I’m currently looking at a used VTL TL-5.5 Series II Stereo Tube Preamplifier Don Sachs 65N7 Preamp (new), and last but not least LTA Microzotl Preamp - new.
I like Ike the fact that the VTL has balanced outputs. Which the 65N7 and LTA Microzotl lack.
My current amp - Bel Canto Ref500s. Has the option of XLR or RCA for input. I like the idea of going all balanced with my set up.
Its not mandatory to have an all balanced system if one preamp lacks xlr outputs. It’s more of what will work best. It’s a heavy investment for me. Regardless of which one I will purchase. I like to set it and forget it. Upgrading every couple of years is despised as much as clothing shopping.
Price is not always indicative of quality. All three mentioned are great contenders imo. All fluctuate a bit in pricing. If anyone could chime in, stating which preamp they might prefer would be greatly appreciated.
It’s a safe assumption all have their own sound signature. I’m looking to round off the class d sound a bit. It’s not overtly bright. Though I’ve heard the tube sound. I know it will be a game changer in conjunction with my current equipment. Very curious to know what the communities take would be on this post.
I have a very basic set up. MacBook Pro Dynaudio Special 40’s Bel Canto Ref Link Bel Canto 3.7 Dac Bel Canto Ref500s / most recent build. interconnects, speaker cable, and power cords are holding up well.
Have you listened to them? Have you listened to the difference running the same component and the same quality level interconnect to compare the difference between balanced and unbalanced? Because doing that was for me the last little bit I needed to confirm balanced is a lot more money for very little return. If any. In the most rigorous comparison I was able to do, everything identical right down to the same brand/model interconnect so only RCA/XLR was different, the XLR actually sounded worse.
Balanced in the pro world is pretty much essential. Balanced is great for really long runs. A pro setup could have easily 30 to 50 connections. XLR with its click-lock feature, great with so many connections, so many changes. Think of your system. How much of this applies?
Price is not always indicative of quality.
Right. You pay a lot more for balanced. But you don't get a lot more.
It’s a safe assumption all have their own sound signature.
Right. And you can't trust anyone to decide which sounds best. You just have to go and listen and decide for yourself.
Turntable preamp to be determined in the future.
This one's easy. Especially after what you saved avoiding XLR. Add that to what you had budgeted already and you should be able to afford the Herron.
@jred You might check and see if any of the balanced preamps support AES48 which is the balanced standard. If they do you will get the benefits of balanced operation- immunity to cables, longer distances possible, lower noise even in short runs and so on. That goes away if the equipment doesn't support the standard, and IME most high end audio does not, although there are tube preamps that do.
Of the three you mentioned I've only owned the DS. If you're looking to "round off" the sound -- not sure what you mean except maybe you need a little smoothness or sweetness? IME, the DS has great detail that pairs better with a tube amp than it would with class D.
Hi jred, balanced or single ended as consideration is not a must and all depends on the topology of each specific component. Which is best i cannot say as i do not have any experience on DS and LTA but try to listen to all 3 of them, since preamps are truly vital n the chain.
Look at DeHavilland electric amplifier co . Ultraverve 3 or the Mercury. Kara the owner has stellar customer service. She will answer all your questions . Stay away from VTL very poor customer service. Mark
I have an LTA MicroZotl.It is very quiet,clean,clear,open,slightly sweet,but doesn't 'round off' the sound.It certainly could if you wanted to do a little tube rolling.Like others said,there's no way to tell which one is the best fit until you try.Good luck!
Jay, If you drop the "Must be balanced" requirement as you have been wisely counseled above, I will toss in another semi obscure but well proven name-Audible Illusions 3LB- Includes a remote. New about $4,000. Used with patience you can buy one under $3k for the new model. But don’t dally as they can sell quickly when well priced. Very musical. Other things I like-Two independent channel controls. One Main Volume. One main Function. Big dials with built-in lights look good. Did I mention the power supply is separate?
atmosphere nailed it XLR for the maximum win, at least with proper xlr cables
IMHO hi-end AIN'T hi-end unless it is differentially balanced. Alas most reviewers don't seem to understand that and test xlr kit with non xlr kit and even more bizarrely state in their review that they didn't hear any difference. I stopped writing to hi-end magazine editors about this stupidity over a decade ago. It falls on deaf ears: Go Figure
That aside, you don't really need a tube preamp to get 3D sound. I had it with PS Audio Stellar GC dac and have it with my Audio Alchemy DDP-1 + PS 5. My amp is AA DPA-1 (class D)
For cabling I highly recommend WireWorld. You can get really good deals on their 7 series now that they've introduced the 8 series
I was running a Peachtree Nova 220SE that I really liked. I also have a sub optimal room and my listening position is near field which has always caused issues with sounndstage. I just replaced the Peachtree with a microZOTL and it really is an amazing piece. The clarity and soundstage are incredible. I know it won't be for everyone because of the limited inputs, but I primarily listen to digital, with second being vinyl so I am only using 2 inputs. It also has a great headphone amp.
First off. Thanks to everyone whom chimed in, and offered keen advice along with recommending additional manufacturers.
Don Sachs Model Two seems to be the best bang for the buck.
LTA Microzotl. I was pretty keen on. Though when reading the users manual.
“There is a clicking sound when the volume is changing that comes from the relays controlling the volume level”.
Can anyone confirm that is true pertaining to the LTA Microzotl.
deHavilland’s preamps look pretty sweet as well. I’ll have to definitely email the company.
Audio Note additionally looks like a great contender, though I believe they are SS??
I have some work cut out here. Though the advice that was offered helped tremendously.
I’m pretty content with my current system with the Dac fed directly to the amp. No degradation.
I’m researching the tube preamp market for the holographic sound to tie all together. My current system has plenty of slam and prat. Though. My system will not provide that warm spatial sound of tubes. No regrets here. A tube preamp would be the next step.
Hence the quest.
I will try my best to post as progress matures a bit.
Can't wait to hear about your journey! I was in a similar spot a few months ago, paralyzed by preamp choices, but then realized through reading/oping similar discussions that as long as I stayed with a digital source w/good volume control, it was wiser for to spend my hifi $$$ on other upgrades first.
Speaking of choices, curious why ARC, BAT, Aesthetix didn't make the short list?
You may also want to check out the Herron VTSP-3A or VTSP 360. I would describe the sound the way jtcf describes the LTA, which I have heard and is excellent. To the Herron I would add impeccable timing--the PRaT factor is very high and the dynamics are excellent. An underrated performer among tube designs.
OP... I just want to clarify that Audio Note preamps and components are tube driven. Preamps have a tube gain stage and power stage which includes rectification and regulation tubes.
If you can find a used AN pre or linestage, grab it. They have wonderful timbre and dynamics, holographic sonics and a sense of realism. Tube rolling will determine how neutral or warm the presentation is.
I'd go with the VTL. I don't agree with Markum01 regarding VTL's customer service. I've owned multiple devices from VTL since 2001 and have always gotten top notch service well needed. Last year I purchased a new full function pre-amp and the VTL's 5.5 was a top contender but the Mcintosh C2500 was picked based on it's phono section. The C2500 works well with my VTL amps.
Eyes are on the Herron VTSP-3A. Granted it’s no longer top tier. Though for a first preamp tube. I believe I’m off to a good start.
As as far as interconnects I have a pair of air matrix silver sonic’s.
I have a hunch they might not be up to par if I obtain a preamp in the 4000 range used. LTA recommended Anti-Cables with their electronics. Currently my entire loom is TWL. Perhaps I’ll continue with TWL. Or see what Anti-Cables are all about. Thoughts anyone?
This will be coming from left field, but YMMV. Change the amp, as you are describing the sonics of that particular Class D amplifier. There, I said it. I am also coming from a standpoint that the best preamp is no preamp, so again, YMMV. All the best ! Enjoy ! MrD.
I just sent back my Don Sachs DS-2 for upgrades ! I do use a PS audio Directstream DAC and Lou Hinkeley Daedalus Speakers - No question in my mind DS-2 is a Big Bang for the Buck very sweet sonically beats anything I have heard at this price point !
Hi Jay---we have similar systems. I've been updating mine over the past 6 months after many years of having the same audio equipment. I have a Marantz ND8006 integrated amp (using as a preamp for a Bel Canto REF500S amp---which sounds really good.) I also have a pair of Dynaudio Special 40s! I'm thinking of adding a 'proper' preamp next year so I can have the Bel Canto balanced. I've never had separates up until now. This is what I've looked at so far: -LTA MicroZotl-->when paired with the Bel Canto, it sounds really nice (friend of mine has this) -PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC as a preamp -Rogue Audio RP5 (but not balanced) -Modwright LS100 but I've heard that's being discontinued -Hegel P20 preamp
BTW, the LTA does make a clicking noise when you adjust the volume---has to do with a relay. I noticed it as soon as my friend adjusted the volume---but he doesn't seem to care.
Good luck on your journey---let us know what you end up getting. ~DR
Lots of very good Pre-Amp mentioned! I have owned many and there is something special about the 6SN7 variant tube and Don Sach's Pre, it's what I own and I have heard nothing that's so musical and draws you into the music...
I'm a Sach's fan and own both of his creations and love them :)
I will chime in with the other devotees for Don Sachs' preamp. I got the third or forth one he built which was recently sent back to him for the latest, and likely final, upgrades. It is beyond question the finest preamp I have ever had in my system and that included oodles of SS and tube preamps. It is simply the most revealing and luminous preamp I have ever had. In terms of performance vs. cost, Don's preamp is fantastic.
Forget about balanced outputs. If they were meaningful, Don would design his preamp for them, but he feels RCA outputs are perfectly fine. By the way, I bought his KT88-based amp a few months ago and it is absolutely breathtaking in its ability to present a holographic soundstage, yet with excellent extension in both the LF and HF... the mid-range of course is also wonderful. I bet Don against it when I contemplated the purchase of it, arguing the my Platinum-upgraded McCormack DNA .05 SS amp would have much more LF control, but when I had a chance to audition Don's amp to the McCormack amp, it took all of 30 seconds to realize the excellence of the Don's amp in comparison. Tonally, both are excellent, but Don's amp presents the 3-D soundstage whereas the McCormack sounds decided 2-D. Their is magic in tube and the place to start with with the preamp!
I have known Don for nearly 12 years. He upgraded my HK C-1, C-2 and C-V, but decided he would significantly improve upon their performance. He has clearly succeed. Yes, he could have used the TOTL Dueland caps in his preamp and added $1000 to cost of the preamp, but he tirelessly researched the market and discovered, to his ears, even better Polish caps for a 1/5th the price.
Don truly hit the mark in terms of price vs performance and you would be well advised to acquire one of this preamps. I am pretty sure that you could spend 3-4X times the price of his preamp and not be more satisfied with the sound. Cheers, Whitestix
Lots of supporters of Don Sachs. Always great to hear all opinions. Even the gentleman whom suggested to change my amp. Though brutally honest. I respect that. It’s all subjective.
Just heard back back from LTA. They state the clicking noise is audible when adjusting volume. Though not in a fatiguing way. Much more subtle, then one would assume. Only way is to audition. Though at their price of admission?
@bluorion — indeed we are going in similar directions. The PS Audio Dac seems to be a mainstay at the moment in many homes. I’m curious about Ayre Acoustics Dac’s line up. Ayre might even top the PS Dac you’re considering. Both have great resell value.
I’m quite content with Bel Canto’s 3.7. 24/192 works for me. Yes there’s dsd pcm mqa etc... Let’s see whom will be the victor? Though that all goes back to FIRMWARE updates. Which drives me nuts. Be it firmware updates for your electronics, or your computer’s OS, or the program to convert dsd pcm mqa. Arghhhhh. That just exhausts me thinking of going in that direction. Firmware updates have a remarkably awesome way of mucking everything up. Yeah.. how’s that smartphone holding up????
My dining room/living room is L shaped. So I’m dealing with a little bit of a acoustic challenge. The ref 500s and the Special 40’s in my opinion pair well. Especially for my dwellings. They do need 200 wpc for them to really open up. I’m curious about floor standing speakers though with a 14’ x 12’ x 17’ listening area - anything else would probably be too intrusive.
This will hopefully be one of the last rounds for a while obtaining new equipment. Then the phono amp. Eventually. Thank you Pass Labs for making a great photo stage. Done deal.
From this thread, and some comprehensive reading, emails from various manufacturers whom provided detailed information pertaining to my questions it’s all boiling down to:
Don Sachs Model 2. It does have xlr inputs. Though not truly balanced inputs. The same pertains to the LTA pre amp. You can attain true balanced inputs. Though I would assume at a heavy premium with LTA. Or Sachs for that matter.
Which brings me to Herron VTSP-3A. They are going for about 3,500 on average used. Granted it’s no longer their top tier preamp. Though it’s priced right between a brand new LTA, and a top tier Don Sachs.
LTA, new goes for about 4,500 Don Sachs model 2 with all of the upgrades about 2,700 - or around that ballpark.
Hopefully I can pick up a used VTSP-3A. If not. There are some great alternatives listed on this thread, that I would not hesitate....
I have not been a fan of the Esotar tweeter, to me it was way to bright and forward. However if that is your bag a nice relaxed tube preamp would certainly help. One that I have used and one that no one does not like is the dehavilland UltraVerve. $2900 retail with volume control right from the manufacture.
@goldprintaudio Thanks for the suggestions regarding the Bel Canto amp---would the PS Audio Stellar GS DAC be a good fit as well? I've also heard good reviews about the Bel Canto and Rogue combo. Question: What interconnects work well with this combo? Or the PS Audio/BC combo? Thanks! ~DR
I am also on a very narrow path to find the right tube preamplifier for my class D monos from Merrill Audio that I just purchased a couple of months ago. The funny thing is every person I talk to gives a different response or direction to go, but I guess that is part of the journey that makes final result so worthwhile. I have tried to narrow the list down to as few as possible in the 4k used price range, here is what I came up with.
Rogue RP-7 Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme Zesto Audio Leto 1.5
The RP-7 seems to be the best bang for the buck and most versatile for inputs/outputs functionality. Love the looks of the Zesto Leto 1.5 it is a piece of art, but also the most expensive. I know the Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme works well with the Merrills because the former owner also used one. I also need HT bypass which all of these fine preamps have. Little surprised that nobody has mentioned the Zesto Leto yet or even an Allinic L 1500. Happy hunting.
I too have heard great things about Don Sachs gear and his Phono stage sounded wonderful in my system. I have the Micro ZOTL Preamp and It’s a keeper for life. There is no longer a start up thump, that was solved last year. The volume clicking really doesn’t bother me. I do my fine tuning volume adjustments in Jriver from my iPad anyway. I can’t really speak about the other pre’s you mentioned but the ZOTL blows away my old Audible illusions pre.
Forget about balanced outputs. If they were meaningful, Don would
design his preamp for them, but he feels RCA outputs are perfectly fine.
If you hear balanced line done right, there simply isn't any going back to single-ended. More detail, blacker backgrounds... One advantage of balanced operation is the interconnect cables between the preamp and amp won't be a big deal any more; if you've ever auditioned cables to get the best sounding one in your system you know what I'm talking about. You can also run longer distances as well, but that blacker background benefit is still there even if the connection is only 6 inches.
The thing is, there is a standard for balanced line, which many high end audio manufacturers don't seem to know about. Its called AES48. If you want the benefits of balanced line operation, make sure that you ask the manufacturer if their gear supports AES48.
J: Cool! Let us know how you like. I was going to recommend Keith's interconnects but you beat me to it. For the money, a no brainer. I heard them in my system and they are very good--you would have to spend lots of money to do a little better. Chime in when the VTSP settles in so we know whether it floats your boat. And yes, if you need a phono stage the VTPH-2A IS the ticket.
I should have a good idea fairly quickly. Tubes need about 50/70 hours- my guess. The IC’s. About 90 tops. Keith said he never turns off the Herron pre. It’s that efficient.
Ha. The amount I spent this week on accessories and gear. It’ll be a while before I get a phono stage. Plus - all of the newly discovered vinyl I’m digging up is fetching 100.00 on average, that I’d like too add to the collection.
Industry seriously needs to repress. Probably legalities generally speaking. Especially when the music is a bit under the radar.
Agreed. I would probably have to shell out at least 400.00 to rival Keith’s IC’s. Never tried Nordost. It’ll be interesting.
My entire loom is TWL. Figured give a different company a try for the heck of it. Worse case. Back to TWL..
least I can do is report back. Will definitely do so.
Welcome to my noob review. I tried my best to describe my experience with the Herron for the past two weeks since purchase.
The Herron VTSP-3A(r03) was my first foray; tube component added to my system. The added sonics where a given when initially powered up, and of course all improved as settled.
To the best of my terminology the Herron adds that extra amount of mass/weight/ expansion to the music. Though not in a artificial bloated way. It opens up my system (warmth) and adds the characteristics of what I was hoping to attain - well with what the tube sound offers. I have not heard other tube pre’s. Though I’d gather some companies might offer a syrupy sound or perhaps a linestage that might be a bit more relaxed? The Herron is neither syrupy nor portrays a laid back sound. Neither is the Herron in your face clamoring all attention.
I would guess from my minute experience with tubes ( lots of reading and researching ) - the Herron fits somewhere in the middle of sonic characteristics of this specific (tube) line stage. It’s not colored. Holographic imaging is present. It’s not syrupy as I’ve read that some might prefer. Your mileage may vary. It’s not lean. Meat and bone were brought to the table. It’s more like that specific friend that gets along with everyone. “Hey guys I’m here for the party, and I brought a great Japanese Scotch!!” They blend right in with the crowd. As the Herron worked quite well in conjunction with my existing equipment. As I forgot to mention. Detail is present. The Herron is balanced. Balanced very well.
WAV files at 24/192 felt more alive. Dark Side Of The Moon made everyone smile. The wav was not as dynamic before integrating the Herron. “The Revenant” soundtrack (wav) really came into its own. Though the mastering is darn near perfect. Wav dare I say did not sound organic though rejuvenated with more depth. It’s one of those situations where you revisit the reference tracks and dig out some music one has not heard in a while to notice new and improved dynamics.
Vinyl stole the show hands down. I had some friends over. I played Hugh Masekela “Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz” and everyone was floored. My friend has a VPI Prime with a Blue Ortofon. He could not believe the depth. Slam. Well let’s just say prat. Following, I played the J.B.’S “Doing It To Death”. Again. All in company were pleased.
Floor noise was barely present. As a test I set the volume at 25 with no music playing. Your ear must be within one inch of the speaker to hear anything, and what you hear is practically nil. Please keep in mind I have a modest system. So this test could very well not be accurate. During my listening sessions. Regardless of critical listening or just enjoying the music. I heard no added distractions regarding noise. I believe you would coin that term being dark? Even during passages. Silent. Dead silent.
The decay, especially at the end of songs presented a beautiful extension. Listening to some tracks I’ve not heard in a while, I picked up some subtle nuances that where not present beforehand. Micro dynamics indeed. Distortion was not present at all. Even during power hour sessions.
Though with no acoustic treatment and a small footprint for my listening area. I know for a fact that all of the potential dynamics are not truly present with my system. Thus preventing me from providing to the best of my abilities the most accurate review of this component. The cost was a bit expensive. It’s all relative. Fortunately I obtained a unit in pristine condition with new tubes. The same as stock. Sometimes you have to run with that gut feeling. You take the plunge. I could not fathom taking the Herron out of the chain. Listening would not be as captivating.
Build quality, and execution of the Herron is just as I expected. Point to point wiring is dead on. Nothing looks rushed under the hood. The craftsmanship shows. Everything feels extremely solid, and well engineered. When powering up the unit automatically switches to mute, and displays a countdown of 60 seconds ( warm up period ). The volume is preset automatically to 10. Mute stays set as a safe guard until disabled. The volume control feels ridiculously solid. Same goes for the balance. All select inputs ( contacts ) are once again —— solid. Everything is authoritative, nothing is questionable within the Herron. When using the remote. The volume control does not move, click, whirl or send morse code. I’ve read that other pre’s have a low yet audible detection when adjusting the volume.
I’ve let the phase inversion stay as is. There is a difference. The soundstage seems more centered. I prefer to leave it off. The polarity switch has been kept to the “A” setting.
I spoke to Keith Herron for a bit. Asking the obvious, and not so obvious questions pertaining to the pre. Keith’s very down to earth. No pretension. No sales pitch. The facts were stated, and all questions were answered. The main inquiry pertained to leaving the unit on for extended periods. Rest assured one can leave the Herron on 24/7. Heat emitting from the unit is barely noticeable. It’s mildly warm. Just enough to state. “Hey. All is working here. Let’s go!” The tube complement consist of 6 Electro-Harmonix 6922 EH. They’re very efficient. It’s assuring that one does not need too concern to power off the Herron. It’s a nice luxury to come home, play a song and you’re there!
My two gripes with the Herron are minuscule. The remote has to be directly pointed at the unit to initialize the command. Speaking of the remote. It’s a bit small. Though all of the selections one might choose are included. Minimal yet thorough. The remote control size is quite reminiscent of the Bose wave radio/cd. Though more tactile. A milled aluminum remote would have been killer. Though it’s a sound assumption the internals take precedence.
The unit has a dimming mode. Once initiated the display is not obtrusive, and perfect for late night listening. Unfortunately. Specifically the blue led’s caught the corner of my eye. You accumulate. An “all off” option would have been perfect. Trivial complaints as stated.
The Herron IC’s that I purchased as well left me impressed. Great build quality along with being very clear. The IC calls it as it is with the given source material. It’s very mildly forgiving with poor recordings. Dare I say a bit of air is present. Extending the highs.
The concept of integrating a tube line stage into my mainly digital chain worked as planned. My components were not harsh or bright. Though it was, well very digital. Sterile, overtly analytical. It has balanced out a bit. Generally speaking. More alive. The system sounds a heck of a lot more solid. More musical. Meat on the bone.
I’m quite hesitant to even entertain the notion of thinking how a tube amp or class A solid state would pair with the Herron VTSP-3A(r03). The class D will suffice for now. First world problems.
My hunch would be that there are very few competitors of similar quality of this line stage. I’m glad I rolled the dice, and found the synergy I was looking for.
Ok. Time to get a larger apartment to allow the system to really show its true potential!
Thanks again for all of the advice and recommendations. It helped tremendously.
Dynaudio Special 40’s
Herron VTSP-3A(r03) Bel Canto Ref Link Bel Canto 3.7 Dac Bel Canto Ref 500s. Most recent build. Mcintosh Ma-6500 - bridged as a phono stage. Technics SL-1200M3D Ortofon Concorde
MacBook Pro 2011
Blue Circle FX2 6 XOe Power Line Conditioner
TWL Digital American PC
TWL HP Digital American PC
Nordost Red Dawn PC
TWL Discrete Audio USB
TWL American Speaker Cable-The American Series
Herron Fully Shielded Oxygen Free Copper IC
Silversonic Air Matrix IC
AudioQuest Black Carbon AES/EBU
ST fiber optic cable
It seems a bit absurd to state the following though I in know way was granted anything gratis for this review.
The community put in the time to offer advice. Some wanted my initial opinion. The least I could do is attempt to write a review that I hope was informing. Offering my personal impressions of the Herron VTSP-3A(r03).