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Vintage vibe: 10 amplifiers with VU meters

  • 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

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    A short film about the amplifier & loudspeaker pick n’ mix

    Dr. Dre’s The Chronic to stream in hi-res from 4.20