PreAmp recomendation please...

Greetings - thanks for stopping in. I'm returning to Hi-Fi post the children years. I'm looking for a preamp that would suite my tastes and I'm hoping to gleen insights from you more knowledgable folks as I've been out of the hobby for some time.

Current gear:
VPI Classic 2. Dynavector 17d3 cart.
Esoteric DV60 CD/DVD
Audio Research SP11
Denon HA500. MC step up
ASL Hurricanes
Coincident Super Eclipse III

My desire to dig deeper into vinyl peaked when a friend sold me a used Dynavector XV-1s. My thought was the the Denon step up was not commensurate of the new cartridge and I needed to address that.

After a deep reading here and elsewhere, the brands of phono stages that were within budget were; Aesthetix Rhea, Herron VTPH2, Zesto Andros, an Ear and a few others were on my list.

In my quest, someone in my local market had the Rhea for sale, it's reputation, remote, and ease of configuration made it very attractive. I had the opportunity to audition it in depth. When I asked my host what he was keeping, he had a Herron in his rig. While the Herron did have some tube rolling done, the Rhea had recent tubes replaced from the factory he felt they were broken in. The difference was stunning, the Herron was far more musical, and tonally accurate. Tighter bass and a more natural mid & highs. Okay, the Rhea is out.

While I was reading about the Herrons I found a lot of excitement for the Zesto, and where someone actually compared the two, the Zesto was preferred. I found a Zesto at a used price and purchased it.

So now my rack over flows, the Zesto inbound and with the 2 chassis Audio Reseach SP11, something needs to go. I have enjoyed the AR very much, however I know after listening to a Audible Illusions and a Doge in my system previously, the the AR is showing its design age, I think.

For me the AR was tonally rich, non fatiguing, though it was not as detailed as I would like. So I'm searching for a single chassis preamp that will take my system to a higher level. Based on lots of readings I have come up with a list of units I'd pick from. They are, in no particular order:

Herron VTSP-3A
Aesthetix Calypso
Hovland HP100
Modwright LS100
TRL Dude

I would have had the Coincident Line Stage in this list, however I need 4 inputs. I suppose I could stick with something like an AR Ref 3, I suspect for value, my money would be better placed elsewhere. Currently my amps don't have a balanced input so that's not a prevailing issue either.

I've also had some longer listening session with a modified MFA Lumescience, the octal 6sn7 is a great arrangement. That's why I'm keen on the Dude and Modwright.

So my question is this, I'd love to learn from those who have compared the 5 on my list. How did they compare in your opinion, what did you like, and most importantly - why?

The only way I'll purchase is used, this racket is too expensive otherwise in this fickle world of audioitist. While I might stretch to 4k, 3k or less is ideal as it would be easier to take because I could buy that much more vinyl.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

I have a Calypso. If you didn't like the Rhea, then why would you consider it? They do share a similar sound. Also, I would add 2 more brands to your list; CJ and BAT. They both make extremely good preamps that you will probably like.
I have used the Hovland HP-100 for many years and it's an excellent one-box pre/phono. I've compared it to many pre's and phono's, one-box and separates and only two compared favorably; the best overall was the EAR 912 (a one box) and a close second was the AR Ref Phono 2.

The 912 was much quieter overall and a bit more dynamic but not quite as 'warm' overall. I like the EAR because it will allow two turntables and ample adjustment for load/gain. You can't loose with the 912 but they are next to impossible to find used and go for $13k new.

The Ref 2 phono sounded excellent mated to the Hovland; very close to the Ear's phono but not quite as dynamic overall.

The Hovland HP-100 is a very good one-box, but is not perfect. It is a bit nosier than I like so I change the three phono tubes (2-12AX7's & 1-12AT7) more often than I'd like to admit. Also, you only have one phono input and the load/gain is fixed. The Hovland has a highish ouptut impedance so make sure your amps have a good high input impedance (maybe 30k or higher). Finally, there's no, remote!

Michael Fremer wrote a really good/informative review in Stereophile on the HP-100; read that for good info if you can.
Until recently I owned the LS100 and am taking delivery on Keith's latest VTSP-3A (RO2) this week so should have something to say in a few weeks about the differences between those units. I'll post something in case you haven't already made your decision.
Dodgealum - please do, those would be great insights comparing the two. I've read online that part of the LS 100 noise problem is the volume control, did you try updating yours? Is yours the older design with the black resistors?
Zd542 - "I have a Calypso. If you didn't like the Rhea, then why would you consider it? They do share a similar sound. Also, I would add 2 more brands to your list; CJ and BAT. They both make extremely good preamps that you will probably like."

While there might be a house sound to a given designer, I don't think for a minute that you can paint every model in the lineup with the same brush, some executions are enherantly better than others. Further I hear a more consistent stream of praise for the line stage as compared to the phono stage. I'm open to the possibility that head to head, in this price range the Calypso might be a better execution than the Herron sound wise.

Even if I thought the Rhea could have gotten very close to the Herron with some tube rolling, it has 10 tubes compared to 5 in the Herron, and 4 in the Zesto. That would have made the Rhea quite a bit more expensive to tube roll. The line stages is a different story 6x 6922 in the Herron and the Aesethix 2x 12AX7 and 2x 6922, so both have a relatively small tube counts, small advantage to the Calypso.

I had a CJ when I had a Bryston amp, great match. Based on that reference I don't think it will match well with what I've have now, too lush/warm.

The BAT is interesting, however outside of my CD player there isn't a single balanced connector anywhere in my system. Otherwise my list would have been different.
My LS100 was the latest version. I had a variety of reasons for moving on but would say in retrospect that I enjoyed my time with LS100. It is a very nice sounding preamp and Dan is a top notch designer and human being. I'll have more to say once I get the Herron into my system.
Let me take you to the Promised Land! lol
Check out Coda Technologies!
Need more help contact me!
My initial reaction is very favorable. I've only got about three serious listening sessions and 15-20 hours on it so need some more break in and listening time before I can comment with confidence and in detail. Give me a week or so and I'll pop back with a full report.
You might want to consider and Allnic L 3000 particularly if you can find a used model as I did. I have the same issues with the BAT gear-I run all single ended. I have some experience with both BAT and CJ and prefer the quality of the Allnic sound (excluding BAT rex and new top CJ). The older CJ provides a more romantic but definitely coloured sound when compared to the best of todays tubes pre's.
If you can get over the initial sticker price of 6500.00 the coda 7X is awesome.
It uses double gated FETs and with their high impedance it presents an Pre equal to the task of the best tubes.
Hearing is believing.
IMHO its under priced when comparing to a top Pre like Ayon which starts at 14k up to over 40K.
OK guys I've lived with the Herron for several weeks now and it is a keeper. I've posted a pretty lengthy "review" which is now waiting for moderator approval so I can't link it here but the title is "Last Preamp. Could the Search be Over" or something catchy like that. I hope you enjoy the read and please feel free to fire away with questions or comments.
Tobb -- I believe the Sanders Sound electronics are based on or built by Coda. I wonder if the Sanders pre, at $4K, is close to the 7X.

Looking forward to your review, Dodgealum.
Not the same animal.this might me close to the CP @ 3500 retail.
Sanders buys sub assemblies and is able to provide decent product at decent prices.
@ Tobb: Where can I find info on the 7x preamp. There is none on the official Coda website...
My comments on the VTSP-3A(R02) are now up. You can see it here:

Sorry--not sure how to do a link.....
Oh ok, well I would like to see what it looks like and what features it has...
"Bigkidz - Try the Coincident preamp direct heated triode. IMO nothing can beat them."

You missed this in my first post - "I would have had the Coincident Line Stage in this list, however I need 4 inputs". I agree, if the input issue was not present, and I found one on the used market this would have been a done deal, the design atributes really hit my hot buttons:

- Tubes based (this too is a show stopper without)
- Class A
- Resistorless signal path
- No negitive feedback

ASL Flora has all these atributes as well.
"Tobb - Let me take you to the Promised Land! lol
Check out Coda Technologies!
Need more help contact me!"

As I just mention above, SS is a show stopper for me, I want the fun to roll tubes. The help I seek is for 1st hand comparison info regarding the models I stated originaly and nothing else, thanks.
Dodgealum - I really appreaciate your detailed and thoughful review! If you'd be open to some personal discusion please let me know how I can reach you directly. Thanks.
Ian you can give the man a saw and if he intend's to hammer with it so be it! lol