Can't help you with the Standard series but the Rennaissance seris is not tubey. Not cheap but well worth the price, IMO.
8 responses Add your response
I own VAC equipment (the Renaissance 140/140 300B monoblocks) and did hear the Standard preamp, finding it to be nothing special. The circumstances were my friend's attempt to find a very high end preamp -- he tried three or four preamps and bought a CAT Mk. III, which clearly sounded superior (which is to be expected given the CAT was twice the price of the VAC).
VAC's Renaissance preamps, along with the "Phi" preamp, are VAC's premium preamps and they are among the very finest tube preamps available, but are of course very expensive. Good deals can be had on them used.
As you specifically intend to use a balanced source component, I would consider the Audio Research LS-5 (+/- $3,000 used), the Rowland Coherence II (+/- $6,000 used) or Audio Research Reference 3 (hard to find used and about $9,000 if purchased new). All offer supurb sound for the money (in fact, Mr. Johnson could have retired after building the LS-5, as it is pretty hard to justify more preamp in my opinion).
I've had a VAC Standard LE and didn't find it "tubey" at all. In my system, I directly compared it to a $10K Thor pre and the VAC at 1/2 the price won me over. Excellent detail, imaging and most of all, musicality. High quality build and excellent support from VAC are the icing. The Renaissance sound like the best fit for you, as others above had mentioned. Good luck.
P.S. - I now have a Phi 2.0 pre and a Phi 300.1 amp on order.
I don't believe that the VAC standard preamp features a truly balanced (fully differential balanced) circuit, but rather, has a single-ended circuit with a few XLR connections. This would not at all be a bad thing -- balanced circuitry in audiophile equipment is of arguable utility.
The VAC Renaissance preamps evidently do feature a fully balanced circuit.
My first separate preamp was a used VAC standard. I liked it enough to stay with VAC gear for thirty years now. As far as quality goes, everything they make is built like the proverbial brick shithouse. It is all heirloom level stuff. Furthermore, their customer support is second to none. The owner, has spent time on the phone with me diagnosing issues even though I was not the original owner, and the unit was out of warranty.
As far as "tubey" goes.... That really depends on what you mean. Do tubes sound different than solid state? Yes, although the gap has been steadily narrowing. Will you prefer one to the other? Probably, but which one will be entirely up to you. Everything distorts, so it's really a matter of picking your poison. Audition all you can. If you don't like the VAC Standard you should have no trouble selling it for a good price, as VACs tend hold their value.