Herron HL-1 Preamplifier, Solid State; Herron still in business? Thoughts about sound?

I'm looking into having a solid state preamp along with my other tube gear. I'm considering a Herron HL-1 preamp on the used market. Comments about Mr. Herron's gear and his reputation as a talented and kind man are all over the internet.

It seems he has retired or is in semi-retirement. His website has been de-commissioned, it seems.

So, two questions:

(a) I don't expect a unit to break quickly, so I'm more interested in how easy to fix his solid state preamp might be by a third party? If you have any thoughts about that kind of scenario, please let me know.

(b) More important, if you have had experience with the HL-1 Herron preamp, how would you characterize its sound compared to other things you've heard? Any other thoughts?

With all the hoopla around about gear, I find myself drawn back, again and again, to smaller makers who take pride in their work and genuinely care about listening to the things they make. This is why I'm drawn to makers like deHavilland, Herron, Quicksilver, Aric Audio, Atmasphere, and many others.


What sound characteristics are you looking for, and what pre are you using now?

@soix I'm looking for a SS that is fairly neutral and, as it adds a bit of gain, it would be nice if the gain was slightly warm. Just a bit.

I'm presently using a DIY made by a friend that is comprised, basically, of the original Burson buffer with a really nice relay based attenuator, ultra low noise resistors. Any SS I got might be a bit warmer than this, but this one is dead quiet.

So I’m gonna go off the reservation a bit here and recommend giving the Linear Tube Audio MZ2 (w/ optional LPS) a look as it’s very neutral and gives you that effortless 3D soundstage that tubes do so well and you usually need to pay dearly for to get from solid state preamps. Plus, it’s a David Berning design where the tubes last forever and are cheap to replace so very low maintenance.

If you must go solid state I can highly recommend either the Bryston BP6 or BP26 (they’re pretty much the same except the BP26 offers balanced connections and a separate power supply). I owned the BP6 for years and found it to be the most transparent and neutral component I’ve heard, and it throws off a big and deep soundstage with excellent imaging and separation. And while it’s not cold or sterile sounding, it won’t add any warmth on its own. Here’s a BP26 just fyi…


Hope this is somewhat useful, and best of luck.

I too was surprised to see that listing - wasn’t aware Herron made a SS preamp. It seems it was a while ago, ~ 20 years. Price seems great, under 1K. However, looking at the inside - that’s a lot of ICs. Not that ICs can’t sound great, but it simply doesn’t get me excited for a separate box 2ch preamp. Why not get a NAD preamp / DAC with modern features and even streaming, at that point?

Keith is retired (semi-retired?) but seems to still be readily available via email for communication, service, and even upgrades on existing Herron components. Not that this can be counted on long-term, but then can you really count on ANY small audio manufacturer’s long-term service?

Anyways, I think congratulations are in order for Mr. Keith Herron. He created & ran a successful audio company with a very well respected line of components. His phono stage was particularly lauded and unique. The company survived and was productive right up until he was ready to personally ride off into the sunset. NO upset customers. NO funny business or drama. NO snake oil! This is rare to see. A truly golden example for others. I wish he would’ve had a succession plan to keep the business going, but that was for him alone to decide.

Keith is wonderful - i have his last phono preamp model. As a SS alternative, i would strongly recommend anything Ayre.

I wrote to him and he wrote right back. He is retired and still stands behind his products. Nice guy.

@mulveling You make a good point. One might even go for something super simple, like an old Apt Holman.

@soix thanks for your commentary, suggestions, and links. I yearn for LTA, but a SS preamp would be a kind of temporary utility infielder. I don’t need to over-spend because I really really love tubes. Just want a good pinch player.

Nice conversation with him, here:


The HL-1 is extremely transparent, neutral and has zero colorations of its own.  It provides gain and has a remote control that is quite handy.  It is neither warm nor cold/dry.  

Keith Herron has a background in designing rugged, high-quality musical instrument electronics / amplifiers.  His conservative designs are reflected in the durability of Herron Audio products.  I would not be concerned with the care and feeding of the HL-1 as some other audio companies' offerings.  


@hilde45 Pass XP-12 came to mind based on your description. I know you’re asking about Heron so just a thought….

So, to answer your question about the HL-1.  Buy it! Keith make’s fantastic gear and I have heard the HL-1 and it sounds great.  Call the number from Herron’s website and leave a message and he will most likely get back in touch with you.  His SS preamp is close to his tube preamp in sound.  I have owned many high priced gear and the Herron surpassed most of them, his tube preamp is neutral sounding with a touch of tube warmth.  Keith is a musician, engineer and spends countless hours listening and tweaking his designs for a natural sound which gets you as close to how the instruments and vocals sound in real life.  Let’s face it nothing sounds like live music from home audio but if it puts you where you feel like you hear what it’s like being there in a live setting then it has accomplished what it’s suppose to.

Good luck with your search and don’t let a semi retired/retired Keith Herron steer you away from buying his products on the used market.

Keith's pre for under 1K is the best buy on the internet.  He still services his equipment.  Funny, I was just looking at a HL1 a couple days ago!!  Better hurry ...

Great replies! 
@bpoletti calls the HL-1 "extremely transparent, neutral and has zero colorations" while @cfarrow  calls it "neutral sounding with a touch of tube warmth" -- close enough for me and very appealing.

@audphile1  thanks for the Pass rec. Not sure I can find it for under 1k. By the way, can you tell me why you have Pauly Walnuts as your icon? I always find it disconcerting.

@blackbag20 Are we looking at the same unit? How might it fit with your system? 

Herron's high reputation come through again and again. Sounds like a mensch's mensch!

@hilde45 for under $1K you can also get a Herron VTSP-1 tubed I will say I had this preamp myself back in the day and it is dead neutral. So dead neutral I sold it craving more tube warmth.



I’ve known Keith for years and owned several of his preamps and phono amps, though I haven’t had the pleasure of owning an HL-1. However, right at the time he was introducing it I caught up with Keith at CES when he still made the trips to the shows to exhibit his gear. Keith’s rooms were always an oasis of friendliness and natural musicality in the craziness and excess that marks many rooms at CES and other shows.

That year was not an exception and after catching up a bit with Keith (sorry Bill, I don’t recall now if you were there too that year) I settled back to enjoy the music his Herron system was making. Several selections into listening, Keith told me the preamp he was using was a new one, the HL-1 and it was solid state! I was amazed -- I had absolutely no idea from the sound he was getting that there was a solid-state component in the mix, and at the time I owned and listened to one of his tube preamps and phono stages for many hours each day in my home system.

As many have said, Keith is a kind, generous man and scrupulously honest. We’re all getting older and there will inevitably come a time when Keith stops servicing his designs -- and I hope that day is many years away -- but *any* Keith Herron designed product will be lovely sounding, reliable in operation and last for many, many years. If you can find one of his products for less than $1K -- that is the buy of the century. Get on it!

Steve Z