VAC Amplifiers – AXPONA 2017

by Rafe Arnott

VAC.

Valve Amplification Company.

Ever heard of them?

I’ll wager many reading this post haven’t ever laid eyes upon this company’s bespoke amplification casework. Which wouldn’t surprise me because they’re not exactly a household name even for audiophiles in the know. I got my first exposure to their sound at Newport Beach in 2015, and started plotting at how I could get a set of their monoblocks into my living room then. There is a musicality, and realism to their sonic signature that few other manufacturers could be considered peers of at any price.

Fidelis Music Systems out of Nashua, New Hampshire was showing off the entry-level VAC Sigma 160i SE (Special Edition, $14, 000 USD + $2,200 USD for optional phono stage) integrated amplifier at AXPONA in Chicago, and while it may seem dramatic to say, I did have to sit down after listening to this system for a few minutes. One thing to note, while I’ve written several times previously that in my personal zone of sonic affinity analog still rules, there have been a number of digital front ends that have wooed me. So let’s be honest here, and I’ll give it up that I’ve invited a few DACs home for drinks, and a couple have stayed over. I’d not previously heard the Zero-Uno DAC ($7,995 USD), but it left an impression on me of significant magnitude that I asked it for it’s number, and I plan on calling to meet up soon.

The Acoustic Signature Ascona MK II turntable ($32, 995 USD) with Acoustic Signature TA 9000 12-inch tonearm ($17,995 USD) are not strangers to me, neither is the Dynavector Te Kaitora LOMC cartridge, but these weren’t in the mix while I was in the room, but I can tell you that during previous listening sessions that the Ascona has an incredibly low noise floor compared to other ‘tables (of any price range) which provides a ticket to a show few others can print when it comes to pulling every ounce of resolution from the grooves of your black vinyl discs. Diapason Adamantes III 25th loudspeakers ($6,599 USD) were handling the final translation duties, and the level of pinpoint imaging to the large 3D sound stage these diminutive standpoints were throwing was only second to their transparency to the signal the VAC Sigma was passing along. If true tone, authentic timbre to string, horns, and percussion are traits you cherish in your musical playback, then I cannot recommend highly enough that a VAC amplifier should be in the signal path you put together. The fact that VAC has become a triode enabler with the Sigma’s entry-level price point means that getting through the door of this club just became dangerously attainable.