I loved my VTSP-3 and felt it was perfect in every respect. When I learned that Keith Herron had redesigned this wonderful preamp and was offering an upgrade to the new VTSP-3A status for a very modest charge, I initially hesitated because I did not see how he could improve on perfection. Despite my doubts, I took the plunge and sent my VTSP-3 back for the upgrade. In less than three weeks I received my new VTSP-3A and could not wait to reinsert it in my system. What a stunning product! Keith did not upgrade my VTSP-3--he transformed it into an absolutely incredible preamp. He is selling himself short by calling his new preamp the VTSP-3A. It should be the VTSP-5 [the number "4" is bad luck in some parts of Asia]. This new preamp is superlative in every way. Anyone who is looking for a preamp--regardless of cost--must audition this product. Anyone who owns a VTSP-3 MUST take advantage of the upgrade Keith is offering. You will find the modest charge for the upgrade to be the best money you have every spent in this hobby. I have owned some very good preamps over the thirty plus years I have been in this hobby including top of the line preamps from companies such as CAT, First Sound, Sonic Frontiers, Krell, Pass and others. I have auditioned for extended periods of time other top preamps from Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, Levinson, etc. The VTSP-3A is hands down the best of the best. It is dead quiet, absolutely transparent--crystal clear in its transparency--extremely detailed, a champ in sound staging, tonally perfect,and VERY musical. My favorite aspect of this preamp is the truth and accuracy of its tonality. A bell sounds exactly like a bell. A wooden instrument sounds exactly like it should. The preamp has incredible bass and beautiful treble that extends beyond the limits of your hearing. This preamp does not reproduce sound--it is a transducer that conveys the actual true sound that your brain recognizes as the real thing. In addition to my spending a great deal of time listening to music, I have an extensive collection of movies on DVD that I play through my stereo system. The VTSP-3A makes the movies come alive. I am hearing ambient sounds and details that I never knew existed on various sound tracks. The realism of the voices and of the sounds produced by the Herron is uncanny and greatly enhances my enjoyment of music and movies alike. I have no ties to Herron Audio and I am not a dealer. I merely am a very appreciative customer who would encourage anyone who is looking for the best to give the VTSP-3A a listen. You will be hooked if you give it a try. Keith Herron is to be commended for his undying search for perfection. He is a genius in engineering who happens to have a love for music. His products are dead reliable, and his design is kind to the tubes--they last forever in his preamps. The VTSP-3 and VTSP-3A are preamps that you can and should leave on 24-7--without any worry about tube wear. Herron preamps do not need tube life meters like the Reference 3 or Reference 5. At 4,000 hours, the Herron's tubes have not used any appreciable percentage of their useful life. There are no gimmicks here--just a wonderful product that is worth every dollar of your investment.
Kclone and Sflazor,
What amplification are you using with your VTSP-3A's? I', running my VTSP-2 with Herron M-150's right now and I'll tell ya, there much be some sort of synergistic effect going on because the M-150's sound like they've been put on steroids since introducing the VTSP-2. I was using an Ultraverve with very good NOS tubes before introducing the VTSP-2 into the mix.
Bill, I bet there is no doubt there is great synergy between the VTSP-2 and the M-150s. For me, I am using the Modwright KWA 150. I thought about maybe getting the M-150s, but now I just do not see the need, since introducing the VTSP-3A I don't see the need to do anything to my system. I had planned on playing around with speaker placement, not now, everything sound so good. I am planning on doing some room treatments, but again I don't see the need(however, I'm still going to go through with room treatments.) It is kind of like the VTSP-3A took care of all the sins in my system. How about you Bill, are you thinking about moving upgrading to the VTSP-3A?
Slazor, good post. like you I have heard my fair share of preamps. I have had preamps from Thor, Unison Research, PS Audio, ASL Twin Head II, Pathos, Audio Research REF 5, Red Wine Audio Isabella, and Musical Fidelity. I'm not ready to say it is the best out there, but it is certainly better than anything else I have heard or had in my system.
Agree on all the comments about the spectacular sonics of the VTSP3a (Disclosure: I sell Herron gear, Departure Audio). What I think doesn't get recognized enough with this piece is how intelligently it's designed and how good the ergonomics are. There are really useful features in this pre, i.e. balance, mono, phase, hi/lo gain, more than enough inputs/outputs, etc. It's also a joy to use with a large, readable remote-controlled volume display in fine increments. As noted, the tubes are run very conservatively and produce almost no noise. Reliability is also first rate. This is a very easy tube preamp for any music lover to own. It can assimilate easily into most any system and deliver its special magic immediately.
Billspecfoc inquired regarding what amp I am using with my VTSP-3A. I am using a Jeff Rowland Model 10, which is a two chassis (separate control unit and power supply) 150 wpc solid state amp that I love. The synergy with the Herron is perfect. I have also used the Herron with an Reference Line amp that has 100 WPC pure Class A output. The Herron was perfect with the Reference Line also. One nice feature of the Herron is that it affords the user the ability to switch the preamp between a low gain and a high gain setting. With the Reference Line amp I use the low gain setting, but with the Rowland I prefer the high gain setting. The preamp is dead quiet on both settings. It is easy to switch between the two gain settings. One merely holds down the "phono" button for three seconds and the preamp switches from one gain setting to the other. When the preamp is switching from one gain setting to the other, it automatically mutes itself. Keith Herron thinks of everything.
Hi Guys, you have really stirred up my anticipation. My VTSP-3 is at Herron Audio now being updated to the 3A and I should get it back the week after next.Keith's audio equipment is everything that you have already stated,the best that I have ever used. I am using the Parasound Halo JC-1 mono amps in my system with the VTSP-3a.
Wow! A Herron thread!!
I love Keith's gear and think he must be one of the most underrated designers in audio. Whatever he makes...pre-amp, phono-amp, power amp - it just sounds like - MUSIC. Plus they are reliable and worry free. Why doesn't Keith get more ink???
I had Keith's VTSP-1a-166 and M150s and it was heavenly with my Alons.
I do think there's a definite synergy between the Herron pre-amps and power amps. I tried Rowland with my speaks ages ago but thought the Herron/Herron combo was terrific. I highly recommend the amps as well as the pre's, they simply don't get the praise they deserve.
I too had tried many big name preamps: Hovland, First Sound, ARC, Cat, Joule-Electra etc. For me the Herron just maed music sound "alive" and natural. The gear itself doesn't really "sound" like anything at all. It just gets the heck outa the way and lets the music roll.
I can't say enough good things about Herron gear, Herron service and Herron quality. Can't wait to hear the newest preamp, and hope this piece helps spread the word about Keith's products.
Violin, yeah from what SFlazor posted above, it sounds like the 3A is considerbly better than the 3. Let us know your thoughts after it comes in.
I have been spending some more time listening, I still can't get over how good this preamp is and I'm still using the stock power cord and I have it plugged in to the wall too. I mentioned in my initial post, the Herron pretty much ehances or improves all aspects of the sound. I would describe it as a preamp that does not have any trade offs. It has good spacing, air, warmth, soundstaging, imaging, tone, yet at the same time has outstanding frequency extension and detail.
Interesting thread. I've been eyeing the VTSP-2, though, that is in my short list with the Lamm LL2, First Sound Presence, and Joule LA-150, to be paired with a McIntosh MC275. Any thoughts sound-wise from experienced Herron owners who have also had First Sound and/or Lamm?
Lewinskih01, if Tvad is reading this thread, he could advise you regarding the LL2 and First Sound preamps, not sure about the Joule. IIRC, he said the LL2 is very system-dependent. If he doesn't pipe up here, you could always email him.
Rackon, I agree with you. Until this thread appeared I thought that I was the only one on Agon that owned any Herron gear and wondered why more people did not mention Herron Audio.
Lewinskih01, I also have a Joule Electra LA 150 II and there are differences. In my system the LA 150 has great bass and mid-range, actually a little too much warmth,IMHO to be absolutely accurate, but the top end gets constricted when called on to reproduce the treble at loud passages.I understand that the A mod to the VTSP increases it's low end and overall dynamics which I thought were pretty great before.However I cannot comment on the A mod until I get my unit back and it breaks in.
In my system, I definitely prefer the Herron even as just the 3 over the LA 150.
I just updated from #3 to 3A and I must agree with Sfazor.
I was very happy with my VTSP-3 but the upgrade to 3A status has been a revelation. Greater transparency, extended dynamics and more punch in the bass are immediately apparent. I also noticed more stereo separation.
I live in Australia and it took 1 month. It cost me more in shipping than the upgrade cost so I would say it was great value.
What I like a lot is the fact you have an upgrade path from previous models and don't need to go buy a whole new unit.
Also, Herron gear is not outrageously expensive like some other more well known hi-end brands. Plus the fact that Keith Herron is always on hand with help or advice makes it a no brainer for me.
I'm a BIG fan!
I had the First Sound in my system for many months - I know people who love it. In my system, the FS was very good but ultimately a bit leaner than I like, and I didn't realize by how much until I put the Herron in.
Remember, I was using the hot-rodded version of Keith's original preamp - not the 2, the 3 or 3a. The FS is excellent, excelling most comparable pres in bass and dynamics. But I felt the Herron had all that plus it was just...rounder...more natural sounding...totally effortless...just as dynamic...it's very hard to describe the differences actually, because the Herron gear doesn't really have a "sound". How do you describe the "flow" of music Herron achieves??? I haven't heard anything like it except with ginormously expensive components. While I was listening to music through the Herron I wasn't aware of anything missing at all - the sound was "whole". Completely satisfying.
Now, having heard the VTSP2 and 3, I know that those models do in fact improve on my pre - better bass, solidity, dynamics and air...but again, I was never aware of those qualities being lacking in the slightest with my pre in operation...even Keith's first preamps produce music of a whole cloth, very satisfying.
Lastly, and this might be a small thing for most people, but I also preferred the ergonomics of the Herron over the FS. It was just easier for me to use.
I loved my Joule Electra LA 150, as I'd loved the LA 100 MkII before it. The 150 is a wonderful preamp...as is its predecessor, but it's definitely on the warm side of neutral. Not by tons, but it defintely is. You can get it custom tweaked to suit your system, and it does better with an after market PC too (that tends to wake the J-E's up a bit).
I could've lived very happily with the Joule. I describe it as making music "more beautiful" than real life, and many people are seduced by this quality. If the FS and the Joule are the yin and yang of the audio spectrum, then the Herron is in the middle. But the Herron definitely beats the Joule in dynamics and top end, especially in big, complex orchestral music.
Never heard the Lamm in my system, and I would imagine it is superb, but possibly more system dependent than the Herron.
I think Keith makes killer preamps and amps for very modest prices, especially considering the quality. Not statement pieces, just amazingly musical gear. He and his wife are true music lovers - the Herron room always sounds excellent at any audio show, no matter how bad the room, no excuses, just good music. That's the kind of philosophy I can believe in.
Thanks guys for the very good feedback!
It's really too bad I cannot listen to any of these components.
It's not the first time I read something about the First Sound leaning to the lean side in some systems. I'm thinking it might be too risky with my B&W 804S, even with the Rel on tap. BTW, amp is McIntosh MC275. I love everything else I read about FS, including references to Mr Go, but it might not be best for my system.
I've talked to a couple of LL2 and McIntosh tube amp owners and they love the match. However, at about the same sound quality, ergonomics in the Herron are an attractive plus. Interesting. Does it include a phono section? I see a Phono input, but no comments about the section.
Any and all further comments on these units are very welcomed!
You need a phono stage for the Herron. Herron's own unit is a very good match as you would imagine.
Herron makes one of the best phono stages in audio.
Lewinski, is not having a built in phono a dealer killer?
Kclone: no, not a deal killer at all. BTW, you didn't mean dealer killer did you?? you don't like your dealer too much, ah? :-)
Just wanted to know to understand what one gets for the price. The LL2 and the First Sound don't have a phono either, and I don't have a turntable although at some point I'd like to.
I had thought the VTSP-2, with all its ergonomic features, traded some sonic benefits for ergonomics, very much like a McIntosh C220. I guess I was dead wrong.
Looks like the VTSP-2 goes straight into my short list.
Thanks for the great tip!
I only have a problem with dealers that call me Francis.:). Yeah, I wish there was and edit button. Oh well. Correct me if I am wrong, but it looks like neither the First Sound and the LL2 have remote control. That might matter depending on what your listening habits are. For me, I have a computer as a source. Of course this allows me to choose any song from any album at any time. Most of the recordings have different loudness so since I do a lot of switching it is nice to have the remote since I adjust the volume levels frequently. If had a cd player or table as a source, then it wouldn't matter as much. In that situation I normally would just play that one artist or album during the listening session. Being able to control sources from the Herron remote is a nice too. Anyway, good luck with whatever direction you decide to go, looks like you have a great preamps on your list.
My herron takes me to the live concert! When i play orchestra i can enjoy his sonic performance on bass, the mids and treble...all is perfectly balanced.
I have been looking for a new preamp and I keep coming back to the Herron 3A as one to try. The Herron has great features, which I would consider a bonus, although my only consideration is sonic performance and I really don't care about remote volume, etc. I do however, think the phase and gain adjustments on the 3/3A are beneficial. My question for current owners of the 3 or 3A is, how does the bass reproduction compare to other top contenders? For comparison, preamps I have owned that had what I consider to be good bass reproduction with adequate weight, power, and definition include a CAT SL1 Ultimate MkII, Lamm LL2 Deluxe, and TEAD Vibe with Pulse power supply.
I understand Herron products are known for a natural tonality and quietness (two attributes I am looking for), however not at the expense of other key factors. The only Herron products I have owned were a pair of M1 monos, which sounded beautiful, refined and conveyed an uncommon naturalness, but which for me didn't provide sufficient power and weight, especially in the bass. I have read similar comments about the first two iterations of the preamp being neutral and natural sounding, but somewhat "light" in the bass. Does the VTSP-3A truly improve on those earlier models in areas of warmth and bass impact?
Hi Mitch, deep bass is so dependent on a lot of things, not just the preamp.First it has to be present on the record or Disc. I have a dedicated listening room which is 23' lg and that calculates to a room resonant frequency of 24HZ for that length.In this room with the Herron 3 I get a solid 25hz bass when measured with a Real Time Analyzer and calibrated mike.Herron is shipping my modded 3A this Friday and I am very eager to listen to the improvements.
To answer your question IMHO, if you have a room whose dimensions will allow deep bass and speakers that can reproduce it, then you should have no trouble. The Herron preamp can certainly provide the deep base signal to the amps.
I believe that you would be very satisfied with the 3 or 3A.
Mitch2, the VTSP-3A has incredible bass. I have auditioned/owned many of the top contenders from CAT, Conrad Johnson, First Sound, Modright, Audio Research, etc. and none of them matches the bass I get from the VTSP-3A with my Rowland Model 10 amp. I am using Proac speakers and one would think that I have a subwoofer given the terrific bass in my system. Your interconnects and speaker cables are two variables you must consider also. I have found that the quality and quantity of bass will vary greatly with changes in your interconnects and speaker cables. I am using Shunyata Antares speaker cables and the newest Wireworld Silver Eclipse interconnects and have found they are both champs in detail, clarity, and frequency extensiion (bass and treble alike).
I agree with Sflazor. No need to be concerned about the bass performance from the VTSP-3A. However, just like Violin said, there is a lot of other factors involved as well.
Hi Guys, one , if not the biggest improvements that I have heard from a change to my system occurred last year when I replaced the stock power cord for the VTSP-3 with a Synergistic Research Tesla T-2 power cord. The improvement was noticeable in all areas. Later, I also installed a SR Teslaplex wall outlet and that added even more improvement but not the equal to the power cord change. That was huge.
By the way, Keith shipped my 3A yesterday and I should have it Tuesday. I will report on my observations after burn in.
Thanks guys. My speakers (Aerial 9) and amps (Clayton M300's) will do the bass if the preamp passes it through. My current Lamm LL2 does a fine job of that, and so did my TEAD Vibe/Pulse, although a bit less dynamic but slightly better defined than the Lamm. The CAT was absolutely killer in the bass, but had other issues I liked slightly less than with the Lamm. I enjoyed the clarity, tonality and purity of the midrange I heard when I had the Herron M1 amps, but I have never owned his preamps and was concerned with comments I have read about perhaps too much neutrality and not enough body, warmth, and bass. It sounds like he has bridged that gap with the 3/3A so I will consider giving it a try. I really could use a good balanced preamp, but have pretty much given up on that since most of the best I have heard in my price range have all been single-ended. Thanks again for your comments about the Herrons.
If and when you get the Herron, please post your impressions. I'm especially interested in how it compares with your Lamm, as these two are in my short list and I have no way to audition both in my system.
Thank you and have fun!
Hi everyone,I got my VTSP-3A preamp back from Herron Audio four days ago and it has been on continually since. Although it is still breaking in, I can discern several areas of definite improvement. The most obvious to me is in dynamics.It will now rock your boat from a dynamic standpoint. The width of stage is wider and more defined and the depth of stage seems to go straight back from the sides with no truncation from the sides toward the center. I thought that the VTSP-3 was quiet but the 3A seems quieter in that it allows more space between notes. This is particularly evident on solo piano music but is also noticeable in general listening. Tonality wise it is spot on in my humble opinion. After having played the violin for nearly 60 years and in several symphony orchestras as a reference, I feel that the 3A reproduces the true timber of instruments very realistically.
As it continues to break in ,I will update any further changes that I notice.
Checked Herron's website, but can't make out which tubes are being used...
Are they 5687s or the ubiquitous 6922/12AX7 variants??
Can these be rolled?
What's the retail price?
They can be rolled, but it seems for those of us that have heard the 3A don't see the need to roll because it sounds good enough as it is.
Kclone I agree with you completely. My 3A that I just got back last Monday has improved so much just breaking in that I do not see how any tube rolling would help.
After listening to my updated VTSP-3A (from VTSP-3) for a few weeks I would like to add a few comments.
Much more detail and dynamics with greater bass heft are the main plusses. Also increased soundstage width and depth are more apparent with greater stereo separation.
I bi-amp using 4 Herron Audio M-1 monoblocks. Before the upgrade I used to listen at about 48 on the pre. Since the upgrade it is down to 38. Anything above 42-45 got a bit harsh for me. This is due in part because of prolonged break in and, I think more importantly, the fact that Keith Herrron has reprogrammed the volume contour so it gets a good deal louder after about 35. What I have done (as Keith suggested) is drop down from full gain to half gain on the pre. This was a good move I believe as it enables me to use a greater range of volume. It has also reduced the harshness I was experiencing to almost none and I'm sure it will go right away with full break in. A big thanks to Keith Herron!
You can roll the tubes - but I don't see the point.
1. The preamps already sound superb. SUPERB.
2. Keith voices the Herron gear incredibly cunningly. He chooses his tubes exceedingly carefully, for reliability as well as fidelity. These things are darned near bombproof. He designs around these specifically chosen tubes, ones that he knows will sound great and give long life without changing sound. They aren't exotic, so you can replace them if you ever need to.
3. Part of the beauty of Herron gear is it's neutral without being colorless or lean - neutral in the best sense of that word i.e. "natural" sounding, just getting the hell outa the way of the music.
4. Although Herron gear is less sensitive to cables and PCs than most tube gear I've had (and that's true of the Herron ss amps too), you'd probably get more mileage for less trouble by replacing the stock cord than rolling the tubes.
5. Every dedicated tube roller I know of that swapped out the stock tubes eventually put 'em back. You look at the humble stock tube and think: "what if I substituted XYZ NOS tube? Must be awesome..." Not. Please see #2 and #3 above.
6. If, after all that, you just have to swap the tubes, talk to Keith first. Really.
Nice to hear so many posted on Herrons. I have a different story, I am a very early user of VTSP-2, loved the unit. Upgraded to version 2, than to version 3. I did not like Ver.3 at all and actually swapped it back!! I found it has more performance but robbed the silly smooth highs. I just felt it's somehow a little harsh or to say less relaxes. Version 2 sounds more like a tube amp and version 3 is too neutral that leans towards SS! I wonder what sonic character is 3A compared to version3
more neutral or more emotion
Is anyone out there using any tube dampers in their Herron pre's? Also, what about isolation devices underneath the pre? Right now, I just have mine sitting on a Flexi-rack made out of hard maple shelves, about 1.25" thick. Thanks.
Based on a recommendation from Sflazor, I am using Still Points under mine.
Luna, the VTSP-3A is head and shoulders above the VTSP-3. It is far more musical. I find myself saying over and over, "That is a beautiful piece of music." The 3A is so perfect that I never feel inclined to use the word "neutral." Neutral is far too sterile a term to use when describing the 3A. I would not use the words "tube like" either because those terms can imply that a preamp is warm and slow. The 3A just sounds like the TRUTH. When I listen to the 3A, I feel like it is perfect in every way. You certainly know that you are listening to a tube preamp rather than a solid state preamp because no solid state preamp sounds this liquid and life-like. The 3A is not lacking in any respect. As you listen to it, you will find that you finally will quit looking for more or for better in any aspect of its performance. The bass is fabulous; the treble is extended beyond the capabilities of one's hearing; and its voicing is just plain SWEET and BEAUTIFUL. If any of you have not yet heard the 3A, you absolutely must listen to this wonderful preamp. Keith Herron should have called it the VTSP-5 rather than the 3A--he deserves the recognition that such a change in numbering or name would have garnered. He did not merely upgrade the 3A; he took his already great preamp to an entirely different level of performance. I have listened to the Audio Research Reference 3, the Conrad Johnson CT-5, the Krell Evolution 202, Parasound Halo JC2, VTL 6.5 and 7.5, Modwright 36.5 and many others--none of these can touch the Herron VTSP-3A for accuracy of timbre, for sonic realism, or for beauty and clarity of sound. I am not a dealer, and I have no allegiance to Herron Audio other than the fact that I LOVE this preamp and highly respect the gentleman who has put so much effort into providing the best piece of equipment possible. The VTSP-3A is an absolute steal at its selling price. Billspecfoc inquired about the use of tube dampers or footers. I have not tried tube dampers and would not recommend them. If they would be a source of sonic improvement, you can be sure Keith Herron would ship the VTSP-3A with tube dampers. They are inexpensive and there would be no reason not to use them if they mattered on this preamp. Footers are another story--I highly recommend Stillpoints. I have installed them under every piece of gear in my system other than my Rowland Model 10 amp. This amp is so inert in its design that I did not notice any improvement when it was used with Stillpoints or any other footers or isolation devices. The Stillpoints add a worthwhile touch of clarity and focus to every other component in my system. Again, the clarity and focus that they add comes with no negatives--they do not instill any sterility or any clinical sound. They just sound RIGHT and true to my ears. As you undoubtedly can gather from my remarks, I highly value accuracy of timbre, clarity, detail, beauty or sweetness of sound in the sense of realism and liquidity, deep bass, and extended treble. The VTSP-3A and the Stillpoints exhibit these characteristics in spades. Give them both a try--you will not look back.
Luna and others: anyone has an opinion about the sound differences of VTSP-2 vs. Lamm LL2? It will be used with a McIntosh MC275.
I understand the differences in ergonomics and other features, but can't listen to both. I've talked to people who own the LL2 and the 275, but no one with the VTSP2 and 275.
Thanks for the info, Sflazor and Kclone.
Thanks for the info, Sfflzor, I really like my VTSP2 so much that I may be biased! I actually listened to the 3A once. The sound is very real and noticable more quiet. But the whole system was top-end stuff. I will be looking forward for more positive reviews on this product.
I just love this preamp, of course I have already praised it enough above. Herron can make such a great product like the VTSP-3A at their price point, which to me is a heck of a value, but how are their amps? I have read a little about them on the net, but not a whole lot from owners. Anyone with good experience on the Herron amps?
Great thread guys. I just want to weigh in on my brief experience with the VTPH-2. I bought it directly from Keith in December as I have no dealer anywhere nearby. I am happy to echo all comments already made on his outstanding customer service. I had mentioned to him that I had a cache of RCA 12AX7s and really wanted to try tube rolling. He was very tolerant of the idea, not trying to talk me out of it in the least. "Tolerant" would be the operative term, given the effort for which he is famously known for putting into his choice of tubes. I originally favored the version using 4X12AX7s (69dB gain) and in the course of our discussions, he inquired as to my preamp's input impedance. Learning that I had a relatively low 20K impedance, he gently implied that the 64dB gain version, using 2X12AX7s, would be a better match, though either would be fine and he was happy to provide whichever version I preferred. I told him that I wanted to hear his best effort, so took delivery on the 64dB version.
The VTPH-2 has totally transformed my audio experience, which is saying a lot for one who has been in this hobby for 40 years. There have been many incremental improvements (and a few mis-steps) over the years but I can't think of any that has been so significant. Vinyl has taken on a lifelike quality that at first was disorienting. The experience is so engaging that I find it hard to shut things down to turn in for the night. It has all been said above but for me the music is just so "right". Like violin above, I spent many years playing the violin in orchestras and chamber groups so have a very firm aural impression of how acoustic instruments sound. Keith simply gets it down completely. If I could single out one attribute, it might be in the area of bass. In a system with which I was already quite happy, I frequently find myself looking up at the speakers dumbfounded at how solid and tuneful a bass line is that had always previously been a nondescript part of the musical fabric. It is never overbearing or out of proportion, it's just right and often it makes more sense to the musical line as a whole. I can't justify changing preamps right now, but I am giving it serious thought for the future. BTW, I have rolled in some vintage tubes and do think that the sound is marginally sweeter. It doesn't seem to be a large enough difference to recommend going out and acquiring NOS tubes, but it seems to be a nice diversion for one who already has the tubes at hand.
As I stated earlier, I am running Keith's M-150's along with the VTSP-2 right now, the preamp being a very recent acquisition and the M-150's being in the system for about the past 2 years. I bought them, without any audition, on a recommendation of an audiophile buddy whose ears I really trust.
To make a long story short, I really like these amps. Again, they are vastly underrated in the audiophile community. No, they won't win any awards for beauty, but they have it where it counts. I have compared them to a Spectron Musician 3 Mk II, Pass 350.5, McCormack DNA-500, and Clayton M-100 monoblocks. The Herrons came out ahead of them all, some by a wide margin, some a little. The one knock on the Herrons is the touch of leanness in the low end that I believe may be due to a limitation in current output (but I may be wrong here).
The only amps I have owned that bettered the Herrons were Atma-Sphere MA2 Mk2.3 monoblocks being driven with an AS MP1 Mk2 preamp. This really isn't a very fair comparison considering the price difference however.
What the Herron amps in my system are natural timbres, lack of grain, great space around instruments, and very good micro/macrodynamics. They are one of the few SS amps I have heard that make strings sound like strings, very important to me as I listen to a fair amount of classical music. If you like tube amps, you might want to give these a try as they have just a hint of tube magic in them as well. This is not to say that they "sound like tube amps."
They certainly did sound better in all ways being matched with the Herron preamp. I won't be selling them anytime soon. They can be had for a song right now also on the 'Gon. I haven't had a single problem with mine in the 2 years I've had them either. Add to that Keith's great customer service. What more could you want?
Just to amplify Bill's assessment of the Herron amps - they are WAY WAY underrated in the audiophile community. Terrific amps and highly synergistic with the preamps.
I think the disregard for the Herron amps is partly that few have actually heard them, and largely because when the M150s were first produced a review pair or two with incorrectly set bias that got away from Keith prematurely - there was a "meh" review in Stereophile and people didn't read subsequent reviews in other publications which praised the amps. The take was: terrific preamps. (BTW, I've never seen a review of the newer amps other than lavish praise at audio shows and would love for someone to point one out to me. To read reviews you'd think all Herron Audio makes are preamps and phono stages.)
My M150s sounded to me like Keith took the best attributes of ss amps and combined them with many of the virtues of tubed amps. The 150s themselves (and I would assume the M1s are similar to the 150s) don't have an obvious sonic signature per se - a GOOD thing in my estimation (being neutral ought not to be a fault!). But it can render the Herron amps a bit difficult to discuss without a simple handle to hang onto them.
When people would ask me what the amps sounded like I'd always respond that "they sound like music"...which wasn't an exaggeration but perhaps not terribly instructive to someone who hasn't heard them.
The 150s were harmonically accurate, grain free, very natural sounding amps that let you hear the "gestalt" of the music playing through them - they got out of the way. I didn't notice the amps, I was just loving the glorious music. (My M150s were paired with the Herron VTSP-1-166a)
However, so many people don't even know what non-amplified "natural" music even sounds like they have no reference for this and thus tend to think there must be something lacking in an amp praised as "neutral". And indeed, some listeners prefer a warmish, non-neutral sound...which is OK but not what Herron gear is about. The M-150s are also bi-polar amps, and many of that ilk can sound lean or cool. The M150s don't (and I assume neither do the M1s) but history was against them.
So what DO they sound like? I still can't precisely describe them but the M150s are one of the few ss state amps I've heard that have the "ease" and "flow" one finds in tubed amps, plus the harmonic accuracy that is so pleasing in tube gear. They display the richness of real instruments, if it's there in the recording, yet they are NOT euphonic, warmish or fuzzy, as many so called tube-like ss amps are. Neither are they lean or cool. They don't add - they don't subtract.
I've heard them with Alons (Circes and Vs) and Audio Physic Avanti IIIs and the bass was prodigious - not exaggerated, as alas some define "good" bass. These are current hungry speakers but not terribbly diffucult loads. (Keith once told me he did final voicings of the M150s on his Circes, which may account for much.)
I have a friend who bi-amped his Pro-Ac Response 3.8s, which are a bit tougher to drive than the above speakers, with 2 pairs of the 150Ms, ditching much more expensive (and highly praised) Clayton and Rowland amps. The Pro-Acs sound amazing with the Herrons and I would suggest that if your bass is a hair on the lean side you consider doing this. It may not be an issue with the M1s, and talking with Keith probably the best bet for any questions. If you aren't using a Herron preamp, then I would look not to the amps but to your pre. I simply can't imagine bass lacking with either the Herron pre VTPH2/VTPH-3a and M150 amp combinations.
Bottom line - the M150s are one of the great bargains in high end audio. Highly recommended! I wish I still owned them!!
(FYI, I'm not a violinist, but I've played keyboards and organ for years, sang in chamber, symphonic and church choirs - even played briefly in a rock band in college. I don't have golden ears but I do have a fairly good idea of what music in the real world sounds like...again, I understand some people aren't terribly interested in "realistic" sounding music reproduction, but for those of us that are, the Herron gear is a bargain.)
Bill & Rackon: Great descriptions of the sound of Herron gear, and very accurate IMO. Disclosure: I retail Herron equipment, Departure Audio.
I would like to reiterate a point I made earlier in this thread: In addition to the great sonics, the Herron designs are extremely flexible with a very intelligent feature set, great ergonomics, exceptional reliability and excellent after-sale support. In my experience, these things are very important for long-term satisfaction, and not always present in all high performance audio equipment.
Herron components are not flashy, but the really important stuff is more than accounted for.
I am using the VTSP3a and M1's to drive various Canton and Green Mountain Audio speaker models. The Herron gear brings out the best in whatever it is linked to. I have'nt found a combination of speakers, source components, cables, etc. that the Herron gear did not play well with and assert its many virtues. I also agree that there is a nice synergy between the VTSP pre and the M1 amps (I have found this to be true with most front end gear and generally advise people to stay with one manufacturers electronics, where possible).
I characterize the Herron sound as smooth, natural, refined, grain-free and non fatiguing. IMO, Herron has some similarity to Blue Circle Audio equipment, which, surprise, I also sell. There are differences, but both are well designed, well made, natural/neutral/musical sounding, and, most importantly, very satisfying over the long term.
I bi amp using four M1's. The power amps do what good power amps supposed to do (very well). They just do their job day in day out. They don't get in the way of the music they just amplify. No drama!
With the updated SP3a. I was using some rather cheap and nasty interconnects with my SP3 and did not notice anything wrong with them. However the 3a is much more revealing so, in order to subdue some harshness when I updated, I updated the interconnects as well. Fixed things up nicely, thank you very much!
Just out of curiosity, what speakers do you have that you are biamping using the (4) M1's? Do the M1's do an adequate job on the low end, i.e., have enough grunt?
I run Focus Audio FS888. They are about 91db sensitive and a fairly easy load to drive. As I said before the M1s do a great job. They don't run out of steam and since the upgrade of the preamp I use the low gain setting because of the reprogrammed volume contour. I like to use 40-60 on the volume display. Unless you are in a very large space the M1s have plenty of grunt.
I own a VTSP-3A and VTPH-2 and based on the sound of these two components, I have also ordered a pair of of M1's and have become a dealer for Keith here in Western North Carolina.
This is great sounding audio gear and I've owned a lot over the last 30 years.
The M1's will be taking the place of a pair of Pass XA100.5's and this will truly be a test of how Keith's amps sound. I love the Pass amps, but cannot become a dealer for them so I will take a shot here.
I'll try to keep you guys updated.
I have the VTSP-3A, the VTPH-2 and four M1's. The two preamps are standouts but the M1's are all class as well. As I said before: they just do their job(very well).
When I first got my Herron gear I had trouble with the pre 'dropping out' all the time. This was not the fault of the pre but due to the fact I was running it through a step down transformer. The voltage was too low. First Keith Herron replaced the preamp straight out. When the problem persisted with the new pre he bent over backwards assisting me to rectify the problem.
When I updated to the 3A I was having a problem of some harshness at higher volume levels and Keith pointed me in the right direction(cheap and nasty interconnects).
It would have been easy for him to let me go figure but he helped me out every time I had an enquiry.
Sound like a lovefest I suppose but I really appreciated his help. A lot of designers would not do this.
Im not a dealer,just a happy customer!