after missing the bass and image solidity of ARC vt200, i decided to take one unit of james sub home from audio image for audition.

after some playing around for 3 hours with the gain and crossover settings - the only two variables - i am finally happy with the end results.

this is a very subtle and unobtrusive sub, so much so that i don't actually feel its presence when the music doesn't demand it. when it does, oh, it is a beauty. and the best part is - it is truly seamless. even with my eyes closed, i couldn't detect its location.

my overall impression is a very fast and agile sub. the mids does thicken (but not overly so), the highs does beef up (and not overly so).... everything is just so subtle. however, there is no discernible improvement in imaging and soundstage, something that i hope it can. maybe i haven't played enough audiophile cds to compare the soundstage.

another big improvement is the increased weight. the vt200 makes me realize how light-weight my classic 120 is. the james manages to put a solid anchor to some of the images. everything seems more stable.

this unit will be on extended loan to me. so those who want to sample this highly-acclaimed subwoofer, do drop by.

james blunt - chasing time: the bedlam sessions.

get this else regret for the rest of 2006.

ARC VT200 - solving the puzzle

being an ardent ARC supporter, i have been eagerly waiting for the day i will get a chance to audition the new generation of ARC amps. not the cheaper VS series but the higher end of the VT series. i can't wait to solve the debate whether ARC is moving backward or forward in the pursuit of high fidelity. after living so long with the classic series (and loving every minute of it), i doubt there can be ANY improvement in the aspects of tonal colours/beauty and the exquisiteness and sweetness of the triode sound. there can be improvement in other areas but NOT LIKELY in the areas i mentioned above.

the arrival of VT200 at my house has been rather late, due to a complex set of circumstances. i have been waiting for this day for at least 2 years, to say the least.

after a good 3 hours of listening to it, with familiar sources, i am confident to make a few mature conclusions.

firstly, advances in technology can buy you humougous soundstage. VT200 throws the biggest and most spectacular and panaromic soundstage i have ever heard in my living hall. the depth and the layering are staggering. none of the previous "soundstaging" amps, such as ASL hurricane and C-J premier 350 can even beat the VT200 in this area. listening to music is now like "watching" music. the experience is exhilarating. i revel greatly in this experience.

secondly, the 200watter in ultralinear mode (my classic 120 is triode) does not necessary buy you SPEED and ATTACK but it does buy you immense solidity in imaging. every image is achored solidly on the ground. in contrast, the CL120 seems light and floaty. in the bass department, the VT200 is unexpectedly lethargic; the CL120 is much more nimble and agile in bass than the VT200, though it does not have the CONTROL and WEIGHT of the VT200.

thirdly, the ultralinear sound is way too soft and dull, compared to vividness and vivacity of the triode. in contrast, my CL120 is lively, sparkling and has tonnes of presence factor. the highs and mids of the VT200 are rather recessed and dull. well, some would call the highs and mids of VT200, NATURAL or TUBE-LIKE, but that's not the way i would describe them.

after a good session with the VT200, i switched back to my CL120. immediately, i embrace the CL120's lively personality and sonic signature, although the soundstage now has shrunk a lot and things become a bit fuzzy. but make no mistake, the triode rules in the midrange and highs. the triode sound is a heavenly marriage with the maggie's true ribbons.

many of you have commented how my CL120 is underpowered to push my maggie 3.6R. yes and no. yes, the VT200 does have much more control and headroom, maybe 20% more than CL120 but when it comes to bass, the CL120 actually is faster, more nimble and agile. i am not sure if it is a compatibility issue but VT200's bass just doesn't grip me. it is a tad slow and lethargic. it is baffling why a 200-watter behaves like that.

i am not sure if this VT200 unit is in tip-top condition or whether it has the authentic ARC-approved svetlana winged-c 6550s tubes. but experience with tan's VT100 tells me that THIS is the signature of the VT series - lack of presence, soft and unexciting.

the VT200 will be with me for some time so i want to give it more chance to prove itself. but so far, except for the stunning soundstage and rock solid imaging, not much is in its favour.

so, puzzle almost solved. the ARC of yore are indeed better than the ARC of today in terms of highs and midrange.

it goes to show that technology can buy soundstaging, but it can't really buy the critical ingredients like midrange and tonal beauty.

it also prove that modern-day reviewers (like stereophile's wes philips who raved about VT200) may not have the hands-on experience with past ARC classics such as CL120, VT130SE, VT150SE. perhaps, that also explains why older guru and ARC lover like HP has never touched ARC products in the last decade.

i have always been telling many audiophiles that in terms of tube amp design, there has not been breakthru since the late 70s/80s; technology hasn't really helped much. some old classic tube amps still pretty much reign and retain its supremacy.

i am quite relieved.

now, where to find an amp that combines the triode beauty of CL120 and the soundstaging supremacy of VT200?