For reliability I would stay away from VTL and Melos.Over the years I have had too many people come into my store pist off at thhose companies.I caried Audio Research for a while but dropt it for Balanced Audio Technology.Better sound ,looks,build.If for some reason a problem would arise they pick it up and send it back 2 day fed-ex on their dime(pretty rare for a co. to do this kind of support).Now I am in Scottsdale,AZ.and I am thinking of Wavestream(too many dealers in the area for BAT.
Luke Manley's VTL gear is highly regarded by many (best of show @ WCES & HiFI '99). I home-auditioned both the model 2.5 preamp & the revered 5.5. Construction wasn't looking very good inside, considering the $$ asking price. I experienced too much tube-rush noise from both models, but my revealing ultra-high-efficiency horns magnified every little flaw. Depth of stage was good, good bass extension, & reasonable highs, but nothing real impressive here. The dealer "fixed" the 2.5 for me; the second round tryout was even worse as he had not replaced the noisy/microphonic tube, & had replaced only 1 of the outputs so the gains were way uneven. I may have just not been setup properly (re: optimal interconnects & power cords for this gear) because the raves I've read about these preamps came nowhere close to my mediocre experiences. I really tried to like them, but it wasn't happening.
I've owned multiple versions of CJ, ARC, Melos, and VTL. My wife and I are very partial to tube sound. However each manufacturer has a rather distintive sound that can be shifted by changing the brand of tube used in their equipment. I think it would be rather difficult to recommend a unit based on sound and think it would be a matter of preference. We actually prefer the Melos sound and dislike the CJ sound but I would never recommend that someone buy a Melos due to reliability problems. We have a local tech that can fix mine. VTL sounded OK to us but the ARC units have always been our second choice when we have compared units. We haven't heard the BAT in our system. I strongly recomend you listen before you buy unless you have the capital to buy used, decide and resell what you don't like.
pls1 - i hear ya on the melos. my recently-acquired music-director yust came back from melos w/the rest of its updates completed (the previous owner had paid for a complete update, but it seems they left out some caps.) well, i have had it back for a week, the sound is unbelievably good, but yust tonite, i lost the right channel. :<( not looking forward to having to send it back to melos, even if it *is* on their dime. know anyone in the baltimore-dc area that is familiar w/working on these? doug
About reliability, I own a pair of VTL for 10 years, and no problem whatsoever.
The CJ gear is the most tubey of the three. I throught they were a bit too lush sounding. My favorite was the ARC VT100 MKII over the VTL but not by much and purchase price actually pushed me to the VTL (MB185 and 5.5).. Based on a fairly sistant memory The ARC is a bit more open sounding than the VTL with a great top end, maybe a bit more dynamic as well. I've heard the VTL in a number of systems and averall they give a great soundstage and a very neutral, balanced presentation...nothing seems to stand out. In my system the soundstage is very open and well defined, top end is smooth, bass is is tight but not all that outstanding in the real low end department.. i think the problem lies with other componants however.
Anyone compared the VTL 2.5 to ARC LS8/ LS16? I´ll use it with a DNA-1 dlx amp. Thanks.
I would agree that CJ products are very warm and lush in general. And AR is on the opposite end of tube sound, sometimes even sounding much more like ss. Maybe why some say that the best ss and tube products have been converging in sound. I don't really buy that, as I think a classic tube sound is the most endearing to me, even if it is not considered the most "accurate". I would say that VTL is more along the lines of the neutral, extended, open, detailed sound of the AR, but not as far in that direction. My worry about VTL was always the amount of tubes they put into an amp. Yes, you can control a low impedence loudspeaker better. But, does the music coming out of this product sound better than the other tube amps out there?
Love vtl sound, it just makes instruments sound right. I've 300's which I just had updated a year ago. no problems, I play mine all the time. I have bat system also, 5i, 500's, vkd5,sounds great but vtl & cat sound just real. I also have Plinius intergated that sounds richer than the Bat system. What it is about is three good systems and your personal taste and what you can leave with. I apprecitate all systems but my main listening room is the vtl
Regarding the reliability of the VTL gear, yes, they once suffered from horrendous reliability problems that nearly put the company under. Luke Manley took the company over a few years ago and has since turned the reliability problem into a non-issue. I have a pair of MB-450 Signatures that are run at least 3 or 4 hours daily, and in four years they have never failed. I also have a pair of the Tiny Triodes that have never failed in the same time frame. On the other hand, I owned a CJ preamp that was back to the factory 3 times in two years (all of the shipping paid by myself, even under warranty) and the ARC engineers do not bother to mask their boards to save a few production pennies. Take the top cover off of a product before buying, and check out the build quality. Also, NEVER take the word of a dealer for a competing brand regarding the reliability of another product. Oh, and the stuff is high powered, controls a speaker well, and much more neutral in terms of sonics than most tube gear. Listen to advice, but listen and judge for yourself.
Don't forget about VAC! Some very fine, well built and exquisite sounding gear. If you can find it used it will be a bargain, especially Renaissance series amps such as a 30/30 or 70/70.