Herron VTSP-2a vs EAR 324


Has anyone heard both of these phono preamps? I'd love to hear impressions. I've had the Herron so I know what it sounds like so I'm using it as a point of reference, but I'm thinking of a non tube phone preamp. Cartridge is a Decca London Super Gold so I'm using MM only.
dhcod
It makes little sense to compare one phono preamplifier to another because they are all imperfect, noisy, distorted devices why not compare the sound of a particular Music Reproduction System component to the sound of actual music?
Hmmm. Because specifically tube components sound different than solid state components and in this particular case, I'm comparing only these two very different units? I know from experience that both of these companies reproduce music exceptionally well, but I'm interested in the difference in the presentation, noise level, etc between the two so I can make a buying decision based on the opinions of people here who are generally pretty smart.
Right. Phono stages are a real challenge. Ideally they would be all tube designs because, well, sound better. But its real hard to get as low noise level as we’d like. The Herron is a good compromise. I have the 2A, its awesome. Have tried enough SS to never even want to bother any more. Would be more likely to try all-tube. But who am I kidding? The Herron is a forever thing.

Still, that said, if there was one SS I would try it would be one from Tim dP. All his designs I have heard are very good. Not hardly SS sounding at all. Quite the opposite. Its almost as if a very talented designer set out to make solid state sound like someone’s romanticized idea of a tube design. I would expect you will hear a near dead silent black presentation with just a shade more bloom and glow than you’re getting right now from the more neutral Herron.

Which is more accurate, when they get this close to perfection, who can say? Heck who cares? At this level its all about whatever you enjoy the most.
  dhcod "I'm interested in the difference in the presentation, noise level, etc between the two so I can make a buying decision based on the opinions of people"

That is a very poor, unsatisfactory, incomplete way to "make a buying decision" is that how you buy other products not intended for use in your Music Reproduction System would you buy a boat or car that way?
Well, have you ever been on the website bringatrailer.com? People buy cars and boats and motorcycles, some incredibly expensive, in just this way. It’s a vibrant community of enthusiasts who post opinions and suggestions, somewhat similar to here. I can simply listen to the comments of people whose opinions I have may have read before on other matters, and then purchase and item that just may work for me. And then if it doesn’t, just resell it!

Not sure what the problem is here, but please have a nice day!

dhcod
"
Well, have you ever been on the website bringatrailer.com? People buy cars and boats and motorcycles, some incredibly expensive, in just this way."

I would never buy a car without driving it first or a boat without a sea trial but of course you are free to make those types of decisions such as buying Music Reproduction System Component's based on the opinion of other's who you may not even know or ever even meet!
Thanks millercarbon I think that's exactly where I stand right now. Tempted. Thanks for a very useful response!
It doesn't have to be all tubes vs all SS.  There are several hybrid designs that use discrete transistors in conjunction with tubes to achieve high gain with low noise.  Manley makes two such phono stages, but there are more.
Have you ever tried to get a hold of Tim de Paravicini or get service from EAR???   Great sounding products, but after sales service is non-existent based on my experience.  Don't expect Keith Herron type of service from EAR.

@dhcod, Here’s some info that may be of some value and/or use to you:

Long time Decca user and enthusiast Ken Kessler of Hi-Fi News & Record Review reviewed the 324, and loved it. But then he’s a big Tim de Paravicini fan ;-) . Look up the review for more details. Ken noted one interesting feature of the 324: it has a 15k resistance setting on the MM input, which Decca cartridges like to work into (some feel).

The Zesto Andros phono stage does too. Suspecting designer George Counnas put it there for a reason, I asked him (at the S.California Hi-Fi Show a few years back) if the 15k setting was for Deccas. He said yes, he put that in for the fair number of industry people he knows who use Deccas. You’re in good company!

The most important ability of a phono stage for use with Deccas/Londons is the amp’s overload margin: how much signal it can handle without distorting. That 5mV output of Decca/Londons is too hot for many phone amps, which are optimized for low output cartridges. The Schitt Audio Mani has an input labeled "Decca Mode", providing only 30dB of gain!

Another good solid state phono stage for Deccas is the Liberty Audio B2B-1, which has the highest overload capability of any phono stage John Atkinson has ever measured, regardless of price. Mike Fremer reviewed it, and found it to have a slightly solid state (it uses FET’s) sound, in both good (extremely good bass) and not-so-good ways. Read his review for more info.

By-the-way, if you are tempted by the EAR 324 currently listed here on Audiogon, $2500 is an excellent price, and if I had the spare dough right now I’d buy it myself! I’m very happy with my Herron VTPH-1mm, but wouldn’t mind having both. ;-) Another by-the-way: the improvements made to bring the VTPH into -2 status are mostly in the mc section of the amp. If you aren’t using the mc input, the -1mm might be all you need. Good luck finding one, though! I got mine directly from Keith, who had one that had been traded in. He updated it, burned in and tested it, and sent along extra tubes to provide both 42dB and 44dB of gain. Great guy, great phono stage.

You might want to take a look at Whest audio pre amps Best Phonostage and Phono Pre-Amp for Vinyl once you own a Whest pre amp you will only stay with them, check out their reviews.
I have an 324 and think its the best ive had. Low noise and very smooth ,dynamic,and articulate. Never owned a herron but i have had an aesthetix rhea, no comparison. Then I upgraded the aethetix to the signature model(+$3000) with all nos tubes($$  ?)It was very close, had a hard time deciding but I sold the aesthetix and kept the ear. Also owned a BAT p5, and mcintosh pre with phono. Ear was better. I have heard many sytems that are very expensive and can't imagine that an ear 324 would be the weak link.  However, my cartridges all are moving coil, I don't know how the mm stage sounds.
I know where there is a Herron MM phono preamp for a good price.  Keith’s stuff is fantastic, the EAR stuff is good as well but I am more of a tube guy myself....the Best SS phono preamp for a decent price was the RCM Sensor II.  Good luck1
@dhcod: Say, have you tried 5751 tubes in place of the stock 12AX7's in your Herron? They're interchangeable, 5751's just providing less gain than 12AX7's. Deccas hardly need the extra gain, and the 5751 may afford a greater overload margin. Frank Van Alstine uses 5751's in his Dynaco PAS mod, and the AVA PAS 2 I had in the '80's was the quietest tube pre I've ever owned.
bdp24 I actually don't have the Herron any more. I was just using it a point of reference. I loved it with my prior cartridges but with the Decca I found a couple phono preamps that sounded better. Thanks so much for your other advice though! Really helpful.

Thanks cdavids449! I have heard the Aethetix and that's a great comparison for me. I bought the 324 listed here. Hopefully it'll be what I'm looking for. It'll certainly be a very interesting and fun experiment.
Dhcod..you'll be happy, a lot less tubes to worry about! Lol
So the 324 is quite good. Not sure it’s as tactile or has as good of soundstage as a top tube phono pre but no noise is a pretty good trade off.... so far. One thing for sure is the 324 benefits from being left on. I wasn't sure at first but I think after a week it really started to sound good, different. I’ll swap back in a tube phono this weekend and decide which one stays.
@dhcod , have you tried the 15k setting with the Super Gold yet?
I've experimented with the settings and I have to say I'm not hearing much of a difference with any of them. I have tried both inputs and the MM only input sounds better for sure, yet all the impedance and capacitance values sound basically the same.
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I demoed an Accession for a couple weeks. It was really enjoyable sounding. Not at the level of the 324 but pretty incredible for 1/4 of the price.
dhcod, I don't know anything about the mm section but when using the mc section I didn't hear much of a difference between settings until I realized there is a small pushbutton on the back of the ear that engages and disengages the transformers. After the button was pushed, there was a big difference in the settings. That same button may have something to do with the mm button or there may be a different pushbutton. They are small and easy to miss
Thanks for the info. I've tried all the options. I don't think it's uncommon to not hear a difference. Some cartridges are affected more than others.
Ended up sticking with the 324 over a few tube phonos (all in the same price range.) Not 100% satisfied because the mids aren't quite as silky smooth and the imaging isn't as cohesive but I really missed the bass when I swapped the 324 out.

Never ending quest.
Final report, in case anyone is following it. I enjoyed the EAR 324 for a couple months but the more I listened, I realized I just wasn't happy with the presentation. Vocals were more out front than I prefer and guitars were not as present, a bit muted even. Dynamics and bass are excellent however so I moved up to a Lamm LP2, which seems to be giving me everything in a much more pleasing presentation. Hard to beat tubes in in a phono preamp.
@dhcod, will you be selling the EAR?
Already gone. I sold it for more than I paid for the first time every in my life! Ebay in like 3 hours.
I told you that $2500 you paid was an excellent price! ;-)