Vecteur I-6.2 Integrated
A Transistor Amplifier From Which
Some Tube-Types Could Take A Few Lessons
Review by Neil Walker
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So what did you expect? A digital echo chamber to compensate for the transistor's lack of depth, detail and musicality?
"Please, Neil, do not compare it to your tube amplifier. I know what you will think. Please."
So it went. Pascal never allows me to have a piece of gear without my receiving a lecture about why I should love this piece of equipment and what I should expect from it. This time was a little different. He told me about how he never gives anyone two pieces of gear at one time.
(Vecteur L-4.2 in this issue, too.) And he asked me not to compare this amplifier to my Audiomat Prélude Référence amplifier.
I agreed immediately, mainly because I welcomed hearing two of Vecteur's newest upgrades all at once and having the chance to check out what I expected would possibly be a decent piece of transistor amplification.
So did I abide by the rules of the review as Pascal had so passionately pleaded? Absolutely not. Was there a difference between the Audiomat tubes and the Vecteur transistors? Yes, and I should hope so - after all, the Prélude is a full $800 more than the
Vecteur. I would have been really, really, really unhappy had there not been a difference. But the difference was what one should expect. And the differences I heard told me something else important. Where I thought that the Prélude was a superb piece of equipment, a great value for the amazing sound it renders for $3,490, so is the
Vecteur. It will change your mind about what is possible in a transistorized amplifier at any price and, in particular, at this price,
CAD $4,290 / USD $3,190.
First Steps First
"Mr. Walker, please come and pick up your packages," said Nancy, world's nicest and best post office person. When I arrived, Ruth explained why Nancy was being so nice to me. These two boxes of electronica took up most of the storage space in the parcel storage area. (They had to climb over them to answer the phone was the real problem.)
Not only large cartons, but, as I tried to shift the amplifier carton, there was no carton shifting happening. Fortunately, there was Leo, the human crane, on cash that evening. We got them into the car and I drove them home. By tipping the carton on the edge of the trunk, I could let it slide down onto my hand truck. Then I saw the tires squish out sideways and wondered whether I had inflated tem recently.
Anyway, I wrestled it onto my beautiful sound-enhancing shelves held up by three machined metal legs. It looked gorgeous. Its
aluminum slab front panel features three minuscule push buttons: standby, select and mute. There are matching pilot lights, like the pushbuttons about two
millimeters wide. The amplifier is a standard 17 inches wide, about 14.5 inched deep and 4.5 inches high. The cover behind the front piece is steel covered with a tough black ripple finish. The rear of the amplifier has gold-plated RCA jacks for input and tape monitor, nicely spaced for installing and removing those
barrel-tighteners added to higher end jacks. The speaker outputs are also spaced well enough for attaching sturdy spade connectors as well as allowing banana plug insertion. Yes, of course, it permits the simpler wire-crusher approach beloved by so many.
Once connected and turned on, you almost fry your speakers. This Vecteur pushes out 180
watts rms into eight ohms. This amplifier stats out as a type A amplifier, then, as power demand increase, it switches over to being an AB amplifier. It will handle speakers with nominal impedance between 4 and 16 ohms. Its frequency response covers the spectrum from
100kHz (+0/-3dB). Its signal to noise ration is >120dB, an amazing number. Its line level inputs have an impedance of 47K ohms. The quality of the components in the amplifier is exceptionally good. It has a Teflon circuit board and uses polypropylene capacitors and one per cent tolerance metal film capacitors.
With a very solid 44 pounds anchoring this amplifier to the earth, it offers some reassurance that what is under the hood is adequate to its tasks. Adequate is what it certainly is. Its massive transformers are no small part of the way it reproduces music. Whenever I review a new piece of equipment, my greatest fear is that I will hear no difference from another of the same type of gear. I have not yet been asked to turn in my
Enjoy the Music.com™ "This Reviewer Has The Ears of a
G-d" badge, but still. (Editor Steven sez: Badges? We don't need no
As I said earlier, I ignored Pascal's request that I not compare the I-6.2 to the Audiomat Prélude Référence amplifier. The truth is, I did not follow a rigorous a-b format. That approach rarely does anything but frustrate the reviewer and his or her patient colleagues. However, I did use some of the same music with which I reviewed the
I Feel Hairy, Oh So Hairy
I like music that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Bill Frisell's
Gone Just Like a Train [Nonesuch, 79479-2] is one of those pieces. It is a
favorite because of its mixture of textures, its melodic and rhythmic adventurousness and Frisell's virtuosity. One of the immediate impressions I got from the I-6.2 is its unfailing bass slam. This amplifier grips the speaker cone and does not surrender it easily. The result is the kind of satisfaction you can get only with good bass drive. At the same time, its balance across the sound spectrum satisfies as well in the higher registers of the guitars and percussion on this CD
Like the Frisell disc, Ministry's "Jesus Built My Hot Rod" (Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs [Sire/Warner Bros. CD 26727]) also tests the amplifier's bass drive. Again, in terms of slam and continued bass power, the I-6.2 shone. Lauryn Hill's "To Zion" and "Every Ghetto, Every City" on
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse - Columbia CK 69035) demonstrated not only the amplifier's bass response and depth, it also demonstrated its sensitivity in the mid ranges to the particulars of Hill's voice. This amplifier highlights what is on the CD - the revelation of her ability to command and simultaneously to display her neediness as she faces tragedy and then triumphs over it.
But Hill's voice was the beginning of the demonstration of this amplifier's sensitivity to handling the human voice. Sopranos Sumi Jo and Emma
Kirkby, with very different styles but similarity in the crystalline purity of their voices, sparkled under the I-6.2's handling. In Constanze's
"Martern aller Arten" from
Die Entfuhrung aus den Serail [Sumi Jo sings Mozart, Erato 0630-14637-2], the orchestra was full and richly detailed. The flute, the cello -- the differentiation of all the instruments took me inside the very texture of the orchestra. Jo's voice gave me the shivers - an experience I did not anticipate with a sand amplifier. Jo's voice, like many other soprano's, requires expert recording, and then a very good CD player and amplifier if it is to avoid sounding screechy. To hear her through the I-6.2 was a joy - the clean lines of her voice remained clean throughout the recording - at no time did the amplifier let her down. Throughout, the minute details
that set aside this fine operatic voice were evident.
Then, I turned to Shirley Horn's "If you leave me," [You Won't Forget Me, Verve, 847 482-2]. Yikes! What was going on here? My conditioning is to think of transistorized amplifiers as sound effects machines rather than musical reproducer devices. But here we had the magic this song offers - I could hear, or almost feel, the materials of the instruments: wood as the woodblock was struck, the interaction of brush and brass as the cymbal was caressed.
I played a favorite piano recording to further assess the I-6.2, Mikhail Pletnev's performance of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas on the piano
[Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas, Virgin Classics, 7243 5 45123 2 2]. In Sonata K24 in A major, pianist Pletnev plays cascades of notes; they simply pour out of the speakers while the listener also hears each distinct note as it is played. Or that is how things should work. In the I-6.2 that is exactly what happens. There is no hesitation; there is no loss. Transient response is something we are always listening for with percussion, drums, cymbals (ting and bang went the audio show), and yet it is the piano
that can expose weakness here, and the I-6.2 gives no cause for anxiety.
To ease myself away from the cascading, percussive, powerfully loud notes to something which is supposed to be buttery smooth, I turned to the modern audiophile's notion of a good record, jazz singer Jacintha's handling of the Mercer songbook
[Autumn Leaves, Jacintha, Groove Note, GRV1006-2]. Did I say buttery smooth? Every bit of the album's smoothness is exactly that, be it Jacintha's voice, the saxophone, the brushes, the guitar. This album is the distilled essence of buttery smooth and this amplifier does not miss one drop of the butter. Sometimes, a second rate amplifier, CD player, pre-amplifier produces an almost granular texture in sustained notes, long-lasting or cascading notes. Given my experiences to this point, the I-6.2's smoothness was no shock.
Nonetheless, reproducing musical smoothness is not the only measure of to demonstrate that your amplifier is top-notch. To take this a little further, the ability to reproduce subtlety among musical sounds is the mark of a good amplifier. Simply amplifying is not enough - if that were the case, I would explore Ministry's record a little further, say, "Yep, it sure can make the pictures on the wall, rattle," and leave it at that. So I listened to something I think possesses subtlety, Jacques Loussier's playing of "Clair de
The Jacques Loussier Trio Play Debussy [Telarc CD-85511]. "Yep, it sure can make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck," I thought, as I listened to the ease with which the I-6.2 pulled the cymbals out of the mix and blended that metallic sizzle into the bass and piano. I think I am not making complete sense here - let me point out that hearing so much of the music can be an almost transcendent pleasure. That the I-6.2 provides this pleasure to this degree, almost puts it into the modern tube amplifier category. It ranks with some very good tube amplifiers in its musicality. But to have huge amounts of power available in tiny fractions of a second and musicality, too?. A revelation that careful design, high quality components and outstanding build quality are what make an amplifier great, not whether it uses tubes or transistors. To a point, anyway.
Is It Time Yet?
Now I am tired. Having all this hair on the back of my neck standing up wears me out. But there is one more experience with this amplifier I have to tell you about. Leila Josefowicz is one of a group of young violinists who are electrifying concert audiences and music collectors worldwide. To illustrate the virtues of the I-6.2, you could listen to any one of them. But, to my knowledge (watch someone storm off a letter to the editor about that incompetent, that
poseur pretending to love music), only one of them has had the audacity to perform Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst's "Le Roi des Aulnes - Grand Caprice for Solo Violin after Schubert D. 328,"
[Leila Josefowicz Solo, Philllips 446 700-2]. It is a brilliant performance of technically demanding music. To make it just a little more taxing, in Schubert's song, there are actually three voices speaking, the
booy, his father and the menacing King of the Alders. But
this is a song for one singer. Emulating or suggesting three voices, one expects the singer to achieve, difficult as the feat may be. But Josefowicz must do this on the violin. She succeeds brilliantly. But the other half of the achievement goes to the loudspeaker, to the CD player (more on this elsewhere) and finally, to the amplifier. The I-6.2 brought forth the three voices, kept them separate, and followed the emphases of each melodic line and emotional burden.
There. Hairs on back of neck, lie down. Shoulders, stop trembling. Okay, be honest. This music always elicits a strong response from me. The I-6.2 is just a machine. But what a machine it is. Bass reproduction offers not only palpability, but precision. Mid-range and highs which are translucent dazzle as the I-6.2 illustrates the quality of its voicing.
An Amplifier To Love
Faced with the decision to buy and amplifier and having approximately
$3,200 available, you will have enormous pleasure from the I-6.2. If the loudspeakers you desire are inefficient, if you have a large listening room to fill, or if both these conditions are true, then the I-6.2 is an excellent choice.
One word of caution -- like other high quality amplifiers, it is fairly demanding of source. If you feed it an inferior signal from an inferior CD player, you will hear inferior sound.
I think that Vecteur is going to be very busy keeping their European and North American customers happy. This is a superb amplifier, one
that offers both power and musical detail and feeling. Throughout my time with the Vecteur I-6.2 in my listening room, it brought magic into my musical life. I can ask no more.