That sense of a gobsmackingly wide, even cavernous, soundstage was also apparent on big, powerhouse orchestral works—the kind of thing that the late founder of this magazine would revel in when he wanted to embark upon a wild sonic ride. Take Seiji Ozawa’s Deutsche Grammophon recording of Manuel De Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, which features the superb singer Teresa Berganza. For all its sonic richness, the BAT didn’t offer a hint of sonic bloat; it kept her voice firmly in proportion to the orchestra. Was the treble slightly rolled-off? I don’t think so, but anyone looking for a little bit of sizzle in the empyrean regions should look elsewhere. The BAT remains fastidiously controlled in the treble. It isn’t demure, but the epitome of refined gentlemanly restraint.
Another plus of the VK-P12SE is its ability to deliver the goods on deep bass. The combination of the SAT tonearm, Lyra Atlas cartridge, and Continuum Caliburn turntable controls the bass region to a degree that I’ve not heard matched elsewhere, and the BAT displayed this setup’s collective virtues with aplomb. Indeed, the lengths that BAT has gone to in order to bulk up its power supply really seem to pay off. I never had the sense that the BAT was straining. Instead, there was always a sense of sovereign ease, no matter how difficult or complex the source material. There are more than a few phonostages that don’t quite reach the outmost extremes of the frequency on bass and treble. Not so with the BAT. On the sterling Count Basie album Kansas City 6, which was released by Norman Granz’s Pablo label, there was a hint of menace in Basie’s deep, growling piano notes, delivered with his inimitable panache. With Basie it’s all about suggestion, not blasting you into submission with thunderous chords. But the BAT provided a fine sense of his piano resonating on the traditional “St. Louis Blues” cut.
If you can’t tell already, I’m something of a bass freak. So I wheeled out a couple more bass-heavy albums to see what was going on in the subterranean audio precincts. After all, with two Wilson Audio Hammer of Thor subwoofers along for the musical party, it would seem like something amounting to dereliction of duty not to push things to the max. One of my guilty—or is it infantile?—pleasures is a new MoFi reissue of KC and the Sunshine Band. On “Do A Little Dance,” the bass was simply prodigious and defined. The backing chorus’ “whoo’s” were clearly defined, a sharp burst punctuating the bass line. Then there was one of my favorite jazz upright bassists, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, on a Pablo album called The Viking. Once again, the imaging was beyond reproach and the sound voluptuous. The bass notes emerged from the Wilson XLFs with authority and snap.
I’m not going to tell you, however, that the VK-P12SE is the ultimate in overall resolution. The superfine, filigreed detail that the most extreme phonostages produce, whether from Boulder or Ypsilon, take these components to another level. But they also cost orders of magnitude more than the BAT. Furthermore, a word of caution: At the BAT’s level, you’re really talking more about a gestalt, a sensation of sound, than about a lack of performance. The BAT errs on the sound of a satiny finish. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a music-making machine. It’s not about extracting the last jot and tittle of a musical line. It wants to supply the sweep, the lilt of a phrase rather than dissecting it into its constituent parts. If you’re a detail freak, then the BAT is probably not for you. But if you’re looking for a phonostage that will almost invariably seduce you with its charms, then it may well prove a valuable addition to a top-drawer analog rig.
SPECS & PRICING
Tube complement: 4x 6922, 4x 6C45, 2x 6SN7
Inputs: 1x RCA and 1x XLR
Outputs: 1x XLR
Gain at 1kHz: Direct low, 45dB; direct high, 60dB; step-up high, 80dB
Resistance (ohms): Selectable from 100 to 47k ohms
Capacitance (pf): Selectable from 0 to 1000
Dimensions: 19" x 5.75" x 15.5"
Weight: 43 lbs.