Other than those listed, have you considered (and rejected) the Klyne or the CAT (tube) with phono?
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Of the ones you have mentioned I have heard the Hovland so I will go with that. I actually preffered the Blue Circle BC3000. I will never say another component "blows another out of the water" (especially at this price point) but I thought the Blue Circle BC3000 was far quieter and as musical. Have fun!
Foundation Research is a small company in Canada that produces amps, preamp, noise loads for speakers, and passive in-line power conditioners.
I've heard on several occassions that FR's new tube pre-amp the V6 has far exceeded any competition at audio shows around the Toronto area. I think it goes for about $5k - $6k.
I own three of Foundation Research's in-line passive power conditioners LC-1's and LC-2 and believe them to be a superior product.
I would suggest the Opal. I have found this preamp to be a very quiet, excellent performer.It's build quality is topnotch and it's soundstage is very robust and lifelike. Although it's a tube preamp, it is not overly rich or warm sounding.I use it with SS mono-blocks, but it would be just at home with your VAC.Based on your comments about isolation and a dedicated room, I think you would be very pleased with the Opal's presentation, finesse,frequency response, clarity,top to bottom extension and it's ability to produce low frequency tones with definition & body.(You should hear an acoustic bass in a jazz trio!!)
I'm currently using an Audio Valve Eklipse. Audio Valve is a German company and doesn't do much promotion here in the States (imported by Victor Goldstein's Fanfare), but this preamp is fantastic -- some serious audiophiles (reviewers and manufacturers) are huge fans and owners. The transparency and dynamics are stupendous -- in fact, I sat in my listening room this evening with a leading speaker designer and we were wowed. There is a matching issue -- some amps don't work well with the Eklipse, with the result that you hear upper midrange glare -- but if you get a good match, you'll be amazed. Good luck.
Gregm - I am not a big fan of the klyne line stage. I compared the cat W/Phono to the klyne with SFL2 and found the Klyne SFL2 far superior.
Czbbcl - I have owned and tried various CJ amps and preamps. They are not my cup of tea (very nice but too thick, opaque, not a clear enough window). However, I haven't heard their newest lines.
Kana813 - I have tried various amps. The VAC is a 65 watt powerhouse and is one of the most stunning pieces I have ever owned. When I compared the SFL2 to a first class passive, I heard how electronic and grungy the SFL2 really was. However, the passive did not have enough gain or dynamics. I am very happy with my Klyne.
Celery - Although the system sounds super, I am looking for greater purity, transparency and realism. I know that my VAC is on a different level than the SFL2.
Thanks everyone for your input
I've heard the Hovland - nice, but too noisy. The Sira is very nice, but getting a bit pricey (IMO). I haven't heard the Opal, but would keep it on the short list based upon build quality and positive reviews.
Have you considered a Fi, or Audio Note linestage?? They are both very musical. I own the Fi full-function pre and compared it to both the Sira and Hovland before purchasing. A friend owns the AN M-2 pre and I have borrowed it on occasion - very nice and the one I would own if I hadn't already invested in the Fi.
Bkonig- I have a custom built passive preamp and I also own
a SFL-2. If you're hearing "grung", then your SFL-2 needs new tubes, adjustment or it's defective.
I'm sure your VAC is a 65 watt powerhouse(for $14K it should rock your world), but like it or not it can't generate much current into a 4 ohm load. If your speakers are rated at 4 ohms, you can bet they dip below that level.
But hey, if it's floats your boat, you should unload the SFL-2/Klyne and buy the VAC Signature Preamp w/phono and complete the deal. Mixing active components from different manufacturers is always tricky.
Stick with what works best for you.
Good luck with your quest.
I don't think the naysayers about the VACs power rating have heard this amp. It actually has 3 speaker taps: 1-2 ohms, 4-8 ohms, and 8-16 ohms. The power rating is stable at any of these taps. I have heard it on my Aerius i (89dB, 4 ohm nominal), and it is VERY powerful. I can't ever get the volume dial on my preamp past 11 o'clock.
Dennis_the_mence- You're a hoot.
"I can't ever get the volume dial on my preamp past 11 o'clock."
"The VAC, according the Kevin Hayes, is sensitive, and needs a preamp that has LOW gain, ideally around 10dB."
Now you know why you can get the volume control past 11 o'clock.
Volume setting have nothing to do with power output capability, as Mr. Hayes has shown you.
Dennis_the_menace- I love you guys with your mega buck amps.
To answer your questions, I'd never spend $14K on any amp. That said, I have no reason to speak with Mr.Hayes, unless he'd like to play some golf on Maui.
I'm sure the VAC is a great sounding amp. Since there's no hiend dealer here in Hawaii, I'll never get a chance to hear one.
I do know that no 65 watt tube amp on this planet can generate much current into low impedance loads. If it drives
your speakers great, but please don't confuse volume settings with power output.