Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Power Conditioning
Balanced Audio Technologies VK-D5SE

A Journey Through Product Evolution and Beautiful Sound!

Bill Wells                                                       March 2004

Originally introduced in 1997, the one-box BAT VK-D5 CD player has continued to evolve and today represents one of the better digital playback units available. Since it first arrived, Iíve had the good fortune of using this particular digital player as it has gone through its various stages of development and have continued to enjoy its overall sonic performance immensely.

During this same period of time, there have been many newly developed CD players to hit the high-end audio market. Some have been one-hit wonders and others have managed to enjoy Cher-like staying power. Fortunately, Iíve had the opportunity to audition many of these players and with favorable results. Also, as I type this review, the influx of newer players with multi-format capability is increasing. If it seems odd for BAT to remain committed to continually developing their one-box, red book standard CDs only unit, perhaps you should read on to find out why they do.

Through numerous conversations with the folks at BAT, they have continually stressed that their efforts were concentrated around making their player the best that it could possibly be. For the benefit of owners of their earlier products, BAT has made sure that their units could be upgraded as well. And good thing too, because with all the changes to the VK-D5, BAT allows the user to either upgrade in steps or go all the way with a complete updating of their unit. This provides the user with the ability to keep his cherished BAT CD player current as the manufacturer employs new parts or develops new technologies to improve the unit.

Over time, the VK-D5 has basically evolved to three distinct levels of product maturity. The original version, circa 1997, utilized the standard 6922 tubes in its output stage and produced what many felt was the ďclassicĒ BAT sound. Essentially, the player provided a magical sound quality that was largely attributed to the use of these
tubes along with the refined circuitry developed by Victor Khomenko, chief designer and technical guru at BAT. Later, in 1999, the Special Edition (SE) version of the player was introduced. At that time, the playerís output stage was redesigned to utilize the beefier Russian 6H30 tubes instead of the 6922s. According to BAT, they began using these tubes because the impedance was four times lower than the original 6922 and also provided much higher current delivery.

The next step in this playerís evolution occurred in late 2001 with the incorporation of a newer, higher resolution Burr Brown 24 bit/96Hz DAC chip with eight times oversampling. Subsequent to this change, BAT also changed to an improved transport mechanism by switching to the Phillips 1250 as the preferred unit to handle these duties. Essentially, this transport provided a more robust motor and stronger drive mechanism. Also, over the course of this productís evolution, a new faceplate, numerous internal changes, modifications to the power supply and gain stage were all a part of the unitís continued improvement.

As a result, todayís version of the original VK-D5 CD player is a product that is significantly upgraded from its earlier days. And although it has been a very good unit from the very start, today it is just that much better. To my ears, it is a very worthy product for consideration by serious audiophiles who love their digits reproduced in a highly musical fashion. According to Steve Bednarski, chief business strategist and marketing guru at BAT, their intent was to provide the best single-box solution for digital playback of red book standard CDs possible. With each incremental change made to the player, the performance has improved accordingly. Also, Bednarski states that this approach to product improvement will continue until such time they feel it appropriate to design a completely new product or do a major overhaul of the existing unit.

The overall cosmetics of the VK-D5 have also been slightly improved over time but not in a particularly dramatic fashion. Essentially, the rather hefty unit retains much of its original appearance. It comes in basic black and sports a fairly thick front panel that is clean with excellent fit-n-finish. The traditional BAT logo and name of the player are included on the front in white anodized lettering. Additionally, each playback function button has a symbol that provides the user with a visual clue as to the specific function for each button. Small blue lights, indicating when the unit is in either the standby or play mode, are also included on the front. Once a CD is inserted into the transport mechanism, there is a small display that lights up indicating which track is ready for playing.

On the back panel, there is a standard 15 amp IEC connector along with a rocker switch that allows the user to completely control AC to the unit. Once this switch is used to turn the unit on, the user can utilize a button on the front panel for a special standby mode. BATís approach to providing this standby mode is a nice feature and allows the user to activate the unit to full operation from its sleep mode with minimal time required for warm up and optimum performance. Basically, in the standby mode, the unit maintains a certain level of current running through the circuitry although the tubes are all at a very low level which greatly enhances their total life. Over the many years that Iíve used this particular player, tube replacement has not been an issue for me. As a reviewer, I tend to spend a lot of time with my system fired up and fully ready when I sit down for a listening session. In this regard, there have been instances where Iíve actually left this player in full operational mode, for extended periods without ever experiencing any negative effects.

Also included on the back panel is a digital output connector that allows the user to utilize the unit as a transport feeding an external D/A converter. Along with this are provisions for either single-ended or balanced input/output connections. Although this player performs admirably in either mode, based on my experience, I believe the ultimate performance is rendered through its balanced connections. This observation is supported by comments made by Steve Bednarski who states that the unitís design was optimized for balanced mode operation. Fortunately, the playerís performance in single-ended mode is still quite superb so potential buyers, who donít have balanced connection capability, should not be overly concerned. Iíve used this unit with single-ended connections quite successfully and have been able to enjoy all the wonderful sonic attributes it provides.

Removing the cover and peering inside this unit reveals a busy but very well laid out circuitry along with the various tube sockets. The appearance inside is one of quality and a high degree of professionalism. Access to the tubes is straight-forward and the user should feel relatively at ease if needing to do a tube replacement. Basically, itís a relatively painless and easy process. Over the years, Iíve had little need to open this baby up but whenever I do, Iíve always done it with minor apprehension. The biggest challenge is the total number of the little hex screws used to solidly hold the cover in place.

Having provided this rather lengthy backdrop to this unitís continued development, you might get the impression that Iíve been a BAT CD player user for some time now. Well dear reader, youíd be absolutely correct. Actually, Iíve been a big time fan and BAT equipment lover for many years now. Basically, their products have played a key part in my achieving a highly musical sound from a variety of high-end audio systems that Iíve assembled. At times when Iíve been fortunate to have a full complement of BAT electronics, including the BAT CD player, the sound has been truly magical and wonderfully musical indeed.

This is where the BAT CD player really gets its props. As the heart of a high-end audio system, this player provides a sound that is big, bold and emotionally engaging. In particular, the sound is palpable, dynamic and possessed of a liveliness that allows music to flow from your speakers with a high degree of realism. Its bass performance is outstanding with a full, continuous quality. Additionally, instruments throughout the musical spectrum are possessed with body and warmth. Transparency is quite good throughout, with images filled in nicely and a clear rendering of spatial cues as well. Overall, the sound is unrestrained and music flows with ease and grace.

Of special note is that this particular CD player has played a key role as the primary playback source for any number of very highly successful showings by BAT, and other exhibiters, at CES and various other high-end shows across the country. Each time that Iíve encountered their sound at one of these shows, there has always been a sense of immediacy, authority and authenticity that made reproduced music sound quite convincingly real. Fortunately, I have been able to enjoy those same musical attributes in my reference system with this player leading me to believe in its overall performance.

Interestingly enough, in direct comparison to other high-performance CD systems such as the highly acclaimed Wadia 27i DAC, Bel Canto DAC2 (both used with the Sony 555ES and Rotel RCD 990 as transports), and the one-box Audio Research CD2, the BAT consistently produced music in a way that could be felt and experienced, not just heard. Some of the other systems excelled at certain aspects of the music such as detail retrieval, deep bass and extended highs. However, often they did not convey the music in the special manner that the BAT player did. One thing I should also note is that most of my time spent with the VK-D5SE was in a system comprised primarily of BAT electronics. Based on what I heard, I became very much aware of the special synergy produced in this arrangement. As a result, for some time, this was my preferred system configuration - particularly with the VK-D5SE serving as the main digital playback device.

For musical enjoyment, my listening tastes are varied. However I prefer more traditional, acoustic jazz. Additionally, I am a big fan of really good jazz vocalists since hearing the human voice on a really good system is always a thrill for me. More modern, up-to-date music, including R&B and occasionally fusion, also finds its way into my home as well. Iím quite fortunate to have the opportunity to regularly attend live jazz concerts with a variety of nationally known recording artists throughout the year. Attending these concerts always provides considerable enjoyment and always seems to offer unique insights into how the music is really meant to be heard, felt and appreciated. Getting this level of emotional content, intent and impact from a high-end audio system is always a challenge.

In this regard, the VK-D5SE can provide much of this type of emotional impact through its big, bold, beautiful presentation of recorded music. Although this unit performs superbly in a variety of systems, when mated to the high-performance BAT electronics (i.e., linestages and amps), it can truly produce pure musical magic. Used in other non-BAT systems, including both tube and solid-state linestages and amplifiers, I have had similar results. Based on these experiences, I can easily state that the performance in each of these systems was consistently enhanced with the inclusion of the BAT CD player.

In long-term listening to this unit, it seems to be more so the whole of the musical presentation that is so captivating rather than any one particular sonic aspect. Sure this player provides outstanding soundstaging, imaging and other important measures of high-end performance. However, even more importantly, it provides the soul of the music with its rhythmically tuneful and high impact presentation. Talk about being able to boogie when listening to your system. Well, my friend, if thatís your wish and desire, the VK-D5SE will not disappoint. In fact, it will most likely have your ears popping and your toes tapping at the same time.

More specifically, what I find to be so attractive about the sound of this particular player is how it renders everything with a sense of immediacy and musical aliveness. At times, it may seem a bit forward, brash or bold but never so much so that I wished for it to do otherwise. Also, the overall tonal balance may seem to favor the lower frequencies, but the midrange and highs are so well integrated that they match the power and majesty of the lower frequencies. This means that the whole of the sound comes together in a totally convincing manner.

For the most part, the bass of this player comes with a very nice sense of musical warmth and superb detail. The bass lines come through clearly, boldly and with good articulation. Listening to Christian McBrideís acoustic bass on Diana Krallís CD titled ďOnly Trust Your HeartĒ [GRP GRD9810] provides pure delight. Additionally, subtle ambient clues, in the bottom octaves, are more readily apparent than with many other players. Overall, the bass performance of the player can provide the listener with considerable satisfaction when it comes to putting the oomph into the music. On one of my all-time favorite recordings, Shirley Hornís wonderful CD titled ďHereís To LifeĒ [Polygram 511879], there is all sorts of subtle low-level stuff going on. The BAT CD player brings this forth in a way that makes this disc sound so real and makes it even more enjoyable.

Where the magic of this unit really shines through is in the midrange. Instruments such as piano, saxophone, acoustic guitar and a host of other challenging instruments are all treated exquisitely and heard with their natural authority and are simply delightful to listen to. Male and female vocals are rendered with considerable emotional impact such that it will typically grab your attention in a very pleasing and compelling manner. One thingís for sure, the VK-D5SE is not a wimpy, overly polite digital playback device that will leave you feeling cold and unfulfilled. Quite the opposite, it will generally fill your musical cup such that you will indeed enjoy the flavor of the musical presentation offered.

In the higher frequencies, the BAT player performs in a similarly dramatic fashion. Metallic cymbals ring forth with great shimmer and clarity. Violins sing rather robustly and with the proper amount of delicacy. Bell chimes and other delicate percussive instruments come forth audibly and are easily heard rather than being buried in the mix. In terms of air and openness, certainly where the earlier units may have seemed a bit closed in, the newer units excel in this area. Highs seem to soar and are not limited. The degree of openness has also improved substantially providing a clear, open sound when that is whatís on the recording.

At its current retail price of $6,000 (including remote), the BAT VK-D5SE CD player is not cheap. Nor will it provide you with multi-format playback capability. However, what it will do is allow you to enjoy the many hundreds, and perhaps thousands of red book standard CDs that you currently own. Its physical operation is smooth with a wonderful remote control device. From a listening perspective, this unit should reward the user with many, many hours of pure musical delight. Additionally, it should be comforting for existing owners and potential buyers alike to know that they will likely have a product thatís here for the long-term with opportunities for continuous improvement from BAT as well.

From my point of view, this makes the BAT VK-D5SE CD player easily worthy of serious consideration and can be highly recommended for its overall superior musical playback performance and physical integrity as well. Basically, buy it, install it, play it and enjoy.

Happy listening!


Analog Outputs: RCA and XLR
Digital Output: BNC Ė 75 Ohm
Output Voltage: 2V
Signal to Noise Ratio: 100 dB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz Ė 20KHz, +/- 0.5 dB
Absolute Polarity: Selectable from front panel or via remote control
Remote Control: VK-R2 device, standard accessory
Dimensions: 19ĒW x 5.75ĒH x 15.5ĒD
Net Weight: 31 Pounds
Price: $5,500 Remote: $500

Balanced Audio Technology Inc.
26 Beethoven Drive
Wilmington, DE 19807
Tel: (302) 999-8855
Fax: (302) 999-8818
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