If you can live without a remote, I think Tbg would recommend the H-Cat; he used to have a Syrah and felt it was not even in the same league. Check the threads under H-Cat. I can attest that it is something special. My one experience with the VAC was positive sonically, competitive with my JP80MC, but the version I borrowed did not have a balance control or dual volume pots, an omission I understand from a purist point of view but which made it unacceptable to me from a practical point of view.
Must have tubes, so the H-Cat is out. Sorry, but I have never liked solid state. And I can't live without a remote.
It's helpful to hear about your comparison with your Jadis. No balance control, and no dual volume pots isn't an issue for me.
Can yo detail more about about your experience with the H-CAT? I have one on order and praying that it is as good as TBG says. I have never heard one. Bob
I went from Supratek to a Herron VTSP1A and I think the Herron is just a bit better overall. It doesn't have a remote but the new linestage from Herron does, I've paired mine with a Camelot Lancelot Pro phono stage for a total used price of $2500 and it equals and in some areas betters my old Syrah. Also I'm in DC if you want to come listen.
hey Jond, I'm surprised you feel the Herron bettered your Syrah. Did you have any NOS tubes? Any obvious differences in sound between the two setups?
The tubes in my Syrah were as follows; Raytheon 417A's, Mullard 6GK5's, Sylvania 6SN7's, RCA Black Metal 6L6's, and a Phillips Miniwatt GZ34 rectifier. It sounded great, it's just that the Herron seems to have a lower noise floor. Also the volume control is far superior, which I think helps with that lower noise and slightly better transparency. The tubes in the Herron right now are stock, I've only had it about three weeks, so it might get even better. Also the build quality is a lot better that the Syrah, a beautiful preamp but not the most sturdy.
I had mentioned some of my impressions of it in Tbg's thread. I heard it on a number of occasions in Anna Logg's system, and helped the family sell it when she passed away a little over a year ago. The version I heard was not the current one, but even then you could tell the unit got the dimensionality, timbre, dynamics, soundstaging and other little things right in a way I'd only associated with tubed equipment. Valerie (Anna) seemed to prefer it over her BAT VK50SE in many respects. I would have bought it myself from the estate as a spare in case my Jadis JP200 went down, but my interconnects were just too thick, heavy and bulky to work with it, since the rca jacks are close together and the unit itself is so light. It is the only solid state preamp I've heard that has the sound of a true high-end (think Jadis, Lamm, BAT, CJ) tubed preamp--we're not talking syrupy sweet, but we are talking about an airiness and rightness in the highs and a harmonically right midrange; that's why I suggested it here. But I'm pretty sure it doesn't have a remote. I think you'll really like it; give it a little time to warm up and break in, but it sounded really good about an hour after being turned on when I first heard it.
Dennis, I forgot to mention the best thing about the VAC was the way the logo, which is pretty large, changed color from blue to red when the unit was muted. Really distinctive and neat-looking.
Thank you Rcprince. I have always used tubes in the past so this foray into solid state is new for me. Your words are very reassuring. I just got a call that the H-Cat is coming tomorrow. I guess that I'll be able to form my own impression soon! By the way, Roger Paul of H-Cat has been a delight to deal with. Bob
I had the VAC Renaissance w/phono. Great amp, especially for the $$$. Smooth and liquid with lots of detail and VAC has top notch customer service. I replaced it with an Aesthetix Janus, however, because I wanted more flexibility in the phono stage. The VAC has fixed gain at 35 (MM) and 60 or 65 (MC), plus load is fixed at 47 (MM) and 470 (MC), whereas the Janus has 6 or so settings that can be changed on the fly (by remote!!). Also, I've found the Janus more open and transparent and a little less "tubey." Or maybe I'm just justifying my purchase? In the end, you can't go wrong. They're both very fine.
Maybe a sot in the dark, but I have heard nothing but silly praie for the VTL 7.5 Ref, which used is still probably a but higher than $5K.. Hmmm, you have a damn nice preamp already...
Rcprince, Thank you for posting your thoughts on the H-Cat. It's refreshing to read other people thoughts on this preamp. I recently listened to one and unfortunately - didn't have the greatest results. Turns out, the unit may have been malfunctioning during the audition.
Why not go up the Supratek chain to a Grange/Cabernet? It meets all your criteria too!
The Supratek circuit design has been recently substantially improved upon. I was told that the new designs are a huge upgrade over the older models.
You might consider a new Cortese. The Cortese was a bit of a bump over the Syrah and the latest Cortese (since October) is hugely improved over the earlier Cortese.
I have a Cortese (that I love, but 2yrs old and an older design) and I ordered a new Grange back in the fall (waiting for delivery) based on the feedback I have heard about the results of the new circuit designs.
Supratek Grange or Atma-Sphere MP-1 (no remote). Tough to get more for your money with either of these.
Dennis, Rcprince is right I would strongly urge the H-Cat. But there is no remote. I have only had two good ss preamps among my many preamps, they are the TAG and the H-Cat or actually four H-Cats each getting progressively better. I do not think the H-Cat sounds at all like a ss preamp, nor does it sound like the best tube preamp I have heard, the Exemplar, but the H-Cat is just in a class by itself in terms of its lack of coloration and grain as well as the realism that it allows.
I have only once had a remote, the Millennium preamp from Siltech. The guy I sold it to has taken the remote out and replaced it with a stepped attenuator, reporting a great improvement. Come on, you need the exercise.
Have you considered Ultratek? Check out the "Ne Plus" model. Same "Supra" circuit but handwired by Laplanders exploiting their environmental cryogenic advantage over the hapless Aussie. The H-Cat would have to drop some serious Kelvins before I'd consider that puppy "solid state".
Instead of a VAC Renaissance pre as an upgrade to my Supratek Syrah, how about a Supratek Cortese
with a Welborne remote attenuator
Ron says it will sound at least as nice as a DACT, and it has only one resistor in the signal path (your choice of resistor brand).
Hi Dennis The Menace. Ecclectique here... I wasn't aware of the welbourne remote attenuators and am very intrigued with them[thanks for the heads up here]. If you decide on using one I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. I have both the syrah and the cortese in seperate systems. By looking at the pictures of the remote attenuators at the website, they look a little large to be used inside the supratek chassis.I suppose they could be wired externally though. I am a vinyl junkie and both my systems have been voiced strictly for vinyl playback. My syrah has the remote whereby my cortese does not. Considering I adjust the gain with every record I change, I thought I would forgo the remote with the cortese but miss the convenience of adjusting the gain at my listening seat. Hoping to get some feedback here from anyone with hands on experience with the welbourne attenuators.cheers David
Yeh, I'm definitely curious to hear about how the Welborne fares. It should be on the market in the next few weeks. I've been conversing with Mick about using it if I go with another pre from him, and he said that he's actually thinking of using it as standard if it works out well.
I spoke with Mick about the Wellborne (thanks Dennis for the heads up on this one) and he said that the Wellborne is not out yet, but should be by the end of February and that he was very interested in checking it out based on what he had read so far.
Hi Larry. Thanks for the imfo. Has mick tried these yet? Seems like a heck of an upgrade over the stock gain pot in the suprateks.
The Wellborne (according to Mick) is not available until later this month, so he has not been able to try one yet.
Up to this point, the Wellborne has his curiosity piqued based on what he has read and I am guessing he will try one if the reviews / comments that arise are positive.
well, i ended up getting a great price on a VAC Renaissance pre w/ MM/MC phono, so I went with it... and sold the Syrah. Worked out well financially, we'll see how it fares sonically!
Dennis, The VAC Renaissance is a very good preamp. Please let us know what you think.
Well, I've been living with the VAC for a bit. It's more transparent, and more neutral. Bad recordings don't sound as good, excellent ones sound amazing. I think the stock tubes are a little thin sounding, I'm looking for some Mullards 12ax7 for the phono stage, hoping this fills in a bit of body.
The soundstage is more focused than the Syrah, and more 3 dimensional. It is faster than the Syrah, but maybe not quite as dynamic. It is definitely more open and transparent, and I thought the Syrah was already very open. Definitely more immediate sounding.
I'm finding myself wanting to adjust my speaker position a bit, as the soundstage is now more clearly defined and this positioning is now becoming more critical.
All in all, I'm pleased, though I do find myself missing some of the coloration that I now realize I had with the Syrah/Urushi setup. (I am now using a Shelter 501mk2 as I just was too paranoid about having a $4k cart)
You guys should seek out the Exemplar Revelation II, $2500, line stage. Certainly it does not have the excellent Supratek phono stage, but it is very dynamic and transparent and quiet. It is the best sounding tube line stage that I have heard with the exception of the Kondo M100.
I have received emails from an individual who has heard both the Exemplar and the H-Cat and he said he had never heard such garbage (I'm paraphrasing). I have no dog in this fight, but I trust and respect the opinion of the source.
Tbg (Norm) are you still a dealer for Exemplar? (I know you were listed as a dealer on their website at one time). I am sure very few are aware of that fact! As I recall, an AA board member warned you to register as a dealer and to stop saleshacking for Exemplar on the Asylum.
And do you have any financial or personal arrangement with Roger (H-Cat)?
Several "good ears" who have heard both the Exemplar and H-Cat have had wildly varying experiences (bad) as compared to yours. As I said in an earlier post, maybe some people may prefer another preamp over the Supratek, but I don't ever remember anyone saying a Supratek sounded, weird, strange, unnatural, etc. as some have described the H-Cat. But then again, I suspect they have no "incentive" to report anything other than the facts.
Tbg, one minute its, "You guys should seek out the Exemplar Revelation II, $2500, line stage", the next minute everyone should own an H-Cat.
Either disclose all of your ties to these companies or please stop the saleshacking.
Usually I don't give a rat's patootie about dealers not disclosing their affiliations here, but your non-stop saleshacking is just annoying.
Fiddler, not that I owe you any explanation as I have noted all of this before, but I never was a dealer for either Exemplar nor H-Cat. John did list me as a dealer early on when he was getting started as I had done much beta testing for him. I asked that he remove my name which he did.
You willfully ignore that there has been quite a back and forth between Bwhite and others and me and others about the virtues of the H-Cat, which I still contend is the finest line stage I have ever heard. But this thread focuses on alternatives to the Supratek, which I one time owned also. I was merely stating that those considering the VAC etc. might want to listen to the Exemplar. I am presently listening to the Exemplar Revelation which replaced my Syrah. It is a bastard unit in which the cascode output stage used in the Revalation II and the Denon 3910 mod replace the parafeed transformer coupled output. It is one step above the $2500 unit which I have only heard at shows.
Only as very suspicious mind would see this post as any more than a suggestion given what had been said. Nowhere do I suggest it is superior to the H-Cat. I am enthusiastic about the H-Cat, certainly and willing to stand up against those who are saleshacking (SIC) against it.
Norm, I haven't "willfully ignored" the back and forth about the H-Cat.
Who could possibly ignore it! You are like a broken record.
The fact that you were listed as a dealer for Exemplar; combined with your constant drum-beat for the Exemplar and H-Cat products, have lead many to suspect that you have more than a casual interest in these products.
I would be curious to know if you have paid for all of the products you have received from these two companies?
And I see no one "saleshacking" AGAINST the H-Cat. Some who have heard it and thought it was terrible have merely given an alternative viewpoint to your over-zealousness. Others have simply asked some tough questions after reading some of your outlandish claims. Do you think all of your saleshacking will get a free pass here?
The only person I see "consistently" saleshacking AGAINST other preamps is you. Every time someone asked about a specific preamp, you're the only one that that immediately jumps in and promotes another product; specifically the Exemplar or the H-Cat.
If either of these products were as good as you contend, many others would be joining the choir. You claim there are several others who have found the H-Cat to be world-class and cutting-edge, especially with imaging, but they don't seem show up here very often to extoll the H-Cat virtues. Unlike the Supratek, where the experience of one or two exuberant customers lead to 3 or 4 more, which lead to 10 to 20, 40-50, etc.
Things simply don't add up, Norm. Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door. As evidenced by these forums, no one seems to be "beating a path" to the Exemplar or H-Cat door. I wonder why?
To the ocntrary, people have lined up in droves for a six month wait to buy a preamp half-way around the world without ever hearing it and then they come back here and rave about it. Hmmmmm?
And BTW, why the (SIC)? There is no error.
Dennis_the_menace you may want to try tungsram red dot 12ax7s in the phono stage. I'm using them in the phono stage of my VAC Standard LE. These provide a nice combination of detail and heft. Glad you're enjoying the Ren.
I cannot help what others believe anymore than I induced many who love their H-Cats to believe that you and BWhite have personal investments in your Suprateks. As you well know many have bought H-Cats and I am hardly alone. Also H-Cat received the Absolute Sounds Golden Ear award.
How do you know who is beating a path to whose door?
Remember that I was one of the first to lineup for the Syrah. I loved it until a better mouse tramp came along.
Reconsider your negativity; the world and music have much too offer; and you will live longer.
Again, I did not introduce the H-Cat here. You did. Please forgive my post on your thread.
There is no such word as saleshacking.
There is a such a word as "saleshacking" that is used in the forums at AA and you are fully aware of its meaning. To refresh your memory, here is a post from an AA board member to you, I quote:
Dealers register : All "members of the trade" (manufacturers, dealers, distributors, manufacturer's reps, importers, magazine and e-zine writers and others) shall identify themselves as such in the login profile that posters can access by the "i" link. That way any reader who wants to know if the poster has any special expertise - or vested interest - in the subject of the post can find that information.
Saleshacking prohibited: A member of the trade may not volunteer any information about a specific product that he is selling or making, in response to a general request for information about a type of product or in any other discussion.
Norm, I understand it is easier to feign naivete than address the issue at hand, but when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, it is hard to explain.
And I notice that you never addressed the issue as to whether you have paid for all of the products you have received from Exemplar and H-Cat. Have you gotten any equipment free or at cost? That's a rhetorical question, as I don't expect you to answer it. (Or at least with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!)
If you aren't getting compensated monetarily for haranguing the rest of us about these two products, you certainly should be. (But I have my suspicions that you have and do receive benefits for your efforts.)
Norm, do the right thing and explain your affiliations and/or benefits. This, "Oh, is only friendship and I am just a satisfied owner", smells really badly.
There still is no such word whether Audiogon uses it or not. I do know of the prohibition, however. I am not in violation.
You are not the one to ask for my explanation, nor do I believe that the moderators would have let me go on had I been guilty as you so suspect.
If anyone is really interested or concerned, other than you, I will respond, but for you I will merely say, "go to hell!" Given your vendetta, I can only imagine what is in your closet. Please do not read any of my further posts, and I will so respect and ignore yours.
Okay you won't respond to Fiddler. So I'll ask you as I have no dog in this fight.
Have you paid for all of the products you've received from Exemplar and/or H-Cat? Have you received any equipment free or at cost?
So long as you continue to duck the issue, all of your posts must be taken with suspicion and the proverbial grain of salt.
Judy, while Fiddler assumes my answer, I had hoped that others would not.
Once and hopefully for the last time, I am not a dealer for either Exemplar nor for H-Cat; I have never received any piece of either's equipment for free, nor have I, with one exception, received any equipment at cost. The exception was for the first developmental Exemplar preamp.
While Fiddler cannot believe it, I have had the good fortune to know John Tucker and Roger Paul for many years. In both cases I have, at both of their requests, pointed out problems that I have had with their components. I have in effect been a beta tester. In both cases, certainly not due to my input alone, these components have evolved into exceptional units.
While both of the H-Cat components that I use, the line stage and the phono stage are exceptional and I am quite satisfied with their performance, as I have posted, I have never heard the amp and may never hear the amp. In the case of Exemplar, I bought the first pair of a their speakers but sold them long ago. I have bought several versions of his amps, but presently have none. The only pieces I have now are the Denon 3910 universal player mod. and the somewhat bastard Revelation line stage which has the new output boards in the boxes of the old parafeed line stage. It is, of course, my simple suggestion of the Revelation II that started all of this nonsense. I never even suggested that the Exemplar was competitive with the H-Cat, although I do think it is quite good.
I am firmly of the opinion that the H-Cat line stage is unrivaled. The H-Cat phono may also be, but there are others out there that may equal it. The Exemplar/Denon 3910 I know is surpassed by the Reimyo CDP777 which plays only redbook. This all may change with a new modification that John is doing to my unit now.
I post on AA and Audiogon out of enthusiasm or because of questions ask. I really learn of new products through another network of friends, who all think I am crazy to bother to post. Maybe they are right but I have met some fine people here and there.
Not that anyone needs to vouch for him, but (tbg) is not a shill for either Exemplar or H-Cat. I purchased one of those Exemplar amps from him about 2 yrs ago. I've also met him in person at CES & VSAC shows and have had numerous conversations with him about many things audio. It's obvious he's been in this hobby a long time and has a ton of experience with components & systems. Yes, he knows many people in the audio industry but I don't perceive any motive other than finding the most musically satisfying components for his system. I truly believe he call's it like he see's it. I don't understand why others have it out for him. He is a gift to AA & Agon.
I think some of the problems arise because of perceived personal attacks that come up in these threads. Instead of many people discussing and listing their preferences and opinions,one person inevitably attacks the character of someone else and we're off to the races. It doesn't help that this level of equipment costs so very much with the reality of a lot of ego will be involved. Now to be fair,Tbg to me is looking to get discussions going,he has and will use some phrases that to some,could seem imflammatory. When you ask whether there's any other pre in the world that can compare,or,how do they manage to sell XYZ brand(the buyers must be idiots!),I think anyone can honestly see how these things blow up. Talented people with a lot of experience and money aren't going to back down,they didn't get to where they are without learning how to fight back. The important thing is to take anything you read with a grain of salt and trust your own ears.
Thanks for posting your findings,much appreciated. Keep them coming.
Zachzdb, did I ever say "the buyers must be idiots"? I hope not!
Don't start wth me. It's a shame this thread has been hijacked away from it's original theme in an apparent attempt to start yet again another H-Cat versus Supratek skirmish. Tbg,something you might want to remember is that unlike yourself,and,I wager,virtually everyone reading the H-Cat/Supratek threads,I actually own both a Syrah,and an H-Cat. No "I heard the latest version at a friends",no "I listened to a few cuts",none of that crap. I HAVE BOTH,HERE AND NOW!!! Your words which I added to and paraphrased,were from a thread which was deleted by the moderators. You,and I,know what you said. "Listen to an H-Cat,and you'll wonder how they can ever sell Suprateks". Not a Syrah,the lowest model,but "Suprateks". Inflammatory at best. Perhaps your goal? You perhaps can't stand the success of an "inferior" product? Can't stand the fact that Bwhite and Fiddler have the nerve to question you? You have done an excellent job of advertising an excellent line of products,let people listen and make up their own minds. If it's to be,it will be. What people need to hear is how you maximized your set up to get the most out of the H-Cat,not petty arguing. What does it prove in the end?
Kirby, I apologize for my unfortunate statement, which I only vaguely recall. I guess that this opinion is one I hold but not one that I would normally express. I really am not out to sell the H-Cat but rather to get people to listen to it and make their own judgments.
My experience with the Syrah is dated as I am sure I said and apparently there have been major improvements.
I don't think this is the thread for me to discuss how I optimized the H-Cat, but I will take your advice on that thread. There are expensive isolation and ac filtering improvements which do make it sparkle.
In my defense, I did not start the comparison between the H-Cat and the Supratek. I suspect you would agree that listening to one cut is insufficient to dismiss one unit.
Norm, no one has a vendetta against you. Why are you so paranoid? And this has nothing to do with the fact that I own a Supratek. My beef is you saleshacking the Exemplar and H-Cat anytime anyone mentions another preamp. We all know that you think the Exemplar and H-Cat products are world-class. Just give it a rest.
I have received emails from four different individuals on the 'Gon and AA (who have thousands of posts between them) that gave me big high-fives for someone finally addressing your saleshacking. The problem isn't your choice of components; its your constant attempt to ram them down everyone else's throat. It's just old.
And Joperfi, no one has it out for Norm. Many here are just tired of the same old antics about Exemplar and H-Cat, over and over (roll eyes). Especially quotes like, "I am firmly of the opinion that the H-Cat line stage is unrivaled".
That's Norm's opinion and he's entitled to it. But that leaves out the likes of CAT, Lamm, ARC, VTL, the highest-end Suprateks, and the Blowtorch, etc., etc., etc. Its a stretch to think that the H-Cat is better than all of these preamps. And funny that it's so good, but it can't seem to get any traction in the marketplace.
Contrast that with some other components manufactured by single individuals: the H2O amps, Suprateks, the Berning ZH270, the APL 2910, etc. all sold by word-of-mouth. Interestingly, there is a long wait for any of these products, but I haven't heard anything about a long queue for the H-Cat.
I must admit that I was tempted to order an H-Cat at one time to see if it lived up to the hype that Norm has been espousing. But after receiving emails from some good ears who have heard the H-Cat and after seeing some luke-warm remarks (I'm being polite) about it here, I decided not to invest the time. As I said, something just doesn't make sense here.
Norm, I remember when others here gave "Warrenh" a ration of crap for constantly posting about the Caravelles anytime a speaker thread started. He got the message and he has greatly moderated his posts and exuberance about his speakers (Caravelles).
How bout you?
Has anyone compared the Supratek preamps with some of the many models created by Emmanuel Go at First Sound?
Your friendly neighbourhood Troll
Guidocorona-I believe there's a fair amount of discussion about comparisons to a number of preamps including the First Sounds in the " deal of the century" thread. It's very long,but sprinkled with info you're looking for throughout. Good reading besides. :^)
I second Jond's rec of the Herron. I'd check out Keith's new tubed preamp with remote at www.herron-audio.com - there's a definite house sound - live music. The get yourself a separate phono stage with the money you save.
The Herron is a terrific preamp. Doesn't get a lot of ink, and it doesn't have as many groupies as the Surpateks or H-Cat.
BTW, I didn't compare the First Sound to a Supratek, but I did have a FS Presence Deluxe for over a year. Outstanding dynamics, bass and resolution, but I sold it for the Herron, which also excells in those areas, with greater tonal color and 3D imaging. No regrets.
Check 'em both out. At this level, it becomes a matter of tate and system synergy.
This thread has been interesting and lead to some reflection on my part. We all have our STRONG biases, based on our own personal financial and emotional investements in this hobby - others because they know the designer, sell competitors or whatever. What one guy trades "out of" - another considers a trade "up to."
For example, I have owned excellent preamps from Ayre (K-1x), then moved on to tubes. I only heard maybe three different pres in my system before making a purchase decision (in my case a First Sound Presence Deluxe MK II), which I really love. As others, I used press reviews and traded emails with people WHO OWNED THEM before ordering a brand new one, unheard (maybe a little risky)
It's natural for me to spread the word on this excellent product. I have posted as much on several threads, and then it occurred to me, would someone think I'm a shill? I do try to temper my enthusiasm by constantly adding other well-established preamps to my list of "you should try the..." recommendations: VTL, CAT, Aesthetix, Supratek and so on. Still, we are inherently biased by our expereiecnes, there's no getting around it.
Similarly, Rackon has posted in other places that he preferred his beloved Herron over the FS (granted he admits its was an older version, and does not mention the tube set), and over a Joule Electra LA100. Of course he's biased, and he has a right to be, it's his expereience and opinion. OTOH, if we were to find out that he sells these (or that I sell First Sound), then it throws all this into another, more negative light.....
Here's how I sift through this stuff: get a critical mass of REAL customer testimonials here (i.e., find the "cult" products) and give them a listen. Real buzz, real word of mouth is sustainable and will lead to long lines of people to buy your product (e.g., Berning amps, First Sound and Supratek preamps). Hyped up products which do not really make the grade are thrown on the trash heap in a matter of months, and you will see them sold here in droves. Time and track record do matter.
Ok, done philosophizing here. pardon my soap box display! (Also, Rackon, i didnt mean to single you out, just an illustrative example)
Artg, that was well said. I'd also add to the list of criteria: manufacturer's longevity, manufacturer's customer and/or product support. Though these criteria do not count as much as the sound of the product, poor customer support will echo longer than terrific sonics if the product quits working, or if one needs assistance and can't get it.
Artg, I know from your posts that you love your FS as much as I love my Herron.
However - since you did single me out - just so you know...Rackon is a "she".
Your advice to contact users is well taken - I have done that, mainly to discuss reliability and synergy issues.
In my case, I have a pretty clear idea of what I'm looking for soundwise before I embark on the upgrade path as well as what the strengths and weaknesses of my current system are. I think it helps to know where you want to end up in order to choose the right road to get there. (Many are the paths to audio nirvana, although some are more twisted than opthers.)
Also, as Tvag mentions, reliability & customer support is also something that is important to me, along with ease of use. I don't have boats, so I'm not interested in buying boat anchors. I'm looking for products that are keepers.
I originally tried several preamps over a period of 2 years. Magazine reviews and internet forums are all right in their place, but I tend to search out components based on recommendations from dealers who have helped me in the past and people whose ears I trust - audio friends with experience and some relative musical sophistication. I pay particular attention to components that have worked well with my speakers and other components - it is a *system* after all.
I was also lucky enough to hear the Herron gear (which I was aleady interested in) in a killer demo at the Chicago Audio Society a few years back. Very useful, that. The FS was purchased based on a rec from someone who is now a dealer, but not for FS. I also heard a FS with a Berning amp and Merlin speakers in someone's system and was impressed enough to purchase one to try in my own system.
The FS was "buzz" product, however, I tend to be cautious about such audio groupie darlings. Some are the real deal and some are not. I don't really care how long the lines are to buy the component.
I tend to evaluate components "stock" first. The only thing I'm likely to change out initially is the power cord. I had the original tubes in the FS - had it rung my chimes, I would have rolled tubes in it. But it didn't so I didn't. The ergonomics alone killed it for me. In fact, I recently heard the FS in the original system I first heard it in, with Siemens BTW, and it still sounded quite fine in that context. The person I sold my FS to loves it. Different strokes for different folks.
The ultimate decision is how a piece sounds in *my* system with my gear in my room. The winner there, for my ears, my system, my music and my taste, was the Herron. For you, it was the FS. Neither of us bought our preamps based on "flavor de jour". It's no surprise we're both happy with our respective products.
It's impossible to hear every good tube preamp in the world, but I knew what I was looking for, and I auditioned at least six.
As you have been happy with your FS, so I have been delighted with my Herron. (Keith Herron and Emmanual Go actually have much more in common with their design philosophies than not, although they go about it in completely different fashion.) I sense some consternation on your part that I rejected the FS - how could I have not seen the light? Why didn't I swap tubes? But there is simply no one-size-fits-all preamp. As good as the FS is, and it is very good, it wasn't *my* preamp, although I understand it is *yours*. I too recommend people try the FS, CAT, Blue Circle, J-E and others. There are a bunch of good ones out there. And I don't deal any of them.
I'm just a happy musical camper, trying to turn fellow 'philes onto some good gear they may not have considered.