Review: BAT AUDIO TECHNOLOGY (BAT) VK-3i/VK5i preamplifier
I have always liked BAT’s products whenever I have heard them. The sound always seemed balanced, dynamic and clean. I think they are not too popular in HK, judging by their paucity in second-hand stores. Maybe that’s because of the workman-like look or the massive blackness. I happen to like the look.
I have never heard BAT in any home visits, not to say in my own home. This was rectified recently when my friend E brought a VK5i line preamplifier for me to examine. One channel had little sound. I tested its 8x 6922 and found a short in the last triode section. Replacement of the tube fully restored normalcy. The VK5i was over-built like a tank and weighs twice the weight of ARC. It has dual mono power supply, with dual transformers and 2x 6L6 for tube power regulation (remember ARC SP10, SP8, Reference
I ended up with the lower model VK-3i, which uses only 4x 6922, has only one power transformer and a more manageable (in terms of heat) 2x 6V6 for regulation. My copy was a late one with RCA’s as well as XLR’s and fitted with remote.
Even though the VK5i is long gone, I can tell the sound of VK-3i is in the same vein, rock-solid. Dynamic prowess is the supreme virtue. We are not talking about brute force here. Bruckner’s 6th symphony (Wand/RCA) not only showcases BATs ability to accurately reproduce the innumerable crescendos and decrescendos and abrupt shift of gear, it tells you how well the musicians are coping. Fortissimos are always naturally arrived at (most preamps fail this), louder than one expects. And so careful adjustment of volume is mandatory, making this not so suitable for those who listen low-level to pop/Chinese vocals with gain-riding and compromised dynamic range (usually those who claim vintage preamps are better).
Tonally there is little to fault. Details are plentiful. Despite its killer dynamics, the preamp does not call attention to itself, a testament to its neutrality. At the same time I have the Counterpoint SA-5000 here, and comparison with the VK3i betrays the Counterpoint’s dynamic limitation, a slight midrange recess and mild emphasis of upper treble.
The 5i is a little darker sounding and possibly a little quieter, while the 3i has better rhythm and pace. Overall I prefer the sound of the livelier 3i to the more Teutonic 5i, though the latter in recollection is even more steady when run loud. This brings the question of whether dual mono power supply is always a benefit in every department. In my experience, a good single power supply frequently has better musicality and coherence than a dual mono supply, which however may have a little better high-level performance.
Even with older ARCs and Counterpoints in mind, I cannot think of a better buy in preamplifier. Now I am hunting for a phono card.