BALANCED AUDIO VK-90
"If you’re in the market for a top-spec tubed preamplifier, I strongly recommend that you take the time to listen to it -- it might just be love at first listen".
Second-Generation Transformer-Coupled Outputs Provide Exceptional Purity
Featuring transformer-coupled, high-current, single-gain stage topology, VK-90 is the finest single-chassis preamplifier ever created by Balanced Audio Technology. Wound with Cardas’ finest copper wire, the second-generation transformer-coupled outputs catapult the performance of this fully balanced, zero-feedback design to a reference level. Each transformer comes encapsulated within a mu-metal shield for the ultimate in signal purity and noise isolation. Electrically, these second-generation transformers improve VK-90’s ability to drive low-impedance loads. Sonically, they offer greater transparency than the already revered performance established by BAT’s first-generation transformer design.
User-Friendly Interface and Customizable Options
Boasting one of the most flexible user interfaces in the industry, VK-90 offers customizable options that range from dimming to fading and source-naming. It can also be fully upgraded to a REX 3 preamplifier.
And you can always get the volume just right courtesy of a proprietary electronic shunt volume attenuator that offers 140 steps of 0.5dB resolution.
In the design, discrete metal film resistors bleed the unused signal to ground. From deep bass to extraordinary dynamics and layered transparency, VK-90 is your new reference.
Look Under the Hood: Eight 6H30 SuperTubes
More than a decade ago, BAT introduced the world to the 6H30 SuperTube. VK-90 continues the tradition by using eight 6H30 SuperTubes to form an extraordinarily high-current, low-impedance drive engine. As BAT wrote upon introduction, “comparing the 6H30 tube to a standard 6922 is like comparing a Formula 1 race car to a family sedan.” In VK-90, the signal is effectively transmitted through only one gain stage. The Unistage™ circuit provides the ultimate simplicity of amplifying the incoming signal only once, while using no global feedback to double back on the straight-through signal integrity.
Breakthrough Design: Third-Generation SuperPak
VK-90 touts Balanced Audio Technology’s all-new, third-generation SuperPak in its power supply design. It's a significant rethinking of what is possible from an energy storage device. For the first time, the BAT SuperPak features hybrid construction that incorporates two capacitors built and potted into each individual shell. An additional silver-in-oil capacitor—arguably the finest-quality capacitor offered at any price—is used as part of the Gen 3’s construction. The two capacitors are then assembled into a new low-resonance shell. The result: Low-level detail is revealed in a clear and unforced manner, while the overall sound has a beguiling sweetness and naturalness from top to bottom.
2x XLR + 1x XLR / Tape
Volume Control Resolution
Volume Control - # of steps
Maximum Output Signal
Distortion (at 2V output)
2Hz to 200kHz
Input impedance (minimum)
Third generation SuperPak: 8x50uF with internal silver/oil hybrid construction
Silver gold oil bypass caps
Unistage design with only one gain block and no capacitors in signal path
Second generation output transformers with Cardas OFC wiring
19" x 5.75" x 15.5"
What they say ...
If what they said about the VK-53SE was awe inspiring, imagine what will be soon said about the new generation VK80 and VK-90 preamplifiers !
Aron Garrecht August 1, 2018
"With the VK-53SE configured to my liking, I settled in for a couple hours’ listening. I kicked things off by listening to “What a Shame,” from Patricia Barber’s Café Blue (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Premonition/Blue Note). Barber’s voice was well imaged at center stage, on the plane described by the front baffles of my Rockport Atrias: solid, focused, and detailed enough that I could hear Barber’s breathing, yet smooth enough to maintain an organic presence in my room. The VK-53SE’s deftness with dynamics was also immediately apparent; dynamic inflections in Barber’s voice were communicated with no hint of restraint. The same was true of Michael Arnopol’s double bass: notes appeared in space with so much wonderful immediacy and density that Barber and Arnopol almost seemed to be fighting for pole position on stage. Luckily, neither succeeded, or both did: I heard the dense sounds of meaty strings, with inviting bloom and considerable control.
I heard, or felt, similar levels of palpability with “Brothers in Arms,” from The Best of Dire Straits (16/44.1 FLAC, Mercury). The VK-53SE communicated the rumble of thunder in this track’s opening seconds with immense solidity. When Terry Williams’s kick drum, er, kicked in, it sounded tight and clean, providing me with all the punch I’m used to hearing through my Moon Evolution P-8. Also on a par with the Simaudio were the delineation and articulation of John Illsley’s visceral bass guitar. The bravado with which the VK-53SE reproduced the more demanding aspects of music not only got my foot tapping, but instilled in me confidence that this preamp would be able to handle with aplomb anything I threw at it. Nor was this feeling of ease limited to the current-demanding aspects of recordings: Mark Knopfler’s voice had appreciable levels of texture and tonal detail that aided in the transmission of feeling. Moreover, every time I increased the volume, the sound simply grew in scale and intensity without ever straining or becoming aggressive. The purity of control the VK-53SE exhibited with whatever music I played was its greatest asset.
In direct comparisons with my Moon Evolution P-8, the VK-53SE sounded warmer overall. Images were consistently denser, more refined, and a tad darker, which added up to a richer, more organic sound. It was interesting to compare these two preamps: overall, the P-8’s sound is a bit more accurate, articulate, detailed, and resolving, making it able to be used as a reviewing tool and as a source of listening enjoyment. BAT’s VK-53SE balanced this by dependably sounding smoother, warmer, richer, and more welcoming, particularly at louder volumes. Both preamps excelled at conveying propulsive yet highly accurate bass, micro- and macro-dynamics, and very low levels of noise.
In the first few seconds of “Isn’t It Romantic,” from Diana Krall’s Turn Up the Quiet (16/44.1 FLAC, Verve/Tidal), Anthony Wilson’s guitar was wonderfully delineated. Krall’s voice now appeared about 2’ behind the Amatis’ baffles, full of texture, breath, and body, while notes from her grand piano lingered with luxurious richness as they slowly decayed into an abyss of “black” silence. Taps of drummer Jeff Hamilton’s cymbals oozed with delicacy, but still didn’t linger in the air quite as long as they do through my P-8. But, as I focused on John Clayton Jr.’s bass, I wasn’t surprised by how deep and weighty each note sounded through the VK-53SE -- as noted above, the VK-53SE’s ability to fully communicate low frequencies was something I was quickly getting used to.
This was particularly notable while listening to “Wheat Kings,” from The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely (16/44.1 FLAC, MCA). I’m very familiar with this track, and rarely listen to it at low to moderate levels. The entire album sounds a bit bright, but the VK-53SE’s warmth kept any hint of glare or hardness from coming through, allowing “Wheat Kings” to sound balanced and transparent while blooming into a wonderfully large soundstage that went deep into my room. The singing birds in the opening seconds appeared well beyond the confines of the Amatis, and I reveled in the bite of Rob Baker’s acoustic guitar as he sets the song’s tempo. I also enjoyed how easily I was able to follow the individual strums of Paul Langlois’s and Baker’s guitars as they played together -- a task not easily accomplished. Taps of Johnny Fay’s cymbals haunted the space behind the late Gordon Downie’s chiseled voice, sounding absolutely fantastic in their breadth and scale. Tossing my P-8 back in-circuit for a moment, I could more easily hear the echo behind Baker’s acoustic-guitar solo and the decay of Fay’s cymbal strokes, but this transparency came at the expense of the warmer top-to-bottom tonal balance that complemented the Amati Traditions so well -- so back in-circuit went the VK-53SE.
Reviewing Balanced Audio Technologies’ VK-53SE preamplifier proved more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. Through most of the speakers I used, I found the BAT’s bass outstanding, its dynamics arresting, its image focus pinpoint accurate, and its tonal colors rich and nuanced. But the VK-53SE wasn’t perfect; it consistently seemed to struggle with projecting its wonderfully drawn images on big enough soundstages, and thus failed to provide a convincing sense of atmosphere -- until I paired it with Sonus Faber’s Amati Tradition speakers.
When I did, 98% of the space among instruments and voices, soundstage size, and surrounding atmosphere were restored -- I adored how music flowed through this pairing.
BAT’s VK-53SE errs on the warm side of neutral. But to say that it lacks any specific capabilities because of this warmer personality is not really accurate because the information is still there -- it just needs the right speakers and ancillaries to coax it out. If the buyer takes the time to do so, the VK-53SE can sound momentous -- and, like all other BAT products, the VK-53SE is wonderfully engineered and built like a tank. It’s also one of the most ergonomically friendly preamps I’ve used, and highly flexible in its connectivity and customization.
If you’re in the market for a top-spec tubed preamplifier, I strongly recommend that you take the time to listen to it -- it might just be love at first listen".