VU. Vexatious undertaking? Not necessarily. Variable umph? Getting closer. Volume unit? Now we’re cookin’: a 1939 collaboration between Bell Labs, NBC and CBS that standardised loudness measurement. Corresponding VU meters would display the new ‘volume unit’ level but, because of the needle’s mass and non-zero rise time, the real-time measurement would be averaged over 300ms — this narrow time window would give listeners a more accurate display of perceived loudness.
During the 1970s and 1980s, no self-respecting hi-fi manufacturer would omit VU meters from an amplifier or tape deck. No self-respecting audiophile would buy an amplifier without them. But just as the CD saw the digital domain encroach upon the hi-fi world, digital audio equipment’s db Full Scale (dbFS) metering began to invade the VU meter’s territory. A dbFS meter could show transient spikes that a VU meter might miss. It also sidestepped the disparity between pro and consumer gear’s 0 VU point: +4dBu for studio heads, -10dBu for home listeners.
By the mid-90s, VU meters began to disappear from home audio gear, leaving a few niche hi-fi manufacturers and studio console makers to carry the torch for a once-ubiquitous feature.
However, as Technics and JBL have shown us in recent years with their respective turntables and loudspeakers – not to mention the vinyl revival – what’s old is new again. Yamaha has put VU meters on its latest batch of integrated amplifiers. Technics and TEAC pulled the same trick a few years back. Some manufacturers – McIntosh, Luxman, Accuphase and Audio Research – never gave up on the bouncing needles.
What follows is a selection of ten amplifiers (eight loudspeaker, two headphone) that have come to market in the last three years and count VU meters among their feature sets:
TEAC AX-505 (€1499)
A4-size integrated amplifier, Class D (Hypex), 115wpc into ? Ohms.
Further information: TEAC
SPL Phonitor 2 (€1499)
Pre-amplifier and headphone amplifier with customisable crossfeed settings.
Further information: SPL
Vincent SP-332 (€1899)
Hybrid power amplifier with 6N16 tube input, Class A/B transistor output. 150wpc into 8 ohms, 250wpc into 4 Ohms.
Further information: Vincent
Yamaha A-S1200 (€1999)
Class A/B integrated amplifier with headphone output and MM/MC phono input. 160wpc into 4 Ohms.
Further information: Yamaha
McIntosh MHA150 (US$5000)
Full-width headphone amplifier with balanced input, AES/coax/TOSLINK/USB DAC and switchable output: 250 Watts or 1 Watt.
Further information: McIntosh
Technics SU-G700 (€1999)
Class A/B Integrated amplifier with MM phono, coaxial/TOSLINK/USB DAC and headphone output. 70wpc into 8 Ohms, 140 wpc into 4 Ohms.
Further information: Technics
Accuphase E-270 (€4950)
Class A/B integrated amplifier with balanced inputs. 90wpc into 8 Ohms, 120wpc into 4 Ohms.
Further information: Accuphase
Line Magnetic LM-805iA (€4999)
Single-ended Class A integrated tube amplifier. 6SL7 and 6SN7 input tubes, 2 x 300B driver tubes and 2 x 805 output tubes. 48wpc (RMS).
Further information: Line Magnetic
Luxman L-509X (€9900)
Class A/B integrated amplifier with MM/MC phono stage and headphone output. 120wpc into 8 Ohms, 220wpc into 4 Ohms.
Further information: Luxman
Audio Research Reference 160S (US$20,000)
8 x KT150 tubed power amplifier with balanced inputs. Switchable between triode and utralinear modes. 50kg! 140wpc continuous.
Further information: Audio Research