Balanced Audio Technology VK-6200 multichannel power amplifier Page 2

But the BAT was no one-trick pony. It was also endowed with excellent resolution and depth. Simultaneously issued staccato attacks from different instruments arrived still distinguishable to my ear, with no sense of smearing. Multilayered guitar parts from the Lovin' Spoonful's Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful (LP, Kama Sutra KLP-8054), separated not by the usual left-right channel spread but only by their different depths in the soundstage, came through clearly and individually distinguishable. "Summer in the City" blends traffic noise and jackhammers during the musical interludes, but the lack of space around those city sounds clearly relayed their origins in stock sound-effects libraries. Contrast that with the guitar and its studio-recorded reverb—both uncannily accurate, intimate, and successfully conveyed.

The ability of the BAT to "reset to zero" between notes might have been responsible for both the impression of resolution and its aforementioned dynamic abilities. No room looks brighter than the room that, an instant ago, was cast in darkness. The VK-6200 seemed to operate on the same principle, be the source LP, CD, or a DVD soundtrack. Music emerged from a dark, velvety chasm where the absence of sound was black and the only colors were the notes themselves.

The VK-6200 also easily produced prodigious bass, the type sure to satisfy admirers of "Lonely Road," from Driving Rain, Paul McCartney's first release of original material in four years (CD, Capitol CDP 5 35510 2). Running the MartinLogan Prodigys through the 2-channel stereo mode of my Krell Home Theater Standard surround processor meant the BAT was getting a workout. But even more important than its ability to deliver a sustained pummeling, the VK-6200 dished out some really tuneful bass on more balanced recordings.

One such example involved another gem from Michael Kroll's Ether Country, "These Wings," which combines Kroll's acoustic steel-string with Janie Scarpantoni's sonor-

ous cello. Kroll's 1933 Gibson is a deeply resonant cavern of a guitar; its open bass strings ring richly and with force, but always sound realistic. Scarpantoni's cello never attains the level of low-down growl that might have been possible with closer miking, but the juxtaposition of the instruments works well nonetheless. Still, she draws her bow across the strings with a subtlety that the delicately detailed BAT easily brought out.

"These Wings" also preeminently displayed the BAT's monoblock nature. The sense of separation between the guitar and cello, clearly destined for different channels in the mix, was in stark contrast to the firmly centered vocals. The center image was so un–phantom-like that I can be forgiven for thinking the center channel was turned on. The better the recording—i.e., the less processed or compressed or manipulated in any way—the more impressive the BAT was in this regard. This is definitely the amp for people who love their 2-channel recordings and place as great a priority on music as on film. The VK-6200 was simply outstanding in all things 2-channel.

When Two Just Won't Do
The loaded 2-DVD release of Shrek offers Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. Traditionalists—and by those I mean fans of Warner Bros.' golden era—know that your better cartoons draw from the full palette of orchestral instruments and kitchen utensils to craft soundtracks that work in subtle but effective ways. What better way to punctuate Princess Fiona's punch through an accordion than with . . . an accordion? As thick as Shrek's soundtrack is, the BAT brings out the accordion's deflating tones in its moment of distress. The movie's closing "I'm a Believer" may be sung by a cast of thousands, but the VK-6200 sweetly spread their voices across the musical stage. While I wouldn't attempt to count the singers, when I fixated on just one of the many cartoon characters, the BAT and my mind conspired to provide a single voice that nicely fit. No small trick, that.

A movie I liked more when I got it home than when I saw it in the theater was X-Men. In chapter 8, when Logan awakens violently on the operating table just before he's about to be injected, I just about jumped out of my seat. The sound of crunching glass is distinct—a neat trick, considering the syringe shown is plastic. The VK-6200's unbridled dynamics, however, conjured the desired effect. Patrick Stewart plays Xavier, the head of a school for gifted mutants, whose particular gift seems to be the ability to generate a 5.1-channel soundtrack in people's minds without the use of home-theater equipment. The channel separation was superb—no surprise, really, considering the VK-6200's monoblock nature. As for Xavier, I understand he's working on his THX certification.