To Garrett Hongo,
I'm a fan of your articles and writing style. I also like the format of Ultra Audio -- personal, to the point, and coverage of the type of products I'm interested in. You are one of the few high-end-audio reviewers I track, and your informative, trusted insights have helped guide some of my purchases, including my most recent decision to buy a VAC Phi 300.1a amplifier. I was close to buying the Esoteric A-100, and for long-term flexibility and to support companies headed by folks like Kevin Hayes, I decided on the VAC. I'm also encouraged to read your comments about the Herron VTPH-2. I upgraded from the VTPH-1MC and love my Herron phono preamp. Your comments confirm that the Herron phono preamp is one to keep and hand down to my children just like the VAC, and Keith Herron is another super-capable and talented gentleman in the industry. I especially liked your article on the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 -- puts it on the short list of components I want to acquire. Any experience or point of view on the Herron VTSP-3a linestage? If it's like the phono stage, sounds like a real winner.
Thank you for the support! The Herron VTSP-3a and VAC Renaissance Mk.3 are both high-quality preamps and I've just had the VAC in my system and listened to the Herron VTSP-3 (the immediate predecessor to the 3a) in my system. I think the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 is terrific, but you must remember it is a high-gain pre with 22dB of gain. I'm sure the new Herron VTSP-3a is likewise terrific, but it is a moderate-gain preamp with 12dB of gain switchable to 6dB. To me, besides the bells and whistles that give tremendous flexibility to the Herron (switchable H/L gain, switchable absolute polarity, stereo/mono switch, stepped and reproducible volume control, etc.) and that the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 has a phono option (with two sets of inputs), the difference in overall gain is the major thing that distinguishes one from the other. Output impedance is close enough, with the VAC being 300 ohms via RCA jacks and the Herron 100 ohms (RCA only).
To me, the switchable gain of the Herron VTSP-3a isn't as significant as the fact that the preamps have very different gains -- the VTSP-3a 12dB/6dB (switchable) and the Renaissance Mk.3 22dB. Again, the Herron is moderate/low gain and the VAC most definitely high gain. If you've high-sensitivity speakers, I don't think the Renaissance Mk.3 would be appropriate.
It depends on the needs of your system. I've moderately sensitive Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers (91dB/6 ohm) and a pair of moderate output tubed mono amps -- the deHavilland KE50A (40W) -- as my reference, and they benefit greatly from the higher gain capability of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. And with your VAC Phi 300.1a stereo amp, a VAC pre should be optimal. That said, the Herron VTSP-3a is perfect for the Herron M1 monos, of course, and an extremely versatile piece too -- in features and compatibility with other amps. One veteran reviewer I know uses the VTSP-3a with a pair of deHavilland Aries 845-G monoblocks that output only 30W, but he has VMPS RM 30 speakers with a VMPS Large subwoofer.
As far as "sonic signature" is concerned, I can't say, as it's been too long since I've listened to the Herron linestage. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to review it soon! I've the Herron M1 mono amps and VTPH-2 phono stage, so why not? Good luck. . . . Garrett Hongo