Comments by Arthur
Salvatore of high-endaudio.com
(reprinted with permission)
VH AUDIO (V-CAP) FLUOROPOLYMER CAPACITORS- According to the manufacturer, these caps require around 400 hours of break-in before they're totally optimized. I decided to do the initial break-in within my tube tuner's output stage, so I wouldn't be prejudiced by a misrepresentative first impression. I had around 200 hours of break-in when I initially put the caps in my amplifiers. (I'm now over 400 hours.)
These are the finest capacitors I've ever heard. Period. Even if they don't further improve with usage, they are still noticeably superior to the REL Teflon (HI-REL TFS103K6A), the former "champion", which, in turn, has proven superior to every other capacitor that I, and my associates, have used in the last 10 years. The list of caps we've tried includes basically every audiophile capacitor available, with the one exception of the expensive Audio Notes, which cost over $ 1,000 each. I will describe the VH Fluoropolymers shortly, but there are two relevant points to make now;
1. The preliminary comparison consists of a VH .01uf/600volt capacitor with its RELTeflon equivalent. No larger VH Fluoropolymer capacitor has been heard yet. The cap was exchanged in my SET 300B power amp, which uses a .01uf for both coupling and as a 80 Hz filter, since the amplifier doesn't have feedback. I couldn't create a more direct, ruthless and definitive comparison, even in my imagination.
The .01uf capacitor is traditionally the most accurate and revealing within a cap "family", though it passes reduced bass because of its small size. It's similar in function to a "tweeter" in a speaker system. The larger VH Fluoropolymer caps will eventually be placed in my preamplifier, along with a .01uf in parallel, in early February, one stage at a time. (There are two stages in my preamp.) Those .01uf caps will also have 200 hours of break-in when installed, but I won't be able to break-in the larger VH caps because of the space restrictions in my tuner.
2. I consider the V-Cap Fluoropolymer caps to be one of the most important developments in "High-End Audio" in the last decade. I say this from the perspective of an audiophile in general, and particularly as a hard-core modifier. The unprecedented capabilities of the V-Cap Fluoropolymer capacitor has inspired and focused my thoughts concerning the inevitable issue of when audiophiles should both purchase and later sell their electronics. The "rule" I've been using myself, for the last 20 years, is finally clear and distinct to me, and I will share it when I discuss the V-Cap Fluoropolymers in more depth within the next few weeks.
V-CAP TEFLON CAPACITORS- As I promised in my January entry on these capacitors, I have more to say about their unprecedented performance and advice concerning their purchase, plus my (now focused) perspective on modifications in general, and their important relationship with replacing and upgrading components. First some relevant background information.
My Modification Background
In the last 25+ years, I've made literally thousands of distinct modifications, meaning modifying a component and then listening to the result. They were performed on a few hundred separate components, mainly tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers, but also speakers and some tuners and CD players with tube output stages.
My very first modification was on the Dynaco Mk. VI power amps, which I had originally built from a kit. The modification was "child's play" in comparison. The Dyna modification was in two stages; changing the coupling caps and then converting the amp into triode from pentode operation. Unfortunately, it wasn't a positive first experience, because I still didn't like the amplifiers even after the modifications improved its performance, but I persisted, due to both the high performance/cost ratio, and the feeling, at least at the time, that I was building something that was better than what was available in the market. This was "egotistical", but also very pragmatic in the long run.
My most recent modification was replacing the capacitors in my current preamplifier, the Jadis JP-80, which I've now owned for more than 16 years. This relatively lengthy ownership is critical, and is also consistent with my philosophy and advice below.
Presently, I wouldn't dream of NOT attempting to modify any appropriate component that came into my possession for personal use. I look at stock components strictly as "potential" components. It's only what these components can BECOME that matters to me. I advise this perspective to any audiophile who is a true perfectionist and who's willing to go to extreme measures to improve their system. That brings us to the V-Cap Fluoropolymers, which are a gift from Heaven to all serious audiophiles, and particularly those who believe modifications are a requirement to reach their goal of total sonic optimization.
V-Cap Fluoropolymer Performance
As I wrote above, these are the finest signal-path capacitors I've ever
heard. This was an easy judgement to make, because
they are superior in virtually every area of music reproduction;
1. They are the most neutral cap I've heard.
2. They are the fastest and most detailed cap I've heard.
3. They provide the most natural texture, space and low-level details.
4. They are the cleanest and purest cap I've heard.
5. They are the most immediate and transparent cap I've heard.
6. They are the most intensely* dynamic cap I've heard.
7. They provide the most separation and the least homogenization of any cap I've heard.
8. They provide the most intelligibility of any cap I've heard.
9. Their soundstage is the most focused that I've heard.
10. They have the tightest, cleanest, most natural and most impactful bass I've heard.
11. They have the most extended frequency extremes I've heard.
12. They have the lowest "noise-floor" of any cap I've heard.
*Their dynamic force is more like a bullet than a shotgun, instead of just becoming "louder", which is why I used the preface "intensely".
For a simple audio analogy, they sound like a combination of the finest solid-state and tube electronics in one super component, with no downsides; possessing both precision and natural information. From a different, more practical, perspective, these capacitors turned previously random sounds and noises into "music".
This description is all based on my comparisons to the capacitors that have previously proved to be superior to every other cap that I, and my associates, have used in the last 10 years; the Rel Cap Fluoropolymers. I don't want to give the impression that the differences between these two Fluoropolymer capacitors are "dramatic" or "night and day", because that isn't true. The V-Cap Fluoropolymers are superior in basically every area, sometimes easily noticeable, and sometimes by the tiniest margin, but any advantage is always in their favor. On the other hand, the present performance gap I'm now hearing should actually increase over time, since the V-Caps in my system are still not totally broken in. Because of this, my final assessment may change.
One must also keep in mind that the Rel Cap Fluoropolymers themselves are still noticeably superior to all the other caps we've heard, which, accordingly, places the V-Cap Fluoropolymers far ahead of any other cap we are aware of at this time. This means replacing any capacitor with the V-Cap Fluoropolymers, other than the Rel Cap Fluoropolymers, should provide "dramatic" improvements, at least after they are fully broken-in.
Capacitor Placement Priorities
I have 3 amplifying stages in my system that require coupling capactiors; 2 in my preamplifier and 1 in my amplifier. They all now use the V-Cap Fluoropolymers, but the results (improvements) were not the same in each instance. This means "priorities", particularly if you are on a budget, and with the high costs of these caps, that is quite understandable.
The largest improvements I heard were in the "no-feedback" positions. This was in the power amplifier, a SET design with no feedback, and also on the output of the preamplifier. The third stage, between the first and second tubes of the preamplifier and within the RIAA feedback loop, offered the smallest improvement, even though it's the first capacitor in the signal path. So my advice is straight forward here; change the capacitors that are NOT in a feedback loop first, though all of them should be changed eventually.
My Present Perspective, Philosophy and Purchasing Advice
The arrival of the V-Cap Fluoropolymers has focused my thinking on both modifications in general and the more important issue of when audiophiles should change their components. These two subjects are now inseperable to me, and I want to explain my thinking, because this is what I've been doing for the last 20 years without even realizing it.
Like all serious audiophiles, there's nothing more exciting for me then finding a component that dramtically improves the performance of my system. It's that "excitement" and intense pleasure that makes us "audiophiles" in the first place, and is the reason why we are constantly on the look out for something "better", regardless of whether it is new, used, cheap, expensive and difficult to find and set-up.
However, as our system improves, and the choices narrow over time, the shrinking "degree" of potential improvement becomes, along with increasing cost, the limiting factors effecting our never ending desire to "move up". How does one deal with the inevitability of "hitting the wall"; both technologically and financially? There is no one answer for everybody, but here is my own method, evolved over decades of constant upgrading, which successfully combines an unlimited quest with a limited and unpredictable budget.
"Going All the Way" (It's the only way for me)
I always "Go all the way" with what I have, thus creating my personal "Reference", and then try to improve on that standard. To "go all the way" means modifying your existing (reference) component as far as you reasonably can. This is what I've done with both the Jadis JP-80* preamplifier and the Golden Tube 300B* power amplifiers.
Let me be more step-by-step specific;
Once I found the electronics that I really liked ("stock"), I continually improved them with modifications. All during this time, now 17 years* with the Jadis and 9 years* with the Golden Tube, I've compared them to various "competitors", with almost all of them "stock", meaning the competitors were NOT modified in ANY way, let alone "all the way", like my two references. Though this would appear to be (and is!) blatantly "unfair" to the challengers (like using steroids), I made this decision (to cheat) for a very specific reason;
I wanted to be Absolutely Certain that the Challenger was Fundamentally Superior to my Reference, BEFORE I sold my Reference to purchase the Challenger.
By definition, only a component that is fundamentally superior (by its basic design and/or execution) can improve on the performance of my "artificially enhanced" reference component. Once this (highly desirable) event occurs, I'm in the highest state of ecstasy as an audiophile; I will have found a new reference that will eventually, and inevitably, be FAR superior to my former reference. Why, when and how to get to that "far"? When the new reference itself* is modified "all the way".
*Personal History- The stock Jadis JP-80 had proved to be superior to my previous reference, the highly modified MFA Luminescence, while the (almost) stock Golden Tube 300B had proved to be superior to my previous reference, the highly modified Jadis JA-80.
The "Modification Strategy" versus the Conventional Alternative
The conventional alternative to this "going all the way" strategy is continual "upgrading" (switching components). This is what the audio industry, including almost all of the audio magazines and 'reviewers', recommends to audiophiles, directly or indirectly. This alternative "strategy" is highly costly in money terms, and also in consuming valuable time and focus. Worst of all, most of these "upgrades" end up being small and insignificant improvements, or even "downgrades", in the long run, making them frustrating and spirit draining as well.
This can't happen with the "Modification and Upgrade Strategy".
The small (fun) improvements, which are normally also small in cost, will occur
naturally with the modifications. Any component change must provide a
large audible improvement in the long run, since it will be the accumulation
1. The original improvements heard during the comparison of the two components,
2. Plus all of the future improvements that will take place after it is modified itself.
While it was a little lengthy to explain, the "modification and upgrade strategy" is easy to understand and even implement, especially if the audiophile is capable of performing most of their own modifications. If not, this is where a friend and/or a competent and local technician will, once again, come in handy. (All serious audiophiles need friends, and most need technicians.)
The keys to making this strategy work are finding (tube) components that you really enjoy to begin with. That's the start. Then they are slowly modified until you feel their full potential has been realized. Only then, and after you are familiar with them and feel you are ready to appreciate an improvement, can the search for a new component begin; looking for one that is stock, but still appears promising. Finances and system requirements are also obvious factors that must be taken into consideration during the hunt.
They bottom line benefits of this strategy are twofold;
1. It prevents the audiophile from investing in a new (electronic) component if and when it is premature and NOT necessary.
2. Any new component passing this difficult test will have to be a significant upgrade in the long run, making "buyer's regret" a thing of the past.
V-Cap Fluoropolymer Caps and the Modification Strategy
Do the V-Cap Fluoropolymers have any effect on the overall strategy I've been discussing? Definitely yes, because their unprecedented performance has now "raised the bar" on the degree of improvement that can be gained with modifications. This will have an equal effect on "the degree of improvement" then required by the stock competitor to replace the modified reference component.
The resulting formula is quite simple-
The more the performance of the Modified Reference is improved, the more difficult (and longer) it will take to find its Stock Replacement.
Coming along for the ride is a second "rule"- When the "Stock Replacement" is finally found, its potential performance gap will also be increased by the same "degree of improvement" that the V-Cap Fluoropolymer earlier gave the Modified Reference.
In Effect- The V-Cap Fluoropolymers offer the user/modifiers two important advantages:
1. Superior performance and longer length of ownership of their current Modified Reference.
2. A greater degree of ultimate improvement after the Modified Reference is finally replaced with the Stock Replacement and it is modified itself.
The Final Decision-Should You Invest in V-Cap Fluoropolymers, or Something Else?
As far as I'm concerned, the only serious decision facing a modifier is whether to purchase the V-Cap Fluoropolymers or a lower quality, and less expensive, alternative, because if the V-Caps were "cheap", using anything else would obviously make no sense.
My recommendation is that everyone should use the V-Caps if finanically possible, even delaying the modifications until the funds are saved up. I feel this way because the V-Caps are guaranteed to optimize a component's performance along with providing an easily noticeable improvement. This optimization will give the peace of mind that you've done all that you can do, allowing you to move on and focus on something else. However, since there will be a relatively large monetary investment for common "passive parts", an unavoidable question must also be addressed.
What about the V-Caps still in the modified component after you find its eventual replacement? In this instance, I would either remove the V-Caps before I put the older component up for sale, or offer the option of the modified component with them still inside, though only if you can recover most of the V-Cap's costs, which would allow you to repurchase more of them for the replacement component. Unless money is not a factor for you, literally giving away the V-Caps for essentially nothing is not a financially wise decision.
I personally view the V-Cap Fluoropolymers as a "long-term investment", and not just more discardable parts for the first component they happen to have been installed in. From this perspective, the initial cost is no longer viewed as another "expense". Instead, they should be seen as an integral and vital strategic part of the unique system you are putting together. As long as they're "the best", the V-Cap Fluoropolymers will also be a "necessity" for everyone who is aiming towards perfection.
"V-Cap" and "Variable Stage Quadrant Dielectric" are trademarks of VH