Review: Valve Amplification Company VAC PHI BETA Integrated 110 Tube amp

Category: Amplifiers

This is my first review, not because I don't have a lot of nice gear, but the VAC PHI BETA is so good, I can't keep it a secret.

First, the packaging and finish:

The PHI came expertly packaged in a new type of foam that molds around the unit. It doesn't exactly look pretty, but you know it sure is packed a whole lot better! The manual is easy to read (pictures too!) with step by step set up.

It's two boxes - 1 weighing in at 100! Pounds, the other seperate power supply weighing in at 47 Pounds with 6 foot umbilical cords that seperately power the amp and preamp section. YIKES! You get your moneys worth in weight, that's for sure!

Finish - what can I say, other than it's meticulously finished, a deep metallic look with very cool looking glass that lights up the VAC logo. Way cool.

Now, to the important stuff, the sound...

I will start with each range and conclude with the overall sound.

First off, the highs -

The VAC has no treble break up anywhere in the highs, at any amount of high frequency energy, period. It responds in a linear fashion and is predictably musical - the highs eminate from the back of the stage, if that's where they originated from in the recording. Never are they pushed forward into the soundstage. The highs are extended, and musical. Cymbals take on a shimmer, allowing both the dynamic leading edge and the trail and texture of a cymbal. This is in my experience, very difficult for audio to achieve in a musical fashion. Crank the volume, the highs remain on 'rails'.

Midrange - neutral and convincing. timbre spot on. Female vocals are 'just right' - sibilance is 'just right' - Male vocals have proper weight. Check out any female vocal, Patricia Barber, Jacintha, Diana Krall, or mens choir - reference recordings Rutter's requiem, or Telarc's Grand and Glorious operatic choruses.

The midrange has presence and transparency, while retaining musicality. Resolution is the best I have heard, WHILE retaining musicality - NO tipped up upper midrange here.

The midrange will give you that 'you are there' presence and 3 dimensionality of tubes.

BASS - Want magic of tubes and control of solid state on the bass? The VAC offers it, - grip and control of bass is outstanding. Take Patricia Barbers dynamic Black magic woman, or Fiesta! on Reference Recordings - Tight and tuneful. But what I really like is that the BASS has AIR around it. If it's a bass drum in the back of the hall, that's where it comes from. This is where I think the VAC really shines. I have heard mega solid state 'grip' of bass, but it doesn't have the air, or space around it, nor the depth, like the VAC.

This may be the best of SS with tubes?


The VAC's ability to respond quickly to transients in every part of the audio spectrum is comparable to any amp/preamp combination I have heard. The sound is fast and NEVER congeals. Female chorus does not harden at loud passages at all. The VAC just 'plays' along. It's effortless.

You get sheer speed and no overhang.


The PHI produces a huge soundstage, but DOES not bloat images within the soundstage. It simply produces air around the instruments.


This is one of if not the quietest tube amp/preamp I have heard. No tube rush at all. The background is silent as ever. The music emerges from a black cloth, with low level resolution that leads to the most fun of all....musical dynamics.

You can peer into the soundstage with electrostatic type transparency, with instruments defined nicely. And on loud passages, you can still hear multiple insturments playing at once.


The VAC PHI is also a way to simplify your audio and eliminate another cable, both power and interconnect.

And seeing as you get a world class preamp, phono stage (turntable on order) that Kevin is known for building great phono stages, world class amp, while eliminating cables, the $19k retail is a bargain (in high end audio terms).

Another key element: How many of you know that Kevin personally listens to every PHI piece of equip. before it leaves the factory? How is that for quality control? This is a very special product. VAC has been around for ever and has a great reputation for service.

The VAC PHI Integrated is a wonderful TUBE amp/preamp. The PHI design is innovative, with superlative execution that leads to a product that can compete with the best out there, no question.

Above all, it's incredibly musical and very rewarding.

Certainly the PHI line is Kevin's best to date.

This link explains how the VAC PHI BETA is designed to take the advantages of integrateds and eliminate the drawbacks. On the positive side, the PHI pre and amp stages can refer to a common ground reference. BUT VAC eliminates the disadvantages of integrateds, radiated noise fields from the power supply by having a massive seperate power supply located up to 6 feet away. By eliminating cables you sidestep the opportunity to pick up EMI and RFI.

My listening tases are jazz and classical.

Associated gear
Theta Data Transport
VAC DAC Mark II - with upgrades, seperate power supply
PHI BETA Integrated 110 AMP,Preamp
Caravelle Speakers / sistrum stands
Sistrum amp stands
Sistrum rack
Sonoran Power Cable - Plateau
Sonoran Digital Cable
Sonoran Speaker Cable - Plateau
Harmonic Tech Pro Silway III XLR
Argent Room lens
Tweeks - a lot
Congrats on the new amp, it looks really cool and I'm sure it sounds phenomenal. Enjoy!!
Scotty, I agree wholeheartedly with your description of "control of SS with the magic of tubes". The VAC Phi amps have to "tubiness", yet still create those silky highs and 3D soundstage.

Have you tried rolling any of the 6922 tubes? I bet it'd sound dynamite with some Amperex 6922 PQ.

Be sure to e-mail me when the Beta starts to bore you! ;)
No tube rolling yet. I believe the line stage in the Beta uses 6Sn7's in it's path, which can be rolled quite a bit.

I have cryo'd tubes in the past with much success.

You own it, so I'm deferring to you, Scott, but I think the preamp section uses 6922 and the amp section uses 6SN7 as driver tubes. Anyway, I know rolling the 6922 tubes in my First Sound preamp makes more impact than rolling the 6SN7 tubes of the Vac Phi, and that's why I mentioned rolling the Beta's 6922 tubes if it indeed uses those.

Have fun.
Excellent review Scott- I think you have captured very nicely how I feel about my Phi 220 monos. I first fell in love with the VAC Phi Beta 110 at HE2004 when VAC partnered up with Von Schweikert and Oracle- fabulous sound. After selling my Aesthetix Calypso linestage and acquiring an EMM Labs DCC2 as my D/A and preamp, I wanted to bring tubes into my system again and VAC first came to mind.

I enjoyed immensely my McCormack DNA-500 and wondered how much of an improvement the Phi 220s would make. As stated in some other recent posts I made here, the Phi 220s have blown me away with how good they sound. While waiting for my 220s to ship, I found out Kevin was listening to them for 2 days prior to shipping to make sure they met his approval.

When you take into account the build quality, visual appeal, customer service, and most of all- sound quality, I'm consider the VAC Phi series a must audition and gets my vote for THE top amplification devices currently available bar none.
The quality control and attention to detail that Kevin applies, is exceptional. It's too bad more reviewers in the audio world haven't had a chance to review the PHI equip. so other audiophiles can hear about the PHI line. I am glad you are liking your phi 220's. I have a friend who owns the PHI preamp and the 220's. Exceptional sound.
Im also interested in perchaseing a VAC amp, but was wondering, who is Kevin? Is he a contact I could get to talk to about this? Is it a certain store? Sorry I just was ready the reviews and it sounds like I need to get in touch with this Kevin. Any help, please. Thanks, Map1
Kevin Hayes owns VAC.
Kevin is the owner of VAC and the designer as well. He is a great guy and can answer your questions. The web site is, that should have the contact information to call him for questions.
Has anyone compared the VAC Renaissance Signature MKII preamp to the new Phi 2.0 Master Control or, for that matter, any of the Renaissance Signature series to the latest Phi series? Is it worth the difference?
I have recently been turned on to VAC. I was formerly a Levinson man, but there is no comparison - VAC is ABSOLUTELY BETTER! I may still compare the VAC preamps (either of the above) to the Halcro dm10 preamp. Has anyone made that comparison?
I am thinking of buying the Phi 110/110, or the Phi 30/30, I would love some comments from those of you who have heard these amps. My speakers are 95db Reimer Tetons. My APL 3910 will be directly connected to the amps.

Thanks in advance

Steve- I own the Phi 220s which are very similar to the 110/110 (a 110/110 can actually be converted to a 220 if you wanted to do the monos later or needed more power). The 220s continue to amaze me- they are extremely quiet, make my speakers disappear like never before, and are truly the most complete amps from top to bottom I've heard. I've owned some very respectable solid state amps (Pass X-350, Rowland 201, McCormack DNA-500) and none of them come close to the 220s on high frequency air and extension.

If you read Scott's review again, and want an amp that sounds as Scott described- the 110/110 is for you. His review is excellent- there really isn't anything he missed. The 110/110 also has a 100K input impedance which should work well with the APL driving it directly.

I cna't comment on the 30/30, but when I spoke to Kevin about getting the 70/70 monos versus the 220s, he felt they are getting their best sound from the KT88 Beam power amps.

Happy listening,
Fsarc, Thanks for the input, I will call Kevin next week and TT him. Hva e you ever heard the Tube Research Labs GT-200's? I am also considering those.

Enjoy the journey.

Facinating. Could it be the single box solution to simplify our audio nervosa? hmmmmmm maybe. I will have to liik into it.

For the record, the unit takes:

6 - 12AX7's
6 - 6NS7's
4 - KT88's
Excellent review Scotty!
Nice coverage with good solid comments on the variety of things music lovers look for. Thorough, concise, and yet with a nice flavor.

Congradulations on a job well done, and thanks for your time and efforts Scotty.

How much???
Or save $12.5K and buy their very capable Avatar Super...also KT88 driven, also w/ plenty of what the Phi delivers.