VAC Signature Preamplifier mkII

I just wanted to share with my fellow audiophiles how much I am enamored by my new VAC Ren Signature Preamp. It sounds fabulous, mates beautifully with tubes or SS, silent background and extremely musical. I have owned ARC Ref 3, VTL 7.5, and Accuphase 2410, all world class preamps. IMHO the VAC is simply more musical/natural, true of most of the VAC line.(the Ren mkIII is also a great preamp)

No I am not a dealer or spokesperson for VAC, just a satisfied customer....a great understated company, with few reviews, great execution, and wonderful people including Kevin Hayes, the quiet and modest master.
I would suggest that you flesh this out, and make this a full review. I am sure that others, as well as myself, would be very interested.

In your review; Tell us what the rest of your system is comprised of; The sonic characteristics of the VAC unit; and, of course, What the differences are between the other preamps you've owned, (which is an impressive list, btw);

We as audiophiles, take more notice of reviews coming from fellow audiophiles than from paid reviewers, since we do it out of love, rather than for money.
Thanks and good luck with the review.

PS I got the opportunity to hear the VAC Phi 300 in a world class system, and it sounded great. (Just slightly a little weak in the bass dept., but from the mid-range on up, it was probably the best amp I have ever heard.)

Thanks; I will do so when I have some free time.
Meanwhile I will share that my system consists of
EMM CDSA player
Basis 2500 TT
Clayton M-300 monoblocks
Revel Ultima Salon II's
Stereovox reference cabling (IC and SC)
Cardas Golden Ref AC cords throughout

Differences from VTL 7.5 and ARC Ref 3: More natural timbres/tonality...vocals incredibly natural.
Bass slightly more extended and "natural"
Highs about equal

Phono stage excellent and near silent.

The VAC Ren Sig mkII just makes me smile each tme I turn it on...gorgeous aesthetics and sound:)

I realize this comes at a price, but every dollar goes into quality and not advertising. Kevin Hayes is one of the very best in high end audio, extremely friendly, and an invaluable resource, no matter what your budget.
Okay, so you got me interested.
(Currently, I am using an Ayre K-1xe, with phono boards, (which I love), but I've owned it for many years, and I'm starting to get the itch, if you know what I mean.)
And, since the VAC states it is a fully balanced preamp, I am very interested, especially after my experience with the Phi 300 amplifier.

As a lover of analog, the phono stage is a most imporant aspect to me.

What phono stages have you used in the past, and how does the VAC's internal phono stage measure up?

I love the Ayre's phono boards, as they are very, very quiet, (I LOVE deep, dark black backgrounds!), and one thing that I like, is that the Ayre does use XLRs for their phono inputs. (And the terminations from my Basis 2001, with Vector M3 tone arm, have been terminated with XLRs.)

What type of inputs does the VAC have for its phono stage?

What cartridge are you using with your VAC?

I am using a low output MC cartridge, (Dynavector XV-1S, w/0.3 MV output), and I would definitely want to know that the VAC could handle that low of a phono output without any compromise to the noise floor.

Thanks for all the information so far, and I'm looking forward to the full review!
I will add, as a tangent, that during the extended absences of my Jadis JP80 for repairs in the past, my fine dealer lent me preamps from time to time to cover for the Jadis. I heard the Lamm LL2 and L2, the Klyne, the Innersound and a few more, as well as the original, Mk I version of the VAC Renaissance. The VAC was my favorite of all those units (none of which are slouches), even though I only had it for a few days. Very natural sounding, dynamic, quiet, a true pleasure to listen to. Did not listen through the phono stage, not sure if it was installed in the unit I borrowed. My only complaint about it was that it did not have a balance control (or separate volume control for each channel, as with my Jadis). I know that is done for sonic reasons, but in some instances I think a way to control the volume for each channel is almost necessary, given room interactions, variability among tubes, etc. That aside, a wonderful piece of equipment.
I have had my Ren Sig MkII for a couple of years now, and paired with monoblock Phi 300.1's I cannot imagine wanting anything more, splendid equipment and spot on description of Kevin Hayes AudioBrian, one of the great minds and true gentlemen in the industry.
The only dedicated phono preamp I have owned is the Thor TA-3000, which enjoys a fine reputation, albeit company viability issues. As I do not listen to vinyl as much as digital, I have preferred very excellent full function preamps, with fine phono stages, like the VAC Sig mkII and the Accuphase 2410 with phono module.
The integrated phono section of the VAC is as good as the Thor TA 3000, and is actually more quiet (near silent)
I use an MC Transfiguration Orpheus at 0.3 mV with absolutely no problem with adequate amplification or noise.

Only RCA inputs standard for phono I'm afraid. However, Kevin will be happy to supply an XLR input, upon request at extra cost, if this is important to you....another example of VAC's willingness to work with their customers.

Can't go wrong if you're itching for a change.

Of course if you have a favorite dedicated phono preamp, you can feed it's outputs into one of two XLR line inputs on the VAC Sig II.

I should mention that the less costly Ren MKIII offers approx 90% of what you get with the Sig, including phono stage.....IMHO the best bang for the buck in preamps available...however the Sig mkII is one step better.
FWIW, I will say that I also enjoy the VAC sonic signature. I've owned/heard many great preamps including BAT VK-51SE, VK-32SE, ARC Ref 3, VAC Renasiance mk II, CJ Premier LS 16 mk II, and many, many others. I've also owned many great amps, Clayton M-100 monoblocks among them.

I still own a Basis 2500 Diamond Signature TT w/ Basis Vector 3 tonearm (with Basis Calibrator base and Dustcover) and ZYX UNIverse S-SB cartridge. I have however downsized my cabling and sold my seperates for an integrated amp (VAC Avatar Super w/ lots of NOS tubes).

While I do agree with Kurt_tank, that the VAC sonic signature is not as powerful in the bass region as some other manufacturers, like BAT, Krell, Clayton, etc, I do agree that from the mid-bass up, VAC is about as good as it gets. I think that Audiobrian has no problem with the bass while combining VAC with Clayton amps. I'm sure he has the best of both worlds, the finesse and air of the VAC with the power and punch of the Clayton's.

I would suggest to Audiobrian, that he could even improve his musical enjoyment with some better power cords. The Cardas Golden Reference are decent cords for their price range, but there are much better cords out there. My favorite are the Stealth Dream, which are much clearer and transparent than the Cardas, while still more musical than the Nordost Valhalla. Quality gear like you have Audiobrian, deserves better'll be surprised.


PS: BTW, I sold my ARC Ref 3 preamp and highly modified BAT VK-75SE amp, but I still have my Walker Signature phono stage. The VAC Avatar phono stage is MM, and I do have a SUT, but the Walker still beats the VAC phono stage by a significant margin. I suppose it should....since it's list price is higher than the whole VAC integrated amp's list price.
Phi 300.1 times two = not weak in bass department! :-)

$18,000.00 times two = Not for me! ;-)

(I wish it were otherwise, but until those lottery balls line up in my direction, I will have to be happy with my Lamm M2.1s.)
If your looking for a preamp with built in phono, the new Janus Signature is amazing and at $10,000 it's a steal. This is coming from a guy who has had the VAC sig MKII, VTL 7.5 and others. The VTL did not have built in phono but the VAC did. The control that the Janus has is second to none.

I assume you are talking about an Aesthetix Janus signature preamp?

Interesting suggestion, but I am not sure about it, to be honest. (I say that because my friend used to have a Aesthetix Rhea, which while having some really nice features, (i.e. full accessibility via the remote!), it was a bit too noisy for my tastes. As I stated, I highly prize deep, dark, black backgrounds.

However, if I am given a chance to hear one, I would keep an open mind. Thanks for the suggestion nonetheless.
The new signature is a whole different animal. They sound just as good as the IO. The non signature does have it's faults but for $3000 Signature upgrade the faults are fixed. I thought the line stage in the Janus signature was better then the ren sig mkii and the phono stage was hands down better. The new Teflon caps that are used are very very good.

The other thing I didn't like about the vac was it had to much gain.
Difference makes the world go round.... :-)

Congrats on everyone lovin their pre. Brian, welcome to the Ren Sig Family!
Just pray you never have to have it fixed!
I will echo Art - 2 x 300.1's = outstanding bass.
Kurt - If you are serious about getting Kevin's great amp(s), send me a PM - I might be able to assist in a way you will appreciate.

Don't have the Ren Sig preamp yet, but getting by OK with the VAC Phi 2.0 preamp, not exactly a slouch...
The new [janus] signature is a whole different animal. They sound just as good as the IO.

As some parts updates in the new Janus will no doubt improve the performance, no matter what is done here, the Janus will NEVER have the magic of an Io or Callisto, signature or not. So much of what is going on in the Jupiter series products is about the power supply design. And this is what gives the Jupiter products the incredible dimensionality that comes off quite flat upon returning to the Saturn series.

Kurt_Tank, I agree with the issue of the Aesthetix products not having the ultimate in a low noise floor, due to tube noise, but once the music gets going, it quickly becomes irrelevant. Many claims of noisy Aesthetix products has been the issue of the old resistors used and people not taking care to find the required quad of ultra-low-noise tubes on the input of an Io or Rhea. But I agree, even with getting the tube noise way way down, as I did with an Io and Callisto signature pair, the background was not at all "black" as it is now with the Aria preamp.

If I could only hear the Ren Sig preamp vs. the Aria. Now this would be interesting.
Where are you located Jafox? I would love to hear both together as well! Michael was not in a position a couple years back to get me a demo or I could easily be an Aria owner today as I am a VAC owner...
Twin cities here.
Ahh, bummer...Texas here, would have been a fun comparison to do!
"Janus will NEVER have the magic of an Io or Callisto"

Not true just ask Jim White how close the Signature is to the IO and Callisto. This is why the Eclipse came out. You should not commit on something unless you have heard first hand and on gear your use too, like your own. I never commit on models I have never heard, that's how rumors and assumption start. You see this all the time on these threads.

Email me and I will give you pictures of all the preamps I have owned and compared.

Now the Eclipse Is much better then both and the best I have ever heard just edging the Dartzeel. Both are fantastic and regret selling my Dartzeel preamp.

You don't need a massive power supply in preamps for them to sound good. Your Aria doesn't have the power supply that the VAC has or even the Aesthetix has but that would stop it from being a great sounding product. Dartzeel runs on batteries and it one of the very best if not the best.

I used the VAC Ren sig MKII with my 300.1 and loved it with the right speakers but the preamp had too much gain for some other amps. The 300.1 is stellar and the best product VAC as ever made, they fixed all the bass issues. I used Tung Sol 6sn7 round plates and it really extended the top and bottom. The output tubes didn't make much difference.

Which positions did you use the roundplates in on the Phi 300.1 Mtdking?
The Eclipse models came out because the Io and Callisto signature products were rapidly falling behind the new models by the competition and not because $500 in new parts in the Saturn products put them just behind the Jupiter products. I have seen the parts changes in the updated Saturn products. I know these parts well as I rebuilt an Io and Counterpoint SA-2 with these. There is indeed increased resolution and dynamic contrasts with these parts but they do not bring much to the table in terms of the portrayal of space ..... the true strengths of the Io and Callisto designs. This is not is just how it is whether or not the designer says one product line approaches another. I have read such comments by manufacturers and reviewers and I shake my head more times than not. I have heard the Saturn vs. Jupiter products side by side enough to know their inherent differences.

And my comment on the Io and Callisto PS was not about massive design. It was simply that these products like the Aria use tubes in their PS rather than ss devices. And I know how significant this is with regard again to the portrayal of space. I have done a lot of tube rolling in the Io and Callisto and Aria and the rebuilt SA-2 power supplies to know the benefits of tubes in a PS.

As for the Aria, it is its simplicity in the line stage, phono stage and PS that brings on far more clarity and resolution than I had with the Io and Callisto signature, both with premium tube sets. I was happy to see these products finally get some refinements. But parts changes only contribute to part of what takes a product to the next level of performance.
I changed out all 4 position with TD round plates.
Sorry TS roundplates.
"I have done a lot of tube rolling in the Io and Callisto and Aria and the rebuilt SA-2 power supplies to know the benefits of tubes in a PS."

There are also benefits in not having rectifier tubes in power supplies. Some of the very preamps in the world use solid state power supplies. Boulder, Levinson, Dartzeel, FM Acoustics, Vitus, VAC REN Sig, Ayre, Conrad Johnson new GAT and the list goes on. I would say that fewer use tube rectifiers then solid state. Just like you will start to see more Hybrid amps down the road that use solid state output and tubed input. Best of both worlds.

You have never heard the new Saturn Signature series correct? These are not meant to replace the standard Saturn series. So how can you commit on the way it should sound? These are not minor changes in the signature and it's not just replacing the caps, this is an $3500 upgrade. That's like me saying I know the sound of your Aria because I heard the parts used inside before. I have no idea how a Aria preamp sounds so I don't commit on it.

A great example is the ARC Ls26. All they really did in it is changed the caps and a couple other things from the LS25MKII but the two sound nothing like one another. Now the LS26 sounds better then the old REF 2 MKII. Even ARC admits that and I heard it first hand. The REF 2 MKII uses a tube in it's power supply but the LS26 doesn't . Weird a....
Gotta love audio offense guys, but you're hijacking a thread a guy started about how happy he was with his preamp into a whole other debate...

That said, thanks for the feedback on the Tung Sol Mtdking
Your right....Sorry

I also tired some Ken Rads and RCA 6sn7. The Ken rad really added to the bass (to much) and the RCA really warmed it up but slowed it down. The Sylvania pre 1955 was very good and they are very close to the Tung sol.

Email member Tindersticki, he tried a bunch of tubes in the 300.1 and still has some left over for sale on audiogon. He also knows the 300.1 very well.
Another VAC fan here. I have been using VAC Auricle 70 monoblocs for a couple of years and only recently picked up a Renaissance MKII pre (not the signature) with built in MM/MC, which I am thrilled with. The phono section is very quiet and sounds excellent, though I wish it had a touch more gain available in MC mode. The Ren MKII replaced a Dodd pre, which was very good, but the Ren MKII is a more polished performer with a seductive midrange that just pulls you into the music.
Thanks to all the respondants.
I believe we are all speaking of world class preamps:)
The Ren Sig mkIIA (just a slight remake on the cosmetics and now available with 2 XLR outs) does it for me, but I'm sure I could be very happy with the Aesthetix preamps and the Aria. I tried the original Janus; alittle to noisy for me, but I'm told the Signature model eliminates most of this issue.
One thing for sure..we are dealing with class acts when we speak of Kevin Hayes, Jim White and Michael Elliott.
Audiobrian I really thought solid Brass feet from mapleshade under both the power supply and the main unit really helped with the VAC. Enjoy it...
I too have a VAC Renaissance Signature mkII with phono stage and is the last preamp I will ever own. It replaced a Manley Steelhead. Prior to the Manley I had a Sonic Frontiers Signature with Sig Phono. A CAT reference, Pass, Spectral, Apt Holman, Phase Linear, VTL, CJ and an ARC.

The VAC is so musical and reliable. I just wonder why its such a well kept secret.
The VAC is so musical and reliable. I just wonder why its such a well kept secret.


Price. I also enjoy the sound of VAC gear, but it ain't cheap. This preamp listed for $18K and that was 5 years ago. That's 50% more than ARC's current top of the line Reference 5 sells for today. The fact that so few can afford to listen to it is why it's such a well kept secret.

"Price. I also enjoy the sound of VAC gear, but it ain't cheap." I agree John , cheap it ain't. However, for 18K, you are getting a great phono section. This would then make the Sig 2 price right on par w/ say a Ref 3/PH7 combo. Cheers!
I don't think "Price" is the answer to why VAC gear isn't more popular. In fact, it is rapidly gaining in popularity as more people hear about/hear it.

Kevin Hayes purposely doesn't advertise nor cater to reviewers as do many others, believing in putting out the best possible product at his various price points. He definitely puts his clients first. As he says on his website:

"The fact is, each VAC component is hand built as a labor of love, in a time intensive way, and has enough of a 'diehard' following that there is usually an 3-12 week backlog of orders, and thus no units available for review. We do not view this as a problem: there isn't anyway to meet the higher than current demand that a 'great review' might create. Our focus is on making the best gear possible, not the best-reviewed gear!"

The last sentence says it all, IMO. I appreciate this and know that it's true from my conversations with Kevin. He definitely "walks the talk". I will happily continue to own VAC gear and if asked will continue to recommend it. Just my $.02.
I agree with Fplanner2000. I just joined the VAC family this week with my first VAC purchase. Kevin does walk the talk, and has a personal values set that puts music and the customer first. And his "instruments" are of the build quality that I will be handing them down to my son one day. I like to buy products that I won't feel the need to upgrade or swap out. VAC fits that bill.