My new to me Herron VTPH-2A - First impressions

Ok, so if you followed my other topic, you know I bought a used Herron VTPH-2A.  It came Monday night, and I've been listening for the past couple of days..

Being used, it didn't really need a break in, but I let it warm up for a couple hours just to be safe.

Ok, so there has been a lot of hype for this phono stage here on the forum.  I have one question.  Is it hype if it lives up to just about everything good that's been said about it?

Just comparing it to my current setup (CJ PV10a with phono stage and a SUT), running thru the CJ, it's a huge improvement.  I'll just talk in terms of musical timbre and extension here, acoustic instruments sound so much more right, and both bass and treble extension is much better.  No only is there more bass, but it's way better.  But the overall sound was still a bit soft.  Ok, so that was the CJ.

I switched over to the Bel Canto I recently got.  Sound was much better, but a little bit sterile, and the upper end was a bit harder than the CJ (not unexpected).

So I got a crazy idea.  I thought I'd see what the Herron would sound like piped directly into my power amp.  I did a little math, and some measuring of the Herron output to make sure it wouldn't overdrive or underdrive the amp's inputs, and it looked like a reasonable match.  Turns out it worked out great, it was at a very reasonable listening level.

Ok,  No upper range hardness, no softness, excellent, controlled extended bass.

Ok, so I think I have to rethink my preamp now.  Luckily, I can send back the Bel Canto (still during the trial period) and I guess I'll be looking at a new preamp.

I'll be bringing it over to a friend's house this weekend, where we'll compare it to a couple of different phono preamps he owns.
A pleasantly non psychoticreaction to a great phono stage.

To answer your question: it ain't braggin' when it's true. Applies to all kinds of things.
Congratulations on a fine purchase.  While your CJ is a fine unit, you might want to try to find a Herron line stage to go with it as well, I think you'd like it a lot.
Thanks! The Herron line stage was my first thought, but I don’t see them come up on the used market much. New is out of the question until sometime next year, but I doubt I’d have the patience to wait that long.

I don’t need anything elaborate. A remote for volume and a few analog inputs. I use this system just for Music, and I only have a turntable right now for a source. I may add a streamer for background music, but that’s about it.

Be patient and wait for the Herron linestage. Borrow a pre from your friend for a few months if possible. 

Congrats.  You might also want to try your SUT into the Herron's MM tube stage (bypassing the Herron's FET stage).
I have a VTPH-2A and use NOS Telefunken's and they made a nice improvement through out the audio spectrum. 

I received my VTPH-2A from Keith Herron about a month ago. I also have a JC3+. Both are nice sounding phono stages, but the Herron, IMO, requires a preamp that can pass the signal to the amp without doing any harm. The VTPH-2A is more transparent, dimensional, and livelier, compared to the JC3+, which sounds a little warmer and flatter. My preamp is an Emotive Audio Epifania. 
If you seem to have sufficient gain when running the Herron directly into your amplifier, then you might consider either a passive attenuator to insert between them or an active stage that itself adds no gain.  The passive attenuator requires a good impedance match between the Herron output section and the amplifier input.  Poor matching can detract from SQ.  The active type of stage that adds no gain is impervious to impedance matching, except that it has to be able to drive your amplifier.  An additional advantage of the latter may be the capacity to switch among different signal sources.  What you don't need is an active linestage that typically provides way more additional gain than what is needed, and in so doing adds its own coloration.
FirstWatt Buffer Preamp is what you need to avoid impedance missmatching.
Very simple passive preamp (no gain) with volume control per channel. 
If it is really "passive", then one must take into consideration the output impedance of the driving stage and the input impedance of the driven stage. In my own mind, "passive" means no active devices in the circuit. However, since it comes from First Watt (a la Nelson Pass, perhaps the best solid state designer we have) and since he calls it a "Buffer", I would guess it is an active device that adds no gain. If so, I agree it could be cool in this set-up.
EDIT.  I cheated and went to the website.  Indeed, this is a buffer, not passive.  Here is what Nelson Pass wrote:"This suggests the possibility of using a high quality buffer in conjunction with a volume control. A buffer is still an active circuit using tubes or transistors, but it has no voltage gain – it only interposes itself to make a low impedance into a high impedance, or vice versa.

If you put a buffer in front of a volume control, the control’s low impedance looks like high impedance. If you put a buffer after a volume control, it makes the output impedance much lower. You can put buffers before and after a volume control if you want.

The thing here is to try to make a buffer that is very neutral. Given the simple task, it’s pretty easy to construct simple buffers with very low distortion and noise and very wide bandwidth, all without negative feedback."

I’m impressed the direct connection hit a very "reasonable" volume level - props to your Math skills! That said I would not consider a 0-gain passive or buffer stage, in your shoes. You’ll need some extra gain on tap for the occasional softly cut recordings, for times when you want to "rock out", or for adjustments if you make a change to your cartridge / loading / settings / tubes.

A modern, highly regarded tube preamp in the ~ 10dB gain range (8 - 14) is what I’d shoot for. That’s high enough to help out when needed (without having to throttle the volume knob to MAX), and low enough not to cause noise issues and other discernible sonic artifacts. It’s the "sweet" spot for an analog-focused system. Passives and low gains are for folks with hot-output digital sources. Your Conrad Johnson, though probably still nice - is a (perhaps) dated, high-gain tube preamp, so no wonder it sounds a bit soft in contrast to the modern Herron. A 12ax7 in the V1/V2 slot is really not what you want for "pristine" tube preamp sound; too much gain - these tubes belong in RIAA phono stages, not line-stage. Older tube line-stage designs would use 12ax7 like this, in order to "add on" to the phono section for handling medium output MC cartridges - and that appears to be exactly what your CJ does. NOT necessary now with your Herron! I'm also not a big fan of 12au7, though having them on outputs here is an appropriate use of them. The BelCanto is solid state - and who on Earth wants a solid state preamp? (lol)

The Herron 360 preamp looks like a good play. Two gain choices: 4dB, 14dB which should actually be perfect - 4 for digital sources, 14 for analog - but don’t let that stop you from looking around a bit more before investing. A 360 would look sweet in a rack next to the Herron phono stage, to be sure!
Ok, when I said reasonable level, it was satisfying but well below the highest volume I will occasionally listen to. I won’t look at passives and will want a standard gain line stage.

I said "passive preamp (no gain) with volume control per channel."

Not passive device (you have to plug it into the power outlet).

But look at this inside (my unit). Very simple design.

In neutral, no coloration, pure

When someone would like to connect something directly to the power amp without thinking about impedance issues then Buffer Preamp is a must have, it's great cost effective solution.

And expensive line-level preamp with gain is not needed even it's from the same manufacturer like OP's phono stage.   

We don’t disagree one iota. The only issue is I misunderstood what you meant when you used the term passive preamplifier. Many people, myself included, would take that to mean a unit that has nothing in it but a volume control that can be implemented in any of several ways. The best of them use auto formers. Typically they do not need to be plugged in, unless they employ LED devices to illuminate the settings.But I know what you mean, and it’s a good idea in this case. And yet the OP has started another thread where he is searching for a line stage with gain. Go figure.
And yet the OP has started another thread where he is searching for a line stage with gain. Go figure.
The OP (that would be me) said 3 posts above yours:

Ok, when I said reasonable level, it was satisfying but well below the highest volume I will occasionally listen to. I won’t look at passives and will want a standard gain line stage.

Go figure.
Sorry OP, some folks appear to be really passionate about their passives lol.

To reiterate, I really think you can find that "just right" sound in a modern tube preamp. Tubes like 6922 (the Herron 360 uses this) and 6H30 are fantastic for this role. 6SN7 are great too but often tend to be a bit sweeter sounding. Stuff like 5687, 7044, 12BH7 and 6CG7 can be very cool too. Maybe 12AT7, 12AY7 are OK too. I’m not a fan of 12AU7 but gear that uses it can still sound decent, to a point (or maybe you can sub in 12BH7 haha).

I once owned a VAC Renaissance III that used a quad of 12AX7 plus a pair of 12AU7. In retrospect that’s an awful tube complement for a preamp, results in too much gain, and it’s really a miracle that it sounded at good as it did (Kevin is a genius at voicing gear). Their current preamps use 6922 and are wonderful. I’ve also really liked most of the preamps I’ve heard using 6H30 (ARC, Rogue). What's your budget? I'd assume in the range of the Herron phono?

And if you ever find yourself wanting to sweeten / plump up the sound of your system just a little bit, you can try a Bob’s Devices Sky SUT with your Herron in place of its JFET sage - assuming of course you’re using a low output MC that is appropriate for SUT use into 47K.
I've got a couple of SUT's lying around.  I do use LOMC carts mostly, in the .2mv range.  Even when gain matched properly to the cart, I've found that SUTs can be a mixed bag.  Some carts sound better than others when using an SUT.  And the extra connections and interconnect with such low level signals are not optimal.

Budget as stated in the other thread is around 3K give or take right now.  In about a year I'll be in a position to at least double that. A little birdy just told me I might want to wait a couple of months, interesting things are on the horizon.

.Apologies. I did not see where you mentioned wanting a bit more gain. So go for it. I have no particular passion for passive preamplifiers by which of course I mean a buffer stage. 
People are crazy about gain. It’s system depend, but in a good system, especially with high efficient speakers, you don’t need additional gain!

I run my Tannoy System 15 mk2 with 1.5 power amp (Watts Yamamoto A-08s) with Vintage RCA 45 tubes. 

Even with 50% on passive volume control on my Pass Labs Aleph L it’s too loud (I mean enough for my big room). This model of Pass is passive/active. If users need additional gain then volume control must be at 3 o’clock. This volume with 98db speakers can kill me!

I Have Gold Note PH-10 phono stage with optional gain, but I don’t need additional gain on phono stage even with LOMC carts 0.15 mV. 

So I assume many people who always looking for gain are users of power suckers! Those inefficient speakers of 86 db or so!