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For those of you who might not be familiar with anything other than today’s more or less conventional, meat-and-potatoes VTL, it wasn’t always that way. Through the late 80s and as far into the 90s as David Manley was still doing the designing and running the company, they were little less than prolific.... launching dozens of models and variants seemingly limited only by Manley’s fertile imagination.
I don’t think it’s far off to say that in some measure they were intentionally positioned as the anti-ARC/CJ. To be sure, some of those many ideas and products were more commercially successful than others, but they all shared some important attributes: a willingness to embrace some unorthodox approaches and topologies, U.S. handcrafted build that has stood the test of time, and, maybe most important, making their own output transformers rather than diluting a design to fit something mass produced off-the-shelf or paying someone else to manufacture to their specification in smaller quantities. And while many would probably characterize both the amps and preamps as utilitarian in appearance, it’s that classic case where less put into fancy thick faceplates and switchgear almost universally resulted in more goodness being stuffed inside.
Which brings us to the Stereo 120/50 DeLuxe amplifier under consideration here. It’s an acre of chrome, open deck, 120W/chan pentode AB1 or 50W pure Class-A triode output amp, powered by a quad of 807s per side. Manley himself considered the 807 to be a “mystical” tube. I’m not sure I would agree with that in general..., I’ve heard some 807 implementations that were a bit rough and tumble, though it sure applies here IF you run the amp in triode mode. I’ll call it how I hear it. In pentode the amp is competent, if fairly unremarkable. Pleasant enough, but a touch gray and mechanical. Throw the switch though and, if you have an accommodating speaker, some serious magic gets uncorked. I’ve played with waayyy more than my fair share of pentode/triode switchable amps over the years and I can’t recall another where the difference was so stark.
I have my theories. The 807 wasn’t originally designed as an audio tube and, though it has some useful characteristics when amplifying an audio signal, it also seems to innately have some added zing that isn’t entirely desirable. But strap it in triode, lash it to a custom transformer specifically optimized for it and those things apparently serve to offset each other, resulting in a sound with most of that lit-from-within quality of the best SETs, married to some real world power, damping and drive that’s equally compelling. Having said all that, I’ve listened to the VTL with a couple handfuls of different speakers and some clear trends become obvious. The best matches are all nominally 8 ohm loads with a fairly benign impedance modulus (you’ll note the amp doesn’t have multiple transformer taps. Sonically that’s the purest way to go. Practically, while it will work just fine with a variety of loads, it really gives its best @ ~8 ohms). I’d also suggest at least slightly above average efficiency. High 80s/low 90s is where the amp really takes off and demonstrates the kind of authority that belies its 50W triode heart. When so paired, you get a big wide slice of the best the high-end has to offer, without requiring a 2nd mortgage. The amp is detailed, punchy and vivid to a degree where it’s hard to imagine someone who has taken the appropriate care in matching not totally loving it.
This VTL is in beautiful working and cosmetic condition, including two brand new quads of 807s. If USAM had half sizes, I’d give it an easy 8.5 : ) As it is, I’ll play it conservative and call it an 8. A couple light scratches on the top deck and some small spots where the paint has flaked off the tube cage. The chrome is all still mirror like, with no pitting, and the aluminum front panel is virtually perfect. I wouldn’t hesitate to put the amp front and center as the feature in any environment. An important safety caution though: while I’d venture the structure of the 807 with the anodes located at the top is part of what enables them to perform so exceptionally, the chrome tube guards cover the anode caps on the front bank of tubes but not the rear ones and the perforated tube cage sits freely on top of the chrome guards. It is not screwed or bolted to the chassis. Given that the anode caps have almost 500V on them, I would urge if you have small children in particular, that this (or any other amp with this configuration) is not the best choice.
Asking $1550 or best offer + shipping/PayPal (if applicable. Also willing to accept a personal check with sufficient time to clear before shipping). I have extensive 100% feedback here, Ebay (same user ID) and Audiogon (user ID Markraile) and take immense care in packing and shipping so that items arrive in the same condition they left in. Happy to answer any questions.
This ad was originally posted on US Audio Mart and the seller ships to Canada, and the United States.