Balanced Audio Technology VK-P6 Phono Preamplifier Produces A Luxurious, “Velvet Fog”

Last year's purchase of Balanced Audio Technology by Jim Davis, who also owns Music Direct and Mobile Fidelity has resulted in major product upgrades and lower prices. This new VK-P6 phono preamplifier is an example of what the newly revitalized company can do given an adequate infusion of resources.

The new $3495 VK-P6 is the company’s entry level phono preamplifier, yet in terms of build and parts quality it shares a great deal with the top of the line $12,495 VK-P12SE, though trust me, you’d have little trouble hearing the differences between the two.

The VK-P6 is a ten tube (8 6922s and a pair of 6SN7s used as current sources for the second gain stage), dual mono, fully balanced, zero feedback design that utilizes a pair of massive toroidal transformers also found in the company’s top of the line REX II preamplifier.

BAT incorporates its “Flying RIAA Network” differential circuit here, which the company claims has fewer parts yet because of ease of adjustment at the factory and dual differential common mode noise rejection, produces greater RIAA accuracy, with typical measured error of less than 0.1dB.

Gain, selectable between 50dB and 55dB, would suggest that the VK-P6 is best used with moving coil cartridges having outputs above .3mV but I found that the .2mV Transfiguration Proteus worked well, perhaps due to the unit’s excellent 73dB signal to noise ratio at 55dB gain.

The back panel holds a single pair of RCA inputs and balanced XLR outputs. You’ll need XLR to RCA adapters in a single-ended system. BAT makes nice ones.

From the factory the VK-P6 is configured for high gain, loaded at 47kOhms and 0 pF capacitance. That is an unusual starting point in my opinion, especially considering you need to remove 16 screws to gain access to the two dip switches that adjust these things! A more sensible loading setting would be 100 ohms, not 47kOhms. My experience is that running a low output moving coil “wide open” at 47kOhms is never correct unless you confuse a considerable high frequency peak with “air”.

Balanced Audio Technology doesn't specify whether or not the unit can or should be used with a Moving Magnet cartridge and its default settings of high gain (55dB) and 47kOhm loading only adds confusion. Most MM phono preamps have gain of approximately 35 to 40dB so even at the lowest setting of 50dB, it's a bit high for MM and certainly there's no point in 55dB gain for a cartridge that outputs between 4.5mV and 5mV. Therefore, the review used only moving coil cartridges, but a reader's comment makes a good point about MM cartridge use with this preamp so stay tuned: the review will be amended shortly with how the VK-P6 worked with a MM cartridge.

In any case, it’s probably a good idea to have a look inside anyway to be sure the tubes didn’t come loose during shipping. Once inside you’ll see an impressive layout and an array of high quality parts. The 8 dip switches per channel, include 4 for resistive loading and 4 for capacitive loading, with one each connected to sockets that allow you to select and insert your choices of resistive and capacitive loading. With all resistive switches set to “off”, the load is 47kOhms.

The three other switches select 100 Ohms, 1K Ohms and 10K Ohms. You can also parallel them, the instructions say, but why would you want to do that given the supplied values? Capacitive loading is relatively unimportant with MC cartridges given their highly inductive nature.

The front mounted “on/off” button is the only control. Push it in and the unit powers “on” lighting a blue LED. An approximately 45 second soft start and mute cycle automatically engages upon start up, after which the unit is ready to go, though the sound improves somewhat after about a 20 minute tube warm-up.

Velvety Sonics

In this case the advertised sonic qualities perfectly match the reality. Music Direct’s product description describes the VK-P6’s sound as having a “lush, warm, detailed, and smooth character that mines the savory details and tonalities from your LPs.” Other than the curious claim of “salty” details and tonalities, I have to agree that the VK-P6’s sound is “lush, warm, detailed and smooth”, with an overall flowing quality that only tubes seem capable of delivering.

The overall presentation has a distinctively vivid quality that will work better complement some cartridges and work more effectively in some systems than in others.

While I no longer have here the Shelter 501 MKIII cartridge, I would imagine it too lush itself to compliment the VK-P6s personality. I’d pair this with something more neutral and even analytical and I would be careful about putting it in an already warm and lush sounding system that some prefer (and you know who you are!) unless you really want to wallow in warmth, in which case don’t let me stop you!

I’m reviewing now for Stereophile a highly regarded turntable whose name I can’t mention that has a slightly warm personality. I mounted upon it the Lyra Etna, which compared to the top of the line Atlas and the more moderately priced Kleos has a somewhat richer and fuller midrange. This was not a combination that best suited the VK-P6, despite its high combined cost. I’m telling you it is all about the correct recipe not about how much you spend. I’d pair the VK-P6 with a Sumiko Blackbird, or a Blue Point or Blue Point Special before I’d use a $7000 Etna with it.

On the other hand, the fast, somewhat lean and superbly detailed $6000 Transfiguration Proteus on the Continuum Caliburn was an outstanding pairing, though of course it’s not a real world combination and you'd be losing a great deal of what the Proteus can deliver. The new $999 Ortofon Quintet Black is under review too and with its Shibata stylus it digs out the details and has an airy, open quality that better suits the VK-P6’s lushness and warmth.

Don’t think the VK-P6’s overall tonality comes through as lumpy or sluggish, because it doesn’t but it is warm and you should consider in what tonal direction you wish to take your system before purchasing one. On the other hand, Music Direct offers a 30 day money back guaranty so you can’t really go wrong if it’s not to your liking.

What will be to your liking is the unit’s quiet backgrounds, its impressive for the price dynamic authority and its pleasing sense of rhythm’n’pacing as we like to put it in Stereophile. Still, unless your system is shrill and needs serious toning down, if you are a rock and roller, this isn’t the one for you (even “unloaded” at 47kOhms). It’s 100% freedom from grit, edge and grain does come at the price of somewhat softened transients and tamped down air and less than fully expressed high frequency extension.

Conclusion

The BAT VK-P6 gives you a luxury ride at a relatively low price. It’s build quality is high (it weighs 35 pounds), its sonics are rich and fully fleshed out and the pictures it paints are vivid, widescreen and deep. While its overall level of coloration is low and it is tonally and texturally well balanced (it’s overall character remains consistent bottom to top), warm and lush it is! Mel Tormé would probably approve.

COMPANY INFO
Balanced Audio Technology
1300 First State Blvd.
Wilmington, DE 19804
info@balanced.com
(800) 255-4228

COMMENTS
DLKG's picture

Mike,
You spoke a lot about a moving coil cartridge but what about a moving magnet. I have the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood and I'm using it with the built in phono pre amp on a BAT Pre and even that sounds great. Sorry I can't remember which model number it is (I never remember that stuff). The turntable is a VPI Scout Master and I'm sure once I buy this new phono preamp I won't be getting a different cartridge very soon. Have you tried a MM Cart at all with this new phono pre amp? If so what are your impressions? Thanks !! DLKG

Michael Fremer's picture
BAT doesn't describe the unit as being for Moving Magnet or Moving Coil cartridges, which is ridiculous IMO. However the minimum gain amount of 50dB is about 10dB greater than is considered ideal for a typical 4.5mV to 5mV output Moving Magnet cartridge so I am not sure if it's an ideal match. However, you bring up a good point and I will install a MM cartridge and amend the review to include my findings
DLKG's picture

Michael,
Thank You that's very nice of you. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say about it. I base a lot of my audio auditions and decisions on what you have to say.

DLKG

Philb7777's picture

When can you give us a little more info of what you think of the Transfiguration Proteus? Been waiting for a review on this one! Contemplating a Dyna XV-1t or the Transfig.......Transfig info needed!

Michael Fremer's picture
Coming shortly in Stereophile. Wait for it!
Ortofan's picture

Did you happen to notice what brand(s) of tubes BAT chose for this unit?

Michael Fremer's picture
Don't recall...I admit I didn't look...
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