BAT Preamps, why such polarized opposite opinions?

I've never heard a BAT preamp. But I've heard enough about them on this and other sites. What is it about their sonics that people either tend to really like or really dislike them?

I've heard criticisms that they lack air, treble openness, life. I've been told the VK32SE is too dark, too weighted to the bottom, no air or delicacy on top.

I've heard these polarized opinions from audio salesmen as well, some who carried (carry) BAT. Let's just say I made alot of long distance calls to get a broad opinion.

But others love their sound and think they are fabulous.

I know what you're going to tell me - go listen to them yourself. Well, I live rural and it isn't easy to do.

So, instead, I'd like to get opinions across the spectrum from the Audiogon guys.

I'm using a Audio Research 100.2 with Dali Helicon 400's. I've tried Rogue, ARC, Sonic Frontiers, but haven't found the right preamp yet.
I have owned the VK-3i and now the VK-30. I think the main reason for the varying opinions would be the other equipment that the BAT preamp might be paired with. I have really enjoyed both of the units I have owned and would not hesitate to choose BAT gear in the future.

I too live in an area with no BAT dealer, and had to go by opinions listed here. If you do get a unit through audiogon, if you don't like it, you can resell without being out too much money.

What are looking for that you haven't found in the gear that you have tried?
If you're considering spending this kind of money, I'd invest in a trip to a city with suitable high end shops so you can personally decide unless you are not going to buy new. BAT is an esteemed brand and for good reason...high build quality and unsurpassed customer support. With this level of equipment, opinions you hear are based on subjective musical preferences that are individualized. I doubt if anyone told you the BAT gear is unreliable or the company turns its back on you if you need service. I've owned one BAT pre and it was a terrific piece VK5i.
Good luck,
We have found (and our customers) the BAT VK3iX to be one of the "best buys" in audio. It also can enjoy an upgrade path as budget and needs increase. Stongly consider this piece. It will match well with your current equipment.
Happy Listening
My freinds and I recently had a comparison listen to a few preamps at my place. One of the units was a BAT 52se. The thing was built like a tank and looked great. Some of the other preamps were the ARC Ref3 and my Aesthetix Callisto sig.

The BAT was the warmest and I guess you could say most colored. It didn't have the resolving power of the other two and seemed a bit lacking at either frequency extreem.... Sounds like I didn't like it right? Wrong. It was sweet sounding and very enjoyable to my ears. I would have picked it after my Aesthetix for my tastes (and no, the Aesthix is not real warm sounding- probably the most neutral of the preamps I have listened to recently). I kinda hate the reviewer terms, but I would have to call it "musical".

Hope this helps,

I have a VK 51SE (used/audiogon for a good price) replacing a ML 380S and Love it. Mates well with my Aesthix Rhea phono preamp. The sound is big and extremely musical. I prefer the tubes on the front end with vinyl. The build quality is super. The only negitive to me about BAT products is there slighty pricey when new.
I would urge an audition with your amp before making a purchase if it is at all possible. I auditioned 2 BAT preamps inc a Vk-51 with a BAT VK-75Se. I had also heard the dealer's Hovland 100 on a previous occasion and was about ready to walk out on the BAT demonstration and opt for a different dealer when I was played a Nagra PL-p, much above my price range. It fit what with my system and my priorities best. Well, I left with a promise to return to buy it and did so though it took me 4 months. A patient, thoughtful dealer willing to work with you is in many cases your best option.
Appreciate the responses so far. Yes, buying and selling if not to my liking is an option, but it unfortunately seems the economy has effected the audio market as well. I see lots of things that don't sell that I saw sell before.

I've looked through notes I have written down on comments about BAT preamps, and the negative ones are what bother me, especially those saying Dark, closed down, not open, airless, lack of treble sparkle and extension, emphasizes the bass, chesty coloration in voices and midrange. That's why I'm looking for more experiences with these units.

Forget the reviews and reviewers. They have their own agenda, so I don't really care what they have said.
Currently have both the 51se and arc ref 3. The treble is closed in but it really opens up with the right power cord. I found Synergistic AC coupler or harmonix xdc or ESP essence really trim the fat at the bass and open up the treble. It has great bass and macrodynamics. Lots of features. It also sounds very fluid and direct.

It is a steal on the used market right now.
Glai, just curioous what amp and spekers? thanks
I just have traded my BAT 51SE for a brand new ARC Ref 3.
Could you share your impressions, please?
How would you compare the two (BAT vs. Ref3), and which one you are keeping?
Glai, how can the treble be "closed in" but "really open up" with the right power cord? If the treble is indeed closed in or hooded or airless or dull as some say, I don't think any power cord is going to eliminate it.
Much of the sound of a BAT preamp as compared to most others is likely due to their preference for oil caps (high quality copper foil in oil, I think) as output coupling capacitors. Some DIYers love the sound of oil caps and some don't, but the description of the "sound" of an oil cap used in a coupling application would be much like the description of the sound of a BAT preamp. In fact, if one did not like that sound, one could make a radical change by changing the output coupling capacitors, IMO.
The presentation of the 51se does change a lot with different power cords. It was muted with shunyata and audience PCs but great with SR, Harmonix stuff.

ARC is slightly better with textures and bass. The ARC makes the soundstage much bigger than every preamp I have had. It is probably not very accurate in this effect but I find it enjoyable. Bat is a more direct and faster sounding amp. Bat has more useful features if you switch betw vinyl and CD.

Amp pass x350.5, vac phi 110, mcintosh 275, avalon diamonds, quad 2805
it is better not to buy any component based upon opinions.

if you can't audition a component before you buy it, don't buy the component. if necessary drive or get on a plane, especially if it is an expensive component.

some manufacturer's are flexible. they may make an arrangement with a dealer to shp a component to you, or in rare cases, ship the component to you.

i realize the stock and trade of audiogon is opinions.
no opinion can predict your preference or dislike for a component. i think too much value is given to opinions.

well-intentioned advice about the sound of components as well as opinions about the sound quality of preamps, amps, speakers and cd players is a poor substitute for personal experience.
From my expirience (I owned BAT 51SE for over 2 years) BAT is thick, slow and veiled. This is a typical BAT sound to me - I have tried severeal BAT components (VK30, VK-500, VK-150SE) and they all have this sonic signature. ARC Ref 3 on the other hand sounds open, fast and transparent. It is not brgight or thin byany means - just right.

I have also to agree with Mr tennis opinion here - If I were you, I would arrange a demo, even If I had to travel outside your town/state.
Thick, slow, veiled -- YUCH!

Your description of BAT's sound mirrors what a number of others think as well.

With no disrespect intended, I have to question those posters who find none of this to be the case. I cannot believe that so many find BAT to be thick, slow, veiled, airless, and that they are all wrong! They can't all have the same equipment giving BAT this sound. It has to be characteristic of BAT's sound. There is no other logical answer.
perceptions are subjective. what is thick, slow and veiled to some is natural sounding to others.

i have heard bat systems at dealers and ces shows. i owned a bat vk d5. bat gear is not slow, thick or veiled. it is very clear, transparent and highly detailed.

i have several witnesses who can corroborate my observations.

it has nothing to do with logic.

many so-called audiophiles are so accustomed to a little extra energy in the upper frequences, i.e., 1000 hz and up.

when a stereo system does not have such a presentation, it may be perceived as slow. it's all opinion and subjective.

asking for opinions about the sound of components is a waste of time.
I have a Bat VK50 with 6922 tubes, a VK51se with 6H30 tubes, and a VK55 tube amp, none of which are slow, thick or veiled.
Speakers are Avantgarde Duo 3.2's. If the Bat products sounded slow, thick or veiled I wouldn't own them. As it is, I just want to get more Bat stuff, maybe 150se's and a Bat Rex, yep, that would do it!
I replaced the caps in my VK-75 and transformed the way it sounds. For $200 in V-caps and a 45 minutes of labor my Bat is sounding fantastic. I would never say that the stock unit was ever thick and slow.

This thread is a perfect example of the inadequacies of relying on word of mouth to shape one's "experience" with a componenet. There is no substitute for getting the piece in your system or at a minimum, listening to it somewhere with similiar (to yours) mating equipment. My personal experience with BAT is totally opposite of "thick slow veiled". This pitiful description takes top place for largest disparity between "word on the street" and my experience (and others I know) with it. Other "stereotypes" have sometimes been a better match OTOH, but wow, BAT as "thick slow and veiled" is just flat out funny! It is not even worth the pixels to blab on about what pieces I heard as NONE of this matters. What matters is that YOU stop forming judgements based on others views. Do what everyone else does: get on the merry go round and try a few seats. It's the only way. Everything else is, as mr tennis stated, a total waste of time.
I have heard BAT 31SE in the store with BAT VK250 amplifier when I was auditioning CD players(Arcam FMJ CD33, Cary 303/300 and Musical Fidelity A5) at Sound by Singer.
Haven't noticed the closed in or dark or dull sound from the BAT combo. The room was acoustically treated.

You say you never heard a BAT preamp. And yet you doubt the group of people who offered their opinion that contradicted with what you READ in the forums.

Why don't YOU go and get a demo piece from the dealer(or buy a used unit on audiogon), bring it home and listen to it in your system and draw your own conclusions, instead of questioning and doubting what someone said. This would be a more sofisticated way to go about it, in my opinion.
thank you depac996. it just happens that your experiences and mine are in agreement and you confirm my belief that an audition under relevant conditions is the only intelligent way to avoid the risk of disappointment after purchasing a component.

it has been said, over and over again, that well-meaning opinions should not be the basis for purchasing components.

hopefully this is the last time it needs to be said. unfortunately, this good advice will be repeated in the future, in response to another thread.
I would like to put my prevoius post into perspective. BAT sounds veiled and closed in IN COMPARISION to the latest ARC Reference gear (Ref 3 & Ref 110). If you compare it to some other amps, it may not be that obvious.

Which doesn't change the fact that BAT has a typical "wall of sound" perspective, with poor microdynamics and very little inner life.

And I think I know what I'm talking about since I owned BAT 51SE for over 2 years and have tried it on a very revealing speakers, including Avalon Eidolon Vision, Quad 2805 and Audiostatic DCM-5 (ULTRA transparent electrostatic speakers).
I accord with Lewm & Flemke that a perception of sluggishness & treble roll-off that one senses with BAT is a signature of the identical oil coupling caps used throughout much of the BAT tube line-up. Switching to good teflon such as V-Cap improves dynamics, resolution & HF extension. The BAT zero-neg feedback triode tube amp designs are great & with the coupling cap mod I believe they surpass stock ARC.
None of the above responses takes the place of a proper audition. NONE. This is a truth that no one worth their flux capacitors can deny.
Enjoy the ARC REF3 Elberoth2. I heard (or was that read?) somewhere that it is white hot sounding in its presentation. Perhaps someday I will take the requisite time to audition one in my reference system.
Audphile 1 said, "you doubt the group of people who offered their opinion that contradicted with what you READ in the forums." Well, so what? There are others here who don't agree with your group.

Elberoth1 has a very expensive and sophisticated system, so I give credence to his opinion. He sold his VK51SE. I respect others' opinions too. Just trying to sort it out.

Flying to a BAT dealer to audition? I don't think so. Besides, I've auditioned components at dealers where they sounded dreadful, and the component was a good sounding component. Many dealers don't know good sound, unfortunately.

Perhaps those posters who think the oil caps are the culprits are correct. I know there were some who didn't like the Jensen oil caps used by Cary and preferred the non-oil (I believe it was Hovland) caps. Those caps are BAT's thing, though, and I certainly wouldn't buy a preamp and change out the caps, reducing its resaleability in half.
Audiosoul, the best thing to do, is to audition at home in your own system. It seems like you know that. But despite the fact, you still lean towards a certain set of opinions on the forums.

I am not doubting what Elberoth1 observed in his system, but that was in his system, his room. Regardless of how expensive and sofisticated one's system is, you do not know what type of sound they like, what type of room it is(dead or lively). Synergy is everything.

Without being familiar with your speakers and your room acoustics, nobody really knows how BAT or ARC or any other preamp would sound in your system. You need to match components and wires until you find the right combination.
You did not mention what your system sounds like now, what it lacks and what you want to achieve.

Discounting a particular component based on opinions from the forums, and mixed opinions nonetheless, is just not a wise thing to do. But if there is absolutely no way you can audition a component, then I guess all you're left with is to rely on forums.
That's all I was tryng to say.
The point Audiosoul, is just buy one already and listen to it. Who cares what mega buck system something is in. That says nothing. Get one for yourself and form your own judgements. Don't write off what could potentially be a great match with the 100.2. I had that amp for a while and loved it. It is in the "exceptional" category. With it's high input impedance and powerful lucid presentation I think it would be a stunning match with the BAT VK51SE. Go for it. I have a Bat VK5i, that with my Pass X250.5 (22k ohms Zin) an excellent match...I have never had PRAT like much for slow/thick/veiled!!

Audiosoul, a dividend of modding is to extend the life of a component in one's system--sometimes for a very long time. Any reduction in long-term resale value should be netted against the repeated depreciation hits that would have otherwise resulted from trading up through successive generations of new or used equipment.

Also, a coupling cap swap is probably the simplest and most easily reversed of mods, and V-Cap TFTF has been generally embraced as the gold standard of coupling caps. I doubt they reduce resale value. In any case the old oilers can be easily reinstalled at resale time.

Of course without the fickleness of the majority seeking constant churn in their systems, there would be less income for the industry and fewer opinions in the forums.
Take a look at the RMAF thread. Of the 11 posts 4 or 5 thought the BAT/Wilson room sounded excellent. I drive a pair of Soundlabs with VK 55's and I don't find that combination thick, slow or veiled. My recommendation is to buy a preamp and if you don't like it sell. Have you heard the metaphor about opinions?
hi joman:

you corroborate the point of this thread with your comment about the rmaf. if 5 voiced there opinion in one direction, the other 6 had a different opinion.

with respect to any component there will always be differences of opinion. what else is new ?

the bat products are not unique in this respect.
It won't help much if you listen to the BAT at the dealer's place UNLESS the equipment, speakers, room geometry, acoustics etc. are similiar, and I think you must have known that by now. Some advice of taking a trip to the dealer's place for an audition is not the best solution. Getting that piece into your system in your own room is the best solution. You have to figure it out yourself on how to achieve that though.

I am in the same agreement as Audphile1 and Dpac996 in getting whichever preamp you fancy into your system and listen to it for yourself. You can sell it if it doesn't suit you. Some opinions can still serve their purpose and steer you into the right direction but listening preferences can be so varied and subjective that you might want to trust your own ears.

Having said that, I too have relied on opinions in the forums here like everybody else. And just to let you know, prior to getting my ARC LS-16 preamp, the BAT was also on my list until I read about them being warm in comparison with ARC. I do not like warm so the BAT was left out.
I've owned 9 pieces of BAT gear, though I only currently own one. I have also had two other BAT units in my home for extended audition. During the last several years I have heard others tell me that BAT is too dark, too boomy, too veiled, too bright, too tizzy, etc. etc.

How can it be too dark and too bright? Different tastes. Those that like speed gear like ARC, VAC, find the BAT heavy and slow. Those that like warm gear like CJ and Cary, find the BAT to be hard, glassy or bright.

The point is you will only know if you listen for yourself, because others systems and tastes are not the same as yours. I found an all BAT system can be too heavy and a bit too dark for me. I've also found that a system w/o any BAT components can sound a bit lightweight or thin.
At this moment, I'm enjoying the combination of ARC preamp and BAT amp. Lil' bit o' resolution, li' bit o' body.
Sure, changing power cords and cables can help balance things out a bit too.

The bottom line is that you can listen to everyone tell you how they think it sounds, or you can decide for yourself.

maybe the w bat vk300x - u will hv best of both worlds? : )

You have brought up a point that has made me wonder for some time now .

BAT makes great tube preamps , tube amps and SS amps .
So why , when they decided to design an integrated amp , did they decide to go the hybrid route and use the tube pre section coupled to a SS amp section ?

Just one of those things that make me go 'hmmm' !

Happy tunes .

I would imagine they made an integrated because BAT felt there was/is a market for it. If I'm not mistaken I think it's one of BAT's most (if not the most) successful selling components.


I don't think that Saki70 is asking why BAT made an integrated amp, but why they choose to use tube pre/ SS amp design, as opposed to say a full SS or full tube design. Many American designers, such as Cary, VAC, McIntosh, ARC, etc, as well as many foriegn designers have designed full tube integrated amps, pre and amp sections.

I'm also curious as to why BAT hasn't taken a swing at this market, especially considering how successful their VK-300x is. My guess would be that maybe their tube amps run too hot to share a chassis with a preamp section.

Hi John,

Thanks John, you're right. I didn't read Saki70's post thoroughly.

Again, my guess would be one of all marketing decisions. I think BAT wanted the 300x to be able to drive a large majority of speakers available today. For their target market ... I would think BAT wanted it to come in at a certain price, size/weight, as you pointed out, not to generate too much heat, and to achieve a certain level of sonic performance.
I guess BAT felt the design they came up with was the best way for them to accomplish their sonic and marketing goals.

Happy holidays,
Maybe worthwhile to know that BAT actually had - via their integrated amp catered for 3 markets:

1. the solid state mkt - vk 300
2. the tube hybrid mkt - vk 300x
3. the super-tube mkt - vk 300xse (not my cup of tea)

hence its already catering to the INTEGRATED MKT via 3 different integrated models :)

my personal opinion is that the vk300x(which i own) is fun to listen to. it has the best of SS/tube in one EXCEPT its not holographic enough...other than that, it is so so so so ...nice..... :)
I have owned and modified a BAT preamp. It started out as a VK-5, then 5I, then 5 SE. Then I modified the 5 SE.

I upgraded the coupling caps, the Vishay resistors to the newer Z foil, and replaced some of the power resistors with Shinkoa tantalum.

My replacement caps are fuller sounding oil types, bypassed with copper foil teflon caps. These were best out of many, almost every cap out there except for the V-cap, which I did not try (approx. $1000.00 for a set).

All the last mods together made about as much difference as going from a decent powercord to an excellent one.

The stock oil caps were so good, that I almost put them back in !

One point I am trying to make is that I don't see anything in the BAT preamp that would make it "dark or veiled sounding".

They are Stereophile Class A, and as they state in their Magazine: Class A sound can only be achieved with the right ancillary components.

I would definetly include cables, especially power in these "components".

This would of course apply to other excellent preamps like VAC, ARC, etc., and the other components.

This is system building, and system Synergy.

Good luck !!
Lot's of comments for and against BAT being slow, thick, veiled and others replies to this.

I have owned BAT amps and preamps (3iX and VK 60's running in mono). At the very same time I owned Krell gear and Levinson gear and had a variety of speakers - Wilson (Duettes and 5.1s), Thiel (2.2s) and Von Schweikert (4 jrs.). I also owned various front ends in conjunction with this equipment - ranging from Audio Aero Capitole (very warm and sweet sounding), EMM Labs, DCS stack, Esoteric, Wadia and Resolution Audio. Other preamps with this equipment over time were a Cary pre, JR Capri pre, and Calypso (one of my all time favorite components).

If you listen to Conrad Johnson and then switch out to BAT, you will think the BAT is cooler, faster and leaner. If you switch from Krell you will feel that the BAT equipment is warmer, slower and richer.

If you walk into a room with BAT playing and don't have a strong reference point, you are not likely to call the BAT either too rich or too lean, too warm or too cold, too fast or too slow.

Typically, with the level of equipment we are talking about the differences are most apparent in side-by-side testing and like icecream, we all have our favorite flavors. Some people will say a good Vanilla icecream is bland - not recognizing the unique and special characteristics of good quality, though somewhat subtle vanilla beans. Others will say butter pecan is just too darn sweet and others will say sherberts don't deliver that creamy texture they seek.

So in the end, BAT won't be too warm, slow or veiled for most people (however those that crave the polar opposite will have these complaints). BAT won't be too detailed, dry and lean to most people (but those that crave a super warm and syrupy sound may think so).