I need help regarding tube phono preamplifiers

To the Audiogon community. I am currently considering one of three possible all tube phono preamps to incorporate in my two channel system. The three phono stages are 1.Aesthetix Rhea phono preamp 2.Zesto Andros Deluxe II phono stage and 3. Vac Renaissance phono preamp. I will incorporate the stand alone phono preamp into my McIntosh C48 preamp and utilize a Clearaudio Performance DC turntable with a Clearaudio Universal tonearm and Kiseki Purple Heart phono cartridge. If anyone has experience to help me compare the differences between these phono stages I would greatly appreciate the input. Thanks.


Dear @andyhifiman : " one of three possible all tube phono preamps..."

well, only the Rea and VAC are all tube phono stages. Been all tube designs means too that the cartridge signal must pass through many gain stages, around 4-5 in the REA and at least 6 stages in the VAC. At each stage the cartridge siggnal is degraded.


Both tube designs looks as good designs and good quality execution with good choice in passive parts. Btw, I don’t like tubes running a cartridge signal but this is me.


Now, you already own an average digital/analog control center that has as a " side line " facilities to handled cartridges. It does not matters which stand alone unit you will buy ( tube, hybrid or SS. ) the cartridge signal must goes through the C48 line stage and the quality level of the cartridge signal certainly will not be of the higher level of the stand alone phono stage but nothing more than the quality level in that C48 that ( sorry to say it. ) is just average. So do it you a favor and don’t " spend " good money where that money will be a " spend " and not a true quality level investment for your cartridge signal reproduction. Is up to you, it’s your money.


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,





Have had for some time a Tavish Design Adagio. Very flexible in it’s design and what you want at purchase. Can even choose your step up transformer and power supply. Mostly everything mentioned here is off the shelf stuff with a big price tag. Easy for tube rolling also which adds to it’s flexability. Good folks at Tavish. You actually can talk with them. Treated me well. Thus the plug.

I’ve run the VAC Renaissance SE phono stage for 4 years. It’s wonderful. And VERY quiet. But it’s most certainly not "all tube", in that (like the Zesto) it relies on a SUT for MC gain. It has built-in Lundahl LL1931 - which to me sound very fast, crystalline, and slightly lean (I attribute this to the amorphous core material?) compared to most other popular SUTs, which are more full bodied. I would guess the LL1931 was chosen because the VAC’s MM tube stage is very lush, romantic, and full bodied - together the combination is more neutral, but still leaning toward the latter. That said, I found I personally preferred the "full boat" full bodied romantic sound gained by pairing the VAC MM stage with an outboard SUT box other than Lundahl (Quadratic, EAR, Koetsu, CineMag).

I bought a Herron VTPH-2A for a high end Stax/electrostatic headphone system, where it did very well (beat the pants off a Rogue Ares Magnum). It’s a great stage - very neutral and very quiet. It performed well enough there I wondered if it could replace the VAC in my main 2ch. But when I tried this, it didn’t last very long before the VAC went back in. I just enjoyed music more on the VAC.

I originally had a Renaissance non-SE before I exchanged it for an SE. The SE uses much higher end caps & resistors - it sounds a bit more detailed and neutral. But the non-SE is no slouch. You definitely don’t HAVE TO get the SE upgrade; its effect is incremental. Sometimes I wondered if I might even have enjoyed the slightly warmer, relaxed nature of the non-SE more in the long run.

Of course, I just received an Audio Research Reference 3SE phono this weekend. It does what the Herron was doing (and trying to do), but better. It absolutely competes with the VAC. It clearly betters the VAC at conveying spatial information. Instruments and vocals magically emerge and hang in space with more air around them - even when the music gets busy. It’s exceedingly fast and detailed. It lacks a bit of the body and romance of the VAC, but hits a beautiful neutral tone without acting the least bit sterile, thin, or lifeless. NOT analytical, which I can’t stand. It’s every bit as vivid and magical as the VAC, just in a different way. Favored cartridge pairings are aligning with one stage or the other, but a lot is going the Ref 3’s way right now. I’d given up on my rebuilt Coralstone with the VAC (it was TOO warm for that pairing), and it’s now STUNNING on the Ref 3. After 4 years of the VAC, this is a new perspective on my music collection, and at such a high-quality level, that I can’t wait to listen to more.

Still highly recommend the VAC too, if you decide to go that way! A used Renaissance phono stage goes for a LOT less than a 3SE!