Preamp Advice/experiences needed

I recently auditioned a Vac Renaissance Mk 5 and it was damn fine. But there are some issues I have with it that would not make it a great fit in my system and also costs a bit much. I also have on my short list the Aesthetix Calypso Eclipse and Ayre KX-5 twenty. Can anyone chime in with their experiences? any advice is appreciated. (my pwr amp is CJ Premiere 12 monos). TIA


My experience is that preamps are the most critical electronic component and really set the sonics of your system. I was finally able to afford a great tubed preamp twenty years ago and will never go back, I am a big fan of Audio Research and Conrad Johnson.

From what I know of your system, I definitely recommend on of those. Given your CJ… maybe start there. I really think there is a lot of synergy with the same components. I would spend as much as you can, and go used to further reduce cost. Preamps from these companies will last decades. If you put your system and venue under your ID, we can probably be of much greater help.


You can see my systems under my ID. I think you will find ARC more detailed than CJ… both incredibly musical.

I recently auditioned a Vac Renaissance Mk 5 and it was damn fine. But there are some issues I have with it that would not make it a great fit in my system

What issues did you have, and what improvements are you looking for over the VAC?

I do not recommend an Ayre preamp if you're not using it balanced, which I assume the CJ is not. Ayre optimizes their equipment for true balanced operation. I've used the KX-5 Twenty balanced and unbalanced, same with a non-Twenty version of the KX-R. The KX-R balanced was the best preamp I've ever used but it was better balanced. That was also with one of their amps so maybe it was synergy.

I have a Calypso Eclipse. I won't touch a lot on the sound quality side but, it's very satisfying to me. First, taking a logic, practicality, common sense view, it has several features that are major reasons why I have it. It has a large easy to see display, it's always muted when bringing it out of standby, the display and LEDs are dimmable, the top cover is held on by Velcro making tube access a snap and very importantly to me it has remote control switchable polarity inversion (often incorrectly called phase inversion) (yes, I know that many people are not sensitive to correct/incorrect absolute polarity).

One caveat is about tube changing. Aesthetix does warn about this issue. To avoid circuit damage, a wait of 15 to 20 minutes is required between powering off the unit and any tube removal. I suppose that the caps need to fully discharge before pulling out any tubes. Also, while I do have their new version of the remote control, I don't like it and prefer to use the original one.

It is a "musical" sounding component as opposed to an analytical or clinical/sterile sounding component. I'm using it with a McCormack DNA-500 with SMC Audio's second generation Silver Plus upgrade to drive a pair of Focal Sopra 2 speakers. The old saying that there is no such thing as too much power is easily observed in this case. I think the Calypso works well in my setup. Big and deep soundstage, boatloads of detail and lots of beautiful sound.



how do I add my system under my ID??

My system comprises of a VPI Classic II turntable with a JMW 10.5 inch arm and Dynavector 10X2L LOMC cartridge. Phonostage is a Art Audio Vinyl Reference (Designed and manufactured by K and K audio, Super Phono Max that is further upgraded by Kevin Carter (Vac and Veritas). One of only 5 built. Linestage is a Rogue RP7 with NOS tubes, Power amps are Conrad Johnson Premiere 12 monoblocks and my “summer amp” is a NAD M23. Digital section is a Emotiva ERC 3 used as a transport only DAC is an Auralic Vega and an Intel NUC running Roon Rock/Qobuz.

Speakers are my DIY 12 inch 3 way with a 5 inch carbon composite mid and aluminum/magnesium tweeter. Subs are GR Research H Frame dual 12 with Rythmik amps.


The VAC does not have ability to control balance. This is important as I have hearing loss in one ear. Also there is no power switch on front of unit. There is only a single output.


Does anyone think the Aesthetix can give the Vac a run for the money or are they in different leagues?


I have the calypso signature just upgraded from standard. Very happy with the results I’m having in regards to sound quality. I asked Glenn at Aesthetix if the eclipse would make a difference again and he said it would be twice as good. If you do purchase the eclipse, you might want to invest in some good tubes,Andy at Vintagetubesservices can help you. Good luck in your upgrade.

I’d recommend taking a look at the Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL tube preamp. I believe they offer a 15-day trial so you can see if it works for you. Here’s a review by A’gon member Terry London in case you haven’t already seen it…

Best of luck in your search.

Go to your userID. You want to create a virtual system. If you click around a bit.. you’ll hit on it. You can easily upload photos and add your components.

I ran Pr12's for a number of years.  I tried several different preamps but always found CJ tubed worked best.  Depending on your budget one of the newer CJ preamps would really wake those amps up.  If you like the older CJ sound, look for a Pr16, which is a very nice match for the 12's.

@jimbones you can find virtual systems here:

Just click create a system and don't forget to add pics!

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If you can find a used Rogue Athena it meets your criteria (for a LOT less money) and I personally prefer its sound quality over their newer RP-9. I’ve also had a Ren V and felt its bass response was a little soft, Fantastic midrange, though.

Above that the Audio Research Reference 6 (used) is better than all of these preamps and also meets your requirements, though at a higher price-point. The Athena is just so good for "cheap" though.

Was Kevin Carter ever really with VAC? I don’t think that is clear. Anyways, K&K seems to have shuttered in the last few years. The onboard phono stages in VAC preamps are hard to beat, IMO.

of course an Aesthetix can run w a VAC. especially w tubes sourced from Andy as a poster has noted and w HRS grade isolation… but frankly the Ayre, ARC and Aesthetix are all really balanced and SE sub optimal in all, Yes i have setup all 3. i think CJ more appropriate, IF your long term plan is to stay w SE input power amp.

@mulveling yes he was with VAC, He and kevin hayes split over some differences (I dont know what) .

@tomic601 I dont have to run balanced. I use SE for the premieres but have balanced option for my subs. I will need at least 2 sets of outputs. I prefer a balance control.