VTL, CTC, Lamm, ARC, EAR, Halcro, Mark Levison

Dear all,
I'm looking for a preamp to go with LAMM ML2.1. amps and Kharma Exquisite 1D speakers.
Lamm L2 Ref or Audio Research Ref3 seemed to be a good choice. But what about the VTL and the almost new EAR ?
Still why not a SS preamp ? then CTC blowtorch is supposed to be great, but confidential...more mainstream is the ML 32 or Halcro DM10..
Any help would be welcomed
The VTL 7.5 is none of the best and sounds terrific.

Read the soundstage review where the reviewers personal amps are the Lamm 2.1's and he bought the review VTL 7.5 pre amp.

The Lamm L2 is solid state. It is the power supply that is tube regulated.
David, I own Lamm amps and Kharma Exquisite 1D-E.ds. Although the Lamm preamp is a good choice, completely by accident, I tried a Conrad Johnson ART-II and loved it. I do have very good CCa NOS tubes in it though.

Also, Bill Parish at GTT Audio who carries both Lamm and Kharma is literally gushing about the new MBL 6010-D preamp which he says is the BEST he has ever heard - period. He has it hooked to the Lamms and the Kharma Exquisites - which is the system he made this judgment with.

As always, this is only opinion based on personal tastes and preferences so YMMV.
I am suprised no one has mentioned the Aesthetix Callisto Sig. I just got one and I am very happy with the sound of my system now(make that astounded).

i owned the Exquisite 1D's for 4 years and have owned the Levinson #32 as well as had the Lamm L2, Aesthetix Calisto Sig. w/2 power supplies, and CTC Blowtorch in my room with the 1D's. however, i have not had the ML2.1's in my room.

i likely agree with Fmpnd that the ACT II is better than any of those others.....i have only heard the ARC Ref 3 at shows....it is quite good.

my personal recommendation is the new battery powered darTZeel preamp i have now. it is on another level from anything i have heard. if you get the chance listen to it. it includes what may be the very best phono stage i have heard.

your gear is at the very top of the heap.....it deserves the best preamp.
There will probably be no more Blowtorches, I'm afraid, due to the untimely death of Bob Crump. There may be a worthy heir to that mantle, though. If it's pure sonics and musicality you're after in a feature-free line stage, the Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe with the Pulse PSU upgrade ought to be considered. I just got a used one, and it's blowing my mind.
If you can hear a VAC Phi 2.0, do so before you make your decision. It very impressive - great dynamics, transparency and soundstaging - it just gets out of the way of the music. Phono stage, build quality and service are second to none, IMO.
Gliderguider is correct, there will be no more. This was true before Bob passed away because it was not economical for them to continue, and they were a labor of love.
Dear all,
thank you for your comments, I did not know about this bad news... the CTC Builders Blowtorch was probably my first choice.
Still, ARC3 is a "no surprise" preamp and I'm looking for something very very neutral, the Lamm will give all the soul needed to the sound. This is why the ML32 is in the list...
ART II is for me a very "tube" preamp but I haven't tried it with Kharma.
I know about the Aesthetix Calisto but did not have the opportunity to listen to it. Downunder, the VTL is a fair choice as well, but not sure with ML2.1. and Exquisite, and no more dealer in Paris...
This is my biggest problem, I live in Paris (France) and there aren't that many dealers..
Mike, concerning the DartZeel, I know you have one (I looked at your great system) that replaed the Tenor Hybrid (that I almost bought buy they went bankrupt...)
I would love to hear the preamp but where ????
The other possibility would be the LyraConnoisseur 5.0 or 4.2 L... any opinion on them ?
Gliderguider, can you tell me more about the Audio Design?
Last but not least, any user of Wavac PR T1 ?
Thank you for your help.
David, Herve Delatraz (Mr. darTZeel) is in Geneva, SW. if you contact him directly i would expect something could be worked out.


his e-mail address is


the Connoisseur Definitions was the phono stage/pre which had most intrigued me. i had spent a few hours at shows listening to it. now that i have heard the darTZeel i don't think there is anything out there close.

in my opinion; in AC mode the darTZeel pre is a little better than anything i have heard. in battery mode it blows everything away.

it's worth a day (or two) to drive from Paris to Geneva to listen. i have another friend in Paris that also has some interest (he has the ACR Ref 3, Boulder 2008 phono stage, 5-box Esoteric digital, Rockport Sirius III tt, Rockport Hyperion speakers) so if Herve brings one to Paris let me know and i'll let my friend know.

it's one thing to hear the dart pre in an unfamiliar system. OTOH if you get it in your own system and really hear the difference it will amaze you.

good luck. if you do connect on this i would be very interested in your feedback.
David -> you may got Geneva as Mike sugests or go to UK and hear in in Absolute Sounds studio. I have heard it during the HiFi Show in London and it sounded every bit as promssing as Mika says. Absoulte Sounds is a great company to deal with and it maybe be easier to get to London for you (through eurotunel) than to Geneva.
Although I don't own Kharma speakers I do have Wilson X-2's which I do drive with ease using the Lamm ML 2.1 I have owned many amps and without question these are the most musical that I have ever heard. Having said that I also own the ARC Ref 3 which IMO is the best preamp that I have ever owned or heard. I did audition the Lamm L2 in my system hoping for a synergy between it and the ML 2.1's. I took a pass on it as I found it far too cold for my taste. I also have a friend who reviews high end gear. He just sold his VTL 7.5 for the Ref3 preamp.

For a quick look at the Tom Evans Vibe, check Jeff Day's preview on 6moons: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/tomevans2/vibe.html. He will have a full review coming up soon.

The Vibe is not the preamp to buy if you want something that looks the part. It's a very lightweight unit, with its plain black plastic case and plain black plastic knobs. Even the outboard 2-piece PSU won't attract any attention. No milled faceplate, no casework machined from a solid ingot of aluminum, no 20 kg control unit and 20 kg PSU. It will not impress anyone. Not till you turn it on, anyway.

The magic is all inside, in Tom Evans' ultra-low-noise voltage regulator design, in the use of current instead of voltage feedback, in the parts selection (DACT attenuator and WASP selector switch) and in the design of the two-stage outboard power supply that smooths and regulates the DC twice before it even hits the magic regulator in the control unit.

It's simultaneously the most musically intense and sonically revealing preamp I've heard so far. This includes things like the Canary CA-801, a two-box Audion and the Bent Audio transformer passive. I haven't heard the other heavy hitters being discussed in this thread, but this tube-head finds the Vibe impossible to shut off.

Compared to some of the other units under discussion here, its price of $8600 USD is attractive as well.

Tom Evans is doing some of the more original audio R&D that I'm aware of these days. His Linear A amp uses parallel EL84 tubes driven by op amps (!) to create what he characterizes as a super-triode sound - the tonal qualities of of a 10 tube but with power, extension and dynamics. These are the claims, anyway - I'll know by the end of next week when my amp arrives.
I have the Lamm L2 preamp with Lamm ML1's and as you would expect this combination is very synergistic. This preamp provides lots of detail and dynamics but conveys it in a very musical way. Even though the output is solid state it does not sound like a solid state preamp to me.
Dear all,
here is a sum up of the main ideas :

* L2 Lamm Ref, a bit dark souding but goes well with the ML2.1. obviously
* ARC Ref 3 still seems to be close to what I'm looking for, according to oneobgyn, who owns one and has such a great system
* CJ ART2 and Calysto deserve to be considered, even if they might be the most "tuby" preamp
* Halcro 10 and Mark Levinson don't get many positive feedback
* CTC blowtorch are sadly not done any more
* VTL7.5 is a classic but I have to admit I don't know how it sounds.

now new possibilities :
* The Dart Zeel preamp, which is probably going to follow the same succesfull path than the amp (according toe Mike, who knows what is talking about) and is made in Geneva (quite "close" to Paris)
By the way mike, I'll be delighted to listen to your friend's system when he tries the DarTzeel Preamp
* MBL and Boulder (but not Burmeister?) are at the top of the range as well.
...audio design ?

no opinion on Lyra connoisseur 5.0 or 4.2 line...or Wavac ..

well the list just got bigger...

I will keep you posted.

Thank you

One last minor pint of clarification. Your ears and preferences will be the final judge. BUT, I should point out that I had your same preconceived notion of the the C-J preamps as "tubey." When I got the ART-II in for audition I fully expected it to be too "tubey" and that I would not like it when matched to my Lamms and Exquisites. I could not have been more wrong. The older C-J preamps like the PV-10 et al, may indeed be warm and lush and "tubey" sounding, but the ART was nothing like this. Yes, it has the harmonic richness and, in my opinion, more natural timbre and bloom that tubes can give, but it certainly wasn't dark, rolled off, syrupy or too "tubey."

So, if I were you, I wouldn't go into my search thinking the way I did and that it will be too "tubey."

I hope this helps - good luck and I hope you find a great match for your incredible system!!
I would suggest giving BAT Vk31se and above, Musical Fidelity kW, McIntosh C2200, Aesthetix, Atmasphere, Pass Labs, or ?? Any of these should fill the ticket "nicely". VTL 7.5 would be nice also.

What a fun position to be in. Happy Holidays
Dear all,
being on Audiogon, I'm obviously searching for a bargain
I've seen CJ ARTII and VTL7.5 on sale right now...must be an ARC Ref3 around as well..
What would you do !!?
Don 't neglect to hear and consider the ML #32.This is a great preamp worthy of inclusion in the finest of audio sytems. Give this baby what it needs as for as AC power, great amps, and surrounding components and I don't think you'll ever regret owning it. However if SS is not your thing, then I'd stick with the ARC products. They always sound excellent to me and they have had many "classics" in their line up over the years.

The ones from Audiogon will most likely have 110V power supply, which is a problem at this level of the game.

You may e-mail used Downunder - AFAIK he have had his VTL 7.5 with 230V ps for sale.
Well I believe that I will go for one of the following :
ARC Ref3
CJ ACT2 (newer than ART2.. any opinion about the differences between the two ?)
Lamm L2 Ref
VTL 7.5
Lyra Connoisseur 4.2 SE Line
concerning the DarTzeel, I think it would be too expensive and unknown to me
Thank you
I'm using a Shindo Giscours with Lamm ML2/Kharma Midi-Exquisite's with great success. Also had the CJ ACT2 which was also a very good match.