I happen to own both the Manley Chinook SE as well as the Herron VTPH-2A. I picked up the Chinook a couple of years ago from UA and, interestingly enough, at the time they had a lightly used Herron unit for sale for $2,595 which I also considered. After speaking with Kevin, I ultimately went with the Chinook, which he felt strongly would be a better performer vs. the Herron.
Having lived with the Chinook for some time, I can say that it has many virtues. It’s dead silent, has a very organic presentation and pretty good resolution. It’s not a highly analytical phono preamp but it’s very accurate and I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with it (using it with an SME 10 and Sumiko Palos Santos Presentation cartridge).
Mind you, in direct comparisons with streamed MQA files at 24bits/96kHZ resolution, there were times that I felt the Chinook wasn’t as distinguished in its performance as I would have hoped (I found myself at times preferring the digital file via my Brooklyn Bridge streamer/DAC). Also, I was always curious what I might have missed WRT the Herron. After recently picking up a new VPI for my second system, I ended up purchasing a lightly used VTPH-2A last month, which has allowed me to make direct comparisons with the Chinook in my main (SME-based) system.
In summary and from my vantage point, the Herron is measurably superior to the Chinook in pretty much every way. It’s equally as silent, with the music emerging from a truly black background, but it has a much better soundstage presentation with more layers of dimensionality. It has airier highs without sounding stringent, a more dynamic articulation, more base punch and a spooky dimensionality that the Chinook lacks. I find myself raising my head all the time admiring how the music is being presented on material that I’m totally familiar with - - I seldom found myself having the same reaction with the Chinook, and to me that was the biggest proof point of the Herron’s superiority.
While I know that Keith Herron discourages tube rolling, I also have experimented with some NOS tubes as the prior owner had swapped out the original tubes with a set of Genalex Gold Lion reissues. I’m now running Telefunken 12AX7 Red Tips in the 1st gain stage, Brimar 6060 / CV4024 Yellow-Ts in the 2nd gain stage and a Telefunken ECC801S in the output stage. This tube complement definitely improved much of the above, particularly as it relates to soundstage dimensionality and the spookiness factor. It also improved treble articulation.
In any case, I hope this provides some perspectives on my experience with each phono preamp.