February 1, 2014

Magical Logic



by David Thomson~

Boring. That’s the term Bea Lam, Luke Manley’s better half at VTL, uses to describe her experience when listening to dull stereo components that don’t connect her to the music.

Bea likes tubes. That’s why, back in the early 90s, she went to hear Luke deliver the Vacuum Tube Logic demonstration at a San Francisco dealer. An attractive woman who appreciates hi-end audio? Luke was immediately smitten.

Bea was so impressed she bought the system. With Luke, even with his jovial cajoling, it took a little longer for her to succumb to his warm, sweet sound similar to that of his audio components.

VTL-ampThey are both so passionate about music, it seems that they were destined to not only meet but, marry. This year, they’ll celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.
Today, Bea’s contribution to that warm, sweet sound —of the VTLs, that is — is ever evolving. Although, bestowed with many responsibilities at VTL, primarily, she is the ears of the company.  “I listen to the dynamic range. Has it a warm, creamy sound? Is it luminescent?”

Luke is the brain that coordinates the production process to include Bea’s suggestions and translating their practical implementation with the VTL engineers.

Then, all the components are assembled right here in Southern California. They ship about 50 pieces a week.

Bea, an electronic engineer, and Luke know that charts and graphs tell a lot about sound values. They also know that nothing compares to the human computer.

“Our ears are the best filter,” stated Luke. “Our, typical, VTL customer isn’t really interested in what’s in the “box.” All they care about is the end result. They’re also suspicious of too much circuitry,” he laughed.

To Bea, as a classically trained pianist, fidelity is fundamental. When 12 years old, in Taiwan, she was exposed to the symphonic experience. First, she was inspired to reproduce the pianist’s performance. Today, she wants to reproduce the piano. Neither is easy.

The piano, with its expansive dynamic range, is widely heralded as the most difficult musical instrument for audio components to replicate. It will truly test your stereo system.

Actually, Bea thinks the pipe organ is the most difficult…in fact, damn near impossible. Her hearing is so acute that the only way she can truly appreciate its dense, pulsating emanations is live.

“Of course,” Bea admited, “When testing any component, you must play a piano piece to evaluate it. Also, the female voice; It offers so many subtleties and delicate layers of intricacy that VTL strives to portray as ‘live.’”

Luke believes that the VTL listener wants live, too: “They go to concerts. When they get home, and they lay their vinyl on the platter, they want to recreate that same sonic experience…and accuracy. They expect the sound of the instrument to be as true to real as possible.” It seems that’s the VTL mission: Either it’s true or it’s trash…or it’s torture.

And, there are so many great musicians that the only way we get to hear them today is, thankfully, through recordings. And, those recordings are being reissued in 200-gram vinyl mastered from the original magnetic tapes. These records reveal information that wasn’t so clearly available to us — if we have the components to reproduce them.


Bea Lam and Luke Manley

The typical VTL listener is indentured in a high-stress environment all day long. “In the evening, they want to decompress.” claimed Luke, “And What better way than music?”

And, many of those listeners have devolved from the CD revolution back to vinyl. They have never parted with their treasured records acquired in the pre-CD era.

They also have appreciated that the CD (supposed) replicas can’t come close to the sonic accuracy, or warmth, of those original records.

“In this day and age, any serious system must include a phono stage,” declared Luke.

Our VTL demonstration included the TL-6.5 Series II Performance Phono Stage. What warmth; what detail; what a soundstage. All the major ingredients were present. No pesky listener fatigue so common with digital delivery.

OK, we’ve just heard their signature piece. What about letting us hear the entry level VTL TP-2.5 Series II Performance Phono Stage?

Luke was more than happy to climb behind the audio rack, switch cables, and present the same record. I couldn’t believe my ears. Downsized, as it were, there wasn’t a huge sacrifice in sound value, nor detail. And, this puppy is about a quarter of the price.

After absorbing the sonic information, I begged him to go back up to the TL-6.5. What was I missing? Why did this component cost so much more?
Strangely enough, going up, it all became apparent that there was in incredible difference in the soundstage and presence of the instruments plus, the overall ambience of the delivery.

That’s what it takes to improve audio reproduction. The refinements are, seemingly, so incremental. To achieve them, the expense increases astronomically.

But, for those of us on a budget, we don’t miss what we haven’t heard. And, for the money, TP-2.5 Series II deserves serious consideration.

VTL is all about innovation. Many of their amps offer an improvement so great that it has to be mentioned. For those of us “Tube” people, it’s always a pain when a component starts to crackle and hiss. We know that it’s, usually, a faulty tube, but which one?

First in the process, the VTL amp shuts down to stop any further damage, like the tube getting so hot that it fries the circuitry. Not only that, a little green light, associated with the offender, turns red to let you know which tube it is that crashed the system. No messing around, no expense of taking the amp to the “shop.” You simply swap out the tube and you’re good to go.


Brian Berdan, at Audio Element in Pasadena, with Luke and Bea, are hosting an RCN party for your listening pleasure on March 13, 5-8pm. You can audition the pieces mentioned here, the VTL pre-amps, and more.  It’s  BYOV: Bring your own vinyl…if you dare!


One Comment

  1. Jón

    Hello. I heve First Sound preamp i like to know what it mats with Vtl mb 125 mono , Best regard Jón .

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