To Garrett Hongo,
Outstanding review! Would you consider the sound of the VAC Phi 200 much better than the Herron VTSP-3A and M1 mono amps? From your review the Herron appears to be laidback and doesn't capture the full harmonic structure of notes. Do you think the VAC is more revolving, and have you heard the VAC 160i integrated yet?
Thanks for the kind remarks. About comparing the VAC Phi 200 to the Herron VTSP-3A and M1 monoblocks, well, I haven't had the VTSP-3A in my system, so I can't tell you much about how it would be with the Herron M1s vs. the VAC Phi 200 and Renaissance Mk.3 preamp, say. Both are very good companies with owners who have great ears. I like all these products, but I am actually least familiar with the VTSP-3A. I'd like to know, myself, how it would be with my Herron M1 monoblocks. But I suspect it would perform perfectly well, given the designer is Keith Herron.
And the M1s are no slackers by any means. They are reference pieces for me, and I like them because they have a similar sonic signature to my deHavilland KE50A tube monoblocks. The Herron M1s are essentially my summer amps when it gets too hot to run tubes in my study, which doubles as my listening room. They're not only the solid-state amps I like the best for operatic voice, choirs, and orchestras, but, when I use them, I don't have to switch anything else around in my system. I keep either the Lamm LL2.1 preamp or deHavilland Mercury 3 preamp in, along with all attendant wires, etc. As for "getting the full harmonic structure of notes," that's exactly why I like them! They get that!
The Phi 200 is, in many ways, much more "solid-state" sounding than the Herron M1s! The bass is tight, transients are fleet, and extension superb at both extremes. I think, though, it works best with VAC preamps, as I've tried both the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 and VAC Signature IIa preamps with excellent results. The Renaissance Mk.3 is the more dynamic pre, while the Signature IIa has more finesse.
And I have heard the new VAC 160i integrated, which I think superb. I spent over an hour at CES '12 listening to it with Tannoy Glenair speakers and a Clearaudio Ovation turntable with a Talisman MM cartridge as the source and I was completely enthralled. What a rich and lavish and yet sophisticated sound with great delicacy and spaciousness! I could have listened to it all day and all night. I think it is a fantastic product and I'm tempted to ask for it for review, actually. It's the best integrated I've ever heard at a show. And its looks are an achievement as well. Have you noticed it has only two pots in the back for transformers? One rectangular one on the left and one squarish on the right? The secret is that Kevin Hayes found that the output transformers were quieter with both on the far left, away from the inboard phono stage, so he placed them side-by-side and potted them together instead of having them outside each edge of the power supply transformer. This made for a distinctive look. It's a great piece. . . . Garrett Hongo