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DK Design Group VS-1 Mk II Integrated Amplifier Review

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Introduction

The DK Design Group confers several distinctions onto its first integrated amplifier, the VS-1 Mk II. Its 4-Ohm output of 320 Wpc attempts to assure its owner of its value in driving less efficient speakers, and its sizeable dimensions will woe the hearts of the mainstream, budget-minded audiophiles in U.S. most likely. Also, the VS-1 Mk II is the first powerful integrated amplifier that does not look like a 70’s receiver, and instead may appeal to America’s preference for microwave-oven sized, powerful, class-A-biased solid-state amplifiers.

The VS-1 Mk II incorporates conventional, proven designs and technologies that help to minimize the production costs undoubtedly, with the exception of the unit’s dual-mono circuitry configuration, which purveys the potentials of an amplifier at a higher production cost.

Given a 6922 tube preamplification stage to its own transistor power amplification, the VS-1 Mk II is seemingly harvesting the best of both worlds in having its powerful, solid-state output stage accompanied by a tenderer, tube input stage. This cleverness in design is being demonstrated further in the incorporations of a phono preamplification stage, a preamplifier-output, and three line inputs, guaranteeing an extremely broad user appeal.

Construction of the DK Design Group integrated amplifier is adequate and satisfactorily so, given what it attempts to accomplish at its MSRP. The relatively thin top chassis allows swift access to the surface preamplification circuit board for tuberolling, a practice many audiophiles favors for the potential sonic rewards it offers. Side heat sinks and front panels on the VS-1 Mk II are sturdy provisions that I have seen only in one other sub-$3k
design, the $2700 Krell KST-100 power amplifier from 1992.

Once the rear panel power switch is at the “on” position, the integrated amplifier proceeds to remain at the standby mode. Operational power-on is accessed either via a button on the front panel, or the button on the remote. Mimicking functions on the front panel, the remote provides the convenience of input selection and volume control.

Once powered-on, the front panel LCD VU display becomes fully lit, with the meter blinking at the rested state for around 20 seconds until the tube preamplification becomes operational. Interestingly, the LCD meter corresponds to input levels only, indicating that the functionality of the VU display is connected only to the tube preamplification stage, rather than to the solid-state power output stage. This design rationale works for audiophiles who needs to ascertain output levels of various source equipment; although it would have had much broader appeal were the meter to gauge output level instead.

As DK Design Group claims “massive power reserves, high damping factor, wide bandwidth, unprecedented musicality” as the focal objectives in creating the VS-1 Mk II, the integrated amplifier represents a seemingly irresistible value of a powerhouse that no manufacturer has offered to audiophiles before.

System Interaction

This auditioning of the VS-1 Mk II was conducted without engaging its phono stage.

My long term digital reference of the 47 Laboratory PiTracer CD transport and the Audio Note DAC 5 Special provided front-end support, while most speakers in my household rotated around the DK Design Group VS-1 Mk II. Boelen Digital’s Digital-Precise single-end digital cable connected the DAC 5 Special to the PiTracer, while Audio Note’s Sogon interconnects sent signals from the DAC to the integrated amplifier.

Audio Note’s $8k, bi-wired 80-strand 5-foot Sogon LX silver speaker cable and the $30k AN-E SEC Silver speaker laid bare VS-1 Mk II’s spectral disposition, imposing upon an otherwise sound and fierce bottom-end with an indulging, reckless top-end. Consequently, Dame Kathleen Battle’s vocalization of Strauss’ “Voice Of Spring” (Deutsche Grammophon Karajan Gold DG 419 616-2 New Year’s Concert from Vienna) was presented with diluted sensuality in thinly proportions and distressing intonations, albeit the solid brasses and strings foundations from Vienna Philharmonic.

The incoherency as presented by the VS-1 Mk II/Sogon LX combination persisted in varying degrees along the rotation of Genesis’ discontinued, $9K VI, Tannoy’s $8k TD10, Apogee’s $4k Duetta Signature and Celestion’s $3.4k SL700 minimonitors, thus decidedly disqualifying the partnership of an otherwise most resolving speaker cable and the subject of this review.

AN’s own $3k, bi-wired 27-strand 2-meter AN-SPx silver speaker cable was able to foster a considerably more cordial relationship between the DK Design Group amplifier and the aforementioned speakers, as the objectionable sonics mentioned above persisted to a much lesser degree this time.

At the end, copper seemed to be the most optimal solution in the form of an eight-foot pair of AN’s $120/meter, bi-wired AN-La large crystal copper speaker cable, which handled the VS-1 Mk II’s disposition considerably well in the particular union of the VS-1 Mk II and the AN-E SEC Silver loudspeaker, as Dame Battle’s iteration became less aberrant in texturing and tonality, and the top-end was rid of the obtrusive excessiveness. Hence, the AN-La was used as the primary speaker cable for this review.

The application of copper speaker cables will be further highlighted in a pending DAGOGO Review.

Combak Harmonix’s $1,179, 1.5-meter Harmonix X-DC Studio Master Wattagate 330+350 power cable was also instrumental to the VS-1 Mk II’s performance, as it invoked from the integrated amplifier a level of dynamic transients more expeditious than any other power cables I’ve used, further enabling the amplifier’s rein over speakers. Driven by the VS-1 Mk II, the 86dB/4Ω Apogee Duetta Signature sounded open, with the ribbon speaker’s inherent soundstaging and spectral forte augmented by the amplifier’s 320 Wpc/4Ω rated output, installing instruments from JVC’s 24-bit Super Analog Blow Up 2 XRCD (JVC JFIS-XR-002) in discrete dimensionality.

Conditioning my senses all these years in driving the Apogees are my amplification references of the Audio Note M5 preamplifier/Linn Klimax Twin power amplifier system, and the Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier/Preeminence One Signature power amplifier system. In that regard, costing less than one-sixth of the $19k AN/Linn system, or less than half of that of the $8k Reference Line system, the DK Design Group VS-1 Mk II did manifest less refined instrument textures, facilitating a soundscape with lesser degree of subtleness in tonal inscriptions.

In this context, Tannoy’s 10-inch Dual-Concentric™ TD10 surprised by being able to take the DK Design’s strength and to commence a competent exhibition in dynamics and soundstaging, at the same time casting forth the speaker’s own signature in spectral coherency, sans the ultra-iscriminating stance of the Apogee in the VS-1 Mk II’s less stellar textural definition.

To this day, the $8k TD10 is the only speaker harnessing a superb performance envelope that is also invaluably flexible in accommodating amplifiers of varying calibers, from the M5/Klimax Twin power amplifier to the $3k DK Design.

The best overall match in speakers for the VS-1 Mk II was obtained when it drove the comparably-priced, $3.5k Celestion SL700, in which the 82dB/8Ω minimonitors’ winning traits of breathtaking dimensionality, consummate spectral coherency and powerful dynamics were conjured up by the integrated amplifier. Most unfortunate was the fact that the SL700 has long since been discontinued, for less scrutinized was the VS-1 Mk II’s textural
reconstruction in this partnership, an area the SL700 did not manifest as prominently as Apogee and Audio Note did, and instead displayed the partnership with wholesome spectral replay and satisfactory dynamics.

Although both the Celestion and Tannoy’s coincidental utilization of aluminum dome tweeters could well be the determining factor in coercing good sound from the DK Design, it is also noteworthy that while Celestion’s tweeter begins rolling off at around 18kHz, the TD10’s Dual-Concentric™ tweeter cuts off at around 14kHz, regions safely removed from the outmost top-end.

Final Thoughts

Of the incalculably diverse iterations in inexpensive integrated amplification, DK Design’s VS-1 Mk II is the most fundamentally virtuous. Has anyone ever risen to the challenge to market a sub-$3,000 integrated amplifier this powerful? Did any manufacturer offer an amplification package so consummate in practicality? One more time: who has ever created a sub-$3k integrated amplifier of the VS-1 Mk II’s caliber?

DAGOGO’s readers may find the VS-1 Mk II vastly more conducive towards driving their own speakers, and yet other readers will certainly demand more than the ability to drive the 86dB/4Ω Apogee Duetta Signature and the 82dB/8Ω Celestion SL700; but many of us will surely find it hard to scrutinize the integrated amplifier beyond what it already accomplishes.

As for me, having experienced a few $10k+ amplification designs in the past few years, I am more than twice as encouraged and relieved for encountering a product such as the DK Design VS-1 Mk II. For sheer power, a balanced design approach and engineering thoughtfulness, I reckon that the VS-1 Mk II can not be faulted for what it can’t do, just as it cannot be faulted for what a $10k amplifier can do.

DK Design Group is to be commended for offering audiophiles a powerful solid-state amplification with a tube input stage, and to be congratulated for the success that is sure to come, for the high-end community has never seen such accomplishment in a sub-$3k package.

Furthermore, DK Design’s ingenuity of making this product look simultaneously utilitarian and uncompromising invokes ownership satisfaction. The fondness this integrated amplifier invoked from the first time it presented itself has not quite subsided even to this day.

The VS-1 Mk II represents a point near the end of the steadily rising curve of the rate of return, beyond which the rate of return becomes increasingly leveled. Improvements one will receive from investing in an amplifier in the $3000+ range will be more appreciable in one costing $1500. The fact is, once we reach beyond the $6k range, some of us will be ushered into the world of no return. If you don’t plan to go that far in the audio endeavor, the DK Design Group VS-1 Mk II can be your savior.

On this day henceforth, for audiophiles wanting to avoid investing substantially into an extra interconnect between preamplifier and power amplifier, the DK Design VS-1 Mk II is an ideal package delivering what none other can to this day. If you are planning to invest into a tube preamplifier and a powerful solid-state power amplifier system costing near $3,000, it is only sensible that you should want to check the VK-1 Mk II out first.

Now, DK Design has every right to embark upon a full, frontal assault on the amplification design arena and show us what their $10k product can do; but I hope that the minds behind DK Design would cherish the excitement its VS-1 Mk II has generated and exercise discretion instead by making a 50% more expensive Mk III that can blow separates near this price range out of the water.

Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport
Accustic Arts Drive I
Accustic Arts DAC I Mk 3
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special

Amplification
47 Laboratory 4706 dual mono Gaincard S with DACT24 & Cardas posts
Audion Silver Night PSE 300B monoblocks
DK Design VS-1 Mk II Integrated
Decware SE84C
GamuT Audio D3 preamplifier
GamuT Audio D200 Mk III
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B stereo amplifier
Linn Klimax Twin
Loth X JI300 integrated amplifier
Monarchy Audio SM-70Pro monoblocks
Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature power amplifier

Speakers
47 Laboraotory 4722 Lens minimonitors
47 Laboratory Essence
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Celestion SL700
Ensemble Figura
Genesis VI
Loth-X BS1
Tannoy Churchill Wideband
Tannoy Dimension TD10
Tannoy ST-200 SuperTweeter

Cabling
Audio Note Sogon digital cable (1m, RCA)
Audio Note Sogon interconnect (2m pair, RCA)
Audio Note AN-Vx interconnect (1.5m, RCA)
Audio Note AN-V silver interconnect (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Audio Note Sogon LX speaker cable (5 feet, spade/banana, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cable (2m, bananas, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Boelen Digital-Precise digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8 feet)
Ensemble Magaflux
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains (2)
Harmonix HS101-SLC speaker cable (1.5m, spade/banana, bi-wired)
Harmonix X-DC Studio Master Wattagate 330+350 power cable (2) (1.5m)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Loth X
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8 feet)

Accessories
Salamander Synergy 20 (2), Twin 30 and Amp Stand
ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps

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