What do all the changes to the Siegfried amount to sonically? The first and most audible change from the earlier Siegfried is that the new one not only sounds quieter with blacker backgrounds, but also much more sophisticated, particularly in the treble region. There was a lot of nitpicking in some audiophile precincts about Version One’s performance, and allegations that the various monitoring systems and voltage regulators that VTL employed were intruding upon the signal path. Moving to a fully balanced circuit has more than adequately addressed any lingering sonic issues.
In the new version the treble consistently sounds supple and smooth. One way in which this manifests itself is that singers sound more open and powerful. Take Mavis Staples. On her new album One True Vine [ANTI-], the huskiness of her voice comes through with terrific force on the first cut “Holy Ghost.” It’s amazing to hear it sound like this, not just because Staples is in her seventh decade and doesn’t appear to have lost a bit of her power, but also because the Siegfried allows you to hear that she’s flooring it without any apparent strain or effort. On a lesser amplifier her voice would be thinned out and a little more strident. Not with the Siegfried. “Here I stand, I can do no other,” Staples seems to say.
This ability of the Siegfried to flesh out the voice of singers was also palpably apparent on Leonard Cohen’s album Old Ideas [Columbia]. Cohen is one of those fellows who seems to draw admirers and detractors in equal measure; in this case, count me, like fellow TAS editor Neil Gader, who generously bestowed this album upon me, as belonging to the former camp. On cuts like “Show Me The Place,” the gruff, almost rebarbative sound of Cohen’s voice comes through with plangent, unforgettable intensity. You almost feel like you could count every hoarse reverberation in a single syllable. Nor is this all. I would be totally remiss if I failed to note that the sheer size of the soundstage, which was gigantic.
If the Siegfried has a hallmark, it is that it excels at delivering a vast image with tremendous control over the individual instruments, each textured and layered in the hall. This is all to the good when it comes to just about any genre of music. I’ve simply never heard a grand piano delivered with this kind of shuddering depth. Of course the Wilson XLF reaches into the nether regions. But the Siegfried, with its gobs of current, propels it into those regions and never lets go. With the Siegfried you hear that extra layer of richness down there and not just on bass-heavy recordings. Consider—and if you haven’t, you should—Andras Schiff’s or Murray Perahia’s superlative recordings of the Bach partitas on the ECM and EMI labels, respectively. On each, the Siegfried allows you to follow the left hand of the pianists with exemplary precision; the subterranean bass notes that are often softly sounded establish a mysterious sense of ambience that only the best stereo can offer. But above all, the Siegfried seemed to capture the richness and texture of a grand piano, a facet that came particularly home to me after listening to Jeremy Denk perform the Goldberg Variations at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The Siegfried just wasn’t that far off from the real thing in sonority and scale.
Am I describing an amplifier that can provide the big picture, that’s the sonic equivalent of sledgehammer but lacks finesse? Not a chance. There is no gainsaying that the Siegfried is a big tube amplifier that cannot completely obliterate the line between it and solid-state. If you’re looking for the ultimate in precision and delineation, the tautest possible control in the bass, then you should look elsewhere. The Siegfried almost by definition is going to have a higher noise floor than its solid-state competitors. But this sentence can be easily turned on its head. The top-drawer solid-state amplifiers will not match the Siegfried in midrange magic and suppleness—the effortless sense of continuous expansion that only tubes seem to be able to provide, not simply in the mids but also in the bass region. What the Siegfried does is come the closest of any high-powered tube amplifier that I’ve heard to effacing the line between it and solid-state, while sizably improving upon the tube amplifier’s strengths. Its control over tiny vocal quavers, pitch changes, or delicate vibrato is excellent. This is a great marriage of modern and old technology.
In sum, VTL has produced an amplifier that comes about as close to doing it all as anything on the market. Its performance, particularly on large-scale works, is magnificently engrossing. When I placed Stillpoints footers underneath the loudspeakers and other equipment, the strengths of the Siegfried became even clearer. Put plainly, I wallowed in the sound, agog at the sheer scale, the passionate music-making it conveyed. Is it neutral? Maybe in terms of its measurements. But neutral is not a term that comes to mind when thinking about the Siegfried. This amplifier offers an experience. It is about as far removed from a cool and restrained solid-state sound as is possible to imagine. It revels in offering a burnished and vibrant sound that came through whether it was driving the Wilson XLF or the Magnepan 3.7i. This is, moreover, a sound that, like analog, is at the heart of the hobby. You can glory in this amplifier. Over the years, I’ve heard many of VTL’s amplifiers, including the MB-750 monoblocks, the Wotan, and the original Siegfried. This is by far VTL’s most potent offering. It isn’t simply a pleasure to listen to but a delight.
SPECS & PRICING
Vacuum tube complement: Twelve 6550 or KT-88, one 12AT7, two 12BH7
Output power: Tetrode, 650W; triode, 330W into 5 ohms, 20Hz–20kHz <2.5% THD
Input sensitivity: Variable between 1–2V, depending upon DF setting
Input impedance: 45k ohms
Load setting: 5 ohms
Optimum load range: 4 ohms–8 ohms
S/N ratio: 110dB, 120Hz
Dimensions: 11.5" x 24" x 24"
Weight: 200 lbs. each (net)
Price: $65,000 a pair
Continuum Caliburn Turntable with two Cobra tonearms, Lyra Atlas and Miyajima mono Zero cartridges, dCS Vivaldi CD/SACD playback system, Wilson Audio XLF and Magnepan 3.7i loudspeakers and Wilson Hammer of Thor subwoofers, Ypsilon PST -100, Mk. II preamplifier, VPS 100 phonostage, and SET Ultimate monoblock and Boulder 2150 monoblock amplifiers, Transparent Audio MM2 Opus cabling and power cables, Stillpoints Ultra 5 and Ultra SS footers