Conrad Johnson and Herron comparisons

I find very little when attempting to gauge qualitative, subjective view points, I'm sure there are those who've sampled preamps from both these quality houses - please share...
big question, hard to answer

you need to at least narrow to specific models

cj has made preamps for decades, within their own line the sound of the product has changed significantly over time
I felt if I narrowed it down, there’d be even fewer responses.....but Ill try -

Herron VTSP 3a (revisions 1-3) vs...CJ ET3’s/ET5’s
can't speak to the herron in comparison to the cj units
but tim herron makes top top notch stuff... his customer are super happy super loyal

re the cj units, if you can afford the delta by all means get the 5 over the 3... significant performance gap
I had a CJ ET3 SE for three years. It was ok. But it just lacked dynamics. Always seemed to round of the top end. Also it loves to eat tubes. Had to change them every 9 months. I finally demoed a Luxman CL 38U SE and it took me all of five minutes to switch preamps.
I live near Keith's workshop and will be talking with him soon about auditioning a phono pre. I've never heard Herrons before, but can't find a single negative thing on this or any other forum
jjss49 asked the right question. So, let me try to compare apples to apples. I own both brands. Keith makes very good equipment - musical, detailed, engaging - as does CJ. I have had my Herron power amps for close to 14 years, with upgrades.  I have not found another power amp to replace them. And, I have tried. His preamp may be better. It has a sense of real music. I currently have a CJ ET5 with NOS tube. I would say that the new Herron 360 is a step ahead of the ET5 and closer to the ET7S2. I could live with either and never look back. You cannot go wrong with either. I hope this helps.

interesting input - i actually run an et5 as one of my linestages, just love its sound... it does run tubes hard and the sound can vary a good amount with tube selection

with cj tube linestages now they are walking the fine line between tube magic/transparency and solid state clarity and edge... i tried a gat (v1) and thought it crossed the line

if herron’s linestage is right there or surpasses the et5 on its good day then it is indeed an impressive piece... not that that would be unexpected
I agree with your assessment. Neutral is the new goal for most manufacturers. My ET5 sounds best with a Mazda 7308, better than my CCA. Herron balances transparency, tube magic, musical, and clarity. I love both and spend a lot of time changing cables.
Keith is a super guy and accomodated some custom work on my phono preamp front panel. I would certainly seek out an audition. The GAT series is serious stuff and IMO deserves equal audition time. 

have fun, enjoy journey and the music


you probably already know this but the et5 runs the tube filament at 6.3-6.4 volts so regular 6dj8 spec tubes are overdriven, and live short lives

i have found pcc88/7dj8’s of various makes last much longer, and can sound very nice, especially hungarian philips/tungsram and yugo tesla 32’s - i understand et and gat current production units are being shipped now with the 7dj8 tubes

perhaps the saving grace of the et5 is it runs that single tube, so tube rollin’ is easy and relatively cheap - i had the premier 16LS2 prior, the six tubes in series made one think a little harder about random experimentation :)

Thanks for asking this, I was going to post something remarkably similar. I am in the process of making the same decision as you. Hopefully you won’t mind me asking a question in your thread. I thinks it’s similar enough to your initial ask that it will add to the conversation, and not detract or hijack.

I have narrowed the preamp’s I’m considering down to:
Herron VTSP 3a preferably (Rev 3)
VAC standard LE preferably with the separate power supply.

I’m currently using a Cj Premier 4 amp that has been modified and updated, an Air Tight phono stage (I only listen to vinyl on this system). Up until a few months ago my preamp was a CJ premier 2. I really enjoy this preamp, but it is in serious need of TLC. I plan on keeping this and having work done on it in the future, but in the meantime I would like to implement a more modern preamp into the mix hence the above selection.

I have a very wide array of music I listen to. I’m most interested in a preamp that is dynamic, detailed, images well, and doesn’t lose the tube magic that the premier 2 displays.

Any input would be greatly appreciated.
I own the ET5, it fits your description perfectly.  The biggest change for me going from a premier 14 to the ET5 was the incredible clarity from the new design and teflon caps.  It could easily be my last preamp.

I have never heard the Herron but it always gets glowing reviews from people who own the brand.  You really can't go wrong with any of your choices.
After Needle Doctor folded, Keith Herron called me out of the blue and assured me he was available for service and upgrades for my vtsp360 r3.  Now that’s service.  The 360 has an r5 upgrade but I’m in no hurry, I’m as pleased now as ever.  The performance he gets from today’s tubes is like NOS.  Remarkable.
Languidcrane, I don't mind at all, thank you for asking and enriching this thread.... interesting that The Herron VTSP 3A & 360 are so highly rated here....they aren't the easiest to come by used tho'.....and the VTSP 360 new is quite a chunk of cash.... I'd love to get my hands on a VTSP 3a rev3 or a 360.
Also interesting to learn that the CJ ET5 has a propensity to burn out tubes....that might make one reconsider one's options..JJSS49's suggestion of using the 7DJ8's is a potential solution, I wonder what other ET5 owners feel about the effects on the sound using the 7DJ8 variant.

short answer on et5 and 7dj8 pcc88 - it completely solves the premature tube burnout problem, plenty of options for tube rolling, excellent sound, and a good bit cheaper than 6 volt versions to boot

cj has been out there in the market buying lots of better old stock 7 volt tubes i understand, as they have made the switch in their manufacturing of their higher end units with this issue
I concur with jjss49 regarding tubes and the ET5.  I am using a Siemens EC88/6dj8.  Not only does it sound excellent it is a workhorse.

I think CJ had a bad batch of EH 6922's and I went through several.  
Let me chime in again. First, good discussion. To clarify the ET5 does not burn through its tube. CJ initially shipped that preamp with an EH6922 and that tube by its nature would get noisy faster than other tubes. So, jjss49's suggestion to replace the EH is correct. I had a 1962 CCA in my ET5 for 2 year and then tried a NOS Mazda 7308 which sounded even better. That tube has been in my ET5 for about 1 year now. CJ currently ships the ET7S2 and GAT with Philips PCC88 tubes, the US equivalent is a 7DJ8. The Philips is a more expensive and better sounding tube than the EH and should last 3000 hours. CJ has a significant stock of both of those tubes. As for CJ buying up NOS 7 volt tubes, Jeff has been buying a handful of different tubes to try out. Not anything significant. And, I still go back and forth between my CJ and Herron equipment. 
And don’t let that magical CJ Premier 2 slip away - an important bit of gear on the long upward arc of Audio 

loved mine, I let her go many many moons ago to fund some University, no regrets but super fond memories 
Good input @cellorover, I have also received a Philips PC88 from CJ, sound good and more reliable than EH.  My Siemens sounds a little better through the midrange and top end and after probably 1000 hours dead quiet.

I agree with you on the EH6922, noisy after a few hours for me.
From a different angle .......I like CJ's website - offers a level of transparency with regards to upgrades, cost of upgrades, what these entail etc.... have to say the same for Rogue Audio....
I really like the form factor of the Herron products - very functional, with numerous useful design features. I'm disappointed that their website does not more clearly discuss upgrades. Additionally, upgrades are not offered on legacy products!, this came as a surprise to me - this is a big negative for folks left with older components who haven't upgraded- leaving their products less worthy of resale.
The products on Keith's website represent his new line. They evolved over 20+ years. I had the M1s and then had him upgraded them to the M1As. I am not sure if there is a M1A to M2 upgrade, but am happy with my M1As and my CJ tubes. You would need to call Keith and ask of there is a M1A to M2 pathway. But remember, in some cases the difference between the old and new models may be too great making an upgrade impossible or very, very expensive. I have had my Herron amps since 2005 and I, like many people, hang on to their Herrons. All Herron products will resell, but the used market for all equipment was damaged ~10 years years ago so you cannot always expect to sell used products at a price that you may want. The CJ ET5 is a good example of how 2-3 people dumping their preamps deflated the market.  A used ET 5 should be selling at $4500 not $3400 or lower. It is still a fabulous preamp. And, then again, many older products simply have lower no resale value. So, do not let the false prices set by the used market impact your decision. Pick the product that makes you, your ears, and your wallet happy. 
I really can't disagree with you.....pick the product that makes you happy is sound advice - (no pun intended).

To clarify......When I meant "upgrades" - I didn't mean transforming the older legacy products into the latest generation offerings - I meant "revisions" that had been offered in the past - for example a VTSP 3A preamp stuck in 1st gen cannot now be revised into a 3rd revision anymore as the VTSP 3A is considered an "obsolete" product.
Hey guys FYI I just put my VTSP-3A R03 up for sale here and on the USA Audiomart. After careful consideration and saving my pennies I’m going to try the new 360. Reach out if you have any questions.

don't get too bothered by upgradeability of old gear... there is a limit to this... just buy smart, buy good gear that is always in demand, don't pay too much above fair market value for a piece, then use it, enjoy it, if you move on, you can resell without much, if any loss
@saika2 Unless Keith told you that directly I question your assertion that discontinued models are not eligible for revision upgrades. While sometimes parts availability can be a limiting factor, Keith’s product support is unrivaled IMHE. That said, my VTSP-3A is the last and latest version at R03 :)
Good Luck with your sale dodgealum. Yes, unfortunately, it’s from the horses mouth....a VTSP 3a that’s not rev 3 cannot be upgraded anymore from a 1 or a 2, as it’s “obsolete”. 

couldnt have stated those words of wisdom any better....... exactly my philosophy...and I’ve been in this game for a pretty long time as well 

good luck in your finding a tube pre you like

in 2007 i bought my cj prem 16ls2 for $3300... it has provided me with countless hours of joy and musical bliss, and fun, rolling tubes

it is worth at least that much today, probably a few hundred more, if i choose to sell it (not doing it...)

as a version two it is the last version of that unit - yes the newer models are just a touch clearer, zippier/sharper in tone but also leaner in the midrange and midbass - i got an et5 few years back as well... both lovely units, the et5 is a more modernized cj sound - they clearly are voicing their products somewhat differently as time passes - then i tried a friends GAT for a couple months - it was almost solid state like in sound, i did not like it as i felt it went too zippy and hifi in sound character

through all this, if i were to keep one cj pre it would still be the 16... for me it defines what the cj tube magic is...
I finally pulled the trigger on a Herron VTSP 3A - .......lovely, lovely, lovely.....
Works seamlessly with my Pass XA 30.8/Klipschorns...really like some of the unique features on it - "invert switch", ac polarity switch, remote is a bit dinky, but does the job!
i recall you were having some trouble getting herron to do the upgrade from the prior version unit you had - did you eventually talk him into it, or you just bought a separate upgraded unit?

curious to know what is the nature of the upgrade to the rev 3 unit from the prior one, and whether you would say there is a real difference in sq between a and b...
CJ GAT is very special, if the other models take from it then they must be very good
@jjss49 Ive purchased a rev3, and plan to post my subjective views on the differences soon, complete with internal pics to show any internal differences (if any obvious ones can be noted). Ive sent a few emails to Mr Herron about the upgrade situation, and since that was a no go, I ended up buying an upgraded unit. I was quite happy with the un revised VTSP3a's sound, but curiosity and the upgrade itch got the better of me.
I plan to continue to listen to the units (whilst the one I have on sale is still in my hands) with a wide range of music, using vinyl and digital formats. I find comparisons easier with well mastered CD's. 

got it! well just from my experience, in these linestages running several 6922 equivalents, like your herron (4 pcs) and my prem16ls2 (6 pcs), the quality and quietness of the tubes are paramount...

good luck have fun
VTSP 3a runs 3 pairs of 6922's. 1 pair may be for voltage/power rectification, (don't quote me on that last part.
i saved this chat, to respond, now i have a chance.  
from the 3 amps you have been talking about on this forum
herron 3a
cj et 5se
and the vac, dont know much about them.  can some one tell which is the better amp, and what is the quality of each vs the other thank you.....

Just saw this, sorry, I thought the thread was dormant........I personally have not experienced all three of them and hence am not qualified to compare.....some others may have and I look forward to their opinion.

I have owned and operated a Herron VTSP 3a rev 1 and 3 - Im able to say they are both extremely capable, sweet sounding, robustly built, thoughtfully functional preamps.