonic distortion is somewhat benign, and less offensive to the ear than the harsh, odd-order harmonic distortion characteristic displayed by solid-state circuits, even though the distortion figures for tubes are somewhat higher.
Solid-state amplifiers generally reach their power limit and clip in a mostly odd-order harmonic, which is more aggressive and fatiguing to listen to. In such an amplifier the distortion rises very quickly as the maximum power level is reached and the risk of DC damaging speaker drive units is much higher.
As an example of the difference in the distortion characteristics between the two technologies, tube guitar amplifier manufacturers have traditionally designed their equipment to drive the output stages into overload distortion, using the resultant distortion to get the sound they like, also known as “tone”. In a tube amplifier this tone contributes to the amplifier’s sound, but in a solid-state amplifier this distortion would be intolerable and would destroy speakers.
Tubes are more linear with less negative feedback
Tubes are voltage amplifiers (as opposed to solid-state current amplifiers), as a result of this tubes are a more linear amplification technology and require less overall negative feedback to make the circuit linear.
Overall negative feedback is a sample of the output of the amplifier re-injected into the input 180 degrees out of phase, and is used to correct non-linearities and distortions. On the face of it this sounds like a good thing, but too much negative feedback tends to slow the amplifier down and suck the emotion and life out of the music. High feedback designs usually give a sterile and boring, lifeless sound, while low feedback designs give a more immediate sound to the music.
Negative feedback has other benefits, as the use of feedback helps to lower output impedance of the amplifier. Lower output impedances can control loudspeaker loads more efficiently, which is good!
Zero to 20dB of negative feedback is generally considered acceptable, and is usually the maximum amount of feedback needed to make a tube amplifier circuit linear and to keep the output impedance down to an acceptable level. Solid state amps (depending on technology and type of output device used) generally need over 50dB of negative feedback overall.
The benefits of feedback are lower output impedance, (and therefore higher damping factor), and generally less reactance to the loudspeaker load and therefore better control of the loudspeaker. The ability to effectively control a loudspeaker in a room is one of the biggest problems I see when visting customers and evaluating their systems for the first time. Getting an amplifier to control a speaker properly allows it to breath and you get to hear more dynamics and less slow ponderous bass notes which overwhelm everything the system is trying to do. A bit counter productive overall. If we can address this issue in a system we will really open it up from a transparency point of view.
VTL uses solid state transistors in their designs in areas (rectifier diodes for those that are interested!) where they perform better than their tube counterparts. They are also more reliable and age more gracefully!
Modern electrolytic capacitors have much more energy storage in a smaller package than older designs and in any amplifier a bigger, better quality power supply translates to wider high frequency response and better bass control capability.
Better quality insulation materials are available today, as used in the VTL Signature output transformers: This helps to keep capacitance (and resultant high frequency roll off) down, and offers more efficient current transfer with lower insertion loss, to improve current supply capability to the loudspeaker, thereby offering much improved bass and top frequency performance capability.
Printed circuit boards available today offer a better method to keep components apart, which is superior to point to point assembly. These boards result in easier manufacturing and servicing. These multiple newer technologies allow us to make tubes perform closer to the limit of their designed capabilities, which couldn’t previously be done, and allows tubes to offer better sonic performance than ever before.
Three Points for High Performance Music Reproduction
Thanks for staying with me! I hope you followed the last section ok! That’s probably as techie as my site will ever be. I always want it to be easy to read and for the layman to understand.
VTL have summed up what they believe is necessary for the reproduction of music to a very high standard.
VTL believe that it takes extra muscle in the electronics for a room acoustic to approach the recreation of the live musical event. Most modern speakers fully develop their potential only when they are controlled with high-powered amplifiers.
Music is complex, and VTL seek the musical purity that comes from a simple circuit path built with premium parts. They offer the full frequency response, so you get all the music with few electronic distortions.
Pure tube design, a short, simple circuit path; a big, well-regulated power supply, and a first-class, well-matched output transformer. Simplicity in design offers clean, pure sonic reproduction and ease of use for the listener.
What is the VTL “Family Sound”?
Vivid, clean, with deep muscular bass and a huge soundstage. I find it capitivating and a real addictive experience listening to VTL. I hear lots of systems on a daily/weekly basis and it’s no surprise that some of the systems I enjoy spending most time with have VTL components in them in one way or another. Be it an integrated amp, a pre and power or just a pre-amp in several cases, they have given “problem systems” a new lease of life and have injected that holy grail of musicality that everyone craves.
Tetrode va Triode – A brilliant little function!
The VTL range of power amplifiers offer a unique feature that makes them even more flexible: On-the-spot switching between tetrode and triode modes of operation that is easy to reach and user switchable.
At lower volume levels, and with efficient speakers, the sound of the triode mode offers a level of delicacy, liquidity, and sweetness to vocals, chamber and jazz instrumental quartets and solo instruments with 3-D imaging in the mid-range that will get you even closer to the real event.
Tetrode mode offers the detail, but with huge soundstage width and depth, and real weight/gravitas to the music that with large-scale orchestral or big band will transport you to the concert hall with all the visceral power and detail rendition of your favourite music.
Which mode is best? It all depends on the system (in particular the speakers), the music being played, the size of room, the volume level and of course what you like the sound of!
If you have an sensitive pair of speakers and you don’t play at crazy loud levels Triode is silky smooth, hugely detailed and incredibly intimate. Tetrode gives the slam and additional power needed for less sensitive speakers and music that needs to be reproduced with scale and aplomb.
But tubes are unreliable and noisy right?
Tubes have generally been considered over the years to be not as reliable as their solid state cousins, with valves needing frequent replacement and that they are noisy and not as accurate as “more modern designs” in pure sonic terms.
In today’s market place VTL have designed their range to be as reliable as possible, by keeping the circuit the signal path passes through as short and as simple as possible. It uses fewer components and if truth be told a tube based amp is a lot less complicated with fewer things to fail or go wrong when compared to a solid-state amplifier.
Yes, tubes do need replacing, but in most instance they will give you several 1000s of hours worth of enjoyment/use. All of my VTL clients accept that from time to time a valve will require changing, but taking the rough with the smooth they have beautiful music playing non-stop!
Synergy with other components
It goes without saying that there is a natural synergy when you combine more than one VTL component in a system but what about using it with other brands? The smooth, seductive character it bestows means it works brilliantly in a system if it is sounding a bit aggressive or strident and needs the edges smoothing out but without losing detail, insight or transparency.
It works well with all kinds of music as well. Don’t make the mistake of presuming that the only people who buy tubes are that of the older generation who only listen to classical or chamber music. My VTL client base has a huge and eclectic muscial taste ranging from King Creosote, London Grammar and Bon Iver, through to Kamasi Washington, DJ Shadow and Depeche Mode.
I’m sure you will not be suprised to read that if you ground a VTL component using Entreq and isolate it using Stillpoints you will lower the noise floor in both the electrical and mechanical domains respectively, allowing the component in question to deliver even more dynamics, be more detailed, more musical. The improvements on offer with these components is not subtle.