Audio Research VS115 review

The VS115 is far from hi-fi jewellery, but it's a highly effective workhorse, delivering all the acoustic thunder you'd expect for more than five gran Tested at £5395.00

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The VS115 is a tool to do a job, and that's to play music well. Ignore the looks and enjoy the sound


  • +

    An even-handed all-rounder that delivers refinement and dynamics with ease

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    solid build


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    There are more luxurious-looking amplifiers available for the money

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

If you're looking for a typical valve power amplifier, this Audio Research isn't it. Valve amplifiers are meant to be about smoothness, fluidity and warmth, but the VS115 doesn't major in any of those things.

In most ways, its no-nonsense, confident approach to music replay is no different from any good transistor power amp. This AR is a controlled unit that delivers music with immense authority and packs it full of fine detail.

Yes, listen to someone such as Ella Fitzgerald and you'll find the midrange is natural and free-flowing, but there's just as much chance that you'll be more impressed by the AR's taut handling of bass or its rhythmic prowess.

Try something more dynamically explosive, such as Holst's Mars, and the VS115 delivers all the acoustic thunder you'd hope from an amp that costs more than five grand and weighs nigh on 30kg.

Double up for optimum results
A power output of 120W per channel is nothing special, but the amp's control and analysis is. No matter how complex the music gets, it delivers every bit of detail with a rare confidence.

Stereo imaging is hugely impressive, too, particularly when the VS115 is used with the LS17 preamp. The all-Audio Research pairing delivers a huge, well-focused sound stage that's populated with full-bodied instruments and vocals. There's plenty of bite and a pleasing lack of harshness.

Like all Audio Research products, build quality is sturdy rather than luxurious, and the VS115 gives every sign of being something that will last for decades. Audio Research is one of the oldest high-end manufacturers and it still services even its earliest products.

The VS115 is a solid, and rather unglamorous workhorse – it's as far from hi-fi jewellery as you can get. But have a listen and you won't care.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

Read more about how we test