BAT VK-80i Integrated Amplifier Page 2

With David Gilmour's 'A Boat Lies Waiting' [Rattle That Lock, Columbia; 96kHz/24-bit], the VK-80i almost delivered more delicacy than my ears could process. The piano sounded resonant and natural, while the track's background 'seaside' effects were conveyed with a gossamer touch. The multi-tracked vocal then seemed to just ooze from my speakers, phrases arriving and departing with astonishing fluidity. It's an attribute that's quite hard to effectively describe. Musical? Naturalistic? Intimate? Take your pick.

All That Jazz
Where there's space in the soundstage, and real fidelity, the VK-80i is in its element. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's 'Cheek To Cheek' duet [eponymous, Streamline Records/Columbia; 96kHz/24-bit] emphasised their vocal talents – Bennett's tenor was rich and slightly heavy, Lady Gaga's higher registers enjoyed a smooth edge, and both sat forward from the muted, jazz nightclub piano accompaniment.

122bat.remMeanwhile, with Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo and Gabriela's cover of Metallica's 'The Struggle Within' [The Metallica Blacklist, Blackened BLCKND050], the VK-80i's resolution proved immaculate, delineating every picked string and patted guitar body and having the speed to keep pace with the fretboard wizardry. The ambient soundstaging was sublime also, with a deep, bassy solidity to the kick drums that gave them scale, while the string instruments snapped into tight focus across the stereo spread.

The more I listened to the VK-80i the more I loved it, although my sessions weren't without moments where track and amp didn't see eye-to-eye. 'The Parchment', from Iron Maiden's recent Senjutsu release [Parlophone 0190295015947], began promisingly, the VK-80i hammering out the song's relentless drum patterns and sounding sweet as honey with the synthesisers, but the closing quarter of this 12-min prog epic could have done with more dynamic attack.

Crunch Time
So, is this amp a no-go if you like to rock out? Not necessarily. Budgie's rapid-paced 1973 track 'Breadfan' [Never Turn Your Back On A Friend, Noteworthy Productions NP4] was delivered with jagged guitar textures and a brilliant sense of timing, while 'Odna' [Slovo, Napalm Records NPR 371], from Russian folk metal outfit Arkona, benefitted from the VK-80i's superb control and nuance.

This is a composition of deliberate contrasts, ranging from repeated bagpipe refrains to crunching, distorted guitars and guttural roars, and while the VK-80i seemed more comfortable with the woodwind elements, there was no denying that its midrange heft and clarity worked wonders with the more chaotic moments, and helped disentangle music from mayhem.


Seen from the underside, a single PSU transformer [right] feeds a 'dual-mono' layout that includes auto tube biasing. The two output transformers are mounted on the topside under drum-like screening cans

Where the VK-80i does give way to other amplifiers is, not surprisingly, in terms of power. It still keeps bass in check and has reasonable grunt, but where you might want puppyish energy you get something a little more reserved. I found it fared better with Monitor Audio's sensitive Silver 500 7G floorstanders [HFN Oct '21] than my regular B&W 705 S2 standmounts. However, neither sounded underfed with Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel' [Bad, EPC 504423 2], which showcased a wide soundstage, luxuriant synth notes and a groove to the rhythm section that was impossible not to tap along to.

Horses For Courses
In practice, the all-tube VK-80i's ability to snap into a vocal or punch out a rhythm doesn't translate to real stomp and aggression. Rather than race out of the traps like a greyhound, this amplifier gallops like a thoroughbred.

By way of comparison, BAT's own VK-3500 has more headroom, more power and a livelier demeanour, but isn't as assured in its rendering of tone. The price difference between them isn't vast, so I'd recommend auditioning both to see which flavour you prefer. Either way, just be prepared to fall in love.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
BAT's revamp of its integrated amplifier stable continues in style – the VK-80i is a remarkably insightful listen, with an enviable talent for delicate detail and butter-smooth soundstaging. Power-hungry loudspeakers might be better served by the stablemate hybrid VK-3500, but tube devotees will cherish this amp's way with music, and will likely find it more than juicy enough for their existing setup.

Balanced Audio Technology Inc.
Wilmington DE, USA
Supplied by: Karma-AV Ltd, York
01423 358846