EXPERIENCED VAC USERS—most bang for the buck

To those of you who have experience with the VAC line, which combination of components do you think would provide the best sound? The Phi 300.1a amp combined with the Renaissance MkIII preamp, or the Phi 200 amp with the Signature MkIIa preamp?

Beyond the obvious difference in amp power, we're more interested in the quality of sound. So is there more of an improvement in sound going up from one amp to the other, or going up from one preamp to the other?

We have a limit on the client's budget for whom we're providing the system (which is why we can't combine the 300.1a with the Sig MkIIa), and, most unfortunately, we're not in a position to be able to audition the differences ourselves prior to providing the system to our client. Thanks for any input.
It really depends on the speaker. Having the correct power matchup for the efficiency of the speaker good be the big factor hear. Why don't you call Kevin at Vac in Florida? They are very honest and helpful guys.
For the definitive answer to your question, I would suggest contacting VAC directly. Kevin Hayes, the owner of VAC, has a reputation for being extremely helpful to customers. I'm sure that he could explain the benefits or tradeoffs that either configuration would offer.
I'm not trying to be mean, but I think it would be a good idea to send your client to a VAC dealer. You're talking about expensive, speciality equipment here. The customer deserves better than buying from an unauthorized dealer that knows nothing about the equipment they are selling. How can you possibly be qualified to handle a sale and service the customer properly at this level?
Zd542, anything we provide, we are either authorized to provide ourselves, or provide through an authorized dealer. Our clientele live overseas and have neither the time nor the inclination to spend one minute of their own time shopping for or auditioning gear. The equipment is typically for their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th homes in America. Obviously, they are not typical audiophiles. They want to know they have top quality gear (and usually, that knowledge alone is sufficient) and in many cases, they may not ever even listen to it.

As designers, we provide this service as an accommodation to them at their request, so we want to provide the best combinations possible for them. We do the best we can in this regard, and NEVER take a possible customer away from other authorized dealers. These are customers who would never walk into a store, and usually do not speak English. In those rare cases where they themselves take an active interest in the sound of a system, we do then refer them to authorized dealers. Thank you for your concern.
I'd choose the Signature 2a with the Phi 200. Then, if funds permit later you client could add another Phi 200 and run mono. That's what I am running and couldn't be happier. Someday if funds permit I may move to the Statement stereo but no desire to now.
Sticking with the original question and the limitations/condition stipulated,if the speakers are efficient and don`t require the additional power I`d go with Phi 200 amp and the Signature preamp.Again this assumes there`s no possibility for an audition.
I agree with Bill and Alan, the best resource to answer this question is Kevin Hayes at VAC. Give him a call, he is honest and very helpful.

Thanks everyone for the helpful responses. I see some of you have your own great VAC systems, so I appreciate all the insight.
I own the Phi 200, which I use happily with a Shindo Monbrisson preamp. My vote, aside from asking Kevin, would be to get the Phi 200 with the Signature II-A. The better the source it is fed, the better the Phi 200 sounds. My $.02.
I general I would always suggest getting the best possible pre-amp, all other things being equal. I'm also sensing an undercurrent that perhaps Liszt458 may not be in a position to contact VAC directly if he is "reselling" the equipment.
Always fascinating to see the assumptions made by some when a simple question is asked regarding the opinions of experienced users. Swampwalker, thank you for the advice, but your "undercurrent" sensing skills are not as acute as you might think. I have spoken at length with Kevin already—my apologies for not informing you sooner—and the nature of our business relationship with him is not the topic of this thread. He is the true gentleman everyone describes and could not be more helpful or informative.
Fascinating insights into how the 1% live.
A factor which may clinch the decision in favor of the Phi200/SignatureMkIIa combination, depending on the sensitivity of the speakers and the output level of the source(s), is that the gain of the other combination stands a good chance of being too high. The result being that with the 300.1a/MkIII combination the volume control may have to be operated undesirably close to the bottom of its range.

In fact I would not even rule that out as being a possible issue with both combos, depending on speakers and sources, but assuming that the specs are accurate it is a much greater concern with the 300.1a/MkIII. Both power amps have similarly high gains, around 31 db balanced and 37 db single-ended according to the published specs. The Signature MkIIa has a reasonable gain of 12 db, but the Renaissance MkIII has a specified gain of 22 db, which strikes me as outlandish in combination with the high gain of the power amp.

-- Al
That's a great point, Al.
Thanks, Bill. As I've said in a number of past threads, specs have their usefulness. Not, generally speaking, in predicting how a component will sound, but in ruling out candidates that may be poor matches with the rest of the system, or with the listener's requirements. Which in turn reduces the randomness of the selection process, and the chances of expensive mistakes.

Best regards,
-- Al
Liszt- Given the other posts, I assumed that you would have told us if that conversation had occurred. My bad. As we all know (and can be verified independently here), this is a dangerous thing to do. You are correct; your relationship w Kevin is none of my business. I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Given my experience w high gain pre-amps, I think Al's recommendation should be taken seriously.
My VAC Standard using the near bottom of the volume range sounds really wonderful.
usually the near minimum on a volume control dos not sound very good.. or near as good as higher dial positions.
With my VAC Standard... that is not true. the volume at minimum is really good. I have my VAC Standard volume control at only 8 O'Clock, up to (my) highest use at 9 O'Clock.. And it starts at 7 O'Clock!!!
(and can go all the way up to 5 O'Clock..)
One of many reasons i LOVE my VAC Standard.
Great info! Thank you, Almarg, for the excellent points about gain. Swampwalker, no problem, and thanks for the link to those great quotes on assuming!

We're going the Phi200 route with the Sig MkIIa, as well as with the Renaissance MkIII for some smaller applications. Anyone care to offer their views on differences between those 2 preamps? Someone elsewhere on Audiogon mentioned they thought the Ren III was about 90% of the Sig MkIIa. It's always great to hear from actual users, along with Kevin's input, of course.
Hullo Liszt458:
In case you are still interested in opinions on this question. I would recommend the new integrated VAC160iSE. It takes VAC's signature refinement even relative to the very refined and excellent separates you mentioned in your initial post to a higher level. In my opinion the VAC160iSE is simply a superb, high value component, ideal for home audio without the fuss/complications of separates. I have had it at home now for the last couple of months driving 87 DB NOLA Metro Grand II speakers with no difficulty at all in my room which is 14x19x8.5 feet.