29 October, 2019

Infinity RS-1B, Altec 604H, VTL MB-450 Series I

Click pics to enlarge. My earlier Visit 1. VTL MB-450 monoblocks have replaced the previous CJ Premier 8 on the amp racks. Between the Infinity panels is my Thorens TD-124. What are the dishes? Clockwise from top: Pocket Pastry with Chives and Eggs, plus Chinese Flatbread; Fried Eels; Spicy Tripes; Mustard Green with Other Vegetables; Braised Pork.

NY Diary (19-15): Infinity RS-1B and Altec 604-H Redux
VTL MB-450 vs Conrad-Johnson Premier 8

As mentioned many times before, our friend Kevin is a dynamo. Just chronicling his quest is enough material to sustain my Blog! :-) This is the latest update.

VTL MB-450 (Series I) After my last visit (peruse for the other equipment used), Kevin bought a pair of VTL MB-450. This is the same amp that Andy (who inspired both Kevin and Mark to get into Infinity) has used for over 10 years (here). This is the series I, which has a much plainer look (that I prefer) than the later II and the current III.

Talking about product longevity, this amp actually harks back to the even earlier MB-300, which is why this Stereophile archived review link grouped all the MB-300 and MB-450 Series I and II reviews together. Quite a good read, with some caveats, as we shall see.

Each MB-450 uses a 12AT7 and a 6350 to drive 8 x 6550's, switchable from Tetrode to Triode Operation. Andy's Svetlana 6550's had lasted him for over 10 years and that is astonishing given how hard they have to work driving the Infinity panels. Kevin's amps on the other hand are now tubed with current production Gold Lion KT88's. As with VTL, fixed bias for each tube.

Visit 1 Not long after, I got to hear them. As soon as I heard the first piece, I said I preferred these to the CJ Premier 8's. Kevin laughed and said, "I predicted you are going to say that and I mentioned it to Andy last night!" Well, we know each other well indeed; I know myself well too, as I too knew even before the visit that I was to prefer the VTL.

So why my preference? I have thought of writing a CJ Overview as I have heard plenty of them and used a few, but...Well, I find CJ products too colored. To use its rival ARC as an example, if I compare their products of the same vintage, I almost always prefer ARC, for its more neutral sound. Some tube warmth is undoubtedly desirable, but CJ over-eggs it, especially as it evolved. Basically for a long time they just added more and more, and larger and larger, capacitors, particularly in the preamps. The Premier series preamps are widely used in our circle, but I personally  do not favor them. As for the amps, I find them even more unacceptable. To me, CJ's use of high bias and current on the power tubes wastes power, leads to short tube life and frequent failures, produces a tight sound, but somehow does not translate into power when the going gets rough. Here, the CJ LP275, a latter day (but less well built) version of the Premier 8, was a wimp compared to the diminutive EAR 509, a neutral amp closer to the VTL in sound. That said, the popularity of CJ must owe a little to the remedial effect it has on lean systems (prevalent). It should also be said that more recent CJ products have moved towards the more neutral side.

And so it proved here. The sound of the MB-450 was surely more neutral than the CJ, more powerful too as I expected. Kevin preferred Triode Operation because of its sweeter sound. In this system, with Kevin's audio preference and the ribbon panels, there was really not much sweetness, but I left pretty satisfied. It should be noted that in one of the Stereophile's reviews, a much younger Michael Fremer favored the sound of the CJ Premier 12 (which can be thought of as a smaller version of the 8) to the MB-450. Horses for Courses.

As predicted (see link), the Altec 604-H (right pic) sounded better with the McKintosh C20/MC30 combo. Things fleshed out. On James' Lenco 78 turntable, Kevin replaced the original arm with a modified Rega 300, and the result was enormous, much better balance and bass, a tribute to the Rega arm.

Visit 2 Just yesterday we met again. In the interim, Kevin had built new power cords for the VTL's and according to both him and Andy it made a big difference. Indeed the sound was a little fuller. Kevin is now using the Tetrode Mode for its greater control and power. He said the power cord smoothed out the sound enough for him to make this choice. Kevin had switched cartrdiges. The VAS-modified Ortofon 2M Red sounded better than the Decca on his Thorens TD-125/ET arm (this arm is said to be light in bass, and so it proves). The Decca Gold (VdH stylus) also sounded better on the VPI. A good switch. On this occasion, we also heard his digital system with a Wadia 2000 transport, which sounded pretty good. It was too bad I had to leave early.

The job is not quite done. While I liked the more neutral sound of the VTL, I do think the system could use a little more warmth, but that is surely to come soon.

Note my Thorens TD-124 now has a 12" arm board made by Kevin. Lunch is Seafood Pan-fried Noodles.

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