I've listened to the Vac 160 paired with Harbeth 40.1 in a friend's system. Match made in heaven.
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I've heard the VAC 160 with the C7es3 and it sounded wonderful. I will say that there was also a very nice REL sub in the mix. It might have not been needed. I didn't need a sub when I had a Rogue Cronus Magnum with my C7es3's.
What type of sound are you looking for? What music do you listen to? I've had a few integrated amps with the C7es3's. Actually tonight is my last night with them after 6 years. My dealer is stopping by tomorrow with my new HL5 Plus's in Tiger Ebony.
Leben amps are popular with Harbeth owners because the Japanese love Harbeth. The Japanese aren't much into speaker manufacturing but they make some serious electronics and they love Leben. I would like to think the VAC would be in line with the Leben but I've never heard a Leben.
If you live anywhere near Rochester NY, I might be able to set up an audition with the VAC and C7es3.
Congrats on your new HL5s! I have the C7er3s in tiger ebony and P3esr in Rosewood.Both beautiful.
I listen to pretty much everything nowadays, but nothing too loud (I save that for when I drive:)). Mostly vocal and small ensemble.
Currently I have Naim gear. Unfortunately I am not in NY area, but might be able to find something in Southern California.
Thank you!! My new speakers were delivered and setup around 1:30 PM and it's been on stop listening to music ever since. My wife and I started out with Melody Gardot, then Tears for Fears, Steely Dan, Talking Heads... and the list goes on. I was shocked at the beauty of the Tiger Ebony. My dealer lent me some HL5 stands because the ones ordered from Resonant Woods in New Hampshire aren't ready yet.
I wish you luck in your endeavor and I don't think either would be a bad choice. It would be a hard decision for me as well and might even come down to price. I listen to similar music as you do so you should stick with your tube plan or class A for solid state. Class a/b is okay but not ideal in my experience.
Here's my experience with Harbeth and VAC:
Vac 160i SE here with Harbeth 40.2 and took me awhile but am very pleased now. It took tube rolling, power conditioning upgrade, tweak room acoustics (rugs corner bass panels) and lot of experimenting with speaker positioning to get it dialed in to sound awesome. It is in living room so there was some limitations in room but always sounded good just needed experimentation to get bass deep and tight.
They had a fairly large room set up at the NY Audio show with the Harbeth 40.1 and VAC large monoblocks - not sure which model, and a very sophisticated turntable as the source. To my great surprise the overall presentation was not very exciting to my ears, particularly the bass/midbass regions. I don't know if it was the music content or the sound was "too" neutral as compared to some other systems I heard before and after, or I simply expected too much, but I left the room underimpressed.
I lived with a pair of Harbeth C7 for about a year using a Rogue Cronus Magnum 2 amp. From my experience tube amps seem a bit slow for the Harbeth. I would go for a SS amp, something like a LFD, Naim, Sudgen, Hegel or Exposure. All great matches for Harbeth. I haven't listen to the VAC but I did have a chance to listen to the Leben and I will say that the Leben CS600 sounds very good with Harbeth speakers. With that said, I still would personally would go with a SS amp. Although, I did not end up upgrading my C7s and selling them, I was very close to getting a pair of SHL5+ and the Hegel H360 amp. Good luck!
I used a Rogue Cronus Magnum with Harbeth SHL5+ and did not like the pairing at all. As a result of that experience, I swore off using Harbeth with tubes....until some Agon members encouraged me to give tubes another go.
I recently switched from a high powered solid state amp to an Air Tight ATM-2, which is based on the KT 88 tube like the VAC Sigma.
This is a tube amp that mates incredibly well with Harbeth.
Since you predominantly listen to vocals and small ensemble, the better tube amps might do a better job than your current Naim. I do not have experience with Sugden but have read about their smooth and warm sounding signature.
Which Naim amp do you own? Nycjlee gave some good recommendations on solid-state amplification for the Harbeth. LFD, Naim and Exposure are more on dynamics (I have experience with LFD and Naim). As for the Hegel and Sugden, my impression is these are smoother and darker sounding amps, less dynamic and fireworks. Best is to listen and decide for yourself.
FWIW I chose Naim separates (NAC 282, Hicap DR and NAP 250 DR) to match with the Harbeth SHL5 Plus as the Naims are able to deliver the pace, rhythm and dynamic swings in the music very well with the Harbeth. Ditto the LFD and Exposure (the LFD has a slight tube-like glow despite being solid-state). If you want more sweetness or tube-like warmth or glow in vocals, there will be other amplifiers, especially tube amps that may be better than the Naims or any solid-state amp for that matter, though there might be a slight compromise in areas of speed and dynamics. The Harbeth may sound slow and uninspiring with certain solid-state amps such as Rega and Plinius.
As usual, the above are my experience based on my system and preferences. YMMV.
I do not have a dedicated amplifier since I wanted to keep my system as simple as possible. Currently, I'm using Naim Unitilite and assume that a good dedicated amp will be a step up. It's a 50wpc.
The Ulite will go to my wife's system (with P3esr) and I'll find something good for no more than 6k.
Since you already have the Naim Unitilite for the P3ESR, best is to go with something else other than Naim. The C7ES3 is one of my favourite Harbeth speakers alongside the SHL5 Plus. I have listened to the Leben CS600 at a friend’s place driving the M40.1 (he also has the P3ESR). We compared the Leben with other amps such as Naim 32.5/135, Exposure 2010S and LFD Zero LEIII just to name a few (he has many solid-state amps). The transparency and detail of the Leben CS600 are exceptional, something which the other solid-state amps could not match. The Leben sounded leaner, lighter and more refined than all solid-state amps we have tried (which sounded darker in comparison). Ultimately the CS600 falls a little short in the power department for the 40.1s but it surely has potential.
Since you have listened to the Leben CS600, presumably with your C7ES3, that is the best experience that you can have. Best is to listen to other options such as the VAC before making the plunge. For the types of music that you listen to, I suspect a high quality tube amp will be more suitable for your application. Good luck.
Just to clarify. I had the Rega Elicit Mk2 and Krell KPS-30i with the SHL5s. It was a subpar combination which sounded a little dull in my experience. I have read about the newer Brio-R and Elicit-R(Mk3) sounding more lively and forward than the older Elicit and Brio-3 models. Perhaps these newer Rega integrateds may have matched the Harbeth well.
I have now added a more transparent and analog-sounding DAC (Chord QBD76) to complement the darker sounding Krell CD player. It is amazing what a quality source can do to the sound. It surely helps to put a little emphasis on the source as it is equally as important as the amplification, in my experience.
I have used a VAC Sigma 160i with the Harbeth Super HL5+ and it was a very solid match. I've also used Naim, Sugden and other ss amps with Harbeth with limited success. None had the magic that the VAC did. A year ago, I attended AXPONA and visited the Vinnie Rossi room where he was using his gear with the 40.2s. It was the best match I've ever heard with Harbeth. I am currently running the LIO with P3's and I couldn't be happier. This may be interesting: