No brainer VK500 best the company's ever made.
I can't give direct comparisons to many of those you listed as prospects. I will say this... the VK200 & SURELY THE VK500 W/bp, WHICH i PRESENTLY OWN, IS AS SOLID AN AMP AS i HAVE FOUND. aS NEUTRAL TOO.
Every time I have made a switch in preamps, preamp tubes, etc. you are sure to know about it. it has enough power to reamin in control, enough reserve power to never seem to run out of gas. A balanced and harmonius mix of textured musical recreations. it's durable, beefy sound is compelling and satisfying. I found it to better the MC252 & 402, some Levinsons, and some tube amps that are highly touted. IMO. If they err anywhere it's on the side of warm musicality. there's not a bright bone in the 200 or 500's makeup. only poor upstream items will give you anyting less than good performance. They are more than a safe bet in creating a musical system.
The newer versions are from my understanding, closer to the neutrally dynamic range. Paying a call to BAT and speaking with Steve B. will help you I'm sure. One last thing about BAT... they tend to overbuild things, and stick quite close to the less is more train of thought. single gain stages, huge power resivoirs etc.
Be mindful of the setup when auditioning... and if possible do go hear a BAT at some point. Even if you don't though? buying a BAT amp is not a risky thing. I never heard either of the two BAT amps I bought... the pre or the power. I was quite pleased. having owned Krell previously.
you're on the right path. That was me all over, after the Krell experience. the ML sounded like a blanket was on the speakers... Just heard (if you can call it that, it was so brief it was like the dealers electric bill was past due), the 400wpc Ayre monos on Sophias with the Ayre 5 pre, and my previous BAT vk5i pre.... with the BAT pre it got more musical but it had it's stock tubes in it... still it did a better job than the Ayre 5 pre IMO. Sort of dry with either pre.
The McIntosh 402 isn't bad. not at all. Though it didn't really outdistance the vk500 w/BP. They were pretty close actually. the BAT comes off a bit warmer. but system stuff could make either about the same sounding.
The 602 is one I would buy. No question. On the Mac speakers at 86db (LS340, LS360, and then the XR2? THE ONE WITH ALL THE TWEETERS lined up) it was pretty stellar. With the LS 360, having a sub is no longer a thought... maybe not with the 340s. depending on room size. I'd go with a diff pre than a MAC to gain more warmth. Very nice sound however with the top Mac SS pre and Mac CDP, which is how I heard it/them.
For value though, and build, it's mighty hard to beat the VK500 w/BP. Just know this, by itself, the VK500 won't be the end all be all in adding warmth to a system. it'll help, but it's not the complete answer. it's a real chameleon. Mainly IMO the pre, if one is used, has the greatest efffect. The PCs you use with it are vastly going to change it's pallet too.
After a couple years, and several PC combos later, the best I've been able to do for it is listed in my virtual system. the flexibility in driving spkrs by having one is also nice.
The BAT is nice, a little warm, like a Levinson but the Levinson has more bass slam, (testicular fortitude).
The Krell is the winner here but you've already had analytical sound so -----
BAT is nice, 600 is even nicer.
Pass is between the Krell and Levinson as far as balance but in a different league if detail and shadings are you forte.
McCormack os warmer and a nice amp at a great price used, if you can find one. Edge/Grypon are also nice and linear sounding.
My VK500 was bettered by the McCormack DNA500. That said, for the current used price, the BAT is a good value. In my system at the time, the BAT had a musical midrange, was a touch dark and rolled off in the high frequencies (not necessarily a bad thing on all music), and had impactful and extended bass that was not the last word in definition. I have better ancillary components now and would like to hear it again in my current system vs. the McCormack. For about $500-$1000 (used) more than the VK500, you might try the Belles 350A Reference. I would have to disagree with the VK-500 being their best amp and would think that honor goes to the VK-600M SE for SS and the VK-150 for tubes.
The mention of rolled off frequencies with the VK-500 is actually quite attractive to me considering my very bright B&W dome tweeters (CDM 9 NT) and my choice of recording material (indie/underground). At the risk of sounding "shallow", my only problem with the VK-500 is it's appearence. There are similar highly regarded amps such as the MC402 and X-250 which are quite appealing in both look and sound. However, the more I read about the VK-500, the more it seems like the perfect sonic fit for my system. However, I am still open to other options and would love to hear from some VK-250 owners.
I had a BAT VK-500 and then a VK-600 driving Wilson Sophias in my system. And I would agree that their sound was not exactly warm but smooth and linear, great bass. The 600 improved on the 500 in dynamics and bass, detail, but in no way would I consider either the last thing in detail, especially in the area of soundstage size and transparency. In fact, soundstaging is both amps' achilles heel. Supposedly the VK-600SE improved soundstage air and dimensionality but I never heard it and the SE upgrade was $3300 plus shipping, not exactly a bargain in my book. I went to some Essence SS amps and promptly sold all my other amps, both tubed and SS.
I'm not so sure about statements that say the 500 or BAT in general is dark sounding, or has less than an abundant sound Stage. it's surely not my experience. I know it responds very well to pc upgrades. Adding solely a good pair of pcs changed the whole shooting match... more everything!
I've a mid sized room with speaker on the short wall of a 14 x 21 room and the SS extends past the side walls and out into the yard at times, given the track info being played. Imaging is good to very good all the time. Realism has gone up exponentially with the acquisition of the TA 1000 MK II, and so has the bass performance.
Double checking what's what I put my OEM cords back onto the 500 and using just a UPC 200 and Elrod Sig 3 pc... well I could live with that for a good while. In fact i have only a Taipan helix A supplying the UPC200 now. the EPS Sig 3 is on the Thor preamp... and even that combo is just stellar.
In comparison directly to price, in the 2500 - 3000 range, the vk500 is formidable competition. it's surely not the end all be all in resolution perhaps but I've not found it lacking there either. it does do justice to the musical info being supplied.
many if not all the amps listed right here can and do give good accoutings of themselves. their just a bit different here and there in this way or that. I'm just quite satisfied that it does what it does in such a way I want to continue to listen to the music, not it.
I think the best statement we make as audio nuts about a component is waht it takes for us to let it go. I've only heard a couple amps that flat out surpass the vk500, and not across the board in every respect, but for my money they do get by it. there easily well over twice it's retail price in one case, and half again in the other. ONe amp is tubed, the other SS. But that's just my take.
As for appearances, I don't put a lot of stock into appearances as some do. But the 500 has a bit of charm in it's chunky little rectangular body and doesn't draw much attention to itself with but two little offset blue 'eyes' peering into the room... maybe they could be made to wink now and then.
I'd be interested to hear other owners of BAT/Wilson combos - perhaps Rlawry's soundstage issues are a result of that particular synergy. I enjoy a reasonably broad sound stage with my 600SE. It is a more expensive amp (srp $12K) so that might put it out of reach; and to my knowledge I have never heard BAT driving B&W speakers.
I bought a VK500w/BP used and it was a great investment. I had it setup for a bit but, due to space constraints, it is boxed up right now waiting to be setup again. It's as good as the ML and Krell amps I've owned in the past IMO. And I too would like to hear from anyone using BAT SS and Wilson WP's as I'm trying to scrape together the $$ to get a pair of WP6's......
I am just comparing the sound of my Wilson Sophias and WP7's with a variety of amps, both SS and tubed. IMO the BAT SS amps do not produce a soundstage on the level of some ARC, Cary, and Conrad-Johnson tube amps I tried, nor is it in the same range as my Essence SS amps. Before I heard the Essence amps I never heard a soundstage with SS amps that approached that of tubed amps either. Don't get me wrong, the BAT amps had a very nice sound with an iron grip on the bottom end and good dynamics, but soundstaging was not its strong point. An Absolute Sound review about a year ago said the same thing about the VK-600M SE. Maybe you can get a big soundstage with the BAT amps as one other poster said through system synergy but I never heard it myself.