ONLINE - ISSUE 25
Dr Sardonicus Returns to the Scene of the Crime …Balanced Audio Technology - The BAT VK-P10SE phono stage preamplifier, BAT VK-51SE line stage preamplifier, and the BAT VK-600SE solid state power amplifier
Dancing with them what brung ya!
I think reviewers often become "without country" over time. And the more active a reviewer is, the more this possibility looms.
As we "audio journalists" shuffle through myriad one night stands, seeking thrills and chills in the wild abandon of audio novelty it is easy to lose our point of reference in the procession of new and varied amours. As a result, we can become without moorings, sans foundation, we can lose the steady perspective that makes our analysis cogent and understandable.
If I am tossed about by each new aural experience I am useless to the readers. If the reader does not have a sense of where my judgment rests, what value does it have? If I fall in love with each new suitor, am I not just intellectually promiscuous at worst, or at best a mental magpie?
I think this risk is real. For myself, I am still not even slightly used to the fact that seemingly rational business people will send me a gerzillion dollars worth of audio equipment to play with and write about, on the strength of an email, my association with Positive Feedback Online (a true audio aphrodisiac!) and my iridescent personality! I am excited as a kid each time I secure something truly interesting for review. Its Christmas when the boxes arrive, and sad farewells (well, mostly) when they leave.
I need roots and I refuse to have them grounded in a sandy foundation of cynicism and jaded worldliness. I will maintain my heart, my excitement and my enthusiasm, or I will quit; very simple.
The Illusion of Objectivity
But I have seen reviewers criticized in print because they maintain an ongoing relationship with a specific piece of equipment or manufacturer, as though the illusion of remaining aloof will support the illusion of objectivity. Dren! Do you really trust a reviewer who is unable to form relationships or make commitments to things and people he or she is moved by? Sounds pretty chilly to me; I prefer humans.
When I think of the sheer magnitude of the changes in my primary listening room over just the past 12 months, I shake my head. Without the constancy of some dependable reference point on the horizon it would be very easy for me to lose my way because of the vast differences I live with over time.
A Balanced Foundation
But, I have a firm foundation from which to operate. For over ten years now my reference system has always been based on Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) amplification.
I started writing for Positive Feedback back in its print days with the BAT VK-5i line stage and the VK-500 power amplifier. These first two pieces were followed by the VK-P5 phono stage; then there was the VK-50 and 50SE line stages, and now, finally, the VK-51SE line stage, VK-P10SE phono stage and the indefatigable VK-600SE power amplifier.
During this past decade I have always been able to regain my auditory footing by returning to these components with the knowledge that regardless of the vagaries of audio fashion and the trends that come and go, I could always rely on my BAT equipment for sonic excellence, value, and absolute reliability. No matter what, they always made real music and they never broke.
In these ten years I have never, not once, had a BAT piece "fail to proceed." While my boxes got shopworn and shoddy from shipping things back for upgrades, none of it ever went back for repair.
I have taken one BAT piece in for repair, and that was for a toggle switch I clumsily scraped off with my oversize tuckas! The technician who repaired the switch (whom I never saw) left me a note praising the construction, saying it was like a "piece of art."
Give some thought to what reviewers do to equipment on a routine basis and then doff your hat with respect. I have done …questionable things (as Roy the Replicant would say), and triggered various sorts of protective devices more times than I care to remember, including blowing (and by blowing, I mean burned and charred) all of the fuses (rail and primaries) out of my VK-500 at one time by being a complete pork brain. Net result? Oh, change the fuses, turn it back on, and voila, untouched.
On many occasions I have had visitors whine about some piece of this or that I had in for review and demand it be removed and the BAT equivalent put back in, so we could actually listen to music, instead of the equipment.
The self-appointed audio cognoscenti may flit from this month's delicate darling to the next, and then repudiate that same favored piece a brief few months later like a vapid and feckless (and Alzheimer's-afflicted) lover, but BAT fans tend to remain obdurately loyal to the marquee.
The reasons are simple. The stuff is built hell for stout, it sounds great, it's reasonably priced, and you can count on the boys at BAT to stand by what they make. They are in this for the long haul.
On a purely personal note, also over these ten years I have interacted with the principals of BAT (Victor Khomenko, Steve Bednarski, and Geoff Poor) on many occasions and over various issues, some of them pretty sensitive. I have found them to be, without fail, honorable, honest and kind. It's always gratifying when the good guys win.
The Doctor is NOT a softy!
This being said, I am all about the music.
If during this extended period of time I could have found something that significantly trumped BAT's combination of positive attributes I would have moved on with only the slightest backward glance (as evidenced by my saying goodbye to my beloved ESP Concert Grands, during the same time period).
But if queried directly, am I a fan? Yep. But my "fanship" has been earned, a piece at a time, an interaction at a time, over the years.
With that in mind, let us begin.
Throughout the review period I used the same, single analog source, a JENA Labs custom-build turntable, composed of a Technics SP-10 direct-drive pro deck, a custom made plinth and an SME-10 tone arm (everything wired with JENA Labs wire). The superb Cardas Myrtle Heart does duty as my MC cartridge of choice.
Digital sources have been the Audiomod Super-clock modified Sony SCD-1 SACD player, and the Lindemann 820 SACD player.
Speakers have been the Piega SP-10, XLH 1812 Reference, and the Lumen-White, White Lights.
Always JENA Labs, various models from Valkyrie to Dreamdancer.
During this review cycle, I transitioned from Black Diamond and Justaracks to Critical Mass Isolation stands and filters.
JENA Labs, The One and EZ One, filtering power cords.
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-P10SE Tubed Phono Stage Preamplifier
Vacuum tube phono stage preamplifier - tubes: 2 - 6922, 2 - 6SN7, and 4 - 6C45. RCA single-ended and XLR balanced inputs. XLR balanced (RCA adapters available) outputs only. Gain adjustable between 50 and 78dB. Cartridge loading is adjustable 100 ohms - 47k ohms. Capacitance is adjustable 100pF - 1000pF.
The VK-P10-SE is intended to be the "ultimate expression" of the tubed phono stage preamplifier. It features an all-tube, zero-feedback design combining balanced operation with a proprietary "Flying RIAA® network." The P10SE is a dual-mono design (as with the VK-51SE pre and VK-600SE power amplifier) using vacuum-tube current regulation and possessing energy reserves similar to many power amplifiers.
Through the use of internal switches there is a significant degree of flexibility in cartridge loading making the P10SE appropriate for most phono cartridges, including relatively low output moving coils, without the need for additional external step-up transformers..
The VK-P10 uses ten tubes in a balanced, zero-feedback topology. The Flying RIAA® network offers the benefits of fully differential operation to this equalization stage with minimal circuit complexity.
Low-output moving coil cartridges are touted as a specific strength of the VK-P10SE, and most work well in its "direct" mode. Built-in step-up transformers may be used for cartridges with lower output or to improve the noise floor. Internal switches allow cartridge loading for capacitance and resistance as well as providing low and high settings for preamplifier gain. Signal polarity is easily changed via a front-panel balanced phase reversal switch.
Great care is taken with vibration control including a massive resonance control that anchors the entire circuit assembly. Custom oil-filled signal capacitors are used throughout. Power supply regulation is handled through vacuum-tube constant current sources. Pure un-plated copper is used for all circuit board traces.
The Special Edition (SE) model incorporates numerous engineering improvements over the stock VK-P10. The first gain stage was revised to provide a substantially lower noise floor. Vishay resistors replace high quality metal film resistors in critical circuit areas. The output stage has been changed to incorporate a quartet of the high-gain 6C45 tubes. The 6C45s provide high current and low output impedance to create improved drive and transparency. The SE also features a power supply upgrade and SIX-PAK™ of output paper-in-oil capacitors (first employed in the reference VK-50SE line-stage) 
Retail: $6000, plus $2000 for the optional Super-Pak™
I moved to the P10SE after some time with the Linn Linto, solid-state phono stage; an excellent performer in the US $1000 price range, but certainly no match in any respect for the P10SE.
The P10SE is a three-stage, high current, plate loaded design that employs no global negative feedback.
The VK-P10SE shares the appearance of the balance of the BAT line (for the most part); big, heavy, gray-black. After the Linn, which I could easily manage one handed, the P10SE is more like a medium sized high-end integrated amp. This is definitely a two-handed preamp!
Take the top off, and you will see that relatively little of its considerable weight is spent in foo-foo cosmetic casing. There is a lot of stuff inside these things; big, expensive stuff, starting with double-thick circuit boards.
Revisiting the restaurant metaphor from my initial write-up of the Cardas Heart, when you take the top off a piece of BAT electronics you don't have to wonder what your money went for … it's right there on the plate in front of you.
Everything about the BAT VK-P10SE says,
"This is the best that can be done with this topology, and if you bought it, it's because you plan to live with it for years and we have done everything possible to make sure you enjoy every minute of that long term relationship."
The Doctor Whines just a bit …
Power and polarity switches are external, but everything else requires taking off the top cover and this constitutes one of only two somewhat minor issues I take with the P10SE.
First, BAT covers are NOT easy to remove, (special tool, little tiny screws, and lots of them) and secondly, the internal adjustment switches are not obvious and are quite small. I hate the little DIP switches, hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em! I feel like a bear trying to crochet!
Finding the optimum settings for a given cartridge is likely to require several trips inside the P10SE. Each trip will require removing and replacing the cover and re-attaching the unit to power and interconnects, unless it occupies the top shelf, which is quite unlikely in most installations.
I am sure there are engineering reasons for both the size and the location of these switches, but I would be remiss if I did not point out what a complete and utter annoyance they are. Plus, just on general principles I don't like sticking my hands into the inner workings of expensive audio equipment unless there simply is no other way.
Absent the ability to electronically switch via the remote, external hard switches would be deeply appreciated (a la Bel Canto, Dynavector, Manley Labs, E.A.R., etc).
However, for most users, they will make these adjustments only when they switch cartridges and it will probably take an hour or less to dial in a specific cartridge. For reviewers, we do it all the time.
I might as well get the other remaining quibble out of the way, while I am at it. Toggle switches. I don't think switches that stick out from the front face of a component are a good idea, especially when those switches are somewhat on the delicate side. Murphy's Law clearly states, "That which protrudes gets snapped off." The BAT line stages have not used toggles since the transition from the 5i series. I much prefer those used on their current line stages, silky-action recessed buttons.
Ok, only two quibbles, neither of them sonic, not bad, and pretty typical for my experience with BAT.
The BAT House Sound
I think I know BAT equipment probably about as well as anyone not specifically involved in its design, manufacture or repair. For ten years, and thousands of hours I have lived with it, and in that time I have reached some conclusions.
It's all about power and musicality
I had the Lamm M1.2 hybrid monoblocks right next to the BAT VK-600SE for some time, switching back and forth, sometimes several times in the course of a few days. There are an enormous number of things to respect about the Lamm amps, but I was not charmed away from my BAT 600.
I don't think the 600SE is ultimately as detailed as the M1.2s, but …and this is the "but" that brought me home …the BAT is simply more harmonically rich and musical. I return to it like a favorite chair where I can simply relax, slip off my formal duds, crack a beer and do MUSIC.
This holds true for every BAT piece I have ever heard. There will always be a couple of boutique pieces that better them in some specific, single element, but overall …when certain set-up requirements are maintained, BAT remains at the head of the line for the most reliably musical audio equipment out there; the kind of musical where you forget about the equipment, take another sip and just lose yourself in the moment.
And unlike these boutique pieces that come and go in favor, you don't have to flinch when you turn the BAT equipment on, or wait with anxiety to see if the company is going to survive another year.
And that house sound! It's all about power, baby. Even this phonostage has over 200 joules of energy storage and a beefy chunky-monkey power supply …the flagship 600SE power amp has two toroidal power supplies, each almost as big as your head and a double row of "depth-charge" Jensen capacitors that make the insides of the amp look like the warp drive controller on the Enterprise!
All of this managed through balanced topology. Balanced is good. Balanced is quiet. Balanced solves a whole bunch of problems that are especially troublesome at the teensy tiny signal levels of anemic moving coil cartridges. Take a second and count up the transitions from millivolts to watts and you begin to get an idea of how many opportunities there are to completely frell the audio signal in analog before it ever gets to your speakers.
I have said it before, and it is still true, the BAT sound is meaty, big and bouncy! It is emotional, wet and declarative. There is nothing demure, nothing tentative, nothing fragile here. You hook this stuff up to a full range speaker and you get it all.
Speaking of bandwidth, I remember talking to Victor about the Sony SCD-1 SACD player, 50k cut switch soon after I transitioned to SACD, some years ago. There were horror stories running round about hypersonic oscillation from unfiltered DSD playback destroying power amplifiers.
He snorted …really, he actually snorted, and dismissed my concerns by telling me that BAT designs its amplifiers for full bandwidth and the amplifier (then the VK-500) would remain stable out past 100K. Leave the filter in, switch it out, no matter, whichever I preferred.
Ok, now try to imagine that self assurance and stability taken to the infinitesimal level of phono signals. This massive phono stage, wrapped completely around those tiny, flickering voltages …keeping them alive and unharmed through the journey to watt land.
If you read me with any regularity, you know I have a deplorable love for movie metaphors …so …think of Arnold the Reformed Terminator protecting the young John Connor. This is the BAT VK-P10.
But how does it sound?
Startling dynamics, absolute extension and iron-fisted control; transparent without being wispy, harmonically rich without a touch of sugary euphony, extremely fast and agile; capable of heartbreaking delicacy, but with the simple brutal strength to take on any program material you care to choose …and surprisingly neutral for a tubed amplification device; there simply are no sonic shortcomings here.
Another phonostage might gather short-term attention for performance in a single area, but I cannot think of one that does a better job overall, across the board, than does the VK-P10SE.
If you are seeking the treacle lushness of more traditional tubed phono stages, look elsewhere. If you are seeking the elevated upper midrange push-out "vividness" of hyper-detailed phono stages, look elsewhere.
The VK-P10SE is big, authoritative, linear, ultra quiet and very neutral in operation.
Just as it should be, every one of my recordings sounded differently on the BAT. From the super-wet, lush reverb of Mofi's Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (Emmylou Harris) and the shimmering sparkle of the Mofi, John Klemmer's Touch, to the crisply etched Japanese pressing of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (which, sadly, still trounces the SACD), each recording was presented as the unique event it is. In operation the VK-P10SE simply disappears into the music, and from your awareness.
In each case it was the unique presentation of the recording that was the star, not the performance of the electronics.
I have been concentrating on my digital source for some time now. It's just how things go. But right now I am taking a break, between the main write up of the Lindemann 820 SACD player, and taking receipt of a pair of Esoteric players (that's right, uh-huh, he said pair) …so I have been cleansing my palate with vinyl.
Japanese and European pressings, Shaded Dogs, Nautilus and MOFI half-speed, Simply Vinyl and Classic Records re-releases, and vin ordinaire …record after record. This ensemble delivers the musical goods every time; no excuses, no hiccups. The slight dryness I have noted with the Lumen-White, White Lights, ameliorated for the most part, with a diet of analog.
Try as I might, I can find no shortcoming; throughout this process I am convinced I am hearing these recordings true to the record, each as a unique event in space and time.
The Cardas Heart Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
I sometimes think that audio is a lot like dating. One can remain lonely and unfulfilled regardless of the effort and money expended, the volume of company encountered and even in the relative attractiveness of the others, unless a soul match can be made.
I hate frelling phono cartridges. They are small, expensive, and fragile and they mock my fifty-five year old fingers. They are rarely worth what they cost, and if you look at them cross-wise they stop working …again, pretty much like dating.
But not this time …
The match between the Cardas and the BAT VK-P10SE fits into me like the missing jigsaw piece, like the right woman, like a pair of shoes that require no break-in.
I have absolutely no idea why, but I have been fussing with phono-cartridges since the sixties, and this is the first time I have felt love.
George, I meant what I said in the Cardas review, you are beautiful, man!
JENA Labs and Critical Mass Isolation
It pleases me to no end that I have a one-of-a-kind turntable built by my friend Jennifer White Wolf-Crock. It is a perfect table for me; simple, no fuss, no muss, no dental floss, no compressors, no hummingbird wings. Slap a record on it, hit play, and I am off to the races.
The Technics deck that is the operational portion of the table is at speed in a quarter of a revolution and does not vary (as even many high priced tables do) throughout the disc. The SME arm is simple, good sounding and quite serviceable. And the luscious black star Corian plinth is always pleasure to behold. You can't have one (neener, neener), but it sounds great and fits me like a glove.
I don't yet have a Critical Mass Isolation filter for the table, so right now it is spiked to a slab of Grizzly Industrial laminated butcher block maple, which in turn is tack fastened to two hundred pounds of machined natural granite, suspended on one of Joe's Critical Mass racks.
However, the VK-P10SE is mounted on one of the Critical Mass filters and the effect of moving from prior Black Diamond and a Justarack is shocking. The background is inky black; the soundstage grew by a couple of feet in every direction. There is significantly increased detail retrieval …mucho better.
The JENA Labs The One, and EZ One, AC Filter cords…
I live in RF central. The I5 corridor from Portland south almost glows in the dark from ambient electromagnetic radiation. In addition, I live in a small town where the electrical utility apparently generates most of its AC by whipping surly monkeys into reluctantly pushing a circular Conan-the-Barbarian grain-grinder cum power generator around in an endless circle of straw, sweat and wildly varying current. I get AC sag on my freaking TV!
Untreated, feeding this AC to my audio equipment is like watering a $100k race horse from the local sewer treatment lagoon.
OMG, do her filtering power cords make a difference! In concert with her AC treatment, and the Critical Mass isolation stands the VK-P10SE/Cardas Heart combination is simply incredible.
Remember, we are trying to preserve very small signals here.
I am replete, I am sated, and I am satisfied. I am happy.
As with the blessed man who has found his true love, I cannot imagine ever even looking at another phono stage for my personal use again. When you are on your way home to Rita Hayworth, what attraction do mere mortals have?
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-51SE Tube Line Stage Preamplifier
Description - Highlights
The BAT VK-51SE is a balanced, single gain-stage, tubed line preamplifier, employing no global feedback, providing five inputs, three outputs (2 pre-amplifier and one tape monitor). All inputs and outputs are balanced. Single-ended adaptors are available from the manufacturer. There is an "optional" remote control.
As with other BAT amplification, the VK-51SE sports the Bat-Pack™ capacitor pack, and a surfeit of power storage (over 300 joules, more than a most power amplifiers) AND the VK-51SE offers another Six-Pack™ of by-pass capacitors in the power supply chain.
The 51SE is a full function preamplifier, giving the user significant control over the unit's primary functions from the remote, including programming inputs and setting relative volume for the various inputs, which is a wonderful feature I came to appreciate with its predecessor, the 50SE. 
Retail: $8500; w/remote, $9000
In my mind, the VK-51SE really is BAT, personified. And I have watched its evolution from the original VK-5 to today (although the first I owned was the 5i). Powerful, self-assured, emotionally immediate, absolutely reliable and preeminently musical, this preamplifier is all about the emotional experience of olid state audio equipment, the VK-51-SE absolutely gives you the best of both worlds; linearity, control and extension, equally balanced with harmonic complexity and richness.
Never lean, never syrupy, the 51-SE can roar and shout and bring the walls down, or render the slightest soft whisper, delicate as gossamer against a dead black background that only the common mode noise rejection of balanced circuitry can provide.
From a Stygian bass rumble to the tickle of hypersonics, the ruler flat response of this pre-amplifier gives you everything that is on your recordings, if you have sources and downstream ancillaries of comparable quality.
It is my foundation, my rock. It is the place I go for grounding.
But how does it sound?
Meaty, big and bouncy, that's how!
Don't believe the yotz you hear about the "dark" BAT sound; pure nonsense that comes from either running it single-ended, which is completely silly, or bad matching with cables. If you can't run balanced, look elsewhere.
No, BAT is not going to sound all zippy and hifi, but its time you outgrew that anyway.
That being said, the VK-51SE works very well with a variety of amplifiers because of its relatively benign 200 ohm impedance. I used it with the Lamm M.12s and found it to be a lovely combination.
But frankly, with BAT I think you are much more likely to thrill yourself and spend your money wisely by staying with the family. If you have the bucks for the 51SE, either go with the 600SE, or if tubes are your thing, the VK-75SE stereo or 150SE tubed monoblocks. You are almost always better off with stuff that is made for each other.
My experience of the VK-51SE is that of an unrestricted, twelve-lane autobahn audio highway with a volume control, where music proceeds through its amplification and control functions completely unimpeded and unfettered. From a delicate mist, to a roaring torrent, it simply does not matter. This is broadband for music.
The only real "signature" you hear is that of power. It's like shaking Superman's hand. He doesn't crush yours because he's a nice guy, but he could if he wanted to, and you can feel it.
I don't know what BAT uses or recommends for cabling, I really don't. But I do know what works best. JENA Labs. It is wide-bandwidth, quiet and does not operate like a static tone control as with so many cables. The VK-51SE is so revealing it will give you every nuance of every increase in dollar you spend on these great wires …I know, I have pretty much heard them all from the Solos up to the Dreamdancers.
Filtered with the JENA Labs, The One, and sweetly nestled directly on the Critical Mass Isolation filters, the VK-51-SE has few peers and probably no superiors. Your preferences might take you elsewhere, but I seriously doubt anything currently available will present an overwhelming challenge to its flawless technical performance and operational excellence.
This is as good as it gets.
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-600SE Solid State Stereo Power Amplifier
The VK-600SE is a two-stage, extremely wide-bandwidth, dual-mono, zero global feedback, fully balanced solid-state design, employing N-channel MOSFET circuits and transistors, oil capacitor Super-Pak™ and optional Bat-Pak™ capacitors.
Retail: $11,500 (for the special edition) 
It's big, it's black, and it sits on the floor and does whatever I tell it to. Occasionally it scares me, but it always charms me, and I miss it whenever it's away. It has exactly one more amplification stage than a single-ended tube amplifier with single-digit power output, which I find deeply ironic.
The BAT VK-600SE is an elemental force; nominally the successor to the wildly under-rated VK-500, the 600 is functionally and sonically …virtually perfect. It would benefit from another set of speaker cable binding posts, and I wish it had handles on the front, but other than that …it is perfect.
More than once I have had the opportunity to experience the transformational effect this amplifier has on speakers that I first experienced driven by so-called, "ultimate" amplifiers, including highly modified tubed OTLs.
I am really confused as to why the audio fashion mavens disparage BAT. The Piega P-10s that now see service in my HT system sounded bland and truncated on a $25,000+ pair of tubed monoblocks, and absolutely came to life with the BAT amp.
The VK-600SE is powerful enough and stable enough to drive any load out there; so you can pick your speaker without worrying if your amp is up to the task.
You even have a host of options with the VK-600, the regular 600, The SE, and the M-SE (doubled monos, with 1200 watts). Whatever tweaks your tuna.
Yes, it actually dims the lights in my house as it goes through its turn on cycle. Is that cool or what?
Yes, if you don't provide it with a very high quality balanced signal, don't even bother to turn it on. Fed single-ended, it goes all dark and listless.
No, it does not sound like a solid state amplifier.
No, it does not sound like a tubed amplifier.
No, it has not been stealing my underpants while I sleep, but something has!
This is plug-and-play. There is nothing to adjust, nothing to switch, nothing to tweak, nothing to do, other than to click on the one, very attractive vertical switch on the front, and sit back and enjoy.
But it is unsettling at a basic level.
It just sits there.
From the agonized, whispered cry …"babe," buried in the mix of a plaintive Indigo Girl's song, to (yes, honest to God) a steam locomotive …chugging across my listening room, dislodging crap on the walls, it just sits there.
It doesn't color, it doesn't choke, it doesn't compress, it doesn't obscure, it doesn't clip, and it doesn't comment; it doesn't editorialize, it doesn't spark.
It just SITS THERE.
It isn't hard, it isn't soft, it isn't sweet, it isn't cold, it isn't warm and it isn't cold.
It just sits there.
This, my audiophile friends, is a six hundred watt straight wire.
You may want more romance; this is perfectly understandable, until you come to realize that all of your recordings sound the same.
You may want more detail; until you realize that what you are really getting is an artificially tilted and tizzy upper midrange …all your recordings sound the same and you are annoyed in the process.
You may find this amplifier will tell you everything about your sources, ancillaries and speakers, even the disquieting things …and that this truthfulness is …uh, disquieting …and you may pick something more …euphonic, more deceptive …and then realize that not only do all of your recordings sound the same, now all your equipment sounds the same too! AND you are REALLY annoyed!
In this relatively long-term follow up, the BAT remains my nomination for best amplifier on the planet.
Summary - The Balanced Audio Experience
You need to run ‘em balanced because that is how they are designed. You should run them together, with their sister components, ‘cause they are happier that way. They are particularly fond of JENA Labs wire and benefits enormously from AC filtering and the incredible isolation of Critical Mass filters and stands, but when you provide the right environment the results are simply staggering. You can spend hugely more and not come even close.
But I will tell you the truth…BAT is not for everyone.
If you are the sort of audiophile who grows anxious when you haven't obtained the most recent buzz-driven darling of the audiophile neurotics, this really isn't the sort of equipment for you. It is simply too rational and functional to ever appeal to the folks who set and support transitory audio fashion.
If you have to wait to read reviews to decide what you think of your own equipment, this really isn't the sort of equipment for you.
If you are the sort of audiophile who listens to twenty seconds from this recording and thirty from that, all the while dancing nervously around waiting for validation from your listeners, this really isn't the sort of equipment for you.
This is audio for grownups.
These three flagship BAT components form the heart of an extraordinary music system. Provide them with a worthy source, clean power, good connections, and a vibration free place to live, and mate them with a world class, full-range speaker …and you will rewarded with wondrous sound; not for months, not for years, but for decades.
 Specifications and descriptions are all adapted from information on the manufacturer's web site. For more information see http://www.balanced.com/resources/brochures/p10se.pdf.
 The specification summary is taken from BAT's web site at http://www.balanced.com/resources/brochures/51se.pdf.
 For more information, see BAT's site at http://www.balanced.com/resources/brochures/600.pdf.