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.