Phono preamp comparison/Pass,Herron,Avid

I am shopping for a new phono preamp to mate with my Basis 2500/Vector 4 arm combo. The cartridge is a Dynavector xx2 mk ii . I have narrowed my search to a Pass Labs XP-15, a Herron VTPH-2 and perhaps an Avid Pellere. Research in the analog forum reveals a couple of recommendations for the XP-15 and xx2 combo, but I have found no direct comparisons of the Pass and Herron units. I find very little on the Avid either but it is a newer unit. I would be interested in hearing from you if you have one of these units on why you chose it and how it impacted your system. I have Pass and Avid dealers in my town but neither has a unit to demo presently. If you are wondering what my goals are, at this price point, they are transparency, neutrality and low bass fidelity.
Thanks in advance for your posts.
I have had extensive listening on the VTSP-2 and consider it as good as it gets. I have not had direct comparison of the VTSP-2 to other phono stages and only have heard it through other Herron equipment, but it is superb.

Disclaimer: Keith Herron is a personal friend (as he is to many of his customers).
Hi Teeshot, I have the XP15 with the XX2mk2 on my VPI Classic 1 and it's a great combination. I have found you need a lot of gain with this cartridge. I run the XP15 at 66 db gain loaded at 100 ohms into my Pass XP10 pre which provides another 10 db gain. The XP15 does everything very well, esp the midrange, and bass control is astounding. It's completely smooth and grain free. Very flexible in terms of loading and gain, but the tiny switches on the back are a bit of a pain to dial in. When everything is set up properly, excellent recordings sound fully three dimensional, wide and deep. Poor recordings can't hide but they can be bearable with the XP. I listen to a lot of rock and jazz and it does those genres great, but everything sounds great on this phono pre. You can work with Mark at RenoHiFi and get a great deal and a 2 week trial. I have not heard the Herron or the Avid but considered those brands while shopping for mine. Good luck and keep us posted.
I would find a way to audition in your home for pieces in this price range. If your local dealer doesn't have anything you can demo there are certainly dealers of these products online that have excellent return policies. Music Direct for AVID (and I'd talk to Chris there about the AVID preamps, he is a fan and has heard the Pellere), and Reno HiFi for the Pass. Both places are excellent to work with.

I have an Avid Pulsus that I love, so I'd highly encourage you to find a way to listen to the Avid that most interests you.
I'm not sure how much help this will be since I only have experience with the Herron (I did have the Dyna XXIIMkII but used it with a Whest phonostage). I think I can say with a high level of certainty that the Herron is my "forever" phonostage. It is insanely quiet, unerringly musical, detailed without being etched, simple to operate and adjust loading, reliably built and comes from Keith Herron who is one of the finer human beings I've come to know in this "business". The Herron doesn't really sound like a tube unit or a solid state unit--it just sounds like music. It really tells you exactly what is on the recording and therefore is both transparent to the source and very neutral in presentation. Just a great, great unit.
I have to second the Herron as it is a great Phono Stage. Very detailed, smooth, quiet and adjustable along with being very well built. I bought it after doing some research on this site and Keith offered an in home trial; so I figured why not. I obviously did not send it back and yes Keith is a great person to work with. I can not speak to the others although I have heard very good things about the Pass XP-15 and Mark at Reno hifi, another great person to work with, offers an in home trial as well; just pay shipping back and forth if you decide not to keep it.

Great responses. Swanny I too have rediscovered vinyl after twenty years of digital. I listen occasionally now to my sacds but the vinyl is so engaging and really fun. I am going to AXPONA Chicago over the weekend where Keith Herron and Music Direct have rooms. My goal is to narrow the choice to two and then maybe do a home audition.

One other question: there is a 2010 ASR Basis Exclusive for sale now for $3300. Should I consider that as a bargain higher end piece?
Well, I will weigh in on this one. I got the Herron VTPH-2 first, Loved it. Very quiet, very musical. Loved it so much ordered a pre-amp. Loved that too. Was very impressed after comparing to a number of other preamps. Then amp time, auditioned a number of power amps and settled on the Herron. I have a nice four day weekend this week, registered for Axpona, got my flight, reserved my room for three nights. Four hours before I was to leave it dawned on my that I want to spend four days listening to MY system and not anyone else's. No upgrades needed. Canceled the trip and now I am two days into a marathon vinyl listening session. (yep, just got an Audio Desk cleaner last week). I do not plan on changing the Herron for some time.

What amps and pre-amps did you compare the Herron amps to? I am discussing with Keith the possibility of auditioning his equipment in my system (M1A's and VTSP-3A). I have been looking into Pass XA series but the size of those mono-blocs are akin to small ARC welders sitting next to my speakers; not to mention the heat.

Thanks Chuck
Czbbcl, I listened to the Ayre ( not the top line model but the 5 series ), luxman, Classe, VTL, Bat 55se and belles MB200. The Luxman has a lot more power than the 30 watt rating! The thing that really hit me with the Herron is that I wanted to sit back and listen to the music more. Every amp Wowed me with the exception of the BAT and I was excited at first but each and every time I went back to the Herron and felt I enjoyed listening to music more with it. The details did not rattle my brain but when direct comparison they were all there. Now, one qualification, all the above amps were demo'd in single ended mode so I may have not gotten the best synergy out of them. That being said, of all the Herron products I have slipped into my system, the M1A are my favorites. (I also have them all on Stillpoint Mini SS risers)
I have not heard a better, more musically involving amp than the Herron M1As with the latest upgrade. I can only compare them to the Herron M-150s since I have not had anything but Herron electronics in my system for almost 15 years.
I would certainly prefer the Herron because of their size as they will easily fit in my cabinet or behind my speakers. But they must first sound great and given that I only have experience with the Pass SS INT-30 and that sounded fantastic except it was a bit low on power with the large Symphonic works and with the heavy percussive passages. The Pass Amps are large and heavy as are most amps the Herrons are small and lightweight in comparison and are more similar in size to most Class D Amplifiers. So I am skeptical as to how they can really control the speakers the way the beefier amps do.

Having said all that the VTPH-2 is a beautiful sounding unit and he is offering me an in home audition so if they are unsatisfactory I can send them back.

I just recently got an XP-15, but the VTPH-2 would have been my first choice had I been using a friendlier preamp. My Spectral preamp has a very low input impedance - too low for a tube preamp such as the Herron to drive. Tube phono stages have a very difficult time driving a 15 kohm input impedance. I tried the Audio Research PH-7 also, and this couldn't do it either. Bass was just a mess with both. Both manufacturers advised against this match. I mention this point only to point out that some consideration should be given to the impedance match.

I thought the VTPH-2 easily beat the PH-7 in a friend's system. It was amazing there. Another friend just got one last week. He's thrilled with it.

Keith Herron may be the nicest guy in audio. A bunch of friends own his products. He has taken incredibly good care of them.

Of course Pass ain't chopped liver either. The XP-15 replaced my Xono and delivered a tremendous upgrade - possibly one of the biggest step changes of all my upgrades. It's an amazing component.

I think you would be delighted with either the Herron or the Pass, though I'd give Herron the nod due to the way Keith's provided upgrades to his components over the years.
I completely agree with everything Swanny and Kennyb wrote. I went with the xp-15 mainly because I use a Lightspeed passive. Solid state anything normally has me running for the hills, but the Pass is really a pleasant surprise. That being said, if my linestage was still active I probably would have tried a Herron or a K&K maxxed out phono.
Hey Kennyb-- I agree that the XP15 was also one of the biggest upgrades in my system. Of course I was replacing a PS audio GCPH so it was an exponential upgrade. I have no doubt the importance of the phono stage in any system. It's a real good place to spend money.

@teeshot--I bet you are having a blast at Axpona right now. Do fill us in about what you go with.
It's really tough to demo phono preamps because everything seems to be drop shipped from the manufacturers these days. I went through a similar process although with a Lyra Delos and I found that a used ASR Basis Exclusive was the best choice, a blue board model from 2006 being the best version at least my ears. I listened to the Herron and Pass (briefly) and an Art Audio Vinyl One. To my ear, the ASR brought out way more of the music in a way more natural way than the others. The ASRs seem to pop up now and then on Audiogon.
No problem with the Herrons controlling speakers. That control is in the design, not the weight of the front panel
Another vote for Herron VTPH-2. I have changed over almost everything in my system but the Herron has stayed. I am running (on a Clearaudio Innovation Wood) a Benz LP-S on a graham phantom supreme thru Tara labs zero to Herron (as well as Miyajima premium mono BE on Shick 12" arm) to VAC preamp to VAC 450S to Magico S5. I previously used the Herron with a Basis table and Vector 4.

The Herron, compared to other phono preamps i have demoed, is open and transparent, spacious, with superb tonality, harmonics and timing. Very adjustable, takes mm and mc, incredibly quiet (can't believe at times it is a tube design) and low maintenance. And...Keith Herron's integrity, consumer focus and service is best in class.
I'm a Pass guy. I moved up from the X1, Xono, and Aleph 5 to the XP-20 and XA30.5.

BUT, I went with the Herron VTPH-2.

I am really, really happy with this combo. So, that's another vote for the Herron. And a vote for Pass too.
Bpoletti I understand that but the heft also comes from the transformers and other functional aspects inside the other amp designs like Pass.
Sure, but speaker control is in the design. Big transformers, large banks of ps caps and the like don't necessarily make an amp more capable of controlling a speaker.
Well I think the only way to satisfy my curiosity is to try his components in my system.
Based on the fervent recommendations here and my listening in the Herron Audio room at AXPONA, I ordered a VTPH2 from Keith. If I am dissatisfied with it for any reason, which I highly doubt I will be, I may get a Pass XP 15 to try. I ended up ruling out the Avid Pellere because not only could I not listen to it at AXPONA (it was in an Avid room but not hooked up)I could not get a satisfactory price from Music Direct for a demo unit. Once I have a chance to audition the Herron in my system I will post a review. On another note,I have been very satisfied with the Dynavector XX2 mkii cartridge I have had for a month now and will be interested to see how much more musical life and content is revealed with the phono stage upgrade.
Yes, please let us know what you think of the Herron VTPH-2... What did you think of the VTSP-3A (pre) and the M1A's?

Great choice. Dont be afraid to run it wide open without any cartidge loading plugs. I think my VTPH-2 is the longest tenured component in my system. It sings with my Benz LP-S cartridge.
Teeshot, how did the Herron work out? Is it providing the bass control you sought? Did you ever audition the Pass in comparison?