VAC PHI 2.0 or CTC Blowtorch or...

If anyone has heard these two preamps in the same system; please let me know your thoughts.
My Phi 2.0 is getting delivered this week. I'll let you know what I think of it. I never heard a Blowtorch so I can't give you a comparison.

What's the rest of your system like?
What is the rest of the system?
I have a Blowtorch and have never heard it either...

MBL 101E speakers
H2O M250 signature monoblocks (trial period)
EMM Labs-modified SACD 1000
Cardas Golden Reference cabling

I think the preamp section of the DCC2 is very good but I'm just wondering what another preamp could do for me. I did a quick comparison with the CAT ('Ultimate' preamp, I think?) and both the owner and I agreed that the DCC2 held its own quite well.

If I keep the M250s, here are my preamp requirements:

1. that it have a very low output impedance to match the low, 8k ohm, input impedance of the M250s.

1a. it should also have a decent power supply to deliver current, drive the M250s, and maximize the dynamics of my system.

2. that it include a phonostage (just in case...)

3. that it have dual XLR outputs in the likely event that I want to use four amps to drive my speakers.

I believe that the VAC Phi 2.0 and the Blowtorch meet all my requirements.
The thing is, I've never heard either one. I do have a local VAC dealer, however.

P.S. The MBL 6010D is another option but I have heard it in an all MBL system and I'm really hoping to find and preamp that gives more density and holographic weight (perhaps a little warmth as well) to vocals and upper midrange images.

Exlibris, I heard my Blowtorch compared with a Meitner late last fall in an all out system. The Blowtorch had cleaner highs, as expressed by the other person, and in my opinion had greater dynamics and threw a bigger stage. The differences were apparent, at least to me.

I heard an H2O amp briefly once, and it was OK but that's all I'll say.

A fellow in Canada is taking delivery of a Blowtorch very soon, so you might have a chance to audition it in his system. Or if you're inclined to do so you could come down to Chicago for a visit. A friend has some definitive opinions on amplification for MBLs.

Can you tell me where in Canada the Blowtorch is going; I'd love to finally hear it? I should note that in order for me to justify the cost of a new preamp, the difference between it and the DCC2 would have to be *significant*.

The reason I'm looking into the H2Os is because I can't afford the big MBL monoblocks or the CAT JL3 monos.

My closest hi-fi friend carefully compared his DCC2 to his Lamm L2 preamp, the latter clearly being one of the best sounding preamps made. The two preamps were so close in his system (an all-out system featuring $50k CAT Limited Edition monoblocks) that hearing or describing the differences was difficult. If you look at the threads, you will see that many others report comparing the DCC2 to top-notch preamps and finding the differences to be subtle, and sometimes, the DCC2 "winning". I will alert my friend to this thread and see if he has comments.

I own VAC Renaissance 140/140 monoblocks and think I have an idea of Kevin Hayes' sonic priorities. I could be wrong, but my guess is that the VAC, by virtue of using a triode circuit (two if you count the phono stage), will be a bit bloomier and lush than strictly neutral, and thus sound a bit colored (but good colored) compared to the DCC2, which to my ears is very neutral. You may want to read the Stereophile review of the VAC Renaissance Signature Mk. II preamp, which the Phi is evidently very similar to. The VAC will be built like a tank and never break.

I have never heard the Blowtorch (PS - why didn't they name it "Fireplug" or "Camshaft" or "Betty"?).
Yes, I've looked at the threads and seen that many others report comparing the DCC2 to top-notch preamps and finding the differences to be subtle.

Sprinbok10, however, clearly prefers his Atma-Sphere MP-1 mkII. I wonder, however, if this says more about the synergy between it and his Atma-Sphere amps?
Exlibris: I have two customers who have owned Blowtorch preamps and both prefer the DCC 2. They felt it has greater transparency and has a much more open sound. The VAC is definitely a totally different sound than either as described by Raquel.

I have heard both as well and will keep my comments to myself unless you would like to email me privately.
Exlibris. I think I have a solution for you If you want more density and weight. Replace the Philips with the CDSD. The Philips works well with the EMM dacs but are a little thin sounding. I've had two EMM/Philips repaired and modded by APL HiFi and the mods did just that. Added more weight without losing any detail. Instead of spending your money on an expensive preamp, I think you would be better off up grading your transport to the CDSD. If you can't afford the CDSD you might consider having APL HiFi installing the EMM card from your Philips into a Denon 3910. Included also is his r core power supply, APL master clock and other mods.
I'm currently breaking in the first one and can tell you that it's better than the EMM/Philips. Also better than the EMM/Philips with mods. I will try to post a short review on the APL/EMM/Denon this weekend.
Also be aware that the CDSD that started shipping in April is a second generation model that is even better than the first generation.
I currently own the DCC 2 and have owned the DAC 6e and switchman III in the past.
Hi Frank,

What was improved in the second generation CDSD?

I think your suggestion is excellent. I had no idea that there was a "2nd gen" CDSD. If one were looking to buy a used one, how would one differentiate a second generation unit from an original CDSD?
EMM is not using the term second generation as far as I know. I used it because there were changes. I don't want to get anyone mad at me but I will say this. Production of the CDSD stopped toward the end of last year and didn't resume until the end of April or sometime in may. (units shipped that is). This lull in production was due to the changes. There was going to be a faceplate change but I don't think that happened. At this time I don't know how to tell the difference other than the date of manufacture.

Unless the 2 problem chips in your Philips were replaced by Alex Peychev it's days are numbered. It only makes since to replace the Philips first before spending money on another pre amp. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Exlibris, please email me for contact information on the person with the Blowtorch.

Raquel, there's a story behind the name Blowtorch, perhaps told best by John Curl of CTC Builders on AA:
Our motto is:'Blowtorch by CTC. Better than sex, almost as good as Bar-B-Q'
We have buttons with our motto printed on it, and passed them out at the CES.
The amp that I designed 15 years ago for Brian Cheney is called the: 4-Q-2.
I am told that our own Myles Astor coined the term 'Blowtorch' Apparently, at a CES a few years ago, he noticed me arguing with someone. He told Bob Crump something like: "He sure gave that guy the BLOWTORCH!" Thanks Myles! Brian Cheney coined the name 'Vendetta Research' He was in my lab some years ago, when I was complaining about some individuals who refused to pay me for my efforts. We had worked with a company called 'Mendota Research' and Brian came up with 'Vendetta Research'. He tried to talk me out of it, later. It must be remembered that all of the nice names are copywrited already. We must create new ones, in order to not face a lawsuit.
And who said audio can't be fun?

Exlibris: You have what many people consider to be the most resolving speakers and so incredibly dynamic as well. If the JL-3's are out of your price range, you should at least consider the JL-2. And if you wanted to biamp your speakers at a later time, another JL-2 would make this very straight forward. There is a pair of JL-3's for sale now which does not look like a lot of money compared to the speakers they would be driving. 8-)

I recently listened to a H20 stereo version and it was a fine performer for its price but it was not even close to the JL-3's in the context of resolution and dynamics with Sound-Labs. I suspect your speakers would show the difference between these amps in even greater ways.

Concerning the Blowtorch, I have only heard it in Brian's system and that with the JL-2 was absolutely phenomenol dynamics driving his U1's. So if you visit him, you might get a chance to hear both. And just maybe, he's got the phono running too. 8-)

FSARC, have you received your PHI 2.0 as yet?
ExLibris, there is yet another possible twist to your (and my) saga. Alex Peychev is currently working on a universal player based on the Esoteric UX-1. The player will sport an 6H30-based tube output stage with low output impedance, at least 4 DACs per channel and a new digital/analog hybrid volume attenuator. Alex's intent is to make the unit truly shine even without a linestage by driving amps directly. Will this unit alone be more refined, enjoyable, captivating, mesmerizing than APL 1000 + VAC PHI 2.0? Only the stars know, but they are not telling me. On Alex's forum site there is an entire thread didicated to it with some questions answered and even more asked.
Isn't this madness fun? The good thing is that at these levels there is no right or wrong, but only what can give you more joy. And that is not only system dependent, but ultimately depends largely on ourselves and our particular conception of beauty.
Hi Guidocorona- your last paragraph nails it- very well stated!

The madness is fun! My 2.0 was delayed a few days as they were waiting for a part to arrive. Kevin is a fanatic and his attention to detail can be frustrating- but worth it in the end :-) When I spoke to him at the HE 2005 show in NYC in April, my 2.0 was supposed to ship in 2 weeks- hmmmm. In the end I know he builds the best product he can at no expense to time constraints. The Phi series is something special IMO and offers everything I'm looking for: Made in USA, top build and sound quality, and outstanding customer service. I'm hopeful the 2.0 will meet or exceed my expectations once again. I'll try to provide and update as soon as it arrives.........
Jafox: Thank you (and everyone) for your suggestions.
I'm hesitant about the JL3s for four, subjective, reasons.
1. They are almost as expensive as a pair of MBL 9008s. I've heard the 9008s drive the 101s and, simply put, they are a great match.
2. I can try the H2O without much risk (I can only lose a few hundred dollars for shipping, etc.) but if I buy used or new JL3s and don't really like them; I'm stuck with them. I don't like to purchase gear that I haven't heard in my system.
3. I've heard the JL3s on U-1s and found the bass control to be somewhat lacking (a Rowland 302 in the same system really tightened things up).
4. One reviewer on AA owned a 101E / JL3 system and stated that he could only confortably attain 95dB in his room. This could have been a room issue but it could also have been an amp/speaker issue. He didn't keep this system.

1 & 2: I fully can relate to.
3: When I heard the CAT JL-2 vs. Atma-Sphere MA1's driving the U1's, the MA1's had more bass presence than the JL-2. A bass adjustment on the U1's back panel alleviated this such that there was no longer a bass issue at all. With my A1's, I have the bass setting as flat and I have no wanting of bass as well. I suspect the bass here is more extended, authoritative and coherent with the rest of the frequency range than the cone woofers in the MBL's.
4: Check out the following link and read what Ken Stevens writes here:
Exlibris: FYI, the faceplate on the CDSD WAS changed on the newer model but the only difference that you might notice is the finish. The new one has a satin finish and the older one has a more shiny finish.
Thanks Frankg.
If you'd like to join the gang that is helping me decide on my ultimate tubed balanced linestage--Vac Ren II, VAC Phi, Arc Ref 3, and the mighty Aesthetix Callisto are all in the running--please do visit us at:
See you there! Guido