SMc Audio VRE preamp anyone?

As the title suggests -- anyone have experience with this McCormack preamp? I used to have a TLC-1, DNA.5 and Mod Squad phono stage set up that has always stayed in memory as a wonderfully musical amplification package. I've moved on (and up, to some extent) and now have a pair of Spectron Monos needing a new (hopefully long-lived, if not final) preamp upgrade. I'm interested in learning more about Steve's ultimate pre-amp from anyone who has heard one.

I own one. It sounds terrific.

When things are dialed in with the VRE-1, and the equipment matching is
optimized, the preamp brings the music to life with clarity, resolution,
dynamics, and a completely black background.

I will mention two caveats. First, in my system, it sounds best at medium or
higher volume. Dynamics improve, and bass fills out. At low volumes, it lacks
a little magic. Now, with higher sensitivity speakers, this might be completely
different. I don't know. Keep in mind I can only comment about what I hear in
my system (Silverline Sonata III, Pass Labs XA-60.5, Esoteric UX-3Pi,
Modwright Platinum Transporter).

Second, the input impedance is on the low side at 10k ohms. Therefore,
using sources with high output impedances...particularly tubed sources...can
result in slightly rolled off bass (from my experience). Steve says one should
be able to use sources with output impedance as high as 800 ohms, but I
have heard distinct differences using sources with output impedances of 600
ohms, 250 ohms, and 50 ohms. In each case, lower was better. Bass is
excellent when using low output impedance sources (250 ohms or lower has
proven best in my system).

It benefits from good isolation footers. Steve recomended Grand Prix Audio
Apex footers, and he brought a set to my home to demonstrate them during
a visit. The difference with the footers was significant enough for me to
purchase a set.

You can demo it in your system at home for 30 days.

That's what I'd recommend.


I just saw the SMC pre review. Interesting for sure. how is it superior to the Llamm pre you had?

Ever try the xa 100s?

I've been using the TDB 5150 in 2ch mode lately. it's power increases using less channels. With only two in play, it's reportedly above 210 or so.... according to Butler Audio.

it's sure an interestng musical experience. Imaging is first rate revealing what added power does for the Silverlines. too bad one can not roll the tubes though.
09-18-09: Blindjim
I just saw the SMC pre review. Interesting for sure. how is it superior to the
Llamm pre you had?

It has a lower noise floor, with the result being more detail, and life like
sound. My system with the VRE-1 and XA-60.5 running balanced is the
quietest it's been.

It was exceptionally difficult to decide between the two.

I have never tried the XA-100.5. I'd love to own a pair, but they exceed my


"Quietest it's been."

No doubt. Balanced do do that.

tough decision... well that says something too.

I've been toying with the idea of a change in power line devices, but resist losing the tube influence. As you said however, these speaks do better with more power. Not enormously, but surely some... the Odyssey and now Butler have verified that sufficiently enough for me.
The quiet is due to more than just balanced operation. Power supply design. Lack of tubes. Parts quality...

I ran the Lamm balanced, and I ran an ARC Ref3 balanced, and neither was as quiet as the VRE-1 by a significant margin.

I had an equally quiet system...Bryston BP-25 + Bryston 14B SST. Solid state and balanced.

That said, I plan to reintroduce tube amps into my system this year, regardless of the added noise.
I have had mine since last December. I needed a 0 gain pre-amp to run with my high gain Yamamoto A-09S 300B amp to a pair of Zu Definition Mk II speakers. While this may sound like a somewhat unnatural pairing, I have been extremely pleased. As Tvad indicated, quiet, resolution and dynamics are all there. In addition I have found it to be very balanced. While this is my first high dollar pre-amp, I have owned the Blue Circle BC-3, Joule Electra LA-150 Mk I and First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II. I have also had in my system pre-amps from CAT and Supratek. While none of them sounded bad, they all left me with a feeling that something was missing. That feeling is now gone. I never think about the pre-amp anymore. That's probably the highest compliment I can give.

Mrpaul made an excellent observation about tonal balance. The VRE-1 is
exceptionally well balanced. It displays the best tonal balance of any preamp I
have owned or auditioned including First Sound Presence Deluxe II, Bryston BP-
25, Supratek Cortese, Audio Horizons TP2.1 balanced, Modwright 9.0SWL,
Lamm LL2 Deluxe, Lamm L2 Reference, ARC Ref 3.

Mrpaul, thanks for posting your amp and speakers. Yours is a direction I may be
heading in the coming months.
Hi Oscar -

I just want to point-out that there is an owner review of the VRE-1 posted in the Reviews section here on Audiogon. Here is the link:

There is another owner planning to post his observations in the reviews section in a week or 2, so keep an eye out for that. And, of course, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
SMc Audio
I love to hear such enthusiasm about equipment. Since owning the calypso I do not see myself searching for any new preamp any time soon, but I was wondering how much better is the vre over the calypso? Please be gentle I like the calypso very much maybe I shouldn't have asked.
I was wondering how much better is the vre over the calypso?
Pedrillo (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
It's impossible for anyone other than yourself to answer this question.

Since the Calypso is a tube preamp, and the VRE-1 is a hybrid passive, the presentation will be different. The build quality and attention to detail of the VRE-1 would suggest that it's perhaps the "better" preamp (in my opinion...Calypso owners may undoubtedly take exception), but only your ears can determine which preamp is preferable.
Just wondering if this preamp is that good, why not come up with trickle down technology of this design for less so more of us can purchase it.
It would be great to see a U.S.A. product dominate the audio scene by making an affordable preamp that outperforms the European models like Dartzeel and the Japanese Zanden-- it is Japanese isn't it. My point let's bring U.S. back to its former glory and at the same time for us paupers to be able to afford world class preamps.
Pedrillo, I suppose your only option is to buy a used VRE-1, but considering they now sell for $14,500, even a used one isn't going to be inexpensive.
I too would love a VRE-1 especially after reading reviews & seeing pics of it on the net. Now unless I hit the lotto or get a huge inheritance I won't be getting a VRE-1 anytime soon. Pedrillo as an alternative you can buy a vintage McCormack preamp (TLC-1, TLC-1 Deluxe, etc etc) and have it modified @ SMc Audio. I think the Ultra revision was $1700 last time I looked. Not a VRE-1 but still great US made quality.
upgrading of the SMC VRE which becomes VRE C

with control remote