Review: Valve Amplification Company VAC PHI BETA Integrated 110 Tube amp
This is my first review, not because I don't have a lot of nice gear, but the VAC PHI BETA is so good, I can't keep it a secret.
First, the packaging and finish:
The PHI came expertly packaged in a new type of foam that molds around the unit. It doesn't exactly look pretty, but you know it sure is packed a whole lot better! The manual is easy to read (pictures too!) with step by step set up.
It's two boxes - 1 weighing in at 100! Pounds, the other seperate power supply weighing in at 47 Pounds with 6 foot umbilical cords that seperately power the amp and preamp section. YIKES! You get your moneys worth in weight, that's for sure!
Finish - what can I say, other than it's meticulously finished, a deep metallic look with very cool looking glass that lights up the VAC logo. Way cool.
Now, to the important stuff, the sound...
I will start with each range and conclude with the overall sound.
First off, the highs -
The VAC has no treble break up anywhere in the highs, at any amount of high frequency energy, period. It responds in a linear fashion and is predictably musical - the highs eminate from the back of the stage, if that's where they originated from in the recording. Never are they pushed forward into the soundstage. The highs are extended, and musical. Cymbals take on a shimmer, allowing both the dynamic leading edge and the trail and texture of a cymbal. This is in my experience, very difficult for audio to achieve in a musical fashion. Crank the volume, the highs remain on 'rails'.
Midrange - neutral and convincing. timbre spot on. Female vocals are 'just right' - sibilance is 'just right' - Male vocals have proper weight. Check out any female vocal, Patricia Barber, Jacintha, Diana Krall, or mens choir - reference recordings Rutter's requiem, or Telarc's Grand and Glorious operatic choruses.
The midrange has presence and transparency, while retaining musicality. Resolution is the best I have heard, WHILE retaining musicality - NO tipped up upper midrange here.
The midrange will give you that 'you are there' presence and 3 dimensionality of tubes.
BASS - Want magic of tubes and control of solid state on the bass? The VAC offers it, - grip and control of bass is outstanding. Take Patricia Barbers dynamic Black magic woman, or Fiesta! on Reference Recordings - Tight and tuneful. But what I really like is that the BASS has AIR around it. If it's a bass drum in the back of the hall, that's where it comes from. This is where I think the VAC really shines. I have heard mega solid state 'grip' of bass, but it doesn't have the air, or space around it, nor the depth, like the VAC.
This may be the best of SS with tubes?
The VAC's ability to respond quickly to transients in every part of the audio spectrum is comparable to any amp/preamp combination I have heard. The sound is fast and NEVER congeals. Female chorus does not harden at loud passages at all. The VAC just 'plays' along. It's effortless.
You get sheer speed and no overhang.
The PHI produces a huge soundstage, but DOES not bloat images within the soundstage. It simply produces air around the instruments.
This is one of if not the quietest tube amp/preamp I have heard. No tube rush at all. The background is silent as ever. The music emerges from a black cloth, with low level resolution that leads to the most fun of all....musical dynamics.
You can peer into the soundstage with electrostatic type transparency, with instruments defined nicely. And on loud passages, you can still hear multiple insturments playing at once.
The VAC PHI is also a way to simplify your audio and eliminate another cable, both power and interconnect.
And seeing as you get a world class preamp, phono stage (turntable on order) that Kevin is known for building great phono stages, world class amp, while eliminating cables, the $19k retail is a bargain (in high end audio terms).
Another key element: How many of you know that Kevin personally listens to every PHI piece of equip. before it leaves the factory? How is that for quality control? This is a very special product. VAC has been around for ever and has a great reputation for service.
The VAC PHI Integrated is a wonderful TUBE amp/preamp. The PHI design is innovative, with superlative execution that leads to a product that can compete with the best out there, no question.
Above all, it's incredibly musical and very rewarding.
Certainly the PHI line is Kevin's best to date.
This link explains how the VAC PHI BETA is designed to take the advantages of integrateds and eliminate the drawbacks. On the positive side, the PHI pre and amp stages can refer to a common ground reference. BUT VAC eliminates the disadvantages of integrateds, radiated noise fields from the power supply by having a massive seperate power supply located up to 6 feet away. By eliminating cables you sidestep the opportunity to pick up EMI and RFI.
My listening tases are jazz and classical.
Theta Data Transport
VAC DAC Mark II - with upgrades, seperate power supply
PHI BETA Integrated 110 AMP,Preamp
Caravelle Speakers / sistrum stands
Sistrum amp stands
Sonoran Power Cable - Plateau
Sonoran Digital Cable
Sonoran Speaker Cable - Plateau
Harmonic Tech Pro Silway III XLR
Argent Room lens
Tweeks - a lot