The VTL 5.5 is a perfect match for the MB-450 sigs. Average used price on audiogon, according to audiogon bluebook, is $1810. Be patient, it will be worth it.
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I'm running the 7/9 combo into a Krell KRC-HR, which in turn drives a pair of Pass Aleph 1.2 monoblocks. It's a nice combination. I've run the 9 both single ended and balanced, and it definitely sounds better balanced. I agree with you that it sounds better through a preamp.
Though the KRC-HR is probably above your price range, you might want to consider a balanced preamp. Were you running balanced straight into your VTL monos?
Thanks for the comments. Ghostrider good point ! I have been running the Wadia balanced into the VTL's and there was a big difference, the soundstaging virtually collapsed running single ended. I've read a good thread on active vs passive preamps. In my new set up I will be looking at a long lead between the pre and powers so that pushes me towards active. The VTL 5.5 does not run balanced which is a shame.