First Sound compared to Supratek, VAC, or Audio No

Hello. I have a FS Prescence Deluxe II and am very happy with it. I have read that people often prefer transformer coupled preamps to non-transformer coupled ones.

Does anyone have experience with the First Sound products and one or more from Supratek, VAC, or Audio Note? If so, how were they different?

I addition, I am curious if any First Sound owners have moved up their line? Where did you hear improvement? Overall, do you think is it worth the extra expense? Looking back, would you made a different choice? Thanks for your input. Brooks
I posted on "preamp deal of the century" my comments of the First Sound Deluxe vs. Supratek Syrah. A short recap: The Syrah is an outstanding value, but the First Sound remained in my system. Check out the thread for more information.
Glad that you asked about First Sound upgrades as I am curious about the type of improvement vs cost.
Thanks for your thoughts. I have read some of the Preamp Deal of the Century. I haven't made it to your post yet.

I spoke to Emmauel about what the other models improve. It seems to me the main difference is a lowering of the noise floor. Emmauel spoke of a customer relating how a Paramount revealed more information in a very familiar recording.

I really want to give Emmaunel more business because he is so helpful and kind. My dilemma is that the upgrade to the next model is the difference in retail price which makes it twice as expensive as buying a used unit. For example, there was an Ultimate Paramount (15K retail) lingering here for under 6K for a long time. I regret not buying it.
I've got both Audio Note and Supratek in my system at this moment. Soro SE Phono & Syrah. Right now, I'm using the AN just as an amp. The SYrah rpelaced the integrted functions. The AN pre is the same as the M2, and the Supratek beats it hands down.

Now while this may be a little farther down the AN line than you are looking, I think you would have to get to at least the M5 to beat the Supratek. Then you get into the cost v. benefit argument.

It takes a lot of preamp to beat the Syrah, especially for phono, my main concern. And it sure is nice looking!

Joe, that is good info. to know. Thanks a lot.
I'm not going to offer any comparisons, as I have not heard the others, and realize that they are all great products.

But - since you asked - I will offer you an opinion on the VAC Renaissance preamp. I just took delivery of a factory MK1 demo. I quickly found it to be a stupendous product and would highly recommend you audition one if you can. I have previously owned 4 very nice preamps (valued between $2500-4900), both tube and SS. NONE could remotely compare to the shear presence and power of the VAC Ren pre in my system.

Dynamics, detail, treble & bass extension, smoothness and 3-dimensionality are all beyond my expectations. It has dug far deeper into my music then I have ever heard before. It also made my Sim Audio Titan amp produce a bass punch, drive and depth that I didn't think possible. I have actually had to turn my REL subwoofer WAY down because of the increase in the bass depth coming from my Talon Raven speakers. There is also a new top-end sparkle and clarity without detectable harshness.

Build-quality is stunning and Kevin Hayes at VAC is just amazing to deal with. He patiently answered all of my presale questions and personally welcomed me to the VAC family when I bought mine. He has been just as accommodating AND available after the sale as he was before, which is rare for a designer and company president.

I initially came by the VAC because of specific features that I required in a tube pre: Remote control, fully-balanced in/outputs, a Cinema bypass, compatibility with my 27k-ohm impedance Sim amp, NO softening of the dynamics or lack of bass & treble extension. The Ren pre met all these criteria.
A VAC has always been an option. However, they seem to be about twice as expencive as the others.
The Supratek was on my short list. Both the reviews and customer comments were great. However, I was uncomfortable with sending money half way around the world, and waiting 5 or 6 months for the product. I also had some concerns about service from that far away, and I didn't want to find someone here who may or may not know what they are doing. I'm sure Mick makes a world class product, and this is not a concern for many people. If those things don't bother you, the Supratek may be the right preamp.

I haven't heard the Vac preamp, but I was extremely impressed with their integrated. I hear great things about Kevin Hayse and his products.

About 6 months ago, I bought a First sound. I love it! It draws me in to the music like nothing else ever has. It got jaw dropping better when I replaced the stock 6922s tubes with some siemens 7308s. Emmanuel Go is a real gentleman, and his customer service is as good as his preamps! Emmanuel is a real craftsman. You might read the Todd warnke review of the First sound, which you can find on the net. He does a good job of describing the preamp.

You probably can't go wrong with any of these choices. If cost is an issue, I would suggest the Belles 21A. Like Emmanuel, Dave Belles is a real craftsman and his preamp is a steal at $2500 retail. It uses 2 12AU7 tubes, and has a remote. I can't say it is as good as the First sound, but it's dangerously close at about 60% of the price.

good luck
84Audio: I hold Emmanuel in the same high regard. I have some old cyoed Telefunkens in mine and just like you found the made an enormous improvement.
Manley Steelhead and the Vac bested the supratek in my system. Went with the Manley. The Vac was a lot more than I wanted to spend
I agree that the VAC is a bunch-o-money. I caught a rare factory demo at substantial savings, which was the only way I could afford or even justify the purchase.

But, now that I have made this 'expensive gamble', I can sincerely say that my system has benefitted dramatically from adding this pre, so it was worth the expense and I have absolutely no regrets or desire to 'upgrade' further. This one is a keeper.

I guess I can't give a better reason then that to recommend AT LEAST an audition....
Another fan here of both First Sound and VAC. Kevin and Emmanuel are great guys. The preamp is a tuning device for the system as much as many of the pieces you buy are.
84 is a friend of mine, who was going direct with the Berning, amp. He inserted the First Sound into the system for a trial...that was 6 months ago.
The VAC is excellent also. At the Vegas show this past year, I put together a consortium of manufacturers, to display with Von Schweikert. We used all VAC electronics, and to say it was remarkable is a vast understatement.
We did Live versus Playback every day at 6:00; with Kevin Hays' electronics it was magical. You are really asking about various versions of wonderful. Plus Hi Fi is lucky to have two great people like Kevin and Emmanuel.
Another friend of mine just got the VAC 110, and he is using a First Sound preamp. Boy is he in for a treat. Now all he needs, is a Peter Cincotti album, a glass of Silver Oaks Cabernet 1993....

Good listening,
Hi Larry, I agree with you that HiFi is lucky to have Kevin and Emmnauel in business. They are both very talented, helpful, and forthright.
Kevin Hayes from VAC is a pleasure to deal with. He's never pushy and is always very pleasant. I've had numerous conversations with him and even for a "newbie" like myself, he's never lost patience. I'm currently looking into the Renaissance MKII pre. A lot of $$$ yes, but these days you can pay a lot more and get less.
Has anybody done any listening with the Standard PRE LE and the Renaissance? I'd like to know how much better things can actually get?
I auditioned both the First Sound Presence Deluxe MkII and the next First Sound model up: the P Dlxe 4.0 MKII (two beefier power supplies). Since a couple of folks asked about what the upgrade path is like within the FS line, I will say that I bought the 4.0 version because I felt the added power supply capacity and refinement was worth it. I also felt that getting the 4.0 upfront would make further upgrades cheaper later on because fewer parts would have to be changed out or added.

What does one get for the 4.0 version? More of everything that the baseline model gives you: lower noise floor, greater detail, greater dynamic swing and control, more physical presence, lower bass, more mid-bass clarity. The most obvious difference over all is in the bass. It goes lower with more drive, weight, and control.

On a related track, I hope to line up a side-by-side listening session with a local Supratek Syrah owner. I will update this thread if that happens.
Kalan, Thanks. That is exactly what I wanted to know. Have you ever considered upgrading to the Paramount? Please let us know how the Syrah compares. Brooks
Kalan, thank you for the info. Please let us know your impressions on the Syrah versus the standard Deluxe Mk II, if you can, as they are much closer in price point.

Those with the First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II preamps, any phono amp "relationships made in heaven" out there?
Kalan thank you. I would be interested as to how the Deluxe Mk II compares to the Syrah.

For those First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II owners, have any of you found a "match made in heaven" phono amp to compliment your preamp?

Would be interested in both findings.
That's really a matter of match to your cartridge, not to the First Sound.
Audiofankj... you asked about phono amps. I use the ARC PH3SE which works very well with the First Sound. I have had several phono amps, but have only used the ARC with the First Sound. I would suggest that any high end phono amp will mate well with this pre.
Addition to my post above.... the First Sound and ARC PH3SE phono with stock tubes was a easy winner vs. the Supratek Syrah ( has a very good built-in phono ). This comination does cost more that the Supratek, so I still place the Supratek as the best value ( with rolled tubes). But, for overall sound, dynamics, excellent tonal balance ( especially voice) & soundstage, this is a very nice combination.

I wasn't a fan of the VAC standard--it was easily bested by VTL 5.5 and Cary SLP 98 when i A/Bd them all one day.

That said, i really want to try the new Phi integrated--but ouch! the price!
The VAC REN is fantastic - agree completely with Bhouser. Bested a lot of preamps that I listened to, albeit not the ones listed above - Kevin, is one of the best if not the best in highend audio to deal with. He is open and honest - always willing to explain his product. He takes tremendous pride in his equipment and it is reflected in his work. While expensive, I have found that it will "get you off the merry go ground" and thus less expensive in the long run. Also, my experience has been that his designs "last a lot longer" in terms of overall improvements in the industry. What I mean will not be longing for another upgrade for a longggg time. So, in essence you get more value from the purchase.
I purchased a first sound. I felt something was missing.I tried everything to get it to sound like I thought it should. I took it to a friend in college station-we put it in his system and listened to it via a walker. He then put a supratek sarrah modified by John tucker and it was all over for the first sound. the sarrah was music. When we put the first sound back in his system for one more listenmy wife ask " what happened to the music" I have been very happy with my supratek ever since

ralph smith
I've upgraded to the VAC Renaissance from the VAC Standard LE about 2 weeks ago. Conversation with a few 'Goners a month ago really got me interested in the Ren.
As "adequate" as the LE was IMO, the Ren is in a different level, as it should be. Build quality is excellent. The pics don't do justice to this preamp. It is dead quiet and not only is the soundstage broader and deeper, it's also taller. Notes that were barely audible on the far left and right of the soundstage from the LE is now more distinct. The bass is outstanding, going deeper, and much cleaner that I could've imagined. Grain and haze is non-existant. I wouldn't have called the LE veiled, but the transparancy of the Ren is amazing. Music has a whole new flavor for me.
Thanks to Kevin Hayes of VAC and to the fellas. It's an expensive decision but a whole lot easier to justify.
Ralph's post above is a bit suspicious.
Drubin, it may indeed be a suspicious post, but there is no question some who have owned or heard both (First Sound & Supratek) have preferred the Supratek while others have preferred the First Sound.
Of course, no argument there.
It does not surprise me that someone would greatly prefer a Supratek over a First Sound in a given system.

I don't believe all pre-amps mate electrically with all power amps in a way that actually allows the two parts of the signal chain to perform under optimal conditions. Even though designers and engineers will tell me that I am completely wrong, my experience has suggested otherwise. Components should work well with other components across a wide spectrum, of course, but the balancing act that takes place between stages in the signal chain can be less that optimal.

The First Sound pre-amps have minimal circuitry: a single gain stage, no buffer- or cathode follower stages, etc. As such, they have a relatively high output impedance (1300 Ohms or so) and medium gain (16 dB). Sometimes, this can translate into a "laid back" quality with some power amps. The power amp should probably be fairly sensitive at their inputs (say .75 - 1.2 V) to work pretty well with the First Sound. With decent matching, the First Sound is very dynamic and alive--with out being "in your face."

Conversely, some pre-amps over-drive the inputs of some power amps and do indeed slam everything at you. Long story here, but I believe I have encountered both under-drive and over-drive from pre's to pwr amps.

Like any component, and perhaps even more so in the First Sound's case, it has to be matched with the associated power amp(s), and it also responds greatly to changes in power cords, interconnect, and isolation devices. (Part of its minimalist approach makes it this way, maybe....) This matching requirement may not be as critical with the Supratek; it looks like it has more active circuitry (just a guess by all the tubes). Also, a system "tuned" for a Supratek may have precisely the wrong set of cables, power cords, rack, and the like for the First Sound and vise versa.

I don't suggest that one way is any better than the other: absolute minimal circuitry vs. more complex, active circuits. Proof is in the result according to the designer's goals and chosen compromises. I have no ax to grind either way.

The Supratek Syrah I had hoped to audition next to the First Sound was sold by its owner only a matter of days before I made the request to hear it. I will keep trying to get a side-by-side listen of the Supratek, though.
Nicely stated, Kalan.
The Supratek is a good buy and is better than your unit, but there are many better units than it, including the better Audio Note preamps. None of these approach the H-Cat in my experience, and it is only a little more expensive than the Supratek. No thing in my experience can approach the imaging that you get with it. YMMV, however.
TBG may I have the URL for their website? Thanks.
Tbq, I just went to the website. Is there a product, yet. It seems that this is the mythic preamp that was being discussed a couple of months ago. Do you know anything more about it that the very general stuff written on the website? Thanks.
Roger has had trouble getting many of the P12 out the door, but I do know many have been delivered. I have tried to better understand the priciples he is using but cannot say I understand much better than I did on first reading the white paper on the webpage. But the imaging does correspond to the ideas presented there. Pinpoint imaging does add immeasurably to realism.

I suggest you email Roger and ask if there is anyone near you with a P12.
Ramses, what is your system like? Components. I am aware that many passives have issue driving certain components. How do you find the volume it controls or produces?
I'm searching for a preamp upgrade. I have an AN M2, modified with blackgates, wire, etc. I've tried the new Lector ZOE out of Italy, and I'm currently trying out the Audio Valve preamp. The Audio Valve seems like the best so far, but I'm curious about how it compares to the First Sound and Supratek preamps.

I have AN Quest Silver SET monoblocs, Zingali Overture 4 speakers, AN 2.1x CD player, Music Hall's MMF 7 turntable, Audion phono stage, AN silver interconnects, Apature speaker cables, and Analysis plus power cables. The front end is all plugged into Richard Gray 400.

I'd really appreciate any feedback, advise, thoughts about what preamp I should go with for my system. The AN 6 is way beyond fantasy for me.

Thanks, Bill

Just saw this post. Look at the Supratek thread, I left you a reply.

Now that the passive route is open in the thread, I would like to add of my experience with a First Sound Reference II Passive preamp - and agree with Ramses all the way. The passive preamp option really opened a new window in terms of transparency, detail and tonality (not to mention low noise-floor).

I sold the Reference II and still miss it, now going thru a PLC - Sonic Euphoria andhaving great results.