Why Not More Conversation about VAC?

As I browse Audiogon's posts...I'm constantly amazed at the lack of attention, questions, remarks about VAC, (Valve Amplification Company).
First and foremost, I'm thinking that most if not all of us are music lovers--and I'm not aware, subjectively, of course, of more, just out and out, musical sounding electronics. And, I don't mean that in a perjorative, 'colored' sense...I mean that in the most flattering sense.
The lack of comments may mean nothing, but it just strikes me as 'absent' from good discussions.
Second, and beyond the stellar sound, if you want great gear, and a great person to buy it from, who better in terms of accommodation, knowledge and service than Kevin Hayes. Like the Bobster (Palkovic) his reputation for building first rate stuff and then backing it to the hilt is unsurpassed.

Kevin is also a great guy AND music lover of the first order...a friend too, but I'm not shilling here, just seriously wondering why VAC isn't further up the discussion ladder.

Kinda like reading Motor Trend Magazine, in which they 'Test Drive' a Mustang in EVERY ISSUE!!!

Just wondering.

I bought a used VAC Standard here last year.
It is being used as a lowly (but important by my standards) as a glorified tube buffer between my DAC and Bryston BP-26.
I have opened it up and can say it is a nice hand wired (point to point wiring on a board) tube preamp with a separate power supply.
It is IMO not worth the retail money it sold for.
(Especially compared to the current swarm off low cost Chinese tube stuff coming in.

The reason i was able to buy it was the person i got it from bought it, and it was damaged in transit to him from the prior owner. So the person i bought it from sent it to VAC to be repaired and some upgrades.
The wait for his preamp became too long? and he found a preamp he liked in the meantime. So when he finally got the VAC Standard back, he liked his 'newer' preamp more, and thus sold the VAC Standard, to me for $1,500.
I like it as it makes the digital 'tolerable'.
So this tepid review/history is all i have on VAC.
I would buy it again at the price i paid. It does have a nice sound. (not as transparent as my Audio Research Sp-15, nor the Bryston BP-26.
Hi Larry

I remember hearing an all VAC system driving a pair of Green Mountain Audio speakers, can't recall the models, at the 1994 show at Doral in Miami. I spent some time speaking with Kevin and was duly impressed with his candor, honesty and friendly easy going nature and of course his obvious love of music. The system was without question one of the most musical and enjoyable being presented at that show and I sure wasn't alone in that assessment. They have always been on the top of my list of great tube products after that demo.
I don't agree that there is a lack of discussion about VAC in the on-line forums - there are not as many threads as there are for brands such as Audio Research, but there seems to be a relatively steady flow. And the threads seem to be overwhelmingly positive, very much along the lines of Lrsky's thread here.

An aside about Elizabeth's experience with the Standard preamp: a friend and I test-drove that preamp at some length in his system about then years ago - we both found it to be nothing special and he didn't buy it. Afterwards, however, we both had occasion to sample the Renaissance amps and preamps - that stuff, in contrast, was REALLY good.

"It is IMO not worth the retail money it sold for.
(Especially compared to the current swarm off low cost Chinese tube stuff coming in."

Which brands and models are you saying that sound equal to or greater than VAC in performance, for less money?

Just wonderin'

Good listening,

One more point Larry, I never got the impression that VAC was not considered highly regarded tube gear. So far as value is concerned, I can't comment from an experience standpoint but I've never read where VAC has been considered on the cutting edge of price/performance, just great sounding musical tube gear very well designed and built. If not mistaken Kevin is an EE, correct? Not all tube manufacturers are and often this is reflected in poor design that have inherent flaws. I can't recall anything bad although there have been users that have moved on, nothing unusual about that in this hobby.
I agree Larry, that VAC does not come up in discussion here often these days. It used to. Kind of like "the flavor of the month" phenomenon that we see here. I've always wanted one of their preamps but they were typically out of reach monetarily.
My opinion is that VAC has very much been considered on the cutting edge, performance-wise. The 300B-based Renaissance amps (30/30, 70/70, 140/140), especially, are some of the very best production push-pull amps ever made - fully point-to-point wired, extreme parts quality, and really careful implementation - their sound quality is very competitive to anything built before or since that I have experienced.
This topic was probably a non starter.
I was just thinking about Kevin the other day and kinda did a quick look at the preamp/amp topics, didn't see any VAC threads and I began wondering why.
Tubegroover, I too have always considered VAC and certainly Kevin in the province of HIGH END AUDIO...I owned an Avatar Integrated a few years ago and had some of my more musical experiences with that piece....it's really, really good.

Elizabeth makes an interesting comment about it not being worth the money with the Chinese gear that has come to our shores. I asked, "Which Brands and Models do you think sound better."

CJ has a sound which I like, Audio Research too--though some of the older cj sounded so musical...but the VAC is just really special--Kevin's ideas of what music sounds like, is similar to mine I suppose..but I love it.

Good listening,
It is very expensive.
I happen to be the person Elizabeth purchased her VAC Standard from.

I purchased the VAC based on their prior reputation of having the classic tube sound, which to me, means thick, round, full midrange, less dynamic.

I own a VAC DAC 2 Mk2 which I have had for over 10 years and have not found a reason to upgrade at its price point.

When i recd the Standard, I was very impressed over the build quality. As Elizabeth said, it was sent to me in need of repairs from shipping damages.

After going through a very rough battle to get it repaired and very challenging customer service, when I got it back, it did not have that classic tube sound I was expecting. That and the frustrating taste in my mouth with customer service, made me decide to sell the unit at a loss-
( I should add that Kevin was not around for about 75% of the time my unit was at VAC, as it was around CES. Once he did return, I was able to speak to him, but still things were missed, balls got dropped again, by his other employees)

But to answer your question, I think a lot of it has to do with their current line. I beleive most of the current products are more on the upper price scale end. In the past they had more sub $4000 retail pieces in their line. There is less advertising in audio in general, even if they do advertise, many audiophiles no longer order the audio mags to see the ads. I also under the belief that VAC does not change or come out with new products that often

Just my 2cents
I'll add on to the folks that the VAC Standard isn't a terribly great preamp. It seemed cloudy to me and not very tube like. Renaissance is clearly different.

Kevin's pricing has gotten up there imo as well. Everything he releases now is 10k+
Justlisten: Thanks for the preamp!! I love it in my system to be able to tolerate CD sound and not go bonkers!!
It is just the right tool for the job.
Thanks again for a nice bit of kit I will use for many years.
Just my 2 cents worth, I bought an old VAC PA 35.35 a while back, and while I liked it, it wasn't as good sounding as I thought it might be, so I set about getting new tubes in it. It had EH EL 34's, and 12AU7's,and 12AT7's. In went NOS Telefunken 12AU7's, 12AT7's, and Mullard re-issue EL 34's, and I'm floored at how this amp sounds now. It's a keeper.

The VAC gear I've heard has all been top notch but too expensive and I am not one to dabble with maintaining tube gear if not needed.

I had a crush on the VAC Phi Beta integrated at one point.

Then the Jolida fx10 was in my league and stole my heart.....
I've always wanted to try a Renaissance 30/30 amp. Someday...
To the OP, answer is not enough exposure on VAC and very pricy equipment. I would add a limited distribution in terms of dealers and maybe a very specific kind of sound that will not please everybody.

I have a VAC Standard LE and disagree with some comments here. I must say before I got this unit, I tried a Calypso, a VTL 5.5 in my system and ended up with the VAC. I will admit the Standard will need close tube rolling before one gets it right for his taste. As for the rest, it will pinpoint like none of the above do, is quite transparent with very good detail and very dynamic. I still have it, even if I got a CJ Premier 16 MK2 along the way because I simply can't figure why I should get rid of the VAC.
I owned both the VAC Ren. Sig Mk. III 140's & the VAC Ren. Sig. Mk. II pre with phono in one system.
I even $pent $5,800 to retube the 140's with 2 matched octet sets of WE 300B's.
Probably the best sound I have ever heard!
To this day I think it was Kevin's finest work.
The people I sold them to also agree.
Drubin: The Renaissance 30/30 is thought by many knowledgeable audiophiles to be the best amp VAC ever made - a real finesse amp that is extremely transparent and musical. It also plays a lot bigger than 30 watts/channel and will drive pretty much any speaker (although it's obviously not always going to be the right choice, i.e., inefficient speakers in big rooms with big music). The 70/70, as it has twice the number of ouput devices and thus a more complex circuit, is not quite as good, but is still excellent and is far more practical - its 65 watts/channel, which are coming from an amp with really stiff power supplies and superb output transformers, are usually enough.

Islandmandan: Because the circuit of a tube amp is the tubes, tube quality will dramatically affect results.

I asked myself that same question a few years ago prior to getting a Sig. MK2a pre. You can refer to my past threads over the years.

At the time I couldn't find one for sale used nor did anyone around me have one to listen to so the only option I had was to purchase one.

Someone PM'd me and within their email said: owners are just enjoying listening to music and are content, they don't sell them they are that good.

Those words intrigued me enough to take the plunge so I decided to purchase one, they are very exspensive and the wait time can be long but I feel now what I know was well worth it.

I have owned allot of world class pre-amps over the years and I must say after hearing this in my system has gotten me off the mer-i-go round, I find my self just listening to more music and not thinking about a pre-amp.

Next was when I bought my speakers (MBL 101E's) which was prior to the VAC purchase I thought I had bought the right amps (CAT JL3 Sig. MK2 mono's)to power them and that would be it. Well it wasn't and it sure has been a long journey, I have lost track of how many different amps I have had paired up with these speakers and most were just okay but at the same time doing this I could hear the huge potential so I never gave up.

I get this VAC pre and I'm very happy indeed and my speakers are too so then I read VAC is coming out with some cost no object mono blocks, I wasn't all that excited about reading the cost no object because I knew what comes with these specific words, big dollars.

I have been listening to amps of all costs and types, always leaving the cost out of the actual equation. I just wanted to hear what ever it was being the end result and go from there.

Well an oportunity came available for me to hear a set-up in a real world situation, in someones home, with the same pre-amp and speakers as mine but with these VAC 450's.

What's the chance of this ever happening?

I had to take a flight, this all happened very quickly. My thoughts prior to arriving was all subjective and I would be content to leave with what ever it may be, good or bad.

I was there for three days and did my normal listening evaluation process trying to find the goods and faults. After being satisfied with this then I evaluate the fit and finish, eye appeal, looks and lastly the cost.

Well all I can say is that these are the real deal, nothing has come close as a whole package and left me in awe.

My intentions were to at least hear this set-up and leave saying bla! bla! but they aren't really worth the crazy price.

Well long story short they are so I ordered a pair, once I receive them my hunt will come to a end.

So in the end this will all mean I will also be less active in my postings and just listening to music.

Anyone reading this if you have the means do your self a favour and some how hear these but be prepared.

Kevin two thumbs up along with my hat off to you and others at VAC for firstly coming up with such designs along with then actually following through and producing the end result.

My post and evaluation of VAC is more than confirmed with Dev's eloquent statement.

I remember helping Craig Oxford (Owner of Nearfield Acoustics Pipedreams) at the CES some years ago. He used Kevin's VAC in the smaller room with a pair of 18's.

I wandered in late on the day before the show's start, Kevin was worn out and said, "We can listen for a couple of minutes, I've GOT to eat."
Two hours later, after listening to all kinds of music, ending with Bobby Darin's LP--I was convinced of two things--Kevin is a great guy AND, he really knows how to design electronics--at least to MY taste, hence this OP.

Good listening.

I just bough a VAC Phi 200 to replace a McIntosh MC275 and think it was money well spent. The VAC is exceptionally musical and a joy to listen to. It does not have quite as gorgeous a mid-range as the McIntosh, but it actually seems more natural with better extension, better detail, and incredible dynamics.

But VAC is expensive, especially the preamps, and VAC gear doesn't show up for sale used very often. Hence there may not be as much discussion as there is for gear that frequently is listed for sale. In general, really expensive gear does not get discussed much. I cannot remember ever reading any owner impressions of Boulder amps, for example, nor do I ever see Boulder gear come up for sale used.
I've owned the Phi Beta 110i for just under a year now. I would make a number of observations:

1) Yes, it was expensive
2) It's probably the most beautiful piece of audio gear I've ever seen
3) It sounds even better than it looks

We all have differing opinions on perceived value. I can only say that this particular amp provides a great deal of listening pleasure. Is it worth it? To me it is.

Going back to the original question, I really have little idea why there seems to be comparatively sparse discussion of VAC products. Could it be that owners are more interested in listening to it rather than talking about it? I do know that Kevin loses no sleep over the lack of formal reviews of his gear, and that they are selling everything they can produce.
Dev: Your dissatisfaction with the CAT amps intrigues me - what was the problem? The lower-powered JL-1 monos were designed in part to be able to drive the MBL 101's.
One observation...
When Elizabeth said, that the VAC is overpriced compared to the Chinese Tube gear...I find that to be a disconnect for me.
That's kind of like saying...Mercedes/Jaguar is overpriced with the likes of Hyundai in the market.
I've yet to hear a piece of Chinese (Designed, not necessarily manufactured) Tube gear that sounds like VAC--and it's not hand wired, point to point as is the VAC--overall hand made like the VAC. (I can be corrected here if someone knows of such).

Like a couple of the posters on this query, I find the VAC to be among the best sounding electronics out there.
Cheap, NO, handmade and beautiful, YES. Let's compare apples to apples.

Good listening,

Hi Dearing,

I started to reply but then deleated my post and scalled it down dramatically. This isn't a CAT amp vs VAC thread so if you would like to know more PM me and I'll reply but that being said I did notice a thread you replied to in relation to CAT amps on 10-09-06 and I agree you were spot on when you said.

10-09-06: Dearing

they are extremely finnicky because of their hot-rod design. They require constant monitoring of bias settings and blow tubes easily, which requires new resistors to be soldered in. Don't buy one unless you know how to use a solder iron, have a lot of patience and have a lot of money for new output tubes.

Dearing, you are so correct and then some, once I got most of the on going issues sorted out the CAT's in the end just could not properly fill my room with sound while paired up with my MBL's.

Now if anyone reading this is thinking of comparing these CAT's to these VAC 450's all I can say is good luck and that will be just too funny because in the end there just isn't anything to compare periode.

Good luck and enjoy!

"I've yet to hear a piece of Chinese (Designed, not necessarily manufactured) Tube gear that sounds like VAC--and it's not hand wired, point to point as is the VAC--overall hand made like the VAC. (I can be corrected here if someone knows of such)."

I don't know if there is or is not, but I have to wonder?

VAC is a no holds barred high cost/high quality line.

Think Mercedes or Lexus.

However, I drive a Toyota Avalon rather than a Lexus in that I am not into overt luxury and I see little difference in actual functional quality and a lot of difference in value and total cost of ownership over time.

Maybe there are others that can match teh sound quality taking a more budget oriented approach? It would surprise me if that were not the case, but I am not educated enough in this area to know if such an amp actually exists or not.
A tube amp that can drive mbl well?

That may be a first and is truly something!

Hi Mapman, not only drives them well but drives them effortlessly.

What I heard was a absolutely amazing jaw dropping experience no mater what music was played, and or at what volume.

All I can say is to any and all MBL 101E owners you have never heard your speakers full potential until you hear them paired up with these amps, if you truely want to hear the full capibilities and get off the mer-i-go round, you owe it to your self and you for sure are in for a real treat.
Dev: Very interesting. I'd very much like to hear the 450.

Mr. Hayes: If you are following this thread, please consider toning down the ad copy in your description of the 450 on your site - way too heavy and not credible.
Why not more conversation about VAC?


1. little product advertising
2. limited audio reviews
3. strong competition
4. highly fragmented market
5. long delivery lead time
6. limited global representation

all play a role?

Speaking personally I tried (and failed) to buy product from directly from VAC. Kevin kept promising to get back to me but in the finish he simply never did. A big disappointment which I decided was the outcome of Kevin seemingly trying to do everything himself. Perhaps therefore we should add 7. small company?
"What I heard was a absolutely amazing jaw dropping experience no mater what music was played, and or at what volume."

mbl done right is generally that way.

I'm assuming you heard the mbl on a traditional well set up SS rig (top off the line mbl amp as a benchmark) as well?

BTW, I've heard the exact same mbl rig set up well in a showroom and less than optimally at a show. The dealer's setup was OUTSTANDING. The show was nice but forgettable.

There are a lot of things that go into maxing out mbl in addition to just amp, though certainly that is a big part.
I have owned and sold a VAC Ren (not Sig) full function pre and now have a VAC Ren 30/30 MkII amp. The pre was excellent, has fantastic looks and build quality, it's extremely versatile and has the best remote I have ever come across. It sounded fantastic (l.s. and phono). I sold it when I went to a l.o. mc and I wanted to get into an active gain stage instead of the internal step up in the VAC. My Doshi Alaap is better, but not significantly better. I could have lived with the VAC, happily ever after. I did have to send it back once for repair and to have the internal loading resistor swapped out. The repair took a while, but it was sent in just before XMAS and then of course Kevin is out at CES right after. I would say that in terms of speed of service its about what you could expect from an artisan/boutique operation. The work was done well, it was not cheap and it took a bit of time.
The amp is fantastic; I bought it used here on the 'Gon and had a couple of concerns when it arrived. I emailed Kevin late one night and got back a detailed response first thing the next morning. Over the course of the next day or 2, we exchanged 3 or 4 emails; he was never anything but helpful, gracious and generous with his time. So I would say his products are expensive and provide a level of build quality and sound quality commensurate with the price. As far as comparing the Ren series of products to the moderate priced tube gear from China- well all I can say is we are not talking apples and oranges, we are talking apples and extra-terrestrials. Also, try getting some good diagnostic advice from PrimaLuna or Consonance on a piece you bought used. And then there are the QC and dealer/customer support issues. Search Trelja's threads; it'll curl your hair!
"we are not talking apples and oranges, we are talking apples and extra-terrestrials"

That's a good one! Gotta remember that!

If you are going to make a major investment, customer support and service should be part of the value proposition.

I know many smaller companies are challenged to turn things around quickly, which does matter.

I always think about things like how to get service if needed and total cost of ownership when considering any major purchase.

Plus. I try to keep decent spare gear around in order to be able to listen if/when something has to go out for repair.


I'm not about to get into debates but I owned the the MBL 6010D pre-amp at the same time I owned the ARC REF3, both are gone and replaced by the VAC Sig. MK2a and I have never looked back.

At the same time I owned the mentioned pre's above I had the 9008 mono's and 9011's mono's and no way do they come close in over all comparison to the 450's other wise one or the other would still be in my set-up.

In relation to MBL product my two favourite pces are the 101E speakers and 1621a transport.

Discussions are great but in the end I have owned and lived with my gear for a long time and they are dialed in so I'm writing my thought's from first hand exsperience not going to showrooms and or shows and listening, big difference.

I agree with you that there are allot of things going on but this is with any set-up but I will say I finaly have found amps that just do it for me and it's a great feeling but then again it's just not the amps but paired up with the VAC pre I currently have.

I'm really looking forward to getting them.


"Maybe there are others that can match teh sound quality taking a more budget oriented approach? It would surprise me if that were not the case, but I am not educated enough in this area to know if such an amp actually exists or not."

The old saying, there's no such thing as a free lunch applies. How COULD/WOULD they make something as good, using cheaper parts and not handwiring...that's counterintuitive to me.

Agree with just about everything you've said here though.

Good Listening.


Hi Swampwalker,

I actually had a Doshi pre and compared it to my current VAC Sig. MK2a w/phono and prefered the VAC. I was using a TW Acustic Raven AC3 with a Graham Phantom MK2 arm and XV-1s latest version cart for vinyl front end.

When I looked at the Doshi build quality exterior, not going inside and how costly it is had me scratching my head wondering why, there's allot of room for improvement.

Put my current VAC side by side with the Doshi and it's pretty apparent the VAC is superior.

As we both know there are always going to be differences along with preferences and that's okay.


I agree service is very important and one of the reason's I ran very quickly when it came to the CAT product and lack of. My only hope is that is if I ever have any issues with my VAC product it will be taken care of efficiently, I am buying through a long time dealer so one would think that should assist and I have dealt with this dealer for many years.
Dev, I agree with you. I have had many amps and preamps in the past CJ, VTL, CAT, MFA, and I must say the Phi 300.1 and VAC Sig. Mark IIa preamp are the best I ever had. They are not only the most musical, but also are very transparent and engaging. I could hug Kevin Hayes for all the enjoyment. I think I will next time I see him either at Rocky Mountain or CES. I would love to hear his best amps in my system, but I probably would have to have them, will see.
I forgot to add Audio Research to the mix as well.
pwehaps a limited product line, lacking entry level components that people can afford.

for that matter, it seems that most of the conversation is diverse, in that many brands are mentioned designed by owners of small companies.

is there a lot of talk about conrad johnson ?

what company is most frequently mentioned on audiogon ??

it would be interesting to find out what products are viewed as favorites in their class.

what are the favorite amps, preamps, speakers, dacs, cable, accessories, etc. ?

That's a subject for another thread.

Jwm, yup be prepared if you hear them in your own set-up you will most defiantly have to have them, it's really hard to put into words the whole exsperience.

Just like when I heard them I was being very skeptical, nit picking, looking for faults etc. any excuse not to buy them but oh no that just didn't happen, in the end what I experienced first hand I have never heard before and that's with the same pre-amp with phono and speakers as mine.

So enjoy!
Dev, I am using Brimar ECC-88 and Mullard 12AU7 (1950's) 2 Support Square D Getter tubes in the Preamp. In the amp I am using Kevin's Chinese KT-88 and all RCA 6SN7 GTB black base tubes in the input stage. My oh my as Sulu says in those tv ads.
I can't imagine not owning my Renaissance preamp. I love the way it sounds, the solid casework, the feel of the controls, and heavy "easy to use" remote. It so severely trounced my previous preamps that there was no comparison. From the first note it was over. The VAC has a look, feel and sound unto itself that is so seductive that I don't even think about any other brand.

I also have a VAC amp and DAC which are fabulous components that have staved off numerous challengers. I did sell the Phi 110 which looked stunning all lit up. It was a bit polite on the top in my system.

Kevin has been great on the phone and I met him in person at RMAF. He treats his customers well.

If you've lived and breathed with both then I will certainly take your word for it.

mbl would not be the first tube unfriendly speaker I have heard of where someone found a way to make tubes work, usually by specifically finding a way to adapt the impedance load to the tube paradigm somehow.

It's true that if done right most anything can be adapted to work well with most anything else. The question will be how hard is it, how much will it cost, and what is the value proposition compared to the alternatives.
Mapman said:
I try to keep decent spare gear around in order to be able to listen if/when something has to go out for repair.
Couldn't agree more. I bought and learned to thoroughly respect Dan Wright's entry level pre-amp whilst the VAC was away; now I have a Lightspeed passive for same.

Put my current VAC side by side with the Doshi and it's pretty apparent the VAC is superior.
My VAC Ren pre was neither Sig nor Mk2, but I did compare it head to head w a Doshi (not mine) and in that case, driving a Doshi Lectron amp, which now I also have, the Doshi won out. But as I said, I could have easily lived w the VAC, which at that time I was using to driving a Joule OTL amp. Maybe its as simple as the synergy of the pre/amp from the same builder. Or the chocolate vs. vanilla dichotomy. We are talking v. high quality products here and very personal decisions.
Hi Swampwalker,

I just wanted to clarifi a couple of things, when I said "Put my current VAC side by side with the Doshi and it's pretty apparent the VAC is superior."

I was speaking directly in relation to the exterior over all fit and finish build quality.

Next when I briefly discussed my thoughts of comparison of Doshi vs VAC, the VAC was not paired up with any other VAC gear.

I fully agree these are all top notch pces and in the end it really is going to come down to what your preference is and that's okay but for me I'm sure happy I made the leap initially and decided blindly buy and try the VAC Sig. MK2a pre.

I was listening last night for some 8 hours and constantly amazed and that's without my new 450's, I just can't wait.

In the end for me it's all about listening to music so enjoy!

"I was listening last night for some 8 hours"

Time one spends actually listening to (using) a system is perhaps the most telling metric of good sound of all.
In my VAC Sig MkIIa preamp, I finally settled on Telefunken 12au7 ribbed plates and Siemen e88cc w/ wide getter support post.

The Siemens are my FAVORITE by far. It's very fast, transparent, 3D, great extension, great dynamics ... I'm constantly amazed how 2 little tubes can totally transform a system. Have some Siemen Cca in transit now from a reputable dealer so can't wait. Also using HiFi-Tuning Supreme fuses.

I noticed ARC is replacing the 6550 with KT120 in all their amps. I wonder if VAC is migrating in the same direction. In most circumstances, it's a drop in replacement without mod if there's room. I wonder if it's true with current VAC amps ... so far only heard POSITIVE comments on the KT120.
Knghifi, what fuses are they, silver or gold. Thanks
Jwm, Recently I replaced a Gold with a Supreme. The Gold is warmer and Supreme is more detail and higher resolution. HiFi Tuning fuse is directional. Facing the fuse holder, I prefer a right to left direction. In the other direction, the sound is lean and constricted and it's NOT subtle.

I AB against the stock fuse with familiar tracks, a constant volume and just swapping the fuses. I consistently found with the HiFi Tuning, sound was noticeably smoother and less hifi-ish.
VAC "costs" are relative - most VAC owners seem to keep their gear for quite a while, so their "investment" over time might be the same or even less than if they were trading out every 6 months, like a number of people do with other brands.

When you build great products that stand the test of time in the first place, there is no need for Kevin to be consumed with constantly upgrading everything, IMO. I really like the "if its not broke, don't fix it" business model VAC seems to employ. I have found their service to be exemplary, with reasonable turn-around times on the few instances my gear was at their facility.

Its easy to understand why things might occasionally fall through the cracks from the service side for about 6 weeks prior to and 4 after a major show like CES. This is not a criticism of VAC - its just common sense. I would think most people would realize this, but maybe not.

I've been extremely pleased with the quality and performance of my VAC gear and the service and assistance provided by Kevin and Brent has been without peer, in my experience. They have taken me off the pre-amp/amp upgrade merry-go-round and for that I am grateful - more time to listen to the MUSIC, which is what its all about.