Shopping for a preamp


I’m in the market for a preamp. I use a Rogue Cronus Magnum Integrated. I have been looking at phono-pre’s which is fine if I use my integrated as a line stage and power amp. I am also thinking long term so I may be best suited to buy a preamp with built in pre and add a power amp down the road. Budget is between $2,500-$4K.

I've had my eye on:

Herron VTPH2
Whest Three Signature
ARC DSPre
Pass Labs XP-15

I welcome all recommendations on those listed above as well as for other phono-pre’s or for a preamp with built in phono-pre.

My set-up:

Rogue Cronus Magnum
Zu Soul MkII
VPI Scout 1.1
Soundsmith Zephyr MkII
Zu Cabling
asp307
Add ModWright LS100 with phono to your shortlist if you're looking for a full function preamp.
Don't overlook the Audible Illusions Modulas 3A or 3B, depending on cartridge preference you can go with the all tube phone or the John Curl phono boards if you want to drive lower output moving coils.

I have the Herron VTPH-2 and it is an excellent unit along with Keith providing great support. I have not heard the other units you mention. He usually offers a trial so you can listen to it in your system which is very important. I had a ARC reference (forget the exact model; $9600 list) on loan from the local ARC dealer and the Herron was very competitive with the ARC.

Good Luck
Chuck
@czbbcl what do you like about the Herron? I am looking for a 3D image, lowered noise floor, etc. thanks for the insight.
Another to add to your list!
http://www.upscaleaudio.com/manley-phono/manley-labs-chinook/
The sonic character of the unit is such that it is very true to the music and the recording. Very nice frequency extension on both sides of the audio spectrum along with a nice detailed mid-range. A strong performer and very competitive with units beyond its price point. It is easy to use and set-up with little fuss along with excellent support from Keith.

Chuck 
@adg101 Can you tell me more about what you like with the MW LS100? I am currently using tubes for power amp. Do you use this preamp and if so what associated gear is in your rig?
@czbbcl thanks for the details. Did you audition other units before purchasing the Herron? If so, please list and also provide details as to what sold you on the Herron vs. the comps. Thanks.
@asp307 I have the LS36.5 and prior to that owned the SWL 9.0SE. I have listened to a ton of gear over the years and just find ModWright a great brand that competes with much higher priced manufactures. I mentioned the LS100 because it can be upgraded with a internal phono board. Besides being great sounding equipment the build quality is much higher than you would think; not sure how Dan does it for the price... casework and parts quality is very, very high. If you don't have a local dealer, Dan will send you a unit direct to audition. I have spoken with him on the phone several times, many emails and he is a great person to deal with and very honest. I appreciate he is a down to earth guy and not full of it.
@adg101 Thanks for the info. I like rocking out and my system is a lot of fun. I upgraded my outlets to Furutech GTX-D Rhodiums with dedicated lines. Although still breaking in the noise floor has dropped and dynamics have increased. I want to continue with this type of vibe however with a great 3D holographic preamp with phono. Currently I use an MI cart and would like to try MCs.

Several months back I auditioned a Rogue Ares and a Simaudio Moon 310LP (w/o external PS) and I preferred the solid state phono-pre instead of the tubes from a company that I already use with my integrated. I just felt it was too much tube. The SS balanced the tube integrated which was I using as a power amp.
A used Ayre K-5xeMP at around 2K should also be added to your short list.  I purchased one here on Agon and couldn't be happier.  
This is for the Audiophile who wants to have a amplifier, or preamplifier Exactly 
The way he wants. The 101D is a fantastic tube the best I know of for a preamplifier tube ,none more linear.
And Vacuum tube rectified by the great 274 dual triode rectifier tube.
Brazilian cherry or any base  you want. Khozmo remote precision attenuator.

This guy is one of the best in the field all hand built and tested.if serious he can build anything for $1,000 and up. He will be building one for me soon .
Myself being in the audio field for over 30 years wanted something a cut above 
The mass produced  and far better quality for less money's transformers and chokes from Hammond, to Lundahl check him out. This is based solely from my years as a Audiophile. Best of luck in your quest.

https://simplepleasuretubeamps.wordpress.com/
Ayre gear is cutting edge stuff.....also K1xemp with phono board should be in your search
I love my Classe CP700. It has a phono stage. lots of detail AND two sets of XLR and single ended outputs. My only complaint is the volume on the display is small and hard to read from across the room. Otherwise, perfect! Joe
I second the Ayre K1xe with built in phono.  Mmmmmmm gooooood!  Also consider a Sanders preamp (it has a built in phono stage).  I am using one right now as Joni Mitchell sings up close and personal.  

The only comparison I made was with the ARC and with the Herron performing so close to this unit at basically a third of the price I didn’t need to look any further. Keith let me audition the unit in my home and it never went back.

Looks like there is a VTPH-2 on this site for sale; no affiliation. They don't come up used very often.

Chuck
Please check out the Convergent Audio Technologies/ CAT SL1 preamplifier.  No affiliation.  I bought one recently on Audiogon after my tube vendor praised it so highly.  He's been at this for Forty years.  The tube expert was dead on.  He and the seller said that the phono stage is a must to listen to.  I've been in awe.  All I want to do is listen these days.  Happy hunting, Roy
Spend more money if you like, but you're not going to find anything better than the SP14 line state preamp and PH16 phono preamp at tubes4hifi.com
I absolutely second the post from russbutton above.  However, Don Sachs Consulting takes the basic 6SN7 actual tube design of the SP14 to a much higher degree with his custom version, using the 64 step Khozmo pot and Mundorf silver oil caps. It betters the legendary performance of the HK-CI that Don earlier upgraded for me.  His phono stage is "killer", too.  I vastly prefer Don's preamp to my former Modwright preamp and that was very good too.  You could spend many times the money that you would spend for Don's preamp and not get better sound.  Google "Don Sachs Consulting" and look for the custom line stage link.  Don is the nicest guy in the business, too. 

whitestix which ModWright preamp did you have? I have the SWLP 9.0SE.
larbo53
You can get an ARC Ref2 within your budget. I love mine. You could also get an LS-26 which is supposed to be great too (I haven’t auditioned one myself).
@abrew19 Thanks, what amp/speakers are you using and what are the ARC Ref2's best qualities?
My amp is the Pass Labs x250.5 and speakers are my dear old B&W Matrix 803 s2.  I'd say dynamics and musical realism are the Ref2's strong points.  I've owned 3 tube preamps (granted, not very many compared to many others here) and it combines the "tube magic" with a dynamic punch that I haven't experienced with other tubed preamps.  For me it's the best overall performance I've had in my system (although no tubed unit is as downright quiet as a well designed solid state pre). The Ref2 is a clear and definitive step up from my Cary SLP-98 F1 and two steps up from my ARC LS-16mkII.
I think I may have misread your requirements.  Are you looking for a preamp with a built in phono stage? If so, then the Ref2 is not what you are looking for because it is a line stage and you'd have to add a phono stage. BTW, I like your Pass XP-15 choice, those are supposed to be incredible.  Pass phono stages are highly thought of. So are their XP-10/20 line stages.  In your budget I'd also look at a used XP-10 if you want a great line stage.
@abrew19 Thanks, yes I am looking for a preamp with phono. I really liked the New Record Day review of the Pass XP-15 and he too uses it with a Cronus Magnum so although the source and speakers differ, there are still some parallels. I auditioned the Rogue Ares tube preamp and I just didn't care for the tube on tube. Too much for me. I enjoyed an SS phono-pre matched with my tube power amp. 
Thanks everyone for your input. I've decided to audition the Pass Labs XP-15 and the Herron VTPH-2. Mark at Reno Hifi has been very helpful and Keith Herron called me directly to discuss and we had a great conversation.

i should have the Pass by next Wednesday and the Herron shortly thereafter and will provide a critique once broken in.

Incidentally, Modwright never got back to me.


Hi ASP:  What did you decide between the Pass Labs & the Herron?  Oh, I see in your short list was the Whest.....did you get a chance to hear that?

asp307
Hi, I noticed that you want to keep your Rogue Cronus Magnum Integrated (that has high gain 12ax7 input tube), but you want an external preamp.

No one bothered to check that your Cronus integrated only has pre outputs, but no poweramp inputs, to make it serve as a poweramp, as there are no input rca's for an external preamp.

So if put an external pre into the aux input you will have way too much gain especially with the Zu speakers, and two volume controls and two balance controls to deal with, with so much gain you may not get passed 8 o’clock.

http://www.rogueaudio.com/manuals/Cronus%20Magnum%20II.pdf

Cheers George