I believe the second generation VTL is primarily the same amp with a resistor upgrade that reduces risk of catastrophic failure to the big electrolytic caps and performance improvement provided by replacing the MIT caps with Infinicaps.
I have the factory pictorial instructions and spare upgrade kit for the VTL 750 sitting on my desk. It contains approximately 24 resistors and 24 diodes. I don't know the count on the caps (theyre installed in the amps).
I'm guessing the "new" upgrade is the super balance input and frankly I am not all that excited about it. The VTL is basically a single ended design and the addition of a super balanced through either transformers or transistor circuitry is rumored to be more "electronic" and "mechanical" sounding when compared to the simpler (original) circuit.
The newest version, assuming it's following the 750's (correct me if I'm wrong) is likely the addition of a mess of electronics that auto bias the 6550 output tubes. From discussions with several audio buddies, the word on the street is the new auto bias circuitry harms the sound in addition to listing for $45K (on the 750 model) compared to the original $20K retail price.
If you want an accurate run down as to where a specific serial number ranks in the upgrade path, there is no better person to ask than Bea at VTL. Of course along with the information provided, you will be told that the more expensive, latest versions are the best.
Good luck with your search.
I believe the first significant upgrade was the "Signature" version output transformers (although I'm not completely sure this basic amp actually went by the "450" designation and used 6550C's before those transformers were incorporated). In any case, taking that version (introduced around '96 I think, supposedly concurrent with a leap in build quality) as the baseline, the next significant changes, in addition to the resistor package mentioned above, also upgraded the B+ fusing to 600v ceramic types. Coupling cap upgrades may have been optional during this time. Likewise the external 'soft-start' modules, which I think became standard somewhere along the way (with a price increase), maybe at the same time the 'super-balanced' input circuit was introduced.
This last significant change might also incorporate upgraded caps as standard, but I'm not sure about that either. This version cannot be upgraded to from the previous versions, the circuit board is too different. I can't comment on Albert's info that this version may not sound as good as the previous Signature versions, but Bea has told me that the new input is not as big a sonic upgrade in her view as are the better coupling caps.
Personally, if I were in the market for these amps I would try to go with '98 production or newer (this is what my 185's are, and I think they're more nicely turned-out than the '96 example I've seen -- don't know about '97), and either stick with ones that came originally with the higher-rated fusing or were upgraded at the factory, or else be prepared to do the same if they predate this improvement (as I did). If you can find a pair with either the MultiCap or InfiniCap upgrade that's great, but if not you'll probably want to figure on upgrading these yourself (I'm planning on doing this, but not through the factory). The soft-start modules are probably very optional unless you have a chronic problem with tripping your line's circuit-breaker upon turn-on of one monoblock.
Zaikes, good additional information.
I'm pretty sure the cap upgrade path removes the MIT's and replaces them with Infinicap. Between the guys in my group and those I trade data with we have upgraded eight VTL amps and this is one of the more important things you can do sonically.
I forgot about the Signature transformer update. I have not shopped for a pair of VTL's old enough to exclude that possibility. Its certainly an important upgrade.
I will warn those that ignore the resistor upgrade, I don't know if it applies to the 450, but the 750 can tear itself up if the old resistor package fails.
One member of my group had this happen and one or more large electrolytic capacitors failed, sounding very much like a .22 caliber hand gun as it forced the rubber safety plugs out and died. Fortunately the VTL is so well designed there was no sparks, or danger, the fuses cut all the power and no one was ever in danger.
However, the cost to make this additional repair was in excess of $1000.00. I would do enough homework to insure that safety upgrade was done if only to save yourself from future repairs.
Wow! That's what's great about A'gon, not just facts and information (which is what I was looking for) but interpretation of the information and advice about what's most important.
So along the way there was: A signature output transformer, Resistor changes, InfiniCaps, B+ Fuse change, Soft start modules, Super Balanced input circuit.
I talked to a dealer today about the newest versions to be released soon and he did mention the auto-bias circuit (which I can live without) along with the new cosmetics (that I happen to like).
I will drop Bea a line to see if she can put the upgrades together with a serial number.
Thanks Albert & Zaikesman for your informative posts, it's exactly the info I was looking for.
I agree that the new faceplate design, assuming it's similar to the new ST-150S, certainly looks nice with the glass and curved lines, but personally I wouldn't trade the utilitarian handles of the old faceplate -- these amps are heavy. What I didn't realize is that (provided your dealer is correct) the newest versions of the Signature amps will automatically adjust bias...
Albert wrote: "I'm pretty sure the cap upgrade path removes the MIT's and replaces them with Infinicaps." The Sig amps like mine, with no cap upgrades, had VTL-branded caps, made I believe by Reliable but not as premium as their Multi's or MIT's. This can be confusing, because there are several different kinds/grades of MultiCaps, and VTL never specified which one they used, claiming they were proprietary. They do the same thing now with their TRT InfiniCaps. It's something I asked Peter Moncrieff at TRT about, but he didn't or wouldn't answer on that topic. I wound up buying his DynamiCaps instead anyway, which he indicates have a slightly more euphonically tailored sound, whereas the Infini's are supposed to be more "direct". I sort of made my choice based on complementing the swap to my preferred EH KT88 output tubes, and also Michael Percy's advice.
So - if needed - what kind of a job is it to replace the caps? I'm decent with a soldering iron but I've mostly upgraded old tube guitar amps, not something with this level of build quality. I had thought of rolling to KT88's on next tube swap myself, what kinds of changes do you hear?
I agree handles are nice but I would give them up for that faceplate (just have to get help putting them in place!) It also sounds like the auto-bias will come at a cost. Thanks for the details on the caps. -Bruce
Hi Bruce: You've done more on your own with your old tube guitar amps than I've done myself with mine. The VTL circuit board seems pretty spacious and easy to access as far as modern hi-fi tube amps go. This is a job that I personally want to enlist a tech with skills and knowledge I don't have for, but you may be able to take care of it yourself. In either case, the cost should be far lower than what VTL wants, not even figuring in shipping. Just don't expect to get any help or advice (including parts or schematics) from VTL under any circumstances other than sending your amps to their factory, regardless of whether you buy new and are in warranty (in which case you'd be told to go through your dealer) or whether you buy used with no warranty expectations and are willing to pay.
My experiences with tube swaps are detailed on Albert Porter's system thread and some other archived threads, in addition to the experiences of others, so there's plenty to read on that around here. I haven't tried everything, but I can tell you that it's not just a 6550 vs. KT88 question; different brands of each sound different from each other.
I checked with VTL today and they never put infinicaps in the stnadard MB-450's. The only do it as a special mod. The standard is the MIT Multicaps.
The infinicap upgrade is $1,200 for both amps. I am going to have it done when they are less busy. Right now the wait time is 3 to 4 months.
Good info on the not-quite-DIY cap upgrades as well as VTL's price and timeframe. Zaikes you mentioned Michael Percy who I hadn't heard of but found his web site, is that where you get your parts? He's more or less in my neck of the woods (about an hour north of here). Don't suppose he does tech work?
On the "softstart" feature would having or not having this affect ones ability to install these amps remotely? That is leave the power switches on and turn them on/off via a power conditioner.
"I checked with VTL today and they never put InfiniCaps in the stnadard MB-450's. They only do it as a special mod. The standard is the MIT MultiCaps."
That sounds right, however, I believe if you go back far enough, even the MultiCaps were an optional upgrade, but I don't know the time frame on this.
Bruce: Michael Percy is a well-known parts-seller in the industry. He is not a tech for hire as far as I know, but I suppose he may be able to recommend someone fairly local to you.
Your question about remote turn-on, whether via the soft-start modules or not, is one you'll probably have to ask VTL.
Just to make this thread more complete, I've since learned that besides the $1200 Infinicap upgrade NRostov wrote of, the factory will also do the "Super Balanced Input" upgrade for $1200, as well as a "Tube Saver" upgrade for $500.
A question they didn't answer was: Would the "Super Balanced Input" do any good if your were running single ended? (you'd have to consider Albertporter's comments if you wanted to do it anyway - especially at that price)
Bmcleod: That's interesting, Bea Lam told me (albeit a couple of years ago) that the "Super Balanced" input couldn't be upgraded to because it involved replacing the monolithic circuit board of the older amps completely, and wouldn't be worth the cost for what she described as a fairly minor change sonically speaking. I think you might be right that less than enthusiastic reports could be due to connection to single-ended preamps. The "Tube Saver" upgrade for $500 has to be the external soft-start modules, that's what they cost per pair.
I recently spoke with Bea, as I am about to purchase a pair of 1997 MB-450's that have been upgraded with infinicaps, the tube saver circuit, and balanced inputs (in addition to the RCA's). The tube saver circuit is not the soft start, but a current limiting circuit that kicks in when the tubes are driven to clipping (I believe). These amps also reportedly have 600v ceramic fuses (not sure if this was an upgrade or stock). They use the older, box chassis rather than the sloped backed chassis, which are easier to deal with when tilting back. Bea said she doesn't know anything about a "resistor upgrade" - it was the fuse change that offered the additional protection. Anyone else know anything about a resistor upgrade on the 450's and when it would have occurred?
the resistor upgrade was a change in valuation in screen resistors done with the lowering of the B+ voltage. A rolling update approximately 2001-2 or so.
I spoke too soon about the resistor upgrade, there was a resistor change to the resistors on the capacitors, going from a parallel to a series configuration, so that if one failed, the big power supply/mains caps don't explode. This I paid to do on my MB-300s, it was cheap and a good insurance move... My 450s had it already...