VAC 160i, any experiences

Need opinions.

I am considering going back to a full function intergrated to use with my wilson sofias and was wondering if anyone has heard the VAC 160i. It has all the features that i am looking for, but not too sure how it will mate with the speakers.

A few years back, I heard the prototype of what I beleive was called the "Alpha" Integrated and frankly, that's what brought me into the VAC camp. It was fantastically musical!

This was the version of the integrated that existed just before the current model.

Call Kevin. He will answer your questions and guide you with honesty.
Mwilliams, I am the proud owner of a VAC Sigma 160i amp mated to a pair of Wilson Audio Duettes. Not Sofias but very very similar. The 160i is simply stunning. I will try to describe for you. My recent amp journey was a Naim Supernait, then to a VAC Phi 200 driven directly by a Berkeley Alpha DAC, now the Sigma.

The charcteristics of the Sigma is going to sound cliche but imagine mating the best characteristics of solid state....crisp snappy bass with the best of tubes, smooth articulate mid range with gorgeous highs. I have about 5-600 hours logged so far and it keeps getting better. This is the amp Kevin Hayes has in his home. The phono stage is terrific.

This amp is NOT bloomy at has prat, snap, excellent bass and it is very romantic sounding without going too far. I have installed NOS Mullard 12ax7's in the phono section and NOS 12au7's in the input stage, all other tubes are stock from VAC. Everyone has different value judgements but I believe this integrated is fabulous and it has ended my search. My setup is presently a REGA P5/Exact2, Playback Designs MPD-3/Mac Mini, Vac Sigma 160i, Wilson Duettes (no sub, doesn't need one in my largish room), Running Springs Jaco. cabling is Cardas Clear Light interconnects/Speaker Cables, Cardas Clear M power cables.

Seek out a demo, i believe VAC will be showing the Sigma at RMAF. Every dealer i spoke to about it prior to my purchase was quite effusive about the sound(when are they not!) yet I have to agree. good luck.
Thanks guys,
Just what i wanted to hear.

Ghasley, Its good to hear you mention the phono stage, because i am into vinyl alot and could not find much about it.
I was reasonably sure i was going to try the sigma anyway,but wanted to hear other peoples impressions.

My local dealer has just the unit i am looking for and will probably pick one up this coming week.

Thx again for the feedback.

Good to hear you have a stocking dealer near you. Please take a picture so you can capture this rare creature in the wild while you still can: a bricks and mortar dealer who stocks excellent high end gear!

I am very impressed with the phono stage but i can not stress enough how wonderful the NOS Mullards are. One caveat I forgot to mention, the remote is for volume input selection, power, mute or is for volume only! No big deal to me but it may be important to you. Does your dealer also have Wilson so you can hear them together? Most Wilson dealers will demo with Transparent cabling but i can't tell you how impressed i am with the Cardas Clear, depending on your budget and what you currently have.

Good luck and i hope you enjoy the demo. also, don't hesitate to call VAC directly. Kevin Hayes is one of the truly great guys in our hobby....he will actually talk to you and furthermore, he will tell you when he doesn't think something will apply for your situation.

The dealer is 2 hours away, but that is not bad. He does not have Wilson. He carries Theils which are somewhat simular. The volume remote is all I want.

All my interconnects and speaker cables are reference Transparent cables. My TT has a Cardas reference cable that i like alot. You are making me feel better about my future purchase.

I have already talked to Kevin. I just like to hear some customer input.

Now i want be able to sleep well with anticipation.

How long did it take to burn in. I will probably run it 24/7 through my Mac mini and my Tranquillity Dac to burn it in initially.

Thanks again

Let me first say that the burn in time was kindof a joke. I have had plenty of gear that needed significant break in time to settle down. This amp is NOT one of those. If nothing had changed from initial plug in, i would still be quite happy so, out of the box, it was terrific! The additional hours have simply revealed a more "luxurious" presentation. My experience may not be applicable to your situation due to the fact that about 400 hours in is when I swapped in the Mullards. I do believe the amp has gotten more dynamic and snappy. The only ones I saw were silver face w/chrome knobs....mine is the black face w/gold knobs.

Did you get the balanced option. My cd player is hooked up through the balanced outs and it would be cheaper cable wise to upgrade than to buy new reference cables?

I did not, i got rca only with mm phono stage......wishing I had asked for balanced, MC phono AND i wish instead of pre amp outs I had asked for a fixed output (to use as a record out).
Thx, the record out sounds like a good idea. I will probably have to order the one i want. Pretty much fully loaded. I am sure they won't have one in house like i want.

The MC is a must.

Really appreciate your input.

I heard the VAC Sigma 160i at RMAF last weekend. It blew me away. I ran it through all my demo CDs and a few of the LPs they had there. I went back to the room twice. I probably spent at least an hour total listening to this setup (nicely matched with Tannoy Definitive T10 speakers).

I have an Art Audio Vinyl reference, Joule Electra LA-150 MkII, and Genesis M60 monoblocks and have been totally delighted with that combination. The 160i has me seriously thinking of going to integrated.

The 160i at RMAF had the MC phono section and I was doubtful that it could be equal to the best separate phono pre. My doubts were dashed. Kevin has designed a tour de force for the vinyl lover.

The amp is detailed but liquid and smooth and the bass is completely authoritative without any bloom.

The VAC 160i, simply put, makes beautiful music.
Do you recall what turntable, cartridge and cabling they were using?

They were using a high quality Clearaudio (I think Innovation Wood or higher- e.g. panzerholst (sp?) plinth with 2 levels....?) with Benz Ruby (about a 4k) cart, and Audioquest DBS Colorado ICs and Gibralter Bi-Wire speaker cabling. Like the posts above, I too thought it was a great sound at at a great value.

As a matter of fact, I liked it so much I bought the VAC 160 (w/MC phono and bal options), Tannoy DC10Ts and Audioquest cables. I plan to add the new Clearaudio Ovation Wood table with an Ortofon Cradenza bronze MC cart in a few weeks as it becomes available, to try to approach the sound of the RMAF setup at a bit more affordable price.

Ghasley, i decided to not go the 160i. I went with the separates instead. I was trying to get to Denver but could not make it. Though i did just order a fully loaded Ren. mkIII and the phi 200. I will be out of town when they arrive so it will be a few weeks before i will be able to hook it all up. Thats going to be pure torture.

Thanks again for all your input.

You will love the Phi 200 and the Ren pre. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the setup.
Well a week or so after my earlier reply to this post, I took the plunge and purchased the Sigma 160i with MC phono and balanced input.

Break-in was about 220 hours (including the 50 hours it gets before leaving the VACtory). It has about 300 hours on it now. I put a pair of NOS Mullard 12AX7's in the phono section yesterday. It is hands down as good as my Art Audio Vinyl Reference (both using Lundahl transformers).

The balanced input gives more transparency and dynamics than the RCA inputs when used with a studio master tape recorder (Otari MTR-15).

The bass is solid-state deep and taught and the power and neutrality are superb. It is plugged directly into a 20 amp dedicated circuit with a Shunyata Anaconda Helix power cord. I use the Hi-Fi Tuning fuses in all my gear and bought the 5A Supreme fuse for the 160i.

I hesitated long and hard in going the integrated route because I was very, very happy with the music made by the aforementioned Vinyl Reference with Joule Electra LA-150 MkII preamp and Genesis M60 monoblocks. I have absolutely No Regrets musically, financially, or aesthetically!

The VAC integrated allowed me to get rid of three HRS isolation bases, three expensive power cords, and two pairs of reference interconnects - an investment about equal to the separate components. My music room is a whole lot less cluttered-looking to boot.

For anyone looking for true reference level amplification and who has speakers that can be driven with 85 tube watts per channel, the VAC Sigma 160i may well put an end to your search. I give it the highest possible recommendation.

Footnote: The first post in this thread by Barrelchief mentions the "Alpha Integrated" as the predecessor to the 160i. While true, be aware that the 160i is not in any way a derivative of the Alpha Integrated design. The latter was a merging of circuits already developed and used in the Phi preamp and Phi amps. The Sigma 160i was designed from scratch on a blank sheet of paper. This no doubt accounts for its almost magical musical reproductive abilities. While it lacks the "eye candy" and "audio jewelery" qualities of the venerable Phi Beta 110i, it is in every other way a most worthy successor.
hi ikkyu2 , are you using power conditioner or directly to the wall?
I heard the 160i at a dealer and it was very nice, however I did not hear the
phono stage. I have a VAC Avatar Super and recently got a Shindo Apetite which
I am getting to know quite well. I am hoping to hear the 160i again so I can
decide if I buy a new 160i, stay with the VAC Avatar Super, keep the Shindo
Apetite, or go for Shindo separates. This is going to end up being a very difficult
decision I think.

Any follow ups on your Vac 160i?
Any new input on the VAC Sigma 160i? The version with MC option is near the top of my list ........

Can anyone compare it's sonics to the Modwright LS100 tube preamp paired with the KWA100SE amp? I'd use my AAV1 into the preamp on the Modwright combo but go for the MC option on the VAC because I've heard it's so good.
I posted above back in Oct but have had my VAC 160 with optional MC Phono and Bal input for about 6 months now. I am thoroughly satisfied with this purchase and enjoy using it every day - no buyers remorse or interest in looking for anything else. I wound up buying a TW Acustic analog setup with Ortofon arm and Dynavector cart from Jeff at Highwater Sounds (who also sells VAC). I have a very nice digital setup with Macbook and ARC DAC8 that I enjoy for many reasons, but I have to say the synergy between the Raven One turntable and VAC MC phono is more compelling to me than any digital I have heard or owned.

Although relatively new to vinyl, I find I listen to it much more often than digital now with this system. I have never heard anything better at this price point and I think that it probably competes well above its class. As I suggested in a similar post on the Best Integrated thread, the simplicity and reduction in the number of boxes and cords is a bonus for me, but the magical sound of this combo is what lures me back to listening more than I have in the past with other systems.

This hobby is very individualistic and we all have different preferences and priorities but I would suggest, without reservation, an audition to anyone looking for a high end integrated to see if you like it as much as I do.

Did you get the balanced inputs and if so, have you compared to the ssingle-end inputs?

Hi Wig

'Sorry for taking so long to respond, but I have been away on business.

I did get the balanced inputs. My VAC 160 was a show demo that had the bal input option and MC phono option included. I was fortunate as that is the configuration that I would have pursued if I had to order one.

I wanted the Bal inputs to pair up with my ARC DAC8. My thinking was that ARC seems to have a design bias in favor of Bal inputs when possible, so I wanted to optimize system synergy and get the most out of the DAC8. I have tried both inputs with it and prefer the Bal Input.

I would say the difference is noticeable to my ear, but not dramatic, rather one of degrees. I find the combination of DAC8 with Bal Input to be a bit fuller dimensionally, smoother flowing, and more analog/ life-like, and less edgy or biting while still displaying very realistic detail, instrument separation, tone and such. A couple of examples to illustrate: It is very good at say, portraying massed strings naturally like you would hear in a Mozart concert in a good venue like the Kaufman Center in Kansas City vice congealing the sound into sort of a compressed presentation that is present with some systems. Similarly, you can hear and appreciate the foundation and distinction of the bass in a Ray Brown or Charles Mingus track, as if you were in a small, intimate jazz club vice the sometimes fuzzy or one note bass you might hear with less capable system synergy. In sum, more natural to me.

To me, it seems more like live, un-amplified acoustic music that I experience at live events with less of any digital artifact.

Also, and a bit surprising to me, the difference between Bal and SE is more noticeable in favor of the Bal input at the lower volume levels that I prefer for late night listening - not sure why this would be so, but it is my perception.

I can't say whether my experience would translate generally to all systems but that is what I hear in mine with DAC8, VAC 160 int amp and Bal input. I believe the list price of the Bal option for the VAC 160 is about 1K. Whether that is worth it, is a personal decision, but it seems to pass for reasonable in the world of high end audio prices.

Hope this helps.


Thanks for the info! Have you rolled any of your input tubes yet? I rcvd my Vac 160I two weeks ago and have about 100 hours and another 100 hours to reach full break in.

It's a beautiful sounding amp with amazing body and weight to wood instruments and holographic imaging. You would think live performers are in your house.

VAC makes incredible gear. I have a VAC Renaissance Mk III plus 300.1a amp. Would love to step up to the Statement 450 Stereo amp tho. The components VAC builds are world class.
Hi Wig

No, I have been pretty satisfied with the stock tubes. Since I got the VAC about 6 months ago, I have been buying more vinyl to go with my TW Acustic source and have not felt the need to tinker further with my system for now.

I have to agree with your description of feeling like live performers are in the house with the VAC.

The VAC 160 is the heart of my system, with TW Acustic/Ortofon/Dynavector and Mac/ARC DAC8 sources, Audioquest cabling throughout and finished with Tannoy DC10T speakers.
So no remote with this integrated? Wife yells at you, you can't hit mute and yell back what? :). Also, some of us, maybe even most by now, have computer audio in our systems. Our whole music library is accessible via a smart phone remote, Itunes, music sever, ect...Instead of listening to whole albums all the way through, we are selecting songs. With this there is of course the need to adjust the volume depending on the loudness of the recording. In which case a remote is pretty much a necessity.
The Vac 160i does come with a remote, volume control only.
My vac pre comes with volume/mute only and its all i need
oh, I did a search and it didn't show the remote in any of the features. thanks. Anyone compare VAC to Ayon?
Does anyone happen to know whether the 160i is more of an ultralinear design, or more of a triode design?

How did the 160i integrated compare to the Phi 200 amp that you had connected directed to your DAC?

I have an Antelpe Gold/Voltikus DAC and thinking of going with either the Phi 200 amp or the 160i.
You need a pre amp. I've tried it several ways with several amps and dacs, to me, there is simply no substitute. Others will tell you they like how direct and connected they feel the music is portrayed, but it is not to my taste.
I agree that I will need a pre if I go with the Phi 200 amp. I was just trying to get an idea of the differences sonically between the Phi 200 and the 160i
If I had fairly efficient speakers I'd go for the all in one solution of 160i without hesitation. Unless you are going to bi-amp phi 200, not enough power difference to justify additional preamp and interconnects.
My Avalon Ascendants are are quite efficient at 89db and my Vac 160i drives them very well.
I think the VAC tube amps act like they have a lot more power/current than
their ratings indicate. My VAC 300.1a amp has roughly 150 wpc into 4 ohms,
but punches almost as strong as my 600 wpc into 4 ohm Conrad Johnson
Premier 350 SS amp.
Has anyone compared the 160i to previous VAC integrated amps? I have an Avatar that I like, and the i60i would mean losing triode mode and going from EL34 tubes to KT88's. A step up?
Maineiac- did you end up keeping Vac or going Shindo? What were the differences betweenthe two?
Hi - wondering if anyone can shed some light on whether this integrated would work well with speakers at a 4 ohm load, biwire, and anywhere from 87db on up? Just wondering what kinds of speakers one is limited to with this.
No problem whatsoever. The 160i is legit, use the 4 ohm taps and enjoy.
I'm pushing a pair of Avalon Ascendants which are a 4 ohm load at 89 db sensitivity with no problems using the 4 ohm tap.
Ghasley - compared to the Phi200 is the 160i pretty close (assuming a good preamp with the Phi200)? Mostly interested in listening at only low to moderate volumes but having plenty of bass and low level detail.. thanks!
I never ran the phi200 with a good preamp, only direct from a dac. With that disclaimer, I believe you would be hard pressed at low volumes to differentiate the 2. The phi200 certainly is a great amp, the 160 an extraordinarily well thought out integrated. A true preamp stage in the 160, not simply a volume control bolted to an amp. You must listen for yourself to decide but the Sigma 160i is a fantastic integrated, certainly I believe in its price band of tube integrateds, it is unmatched. Disclaimer, I no longer own mine but it was not due to dissatisfaction with the Vac.
Thank you
VAC watts punch way above their stated rating. I found the 130 wpc on VAC 300.1a was more like 200-300 watts per channel compared to other amps.
05-01-12: Electroslacker
Has anyone compared the 160i to previous VAC integrated amps? I have an Avatar that I like, and the i60i would mean losing triode mode and going from EL34 tubes to KT88's. A step up?

I think the new 160i is more similar to the Avatar Super than it is to the original Avatar. The Avatar Super also had 80+ wpc, KT88 output tubes and 12AU7 driver tubes, just like the Sigma 160i, and also could NOT be used in triode mode like the original Avatar. My guess is that the Sigma 160i sounds a lot like the Avatar Super.
04-06-12: Wig
The Vac 160i does come with a remote, volume control only.

Does the VAC 160i remote only control volume, or does it also mute? I have a VAC preamp and I am considering going after the 160i, but I do use the mute button quite often when changing LP's. I would definitely miss a mute button.
69db S/N ratio?? Really? That's gonna be audible folks and reduce contrast...maybe a Cary SLI-80 or a Rogue Cronos Magnum would be a better option. Check out Pacific Valve also for some killer tube gear at very affordable prices and better performance.
Never mind, I found out it does not have mute capability. This is a deal-breaker for me. I'll look for an Avatar instead.
Did you read the Avatar review in Stereophile? The noise, S/N and THD figures are not great at all and it's preamp short circuited plus the 4ohm tap had problems...VAC obviously has serious problems. So many quality choices exist...look around!