Reference Full Function Tube Preamplifier

Happy and healthy holidays to all!
I’m trying to decide between two reference level full function tube preamplifiers. My decision is between the new Luxman CL-1000 line/phono preamplifier and VAC Renaissance Signature 2A SE line/phono preamplifier. I wish I could afford the VAC Master, but alas, no. Anyway, I’d very much appreciate any thoughts and experiences of members. Thanks to all!
What great choices to have in front of you! I'm a huge fan of VAC's fully balanced, zero-feedback, transformer-coupled Class A1 triode design.  System synergy is key and i too would be interested in knowing the amp.
My amplifiers are Gamut M250 Monoblocks, single mosfet pair output stage, full bodied solid state. I’m very fortunate to be considering these fine preamplifiers. First run of Luxman CL-1000 is sold out with next availability early March I’m told.  VAC would be available mid January. One  compromise with the Luxman would be no remote control but those who heard the unit at
Capital AudioFest were most impressed.
Thank you! 
Those are two highly rated and top class preamps. Not having a remote would be a deal breaker for me. 
Yes, no remote is a bit alarming. Luxman feels that the transparency of its transformer based volume control outweighs lack of remote control....maybe in Japan?...not sure. However, in my small room, my preamplifier and rack are within arms distance from my seated position. So, as I am not considering resale value, I will decide solely on sound quality. An acquaintance who was fortunate enough to upgrade from VAC Renaissance mk5 all the way to the VAC Master Preamplifier told me that the intermediate model I am considering (VAC Renaissance Sig 2A SE) is only an incremental improvement in the line stage but a more substantial improvement in phono stage.....he would not consider it unless one was very much into analog. I am a 90% digital and 10% analog front ender.  Anyway, I’m sure I can’t go wrong with either preamplifier.
Normie it look like the Luxman does not have a built in phono do you need a built in phono stage?

This one reason I went with the VAC Ren MKV line stage only.  I like the flexibility of choosing/future swapping my phono stage.  I have my VAC line stage paired with a Herron VTPH-2A and love the synergy.
Yes, the Luxman CL-1000 has an excellent internal phono section. Online images are inaccurate I’m afraid. There are two selectors on rear of unit for impedance and capacitance loading.

Both the VAC Renaissance Sig IIA SE and Luxman CL-1000 have internal phono stages, with excellent step up transformers for low output MC cartridges, that rival the finest external phono stages.  Separate line and phono preamplifiers are great as well, certainly allowing for flexibility. However, I’d prefer a single full function unit.

Thanks to all respondents!

Normie, you may want to cast your net a bit further into the two box solution. 

We have heard at a few shows the Zesto gear and they have just done a major redesign of the Leto preamp to the Leto Ultra and they make a number of excellent phono stages at all different price ranges from $4,700-$12,000.00 so if you are mostly digital you can match your expectations for a good phono stage depending on how far you want to go with analog. 

The Leto Ultra has a very unique feature set and the show report from Stereophile was a rave on their sound quality, the Leto is a $10k preamp and it looks like a great deal for the superb level of sound quality that Zesto is famous for also the design is quite similar to the Luxman it is also a transfomer coupled tube design and it does have remote control. 

The presence control seems like a cool way of warming up bright recordings.

We are not a Zesto dealer but keep on seeing them at shows and the sound of their systems is always musical and their products are extremely well built and are rave reviewed and are priced very reasonably for reference quality tube gear.

We have put this company on our radar for 2020.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ 

These two units sound fairly different and at this level of performance you'll want to hear both in your home, in your system, to discover which you prefer. Find a dealer that will make that happen.

- Colin

disclaimer: I'm a Luxman dealer in Nashville, TN
Thank you audiotroy for the Zesto information, indeed worthy of consideration. As gestalt mentioned, audition will be a must, especially with the Luxman CL-1000 being such an unknown to me vs VAC. Unfortunately my local dealer will not bring in a demo CL-1000 as, at $20K retail, he justifiably feels the lack of remote is a deal breaker for his customers. Perhaps gestalt can briefly share his impressions of the Luxman would be much appreciated.
@normie57 I respect but disagree with your local dealer's decision (full disclosure: I'm also a Lamm Industries dealer and none of their preamplifiers have remotes). It's a non-issue in my experience, but opinions vary. :)

I'm also going to step around your question to describe the differences in an attempt to help you answer this question for yourself. I, and I bet everyone else, would love to hear your thoughts instead of mine. Where are you located? I'm happy to make a few phone calls and see if we can get a demo in your hands, even if it's not from me.

Feel free to call (615-838-7178) or email ( if it's preferable.
Gestalt, sorry we agree with the OP’s dealer. There are tons of outstanding preamplifiers which have managed to sound transparent and have the functions that most people want.

We would never carry a preamp without at least remote volume, as digital as well as analog tracks can vary in loudness dramatically and most people do not want to be getting up every few tracks or every few momments to adjust the volume.

We like the Luxman gear, we heard this preamp with two of their tube monoblocks at the Capitol Audio Fest, and the sound was good but in no way was it amazing especially for these kinds of prices, fit and finish and design and build quality was top notch. Again we are not saying the sound wasn't good, but in no way was the room a standout at CAP.

The other thing is resale value, many people will not purchase a preamp without volume control, yes there will always be guys that will eschew any convenience "to gain a purer sound." but in our experience this is no longer the case. 

Having the convience to remotely raise volume, mute the signal gasp change inputs or engage a tone control or some other cool feature can be easily accomplished, a swtiched resistor volume control works wonders. 

You will point out that these preamps are all sold out, Luxman is a tiny, tiny, company it would not be difficult for them to sell out of any of their products also the Japanese dometic market has probably purchased most of them.

You can look at a Conrad Johnson preamp or a Vac, or possibly a Zesto or dozens of other preamplifiers, we heard the Backert Labs preamps and they were also stunning.

At this point we sell none of these brands we are discussing just making a point.

OP cast your net a bit wider and look at all the possible players and if the Luxman is not easy to audition just move to something that is that meets your needs, at this point in time there are plenty of really superb tube preamplifiers which are very transparent on the market from many, many, different manufactuerers some with phono stage and some which do not.

The issue of transparency in remote volume controls was solved many many years ago.

Hey Gestalt what do we know only 30 plus years in the business, and have sold Lamm as well as Luxman as well as almost every brand in the industry.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
Feel free to call 877 428 2873 or email if you would like our take on preamplifiers
I appreciate your kind opinions and will broaden my search beyond Luxman and VAC, as I certainly have plenty of time before the CL-1000 is even available. The Luxman would be my first preamplifier without remote volume, and the most expensive as well.....although remote volume is not an absolute deal breaker, I’ll reserve judgement until I audition the Luxman and the other fine tube preamplifiers.  Thank you so much!  Happy and healthy new year to all!
So two box units are off the table?

A good number of the best preamps out there run an outboard power supply.
Thanks atmasphere; two box units are certainly ok.  Actually all the VAC preamps have outboard power supply. The Luxman CL-1000 is a single box full function preamplifier. Further suggestions are welcome. Merry Christmas!
I would guess Atmasphere is referring to his MP1 2 box pre-amp which is very good. I own an MP3 one box unit myself.
If you are running balanced lines, its a good idea to find out if the preamp you have in mind supports the balanced line standard, also known as AES48. The reason for this is simple: in any high end system a lot of attention is paid to interconnect cables.

There is on-going conversation in high end audio as to whether or not balanced lines sound better; the only reason this happens is because not all balanced products support the standard. In a nutshell, here it is:* pin 1 is ground, pins 2 and 3 are signal, pin 2 being non-inverted and pin 3 its opposite
* the signal exists only as pin 2 with respect to pin 3; ground is not used for signal in any way- it is merely for shielding.
* the connection is fairly low impedance, if nothing else than at least at the output of the preamp
Most products get the first bit right but not the last two. All aspects have to be observed for the simple reason that if they are, the interconnect cables will cease to influence the system sound- which means they don't have to be expensive and you can run them a long ways (although the benefit is there even if the cables are quite short).

IMO/IME the cost of the interconnect cables are sort of the hidden cost of any preamplifier since you have to hook it up to get tunes :)  The balanced line system is a way of reducing or eliminating the otherwise audible effects of the cable.
Here is a simple test as to whether a preamp's output supports the standard. If it is possible to connect between one of the signal pins and ground and get a sound with no buzz or hum, then it does **not** support the standard. As I mentioned earlier, the signal occurs between pins 2 and 3 and ground is not used at all other than shielding. So if the circuit is complete (no hum or buzz) by using only one signal pin and ground, then the standard isn't being supported and you will have to be careful about what interconnect cable you use to get it to sound right. IMO this defeats the purpose of using balanced lines.
I have to respectfully disagree about balanced interconnects making little difference. I've owned M60 monos (since sold) and the MP3 pre and clearly could hear BIG differences with different XLR cables. Just saying
Thanks atmasphere for your response. Quick question if I may. A number of years ago I owned an MP-3, the sound of which I really enjoyed. However, I found the manual stepped volume attenuator (24 position I believe) insufficient to dial in the correct volume, often a bit too low or too loud, varying track to track on CDs. Despite its wonderful sonics and engineering, I found the volume selector a bit frustrating, and eventually traded it toward a VAC Renaissance mkIII. Thoughts are most appreciated.
A number of years ago I owned an MP-3, the sound of which I really enjoyed. However, I found the manual stepped volume attenuator (24 position I believe) insufficient to dial in the correct volume, often a bit too low or too loud, varying track to track on CDs.
That was a common problem on a lot of older preamps including ours. We redesigned the Gain Trim controls a few years ago which dealt with that problem.
My Schiit Freya runs silently, is balanced, has 3 function options, more inputs than most (5 inputs including 2 balanced, and one balanced and 2 single ended outputs) and sounds astonishingly good. A 128 step relay switched volume works perfectly and accurately. Far too inexpensive for those obsessed with Serious High End, but I suggest it anyway because clearly I'm unhinged.
If two boxes are okay, you'd have to spend a lot more money to equal or better Herron Audio's phono and line stage
+1 vinylvalet the Herron is short on the bling factor but offers reference caliber sound particularly in areas of timing, neutrality, functionality and quietness.
While I’m sure that the VAC and the Luxman are both wonderful preamps, in the case of the VAC I would find it a little off-putting that loading of LOMC cartridges cannot be set higher than 470 ohms. And while I couldn’t find relevant specs on the Luxman, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is similar in that respect, given that both designs apparently use step-up transformers at their LOMC inputs.

The 20 db gain difference between the VAC’s LOMC and MM inputs corresponds to an impedance transformation of 100x, given that a SUT is providing that gain. The 47K maximum input impedance of the MM section divided by 100 is 470 ohms.

Like some of the others, I am a very happy owner of the Herron phono stage. Its LOMC input stage is FET-based, and Keith Herron recommends (as I have found) that no loading (i.e., the nearly infinite input impedance it presents when external loading plugs are not applied) is often preferable with it.  And in this thread Lyra cartridge designer Jonathan Carr has explained that less resistive loading (i.e., higher load impedance) can "benefit dynamic range, resolution and transient impact."  

Good luck, however you decide to proceed. Regards,
-- Al

Post removed 
Jab we are hardly hawking or wares when at this point we are not selling any of the products we have mentoned, we have O skin in this discussion.

We are not VAC dealers, nor Conrad Nor Zesto nor Atmosphere or Heron, but we have sold in the past Vac, Herron, Conrad Johnson, Luxman and Lamm, so we do have a lot of experience with preamps as well as most high end audio brands.

The issue is that many people dont’t look at the entirety of their purchase or preclude looking at other brands when sometimes brand x not under consideration might be the better of the products for the OP’s application.

As mentioned previously not having a remote volume control dramatically cuts down on the ease of resale as well as practicality of the product.

We will be evaluating Zesto in 2020 at this point we are not dealers as mentioned they are on our radar for 2020 along with a whole host of other products.

Jab we also do alot of homework as well as listening to these products.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

I heard the CL-1000 at my dealers store hooked up to the Luxman MB-300 tube amp. Great detail on well recorded music it almost sounded like a master tape. Way out of my price range. But can compete w/any top of the line tube preamp. I have the CL-38U-SE and it's just as good w/any tube preamp in the 10K price range. The person that designs the Luxman tube gear has been w/the company for over 40 years. The solid state section gets most of the press but the tube gear is as good as any product out there.
Thanks luxmancl38; appreciate your input on the CL-1000. I’m sure it sounds remarkably natural. I’m looking forward to hearing it at FL Audio Expo in Tampa, early February. I do believe it may be compromising not having remote volume and mute at a minimum. Transformer volume control is thought to be one of the best attenuators, but excellent relay controlled stepped attenuators with remote are quite transparent as well.  We’ll see...Happy New Year!
The VAC phono stages are simply sublime. I prefer the VAC tube MM stages, even the preamp built-ins, to the Herron stand-alone stage. I used to own their Renaissance III w/ phono, and for the last 2 years have run their stand-alone Renaissance SE phono in my main system - which I guarantee will clobber all the "giant killers" at lower price points. I believe the phono in the Signature IIa SE is the 6-tube circuit, just like the stand-alone. The Ren III and Ren V preamps' optional phono stages use the 3-tube circuit, which is still very good. VAC’s choice of Lundahl SUT’s (usually LL9206 or LL1931) will not be optimal for all MC cartridges and preferences, but then even an affordable Bob’s Devices SUT’s paired to the VAC MM will usually do the trick, and then you’ll have some of the best combined phono amplification money can buy.

I’m recently running new VAC 200iQ monoblocks too, and eyeing a VAC preamp again to make an all-VAC system. I’d love to pickup a Signature IIa SE. VAC’s just sound like music.
Thanks Mulveling for your stellar impressions of VAC preamplifiers. I too have been most impressed with VAC line and phono stages (full function or separates). I believe VAC uses a garden variety, $30-50 motorized blue velvet ALPS potentiometer in their Renaissance and Signature preamplifiers.(I hear very little compromise nonetheless) Master and Statement series use the top tier, $1000-$1200 ALPS RK50 potentiometer which is then motorized. Does anyone know why Luxman does not or cannot motorize their transformer volume control on their CL-1000? Just curious as no remote control for volume and mute is weighing on me a bit. Thanks!
@normie57 Yes, funny you mention the Alps Blue pot. I'm not a fan of that part, as I've over years always heard improvements swapping that for say a stepped attenuator, when possible - even in modest headphone amplifiers! That's my only knock on the parts & configuration from what I can see in the Renaissance V. Also the lack of a digital volume control for repeatable settings, which of course goes hand in hand with using a motorized Alps. That said, the Ren V does still sound quite nice despite this part choice.
Volume controls can be really tricky as they can have an audible effect- hence so many different approaches.

Transformer volume controls can be problematic if the loading of the transformer is not addressed. What this means is that for a given input impedance, the output impedance will be different due to the turns ratio of the transformer; if not properly loaded the transformer can ring. This makes a TVC trickier to put together than a regular volume control made up with fixed resistors or the like.

@Normie57: Did you compare & decide which preamplifier you’ll be getting?

i’ve Luxman m900u SS Amplifier. Based on what I have read so far, even I’ve shortlisted Luxman CL-1000, VAC Renaissance or Signature. The Audio Research Reference 6SE & 40th Anniversary were also an option as they’re easy to come by. But I guess, the VAC appears to have an edge over ARC in SQ & overall design.