I would love to know how the Vac's phono stage stacks up against some of the well known brands out there.
I have demoed the VAC Renaissance (full-function preamp) in my system. I don't know how close the Avatar comes to that, but the Renaissance does include internal stepups on the MC inputs, so their topologies seem similar. The Renaissance is higher up the food chain of course, so take it FWIW.
In my system the Renaissance easily bested the Aesthetix Rhea/Calypso and its line stage easily bested a Lamm line stage. It was, in fact, the second best preamp I've heard. My Nick Doshi Alaap had slightly better frequency extension at both ends and was slightly clearer on digital sources, but the differences were not large. If I didn't have one of Nick's units the Renaissance would be my choice from all the commercial preamps I've heard.