VAC 160iSE integrated with NOLA speakers

Given the superb home audio that I have been enjoying recently thanks to my new VAC 160iSE integrated coupled with my NOLA Metro Grand Reference 2 speakers and Synergistic Research cabling/power, I thought I would post a few brief comments about my set up for those who might be looking into any of these products. When making my recent amplification changes the enormously talented team at VAC gave me open and very insightful advice, as I hear they always do to anyone trying to set up a system with products of his design. By the way I understand that there will be a very similar VAC/NOLA set up by Mike Oltz of Xtreme Fidelity (who sold me my VAC160iSE) will be exhibited at the upcoming September 2014 audio show in Brooklyn, so there is an opportunity for anyone interested to hear this set up for themselves.

VAC’s 160iSE integrated puts out 85 wpc just like the original 160i, differing from the original in having (as I understand) a superior transformer, and also a special phono stage (that I have yet to use). It uses trickle down technology from VAC’s statement products. I had and loved the VAC 300.1a and Renaissance Mk3 preamp before the 160iSE. Given that my 87dB NOLA Metro Grand Ref 2 speakers don’t need the extra power, I decided to trade them on Audiogon for the 160iSE especially after hearing from Kevin Hayes at VAC that the new integrated performs in some ways at the level of VAC Statement products.

Having had the VAC160iSE at home now for two or more months or so, I can only say that the sound it produces in my system is truly fabulous – superb, open, rich mid-range without any edge and full of presence, great clean high frequencies. And I never find myself missing anything in the bass area compared to what I got from my NOLAs using my old higher powered VAC electronics. By the way, the NOLA Metros reach down into the low 20 hz region. I should also say that my room measures about 21 feet X 14 feet X 8.5 feet, and I understand that for larger rooms I might need more power or more efficient speakers.

The VAC160iSE definitely outperforms in very gratifying ways my previous, already superb VAC separates. And while I don’t really know the ultra high-powered VAC Statement system, I have heard it with NOLAs similar to mine, and based on that I would tend to echo Kevin’s insight about the 160iSE relative to those amps, although of course there is a big difference in the wpc output which probably has an impact in some ways. Since it needs far fewer tubes and has all its tubes out front, it is friendlier both cost-wise and logistically for tube swapping.

I should also say that I also very much like my NOLA Metro Grand 2s, with their open, 3D and natural yet detailed sound, and their (from all that I have heard) unequalled way with vocals. They are an excellent match with VAC amps. I understand that NOLA has a brand new upgraded Metro Gold version (newer even than the Gold version he introduced last year) that is a significant advance over earlier Metros. So I am looking forward to hearing those in September at the Brooklyn show.

My cabling is SR Element Tungsten, and I also use SR’s PowerCell8 Mk 3 which is a very helpful thing in NYC. I have had extremely positive outcomes using SR’s innovative UEF technology based bullets, HFTs, FEQ, ECTs, XOTs, etc. Their excellent products definitely work very “synergistically” with the rest of my set up.

Perhaps those with similar audio set ups or preferences have suggestions of interest for me. Look forward to those.

I recently purchased the VAC Sigma 160i se prior to this I owned the Sigma 160i. What I hear is a much improved mid range, better pace and rhythm and also a much better and tighter bass. The overall sound is probably a good 30% better than the base 160i. In my opinion it was money well spent for the upgrade to the se version this time around. I use nos tubes all the way through also and that makes a pretty significant improvement to an already special amplifier.
Dan (Ballhog), were you able to compare them side by side? It doesn't sound like you did.
Did you buy the SE new or used? I think I bought your old 160i Dan.

I'm considering the SE upgrade later this year, but I haven't decided whether to look for a used SE and sell my 160i, or send my 160i in for the upgrade.
The SE's are very hard to find, as people don't really want to give then up after an upgrade. If it were me, when ready I would just have VAC do the upgrade to your 160i. That way they could also check it out and you could upgrade exactly what you wanted, thereby possibly keeping costs down if you didn't need the full upgrade. I have discovered that it never hurts to have them check out my VAC gear to make sure it is performing as it should. Good luck!
Just an update about what I now find to be the best placement of the two Stillpoints LPIs I have. The first one remains in the triangle between V2, V6 and V8. The second one is in the very front left, in front of the two phono tubes V1 & V2. The preamp section seems to benefit from the resonance reducing action of the LPIs.

I continue to be amazed at the sound I get from the VAC 160iSE.
Thanks Fplanner2000, I am probably going to go that route. Since I also like the black faceplate with gold knobs combo that I currently have. It would make it even harder to find a SE for sale that has that black/gold combination.

Also, as you mentioned, I don't need all of the upgrades. I don't use the phono stage, and I don't need balanced inputs since I am using High Fidelity cables.