Review: SMc VRE-1 Preamplifier
My musical tastes run from Osamu Kitajima to June Tabor to Bach. I have approximately 4,000 CD/SACD's, various LP's that never made it the digital world, RTR tapes from The Tape Project (Wow!!!). I also listen to FM and to XM.
The most important aspects of sound for me are dynamics, especially low end bunch with associated midbass articulation, sound that does not fatigue, i.e. I can listen for a 12 hour stretch,
wide bandwidth, i.e. 13Hz to wherever my hearing ends,
lack of noise of any kind, whether it is hum , buzzing, RFI, I will not tolerate and is the most annoying aspect of listening to an elaborate system.
The speakers NEED to disappear, i.e. you cannot detect them as the source of sound, that is where the soundstage, a term coined by the great HP of TAS, comes in. The sound is spread out wall to wall, front to back, floor to ceiling, really with no limitations. Sometimes the sound comes from behind the back wall as in many well recorded choral pieces.
My system achieves these goals, but I always had the desire to change preamps. The Krell amps, as well as the subwoofers are the end of the line for me, as well as the McIntosh speakers, which if built in Europe, would sell for over $250,000. Also the Emm gear, from which I have heard no better "digital" sound. The KAB is a masterpiece, but overlooked because of its inexpensive price.
The nagging part of my upgrading has been the preamplifier, which until I came across the SMc VRE-1, was the most frustrating part of my system. Either the preamp got the bass right, but the midbass wrong, and visa versa.
It would have detailed highs, but a lack of dynamics in the midrange. The midrange would be perfect, but the frequency extremes were lacking.
Well, with Steve McCormack's brilliant design, the VRE-1, accomplishes all of the above, a first for me in any preamp that I have had in my system or that I have heard in other megabuck set ups.
It is hard to believe that it is in the system, because there is no noise. It easy to believe that it is in the system when you hear bass that scares you out of the room, or a beautiful female voice, just floating in space between and behind the loudspeakers, or when a chorus is at full tilt, and the layers of chorus are there in bold relief and with no sense of strain or harshness.
The SMc VRE-1 does it all.
I have been enjoying the music more than I ever have in the forty years of dealing with this hobby.
I have every issue of TAS, HiFi+, Stereophile, The Audiophile Voice, Listener, Tube Kingdom and for those with long memories, Ultimate Audio, Fi, and Sounds like...
I also have almost every issue of Stereo Sound, Bound for Sound, many issues of HiFi News, and Audio, plus various Italian magazines. I have read thousands of preamp reviews, but none were the writer declared the preamp to have no flaws. Well, that preamp has arrived, and it is called the SMc VRE-1. It is sold factory direct at $7,500.
If sold through dealers, my guess would be in the $15-$20,000. range.
I am not a "technofreak", so if you are interested in specs, then check out SMc's web site.
BTW, for the younger crowd out there, Steve McCormack is the inventor of tweaks! Yes, that's right! It all started with his Mod Squad company in the 70's. He introduced, now recopied a zillion times, the Tip Toe.
From my readings, three years of research from the master of tweaks went into this design, and it shows.
To recapitulate, if you want the best preamplifier in the world, then try the SMc VRE-1. Even the most jaded of audiophiles are in for a shock!
CD/SACD's used in this evaluation include, but are not limited to: Thin Red Line
Mahler Symphony NO.3 / BMG
Holst The Planets / JVC XRCD24
Yim Hok-Man Poems of Thunder
Howard Hanson The Composer And His Orchestra
Danses Anciennes De Hongrie /harmonia mundi
Bela Fleck Flight of the Cosmo Hippo
Die Another Day Soundtrack
Eric Anderson Ghosts Upon the Road
The Psalms of David Vol1 Kings College ChoirEMI
Osamu Kitajima Beyond The Circle/Cyberoctave
Cat Stevens Track: If I Laugh
Chico Freeman Spirit Sensitive /AnalogueProd.
Tom Waits Mule Variations/Epitaph
Tom Waits Small Change
Vinx Rooms in my Fatha's House/PangAA
Gary Karr Adagio d'Albinoni/Kings Record Co/JP
Peter Gabriel Track: I Believe
Sarah McLachlan Track: Angel
Jude Track: I Know
Paula Cole Her First Release, Untitled Track 1
I did not list all of the specific tracks on the review material. You will know, if your system is up to it, which are the reference ones.
Emm CDSA SE, Emm CDSD, EMM DAC6e, Ashly crossover, Cello Palette, Bybee AC purifier, Krell MRA amplifiers, Krell MRS subwoofers, Victor HP1000 headphones, Pro-Ject headphone controller, Sequerra FM-1, Day Sequerra Studio, ADA Tune Suite XM Technics RS1500, KAB Reference turntable, KAB Reference cartridge, Grado Phono Stage, McIntosh XRT2K loudspeakers ,all speaker and interconnect cables by Kimber including 3038, The Black Pearl, 1136, 1130. All power cords by Lessloss. Acoustic treatments by Acoustic Lens, Acoustic Revive, Shakti Hallographs.
ARC Ref 3, ARC Ref 2 MKII, LS12, LS7,Levinson 32, 38S,BAT VK 52 SE,Aesthetix Callisto w/2 power supplies,McIntosh C200, McIntosh C2200, Electrocompaniet ECM-1, Krell KPS25sc,Adcom GFP 750. These are the ones that stand out from memory. I cannot recall all of the preamps that I have gone through, but if I forgot about it, then I assume that it is not worth mentioning.