VTL, ARC and the 6550C

Hello again.

I want to thank all who responded to my first post regarding VTL/Pass/Lamm. My quest for a reference system continues and I have narrowed down my choices considerably.

I will never own an ARC power amp despite my being very impressed with the VT100 going into a pair of Dynaudio speakers.

Even through the musicality was there in the VT100, ARC always sounds too cool and lean for me. They don't have the "harmonic richness" blended with detail and supurb imaging that the VTL ST150 and Marantz 8 have.

I was also surprised to learn that the 6550C tube is the same type used with both companies. Is the 6550C version of this tube better or different in sound from older variations? I have read comments about the tube being too lean which wasn't my experience at all with the VTL circuit in comparison to ARC.

The ST150 was auditioned with a CJ Premier 17LS into Thiel 2.3's which has been the best combo I have heard to date.
Seriously considering the MB 185 or MB 450 (I like triode but I prefer to have a choice so I'm bypassing the 225)

How much better are the monoblocks, discounting wattage, in terms of sound for the money when considering the law of diminishing returns? Can the MB185 also drive very current demanding larger speakers?

Thanks for reading.

I had the same conclusion about the arc vt100 that you had. I found CJ to be too warm though. i ended up with a pair of vtl 185s to drive dunlavy athenas and they do great even in triode. They will smoke the st150, nothing against that amp either. the dunlavys like high current amps but i don't think they are real power hogs. I was considering aerial 10-ts before i got the dunlavys and spoke with that company. they said that the 185 would work but they were pretty much a minimum since the 10 ts are current hogs.

the VTL folks claim they like the c version of the 6550 the best when i spoke with them. haven't tried any tube rolling in mine though its coming up on replacement time soon..probably stay with what i know though
Definitely go with large VTLs 185. I have small VTL MB100 monos and they lack a built quality(I've done actually a huge DIY upgrade on them recently)
Built quality of Audio Research for tube equipment is unbeatable though imo.
I use the MB-185 Signatures to drive my Thiel 2.2's with excellent results. The 2.3's are somewhat harder to drive (from John Atkinson's Stereophile measurements), but I think they would probably be well within the 185's capabilities. VTL recommends this model for speakers with woofers up to 8", which fits the bill here. Although I haven't compared the ST-150 with my speakers, it would probably work fine as well, but the mono's will give you more power supply capacity and supposedly better output transformers. Neither have I auditioned the 450's with the same speakers (they were above my budget anyway), which use only one additional pair of output tubes (8 vs. 6 total per side) to develop their much higher rated power, but also feature much larger power and output transformers and filter cap's.

I suspect that the 450's and the 185's could sound noticably different from one another, but wonder whether with certain speakers or rooms where the extra watts aren't needed the edge would always automatically go to the more powerful amp (I almost said bigger, but they're exactly the same size, save for weight). Judging by the tube complement and the manufacturer's specs, it seems as if the 185 must employ a more conservatively-rated implementation of the same basic circuit design. The 450's are rated for roughly twice the power with only 33% more output tubes, which is basically in line with their ratings of their Reference double-decker amps, the 750's having about 3 1/2 times the rated output power of the 185's using only twice the output tube complement (12 per side). I don't really believe any of these nominal power ratings from VTL, which are consistently higher than you will see from other manufacturers using similar tube complements, although of course that's got nothing to do with sound quality (curiously, the 185's are rated at 220wpc in tetrode, but the 450's are rated at 450wpc and the 750's at 750wpc, so don't ask me what their numbering system derives from).

(FWIW, when Michael Fremer wrote a few years back about the then-new 450's compared to the 185's immediate predecessors, the 175's, he said he found the 175's to more effectively get out of the music's way or words to that effect, and those amps lacked the Signature output transformer revision. On the other hand, Chip Stern seemed to come to the opposite conclusion more recently. As usual, try to listen for yourself using your model of speakers if you possibly can.)

As for the Svetlana 6550c, industry consensus seems to be that this is the best production version of this tube type, and when I retubed my 185's with Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio, he didn't prefer - and recommended against - any kind of substitution here, including the new EI KT-90's.
I have both the 6550C and a set of spare B versions. The C is a more 'precise' tube with all the audiophile approved sonics but can get a little fatiguing. The B is a bit softer sounding and maybe more musical. I've been using the B recently and am really enjoying the results!
Captpenny, can you be sure that your results aren't possibly reflective of the B's simply having more hours on them? Power tubes progressively lose their tansient precision, dynamic oomph, and extended top and bottom octaves as they age.