Audio Research VS55  Review

by James Leahy

 

  Introduction

 

"Now this is one sexy amplifier", Suzie said with a warm smile. Why can't I get more customers like this...?  Yes, women love this cutie pie and for good reason. It has that classic open architecture 'Tube Amplifier' look of the 60's in a modern day package with upgraded sonic performance and new technology. I kid you not. It uses two pairs of Electro Harmonics 6550EH vacuum tubes for the output circuit. That means one pair per channel. There are 4 ohm & 8 ohm taps on the rear for loudspeaker connection. The Audio Research VS55 is sold without any protection cage however one is available as an optional extra for those with small children. I feel it spoils the look of this beauty and it is best to admire her topless!

 

 

 

The periodic task of valve biasing has just been a whole lot easier. All that is required is an El Cheapo multi meter and a bit of common sense, which shouldn't cost you a brass razoo.

As I said it is one of the easiest amplifiers to bias and take care of that I have ever come across. With test points located on the rear panel for bias measurements and bias adjustment pot holes in the top cover your job is made as easy as falling off a log. The VS55 is such a small unit that it goes just about anywhere and does not look out of place even in the smallest of listening rooms.

 

It's petite measurements are roughly 36cm x 18cm x 36cm and weighing in at a hefty 15kg's. It has single ended inputs only and a detachable power cord is a standard feature. Audio Research have given a +12VDC input & output trigger also on the back panel to be used for remote control 'power on' operation from their pre-amplifiers via remote control.

 

 

Sonic Evaluations

Connected up firstly in my bedroom. Don't laugh, I am in tube heaven 24/7 down here alright! This amplifier provided more then adequate dynamics for me and had plenty of bottom end for it's 50 watt power rating. The headroom was more than I needed. It was not driving small bookshelf loudspeakers either! The small VS55 was hooked up to a pair of vintage B&O MS150's that quite strangely ended up matching perfectly. Go figure.

 

For serious testing I moved the VS55 into my listening room and connected it up to my reference rig as outlined below. Firstly let me start by saying the VS55 had that classic unmistakable ARC sound with powerful but sweet midrange and great bottom end bass. I would advise using this amplifier with a reasonably efficient loudspeaker of 88dB @ 1watt/1mt or more to fully exploit the maximum dynamics at the power level this amplifier is capable of.

After a warm up of 60 minutes and testing it's sonic qualities with 'The Eagles' from their classic 'The Long Run' album (WEA Records, 1979) Don Henley's voice could be heard with sonic purity and sweet harmonics. The VS55 was unmistakably a valve amplifier of classic heritage. The soundstage was not vice like and huge like my VT200 Mk.I, but you would not expect it to be and that is not what this amplifier is all about. It is made for finesse and character. The image was however rock solid and the midrange was silky smooth as are all of the bigger Audio Research amplifiers in the range.

The VS55 sounds just like the VS110, it's bigger brother. Only smaller and with less bass extension and grunt. This does not mean to say that the VS55 was a slouch when it came time to rock out in full 33RPM splendor. The dynamics where certainly there, just in a different way. If you are not a power freak and are looking for a nice entry level valve amplifier but with all the brilliant qualities that you have come to expect from Audio Research then it will serve you superbly for as long as you care to own the VS55. Even if you should find the need to change to something more substantial one day the VS55 would work beautifully in a second system if you are to be so lucky. Most after buying the VS55 and deciding on their tastes in music are not inclined to want any more and I could not blame them.

The enjoyment that I felt when listening to this small baby was fantastic from the minute I started to the time I turned it off at bedtime. Never do you grow tied from a harsh overly bright tone and as a result listener fatigue is strictly a non issue. If I had under $5,000.00 to spend today on a new power amplifier this would be the amplifier I would be getting. Not a lot of competition out there really that can offer the same level of performance at this price level anyway. There are a lot of 50 watt valve power amplifiers on the market but you just go and listen to them after auditioning the VS55. Most do not have the VS55's level of grunt and authority. You might be very surprised at just how impressive 50 watts can sound in an average sized listening room at moderate volume levels. I know I was. 

 

 

 

Associated review Equipment

  • Line Stage:         Audio Research LS26

  • Phono Stage:      Audio Research PH5

  • Speakers:           ScanSpeak & Vifa Custom

  • Cables:              Neotech

  • Cartridge:           Ortofon MC Jubilee

  • Turntable:          Rega P7

  • Subwoofer:         Velodyne HGS-15

  • CP Player:          Sony SCD-XA777ES