VAC owners, sound off

I've got my eye on a used VAC preamp here on agon, but it's over 9 years old. A phone call to Kevin Hayes was helpful, but he's not exactly unbiased. Anyone care to chime in on their experiences with VAC gear over the long term? thanks
I had a VAC Standard Pre and PA100/100 amp for a number of years. VERY well made equipment. Simple circuit designs, so I would not worry about 9 year old VAC gear. You may need to replace tubes, but they are a common type. Kevin Hayes is a great guy to talk to, very knowledgeable.
My 90C is 15 years old and still going strong.It also has survived a move cross county and back.
The only consideration of 9 year old VAC gear is that VAC makes incremental changes to the gear from year to year that VAC will state makes for nice improvement.

Now, there is some truth to this from a practical standpoint, and there is obviously some marketing involved as well. It wouldn't stop me from considering something like a Renaissance Signature amp, for example.

From a reliability standpoint, I don't believe you have any worries. In the small possibility that a piece of gear develops a problem, VAC provides excellent service.
VAC makes bullet-proof gear and supports it better than most anybody in audio. On my 2nd preamp from them (upgraded to Phi 2.0) and 1st (and probably last, unless I get another and turn monoblock) amp - Phi 300.1. Can't go wrong w/VAC gear.

Also, FYI, Kevin really IS as unbiased as he can be and still stay in business!! He neither lies nor misleads, EVER. I wish all manufacturers were as honest as Kevin........
Guys, really appreciate your candid responses so far. I was thinking I would hear things of that nature. VAC gear reminds me of McIntosh in that way. Wishing everyone here a happy Thanksgiving.
I presume you are looking at a Standard Pre since a few ones are available right now. I had an LE model for the last 9 months. While shopping, I had a chance to listen to a VTL 5.5, an Aesthetyx Calypso, a CJ Premier 10 and a CJ Premier 17. All of them were equally fine units (depending of your musical taste) in about the same price range (on the used market). I finally chose the VAC because of its overall sonic presentation and value/price ratio with a phono stage, which was an advantage over the other units.

A technician had a look at it recently, by curiosity because he heard about the brand but never seen one before, so he asked me if he could look at it. He was very surprised at the quality put into the fabrication of the preamp. He told me I had a "point to point" preamp (go figure what it means but from what I understand, more handcraft is involved with individual connections instead of boards)which is a sign of much higher quality. Supposedly very rare especially at this price point.

Now, it is a very transparent player with a forward presentation. Imaging is its stronghold but it is not as involving as other units, unless you experiment with some tube rolling. After following "Joe's tube lore" recommendations, I finally tuned it to my taste and came to fully enjoy it. But it has to be carefully matched with the other components.

Strangely, I recently replaced it by a CJ Premier 16 MK II that suddenly appeared at a price nobody could have a second thinking (recession sometimes has some advantages !). Totally different sounding machine with a tremendous reputation backing it ! I will say this, in my system, the VAC doesn't give an inch in the imaging and is more transparent than the Pr 16. The 16 is richer in the mid bass and generally mellower in its overall presentation. For the moment, there is no way I'm selling the VAC at the price they're going right now. I'll find another use for it !

It Canada, VAC is a not known. I did a lot of research on the net, on Audiogon and the rest and could not find a lot of reviews or comments about the unit. I think this has to be taken into account about its resale value. But for the long term investor, nobody can go wrong with VAC !
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I had a VAC amp back in the 1990s and loved it..never had an issue..I would suggest if buying a9 year old amp ,have the seller agree to a grace period giving you a couple weeks or so and have it checked out..or have him service it before sending cash...
Jab, my comparison was only in the build quality of the products, not the companies.

The other thing I was wondering about, aside from build quality and reliability over the long term, is something Tvad touched on -- that of technology development over the years. My guess is because preamps of this caliber rely more on solid engineering and obsessive build quality rather than fad or bleeding edge technology and mass production, it's not so much an issue. Still, does anyone feel concern is warranted about buying a 9+ year old VAC with 9 year old technology and materials (and thus a lower used price) compared with more modern, newer units in the same used price range? Or do you feel older VAC quality at a used price would still trump a lesser but newer model at the same price?
Well Tholt,

Anytime you can pinpoint us a tube preamp selling new for 1500 $ that equals a nine year old VAC Standard, please tell us because I'm really curious to hear such a marvel !

In the meantime, I had a friend's CJ PV-15 LS in my system about 18 months ago. A nearly 3000 $ machine of a recent vintage. Forget it ! Simply not in the same league ! Very pleasant unit to listen to, warm and involving. Does'nt come near the quality in the imaging and resolving details in the background.Most noticeably is the dynamics differential between instruments and the capacity to pinpoint them in space.
I recently shipped my VAC Musicblocs back to the VAC factory via Fedex ground for service and upgrade. Even though I packed the amps better than shipped from the factory, the gentle-handed folks at Fedex managed to crack open one of the transformers, yet Kevin( in all his kindness) re-welded it back like new and charged me nothing for his services. I love my VAC amps and when and if I ever upgrade, I plan on staying in the VAC family.
Tholt- Your questions have been answered. Just get the piece and try it yourself, or don't. Asking too many what-if questions that are not realistic for you starts to make it look like you are not really serious about the purchase, in which case you are wasting everyone's time. It really doesn't matter what other people "feel", which is very subjective - your "objective" questions have already been well-answered above by a number of long-time well-meaning VAC owners.
Bottom line...IMO...

If you find a VAC preamp (I'm assuming this is what you're after) at a price
that suits you, then buy it. Listen to it, and determine if it's what you want.

As has been mentioned previously, VAC is classic, high quality gear (shall we
say Rolls Royce?) that has an exceptional company owner who offers
unprecedented service to his "family members" as he refers to owners of VAC
Fplanner2000, watch it. my questions have been honest, cut and dry and for me very pertinent, esp with a brand i don't know and thus trying to get info from others in the know.

1. Is old VAC gear reliable
2. Is old VAC gear tech comprable and still relevant to more modern gear and subsequent *possible* improvements in technology over the years.

My questions have been answered from those who have thankfully shed their personal experiences. And yes, it absolutely matters what people "feel". I was asking for opinions.

Responses like yours make forums like this for people with obviously less experience and wisdom as you feel unwelcome at a good ol boys club. Gee, maybe if i get some VAC gear and start hanging out with snoots like you I can piss on someone other newb's thread after I feel self-important enough. Maybe I missed something, but I thought it was ok to ask questions on a forum.

At any rate, I do appreciate everyone who answered my questions with their own personal experiences with the gear.
I don't believe you can conduct an objective comparison of any VAC preamp, even of current production, with a preamp from anther company. Every company produces a product that is different from the others.

VAC has a "house sound". It's clear and distinct, but it's not analytical, dry or neutral, IMO. It has a certain bloom without being syrupy. It's what people refer to as "the VAC magic". All VAC products have it, no matter their age.

So, I believe you're headed down the wrong path by comparing an older VAC product with newer products from other manufacturers. You either want the VAC sound, or you do not, which is why it's important to hear a VAC in your system to decide if the sound is what you're after.

If you buy a used VAC product, then you can audition it and resell it without a loss if it doesn't suit you.
I will never sell my VAC's....they are that it.
Tholt- I stand by everything I said - Tvad just explained above in more detail pretty much exactly what I was driving at. In other words, you need to hear it for yourself and all the questions in the world are no substitute for your own ears in your own system.

I meant no offense - we always appreciate good questions and you did ask a good one, which was answered by several, including myself. You attitude needs some work, though, as do your manners.
It's always amazing to me how discussion over a topic as trivial and unimportant as a stereo system can ruffle up so much antagonism and defensiveness among participants.

It's not a life altering decision. It's a stereo.

Decide and move on. It's not permanent. There will be many opportunities for more decisions down the road.
It's always amazing to me how discussion over a topic as trivial and unimportant as a stereo system can ruffle up so much antagonism and defensiveness among participants.

It's not a life altering decision. It's a stereo.
I own a bit of VAC gear, find it to be of exceptional build quality and in the event it were not, Kevin has been absolutely terrific to work with.

The guys are right, VAC gear has it's own sound that you will need to hear and spend some time with in your own system to make the best determination for yourself. However, I believe your intent was to ask about reliability and relelvance of older VAC pre's. Not a worry in either case is my opinion. I will own these pieces the rest of my life.
Like someone said earlier, you would have a hard time finding a better way to spend $1,500 for a good preamp. Whether you like it or not, I would think you would though, you just have to try it. Now if you can describe a type of sound you like like lets say warm and smooth, versus fast and detailed just as a general orientation we might be able to direct you to some options. But if I had $1,500 to spend, that VAC looks mighty good to me.
Also, keep in mind, whatever vintage VAC preamp you are looking at, make sure that its output impedance matches well with the input impedance of your amp/s. This is a very important parameter to match up front in helping you to make your decision.
Tvad, if only all heads were as cool as yours... But of course, the passion and the chest banging are all part of the game, esp when we can all hide behind a screen name and yell a little. It's all good and part of the fun until it just gets stupid.

Thanks for the sound explainer on VAC's. Answered a lot, primarily that the modern technology question wasn't necessarily the right question to ask. Got it.

Of course ultimately it always boils down to 'try it in your system and find out.' And of course that's the most useless thing anyone can say. Like, really? That's all i have to do? What am I wasting time asking questions for? Nah, I found tons of information that i didn't know -- info i trust -- in one day from over 20 posts. i feel better. And hey, hope everyone here had a good T-day. I truly appreciate you taking the time from it to give me your thoughts.
Hi Tholt. The most useless thing anyone can say comes from those who give you an opinion on a piece of equipment they have not heard and guaranteeing it will be right for you. Slightly less useless are opinions coming from those with a limited range of equipment they have real experience with, and then telling you how wonderful the piece they happen to own is, with very little comparative listening but a real gungho recommendation on what they do own and with no knowledge of your preferences or system context. Ultimately, "you have to try", might very well be the best advice anyone can give you and the most honest - since we all hear differently and look for different things. The answer to your original question was answered pretty well. It sounds like VAC might very well work for you - but you will never know till you try it - that's just the way it works, and the next step if what you have heard about VAC here has made you interested in pursuing it further.
Of course ultimately it always boils down to 'try it in
your system and find out.' And of course that's the most useless thing anyone
can say.
Tholt (Threads | Answers)

Well, I disagree that it's the most useless thing anyone can say. Frankly, it's
the simple truth. Most who have been around the block a few times realize
this is really the best way to determine if a particular component fits one's
system and listening preferences.

For example, because of impedance matching between preamp and amplifier,
the VAC preamp it will undoubtedly sound differently with different amps
(assuming the amps have different input impedance specs). What sounds
great in one person's system may sound lacking in yours because of different
input impedances of the two amps. On the other hand, the VAC may sound
incredible in your system for the same reason.

Only if you find someone who owns the same amp as you own, and who has
tried the VAC preamp in their system, will you be able to compare sonics on
an apples-to-apples basis. Otherwise, all bets are off. Hence the ultimate
importance of actually trying a component in your system to determine if it

I don't mean any disrespect, and I understand why you have your present
viewpoint. Perhaps one day after you've tried a few variations of a particular
component (preamp, amp, CD player...whatever) you're viewpoint will change
and you won't consider the advice useless.
and i didn't either (mean disrespect). it is after all, the absolute truth. you have to try. my point is it goes w/o saying. More to the point, that my questions (and i think anyone's with simple curiosity about components) are leading up to if we actually want to try 'X' out in our systems, or if "X' will even work from a technical standpoint.

And for the record, i plan on doing just that.
Tholt, Tvad's comments on impedance matching are critical for many reasons, and usually more of an issue when dealling with a tube preamp. Now if you are also planning on using tube amp it becomes less likely you have a problem. I think trying VAC is a very good idea, a 9 year old VAC remains and will always be good piece of equipment well worth exploring. Now if you want a warmer, "tubier" sound there are other choices and not driven by the necessity of "newer technologies" - good/great preamps have been made for quite a while.
I confirmed impedance compatibility from Kevin Haynes when I spoke with him, so all good there.

I also got the 'welcome to the family' line from Haynes. Nice guy, coupled with reputation and the love you guys obviously have, i'm looking forward to trying the VAC.

Let's us know whay you think once you get a chance to spend time with it. By the way, I don't own VAC, but have heard there equipment many times and was always very satisfied with the sound of their gear. You should be happy with unit, VAC is good stuff, no doubt.
Not much to add here but another vote for VAC. I have a PA100/100 amp and Standard MKII preamp (must be an upgrade 'cause it says LE on the chassis but MKII on the box and has no external powersupply) Anyway, totally reliable so far.
I have taken the pre to several audio get-togethers and it has always sounded fabulous with whatever it's been hooked up to. Also at my place it has powered several amps, each wonderfully.
While I really like my VAC amp, my gut tells me that my pre is the more special of the two.
I don't think impedence matching will ever be an issue because VAC pres have the reputation to be able to drive anything.
Very satisfied.

Well, I received the pre and have had a couple nights to listen to it. It is a Standard that was upgraded to LE status. I'll give a summary of my equip and listening habits, then give some very brief impressions.

It is receiving source material from a Musical Fidelity a308cr upsampling player via analog unbalanced RCA. It is feeding a NS LM3886 chip-based amplifier, the Jaton Operetta also unbalanced. That is feeding Usher 6381 3-way towers -- 87db@8 ohms. My music preferences are solidly rooted in hard rock, and a bit of techno, though i do enjoy acoustic guitar/vocals male and female as well. No jazz, no classical.

The preamp it replaced was a Rogue Audio Metis. Comparatively, differences were interestingly not that extreme, I'd say they were more subtle. What I can tell is that the VAC seems to have a flatter frequency curve and perhaps more neutrality then the Metis. I'm still getting a handle on explaining sound in technical and oft-used audio terms. It also seems to resolve better. What I miss, though, is the mid-bass and bass I got with the Metis. That's why I say it seems to have a more neutral tone -- mids seem to be pushed more, bass seems to have receded a tad.

Has anyone experimented with tubes in a Standard before, and perhaps have either tube recommendations to try that have a bit of warmth and/or extension, or just in general what they thought of my impressions vs their own? Just curious.
I don't know what type tubes are in your Vac...but I have had good luck with d-getter Amperex tubes. Owning Vac amps... I would agree that your preamp should resolve very well....the bass is excellant on my amplifiers.
Tholt, what is the power supply sitting on? The material it sits on will definitely make a big difference in the sound. I've tried MDF, solid oak, solid cherry, granite, butcher block, and the best is the Mapleshade solid maple platform with brass spikes. The second best was the MDF. Also, I think the VAC standard preamp inverts phase so you will need to reverse the connections at your speakers.
Rhjazz - 2 things I never would have thought about. PS is sitting on hardwood floor. I'll try getting it off that. I actualy have some butcher block I could use. Did you attach the spikes to the PS, or underneath the wood block? Secondly, I don't recall reading anywhere in the manual about phase inversion. Ill double check.

The tubes in the pre are standard VAC issue (they even have the VAC logo on them). The previous owner said they were fairly new, and from talking to Kevin the 12ax7's are Chinese and the 12au7's are Sylvania (not sure which kind). I read up a little on Joe's Tube Lore (found the site people have been citing for years) which started me on a tube hunt. Found some Amperex 12au7's and some GE 5751 (supposedly better then 12ax7) on ebay that I'm thinking about.
Rhjazz -- just reading over the manual again -- output does state its inverting.
Tholt, I tried spikes between the PS and the platform and didn't like the results. Currently it sits on the Mapleshade platform on its own feet. The Mapleshade is spiked to the bottom shelf of a Polycrystal rack. I don't like the Polycrsytal rack BTW.

The butcher block should thin out the mids and give you better top end extension. The bass may be a bit unpredictable. Have fun experimenting.
Tholt, you will be in for a pleasant surprise now, after you compensate for the phase and provide better support for the PS. You'll be jamming tonight!
Correcting for phase will create the "Ah-Ha!" moment, IMO.
tholt- be VERY careful buying tubes on "flea-bay". If you don't have ready access to a tester and a return guarantee, I would avoid it. I would estimate that 50% of the NOS tubes i bought there (before I had a tester) barely make minimum good and more than 25% did not even test that high. So maybe a 1 in 4 chance of getting a tube that is even close to NOS. And then there is the counterfeit problem. I'm sure there are exceptions, and YMMV. As for me, I'm sticking to tube sellers on on 'Gon as well as the better known internet sellers like Vintage Tube Services and Upscale Audio.
There is no better NOS seller than Vintage Tube Services. Brent Jesse Recordings is also very good. I agree with Swampwalker, you don't know what your doing, stick with VERY reliable and known sources.
The VAC selected tubes are excellent IMO but if you must play with NOS then Andy at VTS is the one. You want the lowest noise and best matched tubes possible. Andy has never let me down in that regard.
At this point I'm stoked to reverse polarity and see what happens, tube rolling may be a moot point. Thanks for the tips and troubleshooting all. Let you know what happens. If it is the 'a ha' moment, I'll be one very happy puppy.

Appreciate the tips on tube buying on ebay and such. I was going to go through a dealer called we-252 who runs a store called FantasticTubes, if anyone is familiar with them. Great feedback and a Power seller.

So in a general question, what's the deal with inversing polarity? Why do some manufacturers do it and not others? What's the advantage?
An E-Bay seller search for FantasticTubes does not produce any results. What's the exact E-Bay name of the seller? It sounds familiar.

There is at least one tube seller, TubeMuseum, that has hundreds and hundreds of positive feedback ratings, and almost no negative feedback, and he's really bad news. He coerces buyers with bad experiences to leave positive feedback after he berates them. Not to mention there are reports of him selling fakes. A real shmuck.
Hello Tholt,

As told in a previous post, I strongly recommend you have a look at "Joe's tube lore" for good advices on 12au7 and 12AX7 tubes. I went through it and tried many of its recommendations with my Standard LE. Worth it. Just type it on Google and you will fall in Audio Asylum where it is based.

Now, the VAC tubes that come with the unit are....hmmm very so so. Flat, dull and no punch.They will give you a bad impression of your unit, period !

IMHO, Joe's....recommends RCA Clear top 12 in the 12AU7 spot and Amperex Bugle Boy. The RCA'S are very good overall performers and easy to get at a reasonable price. Got a couple of pairs myself and strongly recommend you choose those as a starter. Can't go wrong with those. The Bugle Boys are scarce and expensive. I've got Valvo ones supposedly made in the same factory, at the same time, for a fair price. I love those for the better dynamics and openness.

As for the 12AX7, there is a lot of choice and tried many combinations. My preferred ones are the 5751 like Joe's recommend. I love both the GE JG5751WA and the Sylvania JHS-5751 or Gold Brand. I prefer the GE for rock because of their slightly recessed soundstage with its better detailing of electric guitar. Bass and drums are tight and slammy with this one. I prefer the Sylvanias for Jazz, soft rock and ambient. Very warm and lush mids one with voices very upfront.

GE'S are common on Ebay and Sylvanias quite expensive but damn their worth it.

Good luck !
we-252 is the seller's name. Regardless, I appreciate all the "Beware of Ebay!" signs you guys threw up. My last tube purchases have been from either equipment manufacturers directly, or from agon.
I looked at "we-252"'s auctions. I have seen his auctions before, and have considered bidding on a couple of his items. What I notice about some of his offerings is that the listing looks very exciting and slick, but when you actually study the test scores on the tubes, they don't match up all that well, and often the sections within the tubes are off by a fair amount.

Tubes from Vintage Tube Services will never be like that, nor I believe will tubes from Upscale Audio.
Thanks Andr, don't know if you got my PM but you just answered my questions.
So in a general question, what's the deal with inversing polarity? Why do some manufacturers do it and not others? What's the advantage?
Tholt (Threads | Answers)

It's a simpler/shorter circuit with only one gain stage that is cost effective for the price/perf ratio. My Renaissance does not invert but it costs more as well.
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I have owned 2 fine pieces of audio gear by VAC. The Avatar SE and I presently own and use heavily the PA 100/100 amp. I have many high end pieces over the years but none seem to have both the mixture of elegance and sound quality that these pieces exhibit. You cannot do yourself wrong with VAC gear.

Keep listening to the music, Richard.