Review: Balanced Audio VK-P10 Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

It's time for me to post another review of a component I am extremely happy with (my previous two reviews are for the BAT VK31SE line stage and the JM lab Mezzo Utopia speakers). I've learned a lot about this component and wanted to share it with everyone on Audiogon.

As I've stated in previous reviews, I'm a vinyl junkie. The emotional connection to music and the entertainment I derive from vinyl is something very special to me. So, though at times I think I must be crazy to have even considered the stratospherically (to me, at least) expensive BAT VK-P10SE with SuperPak phono preamp, it makes perfect sense for someone who truly loves records to invest in a world-class phono stage.

In my previous review of the 31SE preamp, I made a controversial statement regarding its solid-state internal phono stage: I liked it better than the tubed VK-P5. I stand by that assessment, but it became apparent to me by listening to other stand-alone phono stages (all listed below) that I was really missing some magic. Two factors led me to the BAT VK-P10SE with Superpak. First was the complete satisfaction I had with my 31SE line stage. I figured I couldn't go wrong with this manufacturer. Second, I read several reviews of the preamp including, of course, Michael Fremer's rave review. Though I often approach such reviews with healthy skepticism, I thought I at least owed it to myself to give it a listen.

That auditioning led me to purchase the unit. Let's cut to the chase--this component is truly magical in its ability to present music from a vinyl recording in ways I can't believe sometimes. It is liquid smooth without sounding like it is hiding anything; it is dynamic when it has to be; and man can it reproduce bass frequencies! So, from classical music to jazz to rock, it appears to be absolutely faithful to what exists in the grooves.

In my opinion, its single most impressive attribute, however, is its 3-D placement of instruments. It is eerie! The rest of my system is decent, I think, and that's why I was so surprised that just one component--a phono stage for crying out loud--could make such a difference. Impressively holographic sound, for the first time in my life, is now commonly heard in my room. This happened from the moment I first listened to it, though as it has broken in, the stable position of instruments has improved (at first they "floated" irregularly, I thought), and the depth to the virtual soundstage has expanded enormously. This product has brought more smiles and fun to my listening experience than anything I have ever purchased.

Are there any downsides? Yes--and this is especially why I wanted to share this on Audiogon. First, one of the input tubes was noisy right out of the box (random popping noises). I got this replaced quickly with no hassles and this corrected the issue, but it disappointed me that a piece like this could end up with a bad tube even when brand new. Second, and this is a big one, I experienced significant hum from the right channel that no amount of tube swapping or replacing could remedy. My heart sank and I thought I had made a terrible mistake. However, with the help of a professional audio technician and designer (of mixers), the problem was diagnosed and fixed. Take a look at the enclosed photographs of the inside of the VK-P10SE SuperPak. It's a beautiful design with two separate power supplies along the left and right edges just behind the front panel. The wires exiting these power supplies do come fairly close to components on the circuit board that can pick up hum. By loosening the central screw of the right side power supply and slightly rotating the toroidal transformer so that the wires exiting it were a bit farther away form the circuit board eliminated the hum entirely! Now this thing is nearly silent! Amazing. Even BAT's outstanding customer support did not come up with this as a possible source of the hum, but that was it. Needless to say, I was extremely happy that the fix was so easy. Finally, the only other complaint I have is that this unit really pumps out the heat--but with ten tumbes, that is no surprise. Just make sure it's in an area that is well ventilated.

To summarize, I can't recommend this phono stage enough. I have to agree with the overused line "I have a whole new record collection now" when describing what this phono stage did for my listening pleasure. And even though it lists for $8,000, this does appear to be a unit that dealers will significantly discount (don't ask me what I paid, but it was quite less than list, and worth every penny!).

I hope this review has been helpful. Thanks--

Associated gear
Transfiguration Temper W phono cartridge
Basis Vector tonearm
Basis 1400 turntable
BAT VK-31SE line stage
Krell 350 MCx monoblock amplifiers
JM lab Mezzo Utopia Speakers
Cardas Golden Cross interconnects
Audioquest Cheetah interconnects
Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables

Similar products
EAR 834P phono preamp
ASR Basis phono preamp
BAT Built-in phono stage in VK-31SE
BAT VK-P5 phono preamp
Wow, great review. How fortunate you were to find the hum issue and fix it so easily. Such problems can be next to impossible to find.

I remember your 31SE review a couple years ago that I responded too. And you were quite the happy camper with that.

If you think you have improvements now, wait until you try some different ICs than the Audioquest and Cardas Golden Cross. In the past I found that Audioquest cables significantly reduced the portrayal of space and decays vs. just about all other cables I tried. And the CGC has way too much of a good thing in the midrange which causes it to mask off a lot of low-level resolution. When I changed from CGC to NBS Signature the difference was very dramatic across the board; there was a far greater tonal coherency which allowed the details in the music to come through far more clearly. And the interesting thing was, the NBS Signature cables were selling for the same price as the the $400 range for 1m XLRs. A year or so later, I tried NBS Statement and this continued on with the same refinements but not as huge as changing from the CGC.

Due to changes in my system, I have some NBS Sig and Stmt cables that you can borrow if you'd like to try them out. I have found that the link from line stage to amp is a bigger factor than phono stage ot line stage, but it might be worthwhile trying both and see how things work in your setup. Throw me an email if you're interested.

Again, congratulations.

I disagree with the comment "Audioquest cables significantly reduced the portrayal of space and decays vs. just about all other cables I tried". At least in my experience with my vk-p5 with SixPak, I realize a great sense of space and coherence with a natural amount of detail. I have used Cheetah and now use SKY and they are both the best ICs I have used. The SKY is worth the extra $$.
Good review Kipdent. I've had mine for just under a month, so I can't really add much as it's still burning in. I will say that the bass is phenomenal. Not only extended, but the articulation and resolution of the bass are the best I've ever heard. I can also agree with the 3-D soundstage. Locating the players within the soundstage has never been easier.

I guess I should check my stock tubes to see if they exhibit any of the problems that you encountered. Being a typical, crazy audiophile, I just threw in my NOS Amperex 7308 PQ's and Sylvania Black Base 6SN7's, and never gave the stock tubes a listen.

Rello, my comment was a relative statement not one of absolutes. Have you actually tried the NBS or Cardas Golden Cross in comparison to the Audioquest? If not, how can you disagree with my statement that was based on a comparison to these products?

Compared to the cables I tried in a rather exhaustive search several years ago, NBS, Cardas, MIT, Transparent, SilverAudio, geez even Straightwire, the Audioquest cables did indeed obliterate much of the 3-dimensionality that I had worked so hard to achieve with my then ARC PH2/LS5/VT130 system. They did not do any better than the $25 Belden 15-feet XLR cable I had. Now that's sad.

When I gradually shifted to BAT components, the magic improved even more with the NBS and MIT cables that I had settled on.

I have no doubt that you sense the space and detail. But your statement is one of absolutes. I see no comparisons to other cables you have tried. Drop in some of the other cables in your system, just the one from your line stage to your amp and you will hear what I am talking about. Each time we upgrade a link in our system we feel that what we have is pretty good....even great at times. But there are those cases where we make a change and realize that what we have indeed has been compromising the sonic quality all along. And from my experience, the Audioquest cables fit this more than any others I have tried. I stand by my statement.

Sorry Kip for taking over your thread.

Hey Kipdent;
A little off topic...but how do you like your 1400 with the Vector. I've been thinking myself to replace my modded RB300 rewired w/ VHD silver wire and replace it with the Vector but want to hear some feeback from field users.

I have not tried the newest Audioquest interconnects but did do lots of comparisons, starting about six years ago. So far I have found the Kubala, Tara the One, and Nordost SPM to sound very good with the BAT tube preamp. I recently purchased a Stealth Metacarbon XLR interconnect and will test that next.

One power cord that has consistently sounded great with the preamp is the Audience Powerchord.It gives a nice full and tonally correct sound without any veiling.

I would like to know if anyone has compared power cords on the BAT preamp, including the Audience.My inclination is to try the Kubala and the Purist next.
I have sinced moved on, but I have nothing bad to say about the BAT VK-P10SE w/ Super-pak. It is still one of the best phono stages that I have ever heard.

As for power cords, I have heard the Audience AU24, but did not feel it sounded good in my system. In my system, the BAT neeeded more speed and articulation. The Nordost Valhalla provided this, but also sounded thin and lean. In the end, my favorite power cord was the Stealth Dream. It was fast and articulate like the Valhalla, while still sounding musical.

As for interconnects, I have heard all of the interconnects that you mention, and of those I would choose the Stealth Metacarbon. Again, mostly because my system, and the BAT are on the warm side of nuetral, so the speed of the Stealth is a welcome addition.

Not to toot my own horn, but I'm currently selling cables which IMHO surpassed the PAD Dominus and the Stealth Indra as far as balancing speed/resolution and musicality/soundstage.

Hi, I also have since moved on from a VK P10se Superpak. Had it for years and just wanted something new. It's a great phono stage.

I still have my BAT 51SE, 150SE's. I like the Purist 20th Anniversay the best. Previously had tried Dominus ferrox and fluid, Kimber pk10, Transparent powelink xl, and the FIM gold. All were good.

The Purist 20th anniversay is the best of all, plus increadilbly black backgroud. Good luck !
It's all system dependant, IMHO. My speakers (Verity Audio Parsifal Encore's) tend to be on the warm side of neutral, so BAT gear coupled with my speakers was too dark with the PAD 20th Anniversary cord. The Stealth Dream is faster, more transparent and more articulate, which would best describe Jfrech Wilson speakers.

So it would appear to me as if we accomplish the same end by two different routes. While I prefer the more transprent power cord and warmer speakers, Jfrech prefers the warmer power cord with more transparent speakers.

I have been thinking of upgrading my VK P10se (no super-pak) to super -pak. Contacted jfrech about his nagra VPS and got some great feedback. I am also looking into the Allnic H3000 phono stage. Got some good info from Cjfrbw.

I have been speculating about the importance of the source ie. turntable, arm, cart - over here (UK) the phono stage would be second to the source. To clarify should you throw as much money as you can at the TT as the phono is only as good as the information put into it.

Could a lesser phono stage sound as good as a better one, if the lesser was fed with a the better TT .

The other issue of course is the interaction of the phono with the pre-amp, is it best to match these in terms of manufacturer. Is the pre ultimately more important than the phono in dictating sound quality.

would be grateful for any thoughts.
hi, this where to spend money question is a tough one. Linn always said the TT was first, then arm, then cart etc...In his system, when I owned a lp 12 that made sense.

My current thinking is a balance is the best approach. And money may not be the thing to consider. Any weak link is just that. Such as why have a killer TT/arm/Cart phono stage but cables, power and isolation aren't considered.

Your BAT is a great phono stage (and that super-pak update is a big deal), ditto my Nagra and i've heard the Allnics (killer good)

A lesser phono stage certainly could sound better with a better tt/ar/cart. Not sure anyone will argue on this point.

Hope a'goner's posts more points of view here
Thanks, yep it is a balance as you say and also that cliche of synergy between components.
Of course that Linn thing has been very big over here(UK) and does make sense, rubbish in rubbish out etc.
I agree it is not necessarily the money but how something performs within the context of the system. An ideally suited, possibly lower cost, component could be out there but it is getting the chance to try it out.
As you get to a certain level of performance and the gear is of a pretty good standard it seems harder to swap out stuff without upsetting the balance. So it seems to me to be imperative to try gear out with an existing system.
At the moment it is nigh on impossible to try out high end components of choice at home as the dealers are extremely thin on the ground.