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I can't speak to the VAC stuff. I've demo'd the current pass line-up. (xp12, 22, 32).
Demo'd with a few amps, but the 100.8's primarily. Like most things in audio there is a law of diminishing returns. But I did feel the upgrade from the xp12 to the 22 was pretty substantial. The 32 was better, but I would say in the 10% range.
Also demo'd some of the Levinson stuff (523, 525), and one of the AR pieces.
I did feel that for me the XP22 was the winner. It had the clarity of the Levinson stuff without what I felt were slightly sharp highs of the Levinson.
Don't get me wrong, the XP32 was a bit better still, but to me, not on the magnitude of the price difference. The XP12 vs XP22, it was clear cut to me the XP22 was much better.
The VAC doesn’t have a power on by remote. I have the Mk IIa SE straight from the factory and not an upgraded IIa. The beauty of the preamp is the ability to tube roll. If you want more warmth, roll in some Mullard 6922’s. If you want more balanced and neutral, roll in some US or Holland made Amperex PQ’s. My favorite are the Telefunken 6922’s which are detailed, holographic and layered. Of course, this is in my system and may vary in yours. I mate the pre with a Pass X250.8 though.