You're probably aware that member "Sherod" uses an Audio Horizons preamp with his VAC MusicBloc 70/70 and is quite happy with the combo.
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Yes, I am a happy owner of the VAC Musicblocs just like you have. I also have the original AH TP 2.0n preamp. I felt it was a better match with my amps and ears than the current TP 2.1n version. Read the TP 2.0 thread for my comments regarding that elusive "breath of life" quality. I also have my preamp slightly tweaked with a quad of vintage Siemens Cca tubes and a Fusion Impulse power cord. Both these tweaks lifted the preamp to wonderful heights. Also, what speakers are you using? I checked your system and saw you had the Merlins. I have read that other users of Merlins have had wonderful results with various VAC amps. They seem to be a good match as the newer KT88 VAC amps are wonderfully neutral without losing that great musicality of tubes. The natural bloom of voice and instruments is still there. I highly recommend a set of Von Gaylord Chinchilla interconnects from pre to amp. I also found that the Fusion Predator power cords are much better than the VAC stock cord, although the stock cords are decent. I might try one of the VAC preamps someday when funds are available, but for now, I have a very synergistic amp/preamp combo. FYI, I found the Machina Dynamica Promethean to be the best form of isolation for my Musicblocs. I tried a variety of various wood and metal platforms and the Promethean was much better. The Promethean is a PITA to set your Musicblocs on and get them adjusted. And they're not very wife friendly in the looks department, but my wife is gone, so that's a moot point for me. If you get a Promethean, e-mail me or call me and I'll go over the procedure for setting them up safely and properly. I made a mistake and didn't balance them correctly and one of the amps fell over. Fortunately, only the guide pin on one of the KT88 tubes broke, but it still functioned okay. I have since put another new matched quad in them. By the way, if the four tubes in each amp are VAC factory tubes and they still have some good life in them, don't bother with expensive tube-rolling. The factory tubes sound the best. Those KT88-98 Shuguang power tubes are amazingly musical. They have a palpable ease that gives music that wonderfully natural ebb and flow. Keep us posted on your preamp decision and I'll be glad to give you some more inexpensive tweaks to fine-tune your system. Our ears are different, but I've spent the last two years fine-tuning the VAC Musicblocs to my system, so take advantage of my trial-and-errors. You never know, but I might save you some time and money, although the journey of learning from trial and error is important as well. Have fun.
Cruz123, have you tried the VAC Musicbloc 70/70's yet?
You may want to do this first using the preamp outputs of your integrated amp. If you like the direction the sound is taking you, maybe you should look at one of the used VAC Standard preamps currently for sale. If you're not so keen on the direction the sound is taking you, you may look for a preamp from a different manufacturer, or possibly even different amp(s).
It sounds like you are are on the right track with the pre's you are thinking about. I am confused though, as to
if you bought the Ren 70/70 (65wpc) or the newer Musicbloc
160's. I just bought the Phi 300.1, and all I can say is,
" It's good to be home". If I were in your shoes, I would
try and audition a pre first. Maybe the Modright or AH. I
would maybe add the Lamm LL2, although the high gain may
not be the best match. I have also heard Cat mate well,
that was with the Ren amps though. First Sound may be worth
considering, also have a friend who has had success with a
previous Rowland model, not too sure if this one would be
in your range though. Even though I have less than 25 hrs
on my amps, I concur with Sherod on the Neutrality without
losing the tube musicality. Enjoy the ride !
Thanks to all.
Sherod, I don't have the amps yet, but once I have them I may take you up on your offer to pick your brain from time to time. Thanks for the recommendations on the cables, tubes, and the promethean. For the short term, I will have to make do with the cables I have - mostly Acoustic Zen. I'm using a KT88 integrated now and have several quads of current production tubes on hand for comparison sake.
Jmcgrogan2 - Thanks for the advice. I plan to use the volume control in Opus 21 to fill the preamp role initially, but will seek out a preamp for comparison sake before making a final determination on the amps.
Fjn04 - I picked up these amps used, so they are not current production. Your Phi 300.1 is a grade or two above the Auricle Musicblocs. I'm sure you will enjoy that beautiful amp!
I'm just short of analysis paralysis, but I believe I have decided to try the Dodd preamp. The reviews have been good and it fills all of my needs with the exception of a balanced output. I have been intrigued by battery power for a while and would like to satisfy my curiosity of the benefits of going "off the grid". Dodd is currently discounting them, so it seems like a good time to jump. I'll report back with my findings.