VAC 200 iq vs Mcintosh MC2301 vs ARC Ref 160 M


Hi Agoners!


When purchasing my Shunyata power cords I stumbled upon a pair of Franco Serblin Ktema on demo on the dealer’s room. I was immediately astounded by the sound produced by the speakers driven by Lamm monos and pre, to me the Ktema retains much of the original SF sound signature compared to the new SF, so with heavy heart I cancelled my booking for a pair of Sonus Faber Amati Tradition and begin the quest of re arranging my upgrade plan.


I now have the following amps/pre on considerations;
AMPS:
- VAC 200 IQ in Monoblocks. Have to be purchased brand new
- Mcintosh MC2301. There is a used pair in almost new condition for sale locally, price is the same as buying one piece new (half price off new)
- ARC REF 160 M. Have to be purchased brand new
PREAMP:
- VAC Signature MKIIA SE. Have to be purchased brand new
- Mcintosh C1100. Have to be purchased brand new
- ARC REF 6. There is a used one for sale locally half price from new price
- ARC REF 6 SE. Have to be brand new.

Which way do you folks think I should go to? I am already familiar with Mcintosh-SF pairing as my current is a pair of MC75+C22+SF Guarneri Evo which I love very much but lacking (in my opinion) in regards of pure power, dynamics, and emotion. While a lot of tone, vocals and even bass sounds very nice (Bob Marley’s Turn Your Light Down Low is amazing) I can never get piano tone to sound proper not thin/powerless, while I can hear Diana Krall’s saliva splatting inside her mouth that saliva splat doesn’t sound wet enough like my old system. The system hasn’t been able to raise my goosebumps like my old system from more than a decade ago before I quit the hobby (Jadis pre - Cary amp - SF combo). I like tight bass and haunting midrange, never care too much about extreme detail or transparency. Off course I like details and transparency but not on the cost of sweetness and tightness.

The only brand I have to wait for around 4 months from the above list is VAC. The rest of the options are available for immediate purchase. Right now I am leaning heavily towards VAC because based on what I understand (I might be wrong) VAC sits right in the middle of Mcintosh and VAC in term of house sound. Obviously VAC 200 IQ Monos will cost me the most because none is available pre owned locally and I am wondering if the performance difference is worth paying double considering I can get a pair of pre owned MC2301 for half price in almost new condition compared VAC 200 IQ which I have to buy brand new and wait 4 months. I normally never consider ARC because in my personal opinion ARC gears are being upgraded too quickly and the brand sound too much like SS, in this case I considered ARC because I heard VAC amp with ARC pre is a very good match even exceeding VAC’s own pre amp when matched with VAC’s amp and I can get ARC preamp locally very easily.

Thanks a lot for any suggestions folks!
uwiikz
Jump on the VAC ASAP the others are second.
Heard that statement so many times on various forums. Is the VAC hype for real? I honestly leaning heavily towards all VAC but there is no way I can audition one in the country so I have to buy blind (or deaf in this matter LOL). The dealer is not willing to have any on display and those who owns VAC are mostly discrete people not willing to entertain a stranger (I wouldn’t).

I am a bit skeptical because I have been disappointed before. I bought MC75 after a very long hiatus based on many reviews favoring MC75 even compared to the mighty MC2301. I am disappointed because while I agree it’s a fantastic little amp and I think it’s hard to find better sounding tube monos for the price (I paid $7500 new pair) it is still no match to my long sold Cary 805C driving SF GP from 17+ years ago. I remember I can’t stop my goosebumps on my old system and that Cary pumping 25 watt less than the MC75.
What country are you in ?
This seems pretty obvious...but speakers don't sound good or bad in a vacuum.  If they sounded good with the Lamm electronics, buy the Lamm electronics.
I have the MC 2301's, and at one point had the C 1100 pre. I have the SF Stradivaris for speakers. I was able to demo a VAC Master preamp, and well, it never left my home. I love my 2301s, but I'm always on the lookout for a pair of 200IQs.  Best of luck!
Let me tell you. I’ve had a lot of high end audio equipment over the years and the McIntosh MC2301 Monoblock amplifiers are very special. That would definitely be my choice and I have a pair sitting in my listing room. I’ve had top of the line Jeff Rowland Monoblock, Chord Monoblock, Audio Research Ref. 600 SE, 750 SE, and 250 SE, Cary Audio CAD805 AE, Mark Levinson ML 33 and Krell Evolution. I chose the McIntosh MC2301 Monoblock with my Wilson Audio Speakers. It will very well be the last tube amplifier you will buy. I’ve heard over and over the VAC top of the line equipment. To me they sound lean and that’s not the sound I was looking for. Your speaker choice is very dependent of the amplifier you will purchase. I know the VAC looks nice like the McIntosh does but don’t let that be your deciding factor. Let your ears do the telling. The only other amplifiers I would suggest is the MBL, Dan D’agostino, Boulder. I hope this helps.
Oh and by the way my preamp is Cary Audio SLP-05 with the Ultimate upgrade, tube roll and Cardas wiring.