Many may question why I am writing a review on this amplifier so many years after its introduction as well as its end of production as well. And your question is a valid one deserving of an answer, which is this: I must. And the reason I must is that as a man who is a dedicated believer in tubes over solid state, a position I have held fast to for many years (at least 15 if not more), I am compelled to tell anyone who wants to listen that this is the finest solid state amp I have ever heard, and that it is the most tube like amp that does not have tubes. I really cannot emphasize enough now much I believe that "glass is better than sand" when it comes to music play back. While we all realize that nothing is the same as live music, when it comes to listening to an audio system, to me, and my ears, if that system does not have tubes it is doomed to fail to move me. So then you ask another question, and that is why and how did I come to own a BAT VK-500 in the first place? Another good question, and one that I myself cannot really answer. I had never heard one prior to my purchase. I read some about it but nothing that was so compelling that I just had to have one. Frankly, I believe it was "Devine Intervention" for there is no other reason I can point to for my purchase. And as the saying goes about God working in strange ways, my coming into possession of the VK-500 is just such an example. But thankfully it happened for this, as I said, is the best solid state amp I have heard. I say this because the VK-500 demonstrates the best of solid state with the sonic magic that also comes with tubes. The bass control on the VK-500 is tight, clean. And yet in delicate musical passages the VK-500 would easily fool one into thinking that tubes are there with their midrange magic and sweet seduction that draws one into the music. From thundering to light and airy the VK-500 does it all, and does it effortlessly. At times even I am fooled into believing that my huge tubed monoblocks are playing and not the VK-500. Sure, the BAT misses (just ever so slightly though) that last degree of finesse and holographic pleasure of the music that only tubes can give, but really, the BAT is not that far off. And not that far off at all if a confirmed tube man such as me feels the need to tell anyone who will listen that the VK-500 is worth every penny of its price. Whether you own huge power hungry planar speakers, all the way through efficient monitors or floorstanders, the BAT can drive them with aplomb. And I know because I have done it. Mate the VK-500 with a great front end and cables and it will let you know everything that is in the music. Bad recordings will sound bad, but good to great recordings will make you want to soil yourself with joy. At the risk of being too redundant, remember, I LOVE TUBES and this amp is not making want to inject my tube amps back into my system any time soon.
Now, we must remember that this is a beast of an amp. It weighs over 100 pounds. It needs two power cords inserted into it to make it work. It gets "warm". It is scary to turn on (though nothing happens other than it does what it is supposed to; there are no power outages in the house or neighborhood), it only has balanced inputs and again, it is HEAVY so be sure that you know where you want it because it is not going to be easy to jockey into place. But if you know that, then there are no other caveats to mention. Others have mentioned many numerous things that are wonderful about this amp, and I agree with them all. Anything bad that is mentioned, to me, is more like sour grapes. I am not writing this to justify my purchase. I would be the first to say that I screwed up if I get something that is awful. But this amp is not, not at all. I write this to say (again) that I love tubes and this amp does not make me miss my tube amps at all. So, if you are in the market for an amp that is solid state but has none of the ills of solid state and also possesses the positives of tubes, get a VK-500. If you need power to drive some power hungry speakers but you want something that is extremely musical to boot, buy a VK-500. If you need all of the previous things and your amp purchase will more than likely be your last purchase of an amp forever, buy the VK-500. You get the idea.
I once owned some Apogee Stages. At the time I longed for an excellent solid state amp (or amps) that would drive that notorious 2 ohm load and yet was musical, not just some amp that was putting out power like a small nuclear reactor. No, I wanted music from those marvelous speakers. Other than a McCormack DNA-1 amp, I found nothing else that was solid state and musical. If I only had had the VK-500 then, who knows what my system would be today? And while I mention the McCormack amp and its pleasures and virtues, it was NOT a BAT VK-500.
I bought mine used for $2000, a bargain if there ever was one in the world of the high end. If you can find one close to that in price and you need an amp, get it. Now. And never look back. You will be so glad you did.
How to sum up a solid-state amplifier in one word? Hmm. How about "perfect." Or at least aars perfect as any SS amp under $15,000.00 could hope to be. Mine has the popular "Bat Pak" upgrade, so I am not able to speak to the standard model, although I've heard it is spectacular also. Long ago, in my early listening years, I used to doubt that an amplifier (especially solid-state) could make much difference given good source material and a good front end. Experience taught me I was wrong. I did not know how wrong until I obtained this amp. Wow. I have owned many high-end SS amps, and one good tube integrated. Never, and I mean never, have I heard such a natural reproduction of music. This amp produces great bass when the source material contains bass, beautiful, crystalline highs without any grain or glare whatever, and a midrange to die for. No coloration. None. No compromises. No deficiencies. Just truly incredible (and in my experience) unparalleled sound. I now regret the ill thoughts I've had about the reviewers in the high-end magazines that conjured up all manner of prose, metaphor, analogy and every other form of flowery language to describe the sound of high-end products. Now I understand. Truly breathtaking. If you can find one of these amps for less than $2,000.00 jump on it. Run, don't walk, to the seller. You will never regret it. Once again, wow.
Bat VK 500
Purchased February 2006:
Price Paid $1750.00 New $5000.00
This was dealer trade in that I bought to replace a pair of VTL 450 Signature Mono-block Tube Amplifiers Even though, switching these highly regarded Mono-Blocks for a vanilla VK-500 (Mine does not have the BatPacK) would be considered a step backwards. However, I could not be happier, the VK-500 retains 90 percent of the VTL”s sound quality, without the hassle and expense of maintaining the tubes. Which for me was around $360.00 every 3 years, I have been using this amplifier for 5 ½ years now the only thing I had to do to it, was replace a $1.04 fuse and blow the dust out of it, every so often. Unlike the VTL, which would blow fuses and capacitors right and left when one of its tubes would start to fail. This is not a failing of the amplifier itself, but the fact that finding 16 good quality tubes in this day and age is a challenge. When you did find a good batch the VTL ran trouble free.
Having a love for the sound of Tubes I wanted my replacement Solid State amplifier to have a “tube like” sound. I looked at a number of different products, Classe, McIntosh, Theta, Krell, Bryston, and Electrocompaniet, to name but a few. What I found is that well executed Solid State designs sound similar to Tubes, and a good Tube design will have some of the personality of a Solid State amp.
I had a difficult time coming to a decision. Liking almost everything I auditioned, nevertheless I always went back to the BAT dealer for a listen to the VK-500. I guess what struck me about it was, one of my Audio buddies commented that the VTL-450 I purchased sounded like the VK-500 we just listened to. But alas at the time I had to have a “Tube amp” and went ahead and got the VTL, which I enjoyed for 5 years. Even so, I never forgot that he compared the sound of a big "Tube" amp to being like this "Solid State" one.
The characteristics of the BAT are a warm, natural, laid back sound, which is punchy and highly accurate. Their Goal is to have both their Solid State and Tube offerings sound the same. With VK-500 they have achieved this goal. It is not quite a VK-150 but you can definitely tell it’s a BAT.
Of course the sound of my old VTL was a bit sunnier. The MB-450’s did a better job with vocals, that being said, the BAT will still put Carly Simon right in your lap. I just don’t feel the moisture of her breath the same way I did with the VTL’s. Even so, it is more accurate than the VTL, giving me tighter bass and a more detailed sound stage.
The biggest thing I like about this is amp its inky black noise floor. Even with volume past half way there is no hum coming from my speakers. This why I think some folks will say that the VK-500 has a “Darkish” quality. On this, I would disagree. I have not found mine to be dark at all. I have found it to be unflinchingly “neutral”. BAT is a company that tries it best to stay out of the way of the music, much like McIntosh amplifiers do. However, they are still warm and contain much of the velvetiness of their tube counterparts; that warmth is the difference between these and a McIntosh. Which for me, is the gold standards of neutrality. My suspicion is this unexpected neutrality from the BAT amplifiers combined with it low noise floor takes some folks aback. These definitely are not sunny like a Bryston.
On Instrumentals, Rock, Jazz, and Orchestral pieces the BAT really outshine the VTL’ s. Seemingly, to be in more control of my speakers. The MB-450’s come close but I hear a lot more inner detail and dynamics from the VK-500. While the VTLs would startle me at times into thinking that someone was in the room. The BAT will also startle me by producing the powerful slam of a drum or organ pedal note that I never heard before. Almost as if I am in the middle of the concert hall, which is what a Hi End Amplifier should do.
1. Since this is an older generation product this amplifier can be purchased well below the original price.
2. Even without the BAT-PacK it has tremendous reserves a clean power and is able to drive almost any speaker to volume without strain. I have never heard this amp clip once, even with bass heavy recording at live volume.
3. Extremely reliable, plus BAT has great technicians who offer wonderful support.
4. Offers portion of having your cake and eating it too, the slam and control of Solid State, and the warmth and lushness of Tubes. Not quite a Tube amp but mighty close.
1. According to the website the only upgrade path available for the VK-500 is to convert it to a VK-1000.
2. They are big and heavy, so watch your back.
3. Like big block tube amplifier they need lots of clean power. Separate isolated 20 amp circuits are recommended.
4. Limited amount of local dealers forcing you to go to BAT directly for support. (This I do not understand. In my area we had 3 Dealers now all of them stopped carrying the brand. What was relayed to me is that the National Sales Rep is extremely difficult to deal with, thus they found carrying the product more of a hassle than it’s worth. I do not know if this is sour grapes or not but I have heard this comment from many sources. It is my hope that BAT will get someone else and stop alienating those that want to sell their product.)
VK-32se preamp with VK-Pi phono
VK-5 SE CD
Marantz SA-11s2 SACD
SOTA Sapphire TT
Kimber Cable Hero Interconnects
Kimber 8tc speaker cable
Thiel 3.6 Speakers
The VK-500 is in absolute terms one of the very best amps I've ever heard and owned. It's ever so slightly warmer than my Classe CA-2200, a paragon of linearity and neutrality, but only to the degree that it has character rather than color. It's an enormous brute, a true dual-mono design; moving it, all 106 lbs of hulking steel is exhilarating, terrifying, and exhausting.
But the sound... after an hour or warm-up you will forget how much it weights, the waves of heat it produces at idle, its intimidating appearance... and hear Perfection. I could certainly have spent more (and more, and more) on interconnects and speakers and source and preamp and on and on and heard even better sound, but the addition of the VK-500 to my system made more difference than any other component had made.
Bass is bottomless and limitless. Highs are extended and sweet, gentle and detailed. Mids are warm (though not overly so) and inviting. And it all comes together in a remarkable aural experience. The VK-500 is an amp of virtually unlimited power, and will obey whatever command you issue.; it is like the genie that grants any wish. You sometimes have to be careful what you ask for (e.g. earsplitting, house-shaking, neighbor-angering loudness), as the 500 will deliver precisely that and do so without apparent effort.
I had to sell mine to pay bills. I miss it and hope to have another someday.
This is the most musical amplifier I have owned to date! The BAT VK-500 bettered my VK-200 all across the entire frequency range. It can show plenty of nuance in the recording. You will be suprised how natural sounding this amplifier is. You need to do is listen.