Balanced Audio Technology VK-6200 multichannel power amplifier

If you became seriously interested in high-end 2-channel sound in the 1990s, then Balanced Audio Technology is a name already familiar to you. The first review of BAT products I ever read was Robert Deutsch's, of the VK-5 tube preamplifier and VK-60 tube power amp, in the December 1995 issue of our sister publication, Stereophile. At that time, the buzz was about BAT's "balanced" designs, unique zero-feedback circuitry, and, of course, their products' exemplary sound.

From that initial success, BAT branched out into other power, pre-, and phono amps, and, recently, CD players. Very early on, BAT included solid-state designs in its product line, but unlike some other companies that cut their teeth on tube gear, BAT's solid-state amps and preamps weren't engineered to a price point or intended to serve simply as affordable entry-level gear. The same high standards and design goals evident in their tube equipment is supported across their entire product line, regardless of the engine under the hood.

Which brings us to the latest ride from the BAT Cave, the multichannel VK-6200. As in all their 2-channel equipment, the VK-6200 displays BAT's almost instinctual attention to aesthetic issues—it's stunning, macho, and—dare I say it?—beautiful. For reasons I'll get to shortly, this museum-quality piece of modern art was forced to sit on the floor during its stay here—but if you end up buying one, it deserves a seat of honor somewhere in your room.

The VK-6200's chassis can accommodate up to six channels. The base unit—the bare, no-channel VK-6200—costs $3750; each channel costs another $1250. My 5-channel configuration came to a cool $10,000! Each channel is a complete monoblock with its own 700VA (volt-amp) transformer. The circuit topology is fully balanced, as you might guess, but each channel card includes both a single-ended (RCA) and a balanced (XLR) input, as well as a microswitch placed (logically) between them to do what comes naturally. Speaker terminals are gold-plated and heavy-duty. The VK-6200 weighs 120 lbs—oh wait, that's with only two channels installed. My 5-channel version tipped the scales at 180 lbs. Surveying my rack du jour, I concluded that only my tile-on-slab floor was strong enough to support it. It took two strong, groanin' men to put this paperweight in place.

All that gravitas gets you a theater-crushing 400Wpc into 4ohms. Owing to the VK-6200's true monoblock nature, and assuming your electrical company and house wiring are up to it, that's 400W across all five channels simultaneously. Even into a less demanding 8ohms load, the BAT stirs up a far from humble 200Wpc with a bandwidth that exceeds the capabilities of even your keen-eared canine. But the VK-6200 isn't just about power—it's about majesty.

Balancing Act
I've met only a few amps that, short of a catastrophic failure, couldn't do at least a passable job with standard home-theater fare—after all, there's a picture to distract you. Two-channel audio lends itself more readily to analysis; for any amp I review, I do at least 50% of my auditioning with music-only recordings. With the BAT, that percentage was higher for a simple reason—I was most definitely liking it.

From the first notes, the VK-6200 was impressive. If I were asked to pick a single word to describe its sound, I'd pick dynamic. The VK-6200 was one of only a handful of amps with that elusive "jump" factor that brings all kinds of music alive, and not just where you'd expect it—like with Telarc's foundation-activating timpani whacks, which, sure, sounded great, but they usually do. No, it was with the small stuff that the BAT's dynamics could be a bit scary. "Tear," from Michael Kroll's Ether Country CD (Mersea NG0005-2), features vocalist Nina Nastasia, whose voice comes in during the chorus. Every time it did, I jumped—as if someone had walked undetected into the room and spoken to me. Even after many playings, the effect never completely went away. Very freaky. There—it just happened again. Knock it off!