Preamp for Herron VTPH-2A

Ok, the eventual goal will be to try a Herron VTSP-360.  However, that is not in the budget, even used, until sometime next year.  So, I've decided to get an interim preamp.

I have approximately 3k to work with right now.  

I'd like to hear what VTSP-2A owners are using now or have used in the past with success.

As for other suggestions, here's what I'm looking for right now.


Gain - I need a preamp with gain.  Somewhere around 10db to 12db would be optimal.

Transparent.  I'm not looking for coloration.  I'd like to find one that does the best job of sounding like it's not there.

Input impedance:  47K or higher with on the SE inputs.

Line level only:  No phono stage, no DAC, etc.


True balanced output.  Nice, but not necessary.  I'd like to place the turntable in a spot where it needs approximately 25 feet of cable run between it and the power amp, but can live with it if it stays near the power amp.

Tone Control Bypass (no tone controls preferable)

Remote control:  Nice , but not absolutely necessary.

*Don't care:

Tubes/Solid State. As long as it is sufficiently transparent, the tech doesn't matter.

Thanks in advance.  I'm sure based on the recommendation I got for the VTPH-2A, I'll get some great suggestions.

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There's a used Emotive Audio Sira preamp for sale. I had one for a short time before moving up to the Epifania, which is a terrific match with my VTPH-2A. There is no balanced or remote. Fred had added the remote volume on my Epifania, which also changes the volume control from a resistor based control to an autoformer. I'm not affiliated with the seller.
I had a look, and it looks interesting.  I'm not sure from the listing of the age of the unit.  I'd prefer something recent if possible and it looks like that preamp has been around since at least the mid 2000's.
This probably isn't going to help but I am using a Pass XP-20 pre with my VTPH-2A I also have experience with conrad johnson which also sounded excellent. I went with a PASS preamp for system synergy reasons as my amps are Pass XA100.5's and I could utilize the XLR interconnects between the amp(s) and pre-amp which reduced the noise floor. If I didn't have the Herron VTPH-2A I would go with a PASS phono stage but the Herron is so good that I don't feel the need to change it out. Also I utilize NOS Telefunkens in the Herron which is a nice upgrade to the stock tubes.
IMO, any preamp, especially any phono stage ought to come with return privilege's.

If I could find a way to need this beauty, I'd beat you to it

Transparent, love it, keep it, or send it back, cost of return shipping is not a lot to risk.

Of course you could write the seller asking about transparency, the tone defeat features ...

a quickie find about it
I'm not interested in vintage stuff. Take your time to find a way to need it, I won't be jumping in front of you :).

one of the best books ever!

I want someone I know to have it so I can hear it (or not hear it). 
Well psychotic, It seems like jond handed you the perfect solution. What do you say?
I would try a tandberg preamplifier used or an adcom gfp750 used to get you by and you may like them well enough to not ever want to replace them. The tandberg is single ended and the adcom is single ended or balanced with passive option as well but both are neutral fantastic budget preamplifiers.
You might want to try either of the Denafrips linestage preamps. DENAFRIPS HESTIA PREAMPS$1,298.00  DENAFRIPS ATHENA PREAMPS$2,698.00 Both of these are in your price range and if you buy one you might just want to keep it long term.Very well built and very good reviews.
maybe call Keith and chat w him. My 2a feeds an ARC REF5se..or a 1965 Mac MX-110Z or even a NAIM Atom....
I'm wary of buying from online marketplaces unless the seller is a dealer, or has extensive selling feedback.  I'd also like to be able to return if it doesn't work out.

My current cartridge is an AT-ART9XA. I have others too, mostly LOMCs. 

Power amp is a Bryson 4B SST2 and my speakers are Maggie 1.7i.

I am using VTPH-2A with a VTSP-3A. This combination works great in my opinon. Would love to hear a VT-360 in my setup to see if it's a worthy upgrade. You should be able to find a used VTSP-3A as I imagine there are many people upgrading to the VT-360.
With all due respect to some other responders, some of the suggestions for a linestage for someone with a $3K budget, assuming you are willing to spend every bit of that amount, are from outer space, in the sense that you can do so much better for your money.  In the $3K price sphere, you need not even consider a vintage Tandberg or Adcom preamplifier, for one example and not meaning to pick on anyone.  (Those devices may sound fine for a budget purchase, but they were not even top performers when they were brand new.)
Some questions or comments about your stated preferences:
Input impedance "47K or higher".  47K is a standard for MM phono stages, but most linestages will offer at least 50K and very typically 100K on all line level inputs.  Any good linestage should offer inputs that are high enough in impedance to accommodate anything you want to connect to them.  That's one justification for the existence of a pure linestage.  I would suggest you pay more attention, for one example, to the quality of the built-in attenuator(s) in your new linestage.  Attenuators make a lot of difference in terms of transparency.
"Balanced outputs".  I guess you are aware that your Herron phono is single-ended, so you won't get all the benefits of balanced internal circuitry in a linestage, as regards phono.  But if your amplifier(s) are true balanced designs, then it does make sense to drive them in balanced mode. If they are not balanced, then having balanced circuitry and outputs on your linestage won't count for much in terms of making it easier to drive long interconnects. But that does not mean you can't drive long interconnects in SE mode.  I would not require balanced outputs, if your amplifiers are not balanced design. You would also need balanced interconnects to go between a linestage with balanced output and amplifiers that operate in balanced mode.
One guy talked about tubes used in linestages.  If you buy a tube unit, I would stay away from 12AX7/ECC83 in a linestage (way too much gain), and from 12AU7/ECC82 (sound is not good when used as a gain device).  6SN7 is one of the most linear triodes ever made, and I highly recommend it in linestages, but it has gone out of fashion due to size of the glass envelope and the fact that no one is making new ones (I guess).  NOS 6SN7s are still plentiful, however.  Don't hesitate to buy an older linestage based on the 6SN7. Many tube linestages will use one tube for gain and a second tube section per channel as a cathode follower, which adds no gain.  The cathode follower is there to reduce the output impedance, so you can drive amplifiers with low-ish input impedances, which tend to be solid state types. 5687s and 6922s and their congeners are fine too. They offer an advantage in that the inherent output impedance of these types is low enough such that they can work well without the need for a cathode follower. CFs are ok if well designed, but in some cases CFs muddy the sound a bit. No CF is the best CF.  I would look at VAC, Berning, Pass, Atma-sphere, etc, etc.  It's not that hard to design a very good linestage these days, so you have many choices, and I would not be afraid to buy late model used equipment; that's where the bargains are.  Ideally, the device could have one tube, like the 5687, a very high quality attenuator, high quality output coupling capacitors, and an outboard power supply on a second chassis. Or two tubes, like the 6SN7 plus a second tube as CF.  5687/6922/ECC99 are all good high transconductance, low plate resistance tubes that make great CFs.  The number of line level inputs, quality of switching among inputs, availability of remote operation, etc, are what adds to cost
I'm surprised nobody suggested the Benchmark LA-4.  A friend has one in his system, and it made quite an improvement in his system.  It replaced an Audible Illusions Modulus 3A.  He has a Parasound JC3+ phono stage.  Impressive combo for an all SS system, and well within your budget.
If you will waive the balanced requirement I would consider an Audible Illusions L3A.

Has a remote, built in USA for many years and as such you can buy
a fairly new one used for $2k.

Separate power supply.

Had one and loved it. Went to an INT. 
Resold in seconds.

Which would reduce the value from that of the original 3A, which as you know had a built-in phono that was in some special versions said to have been designed by John Curl.  My best audio friend owned one of those latter for many years.  Neither he nor I thought it was super special in SQ.  But that's just a matter of two guys' opinion.
Maybe, but the l3b is a current model, the l3a was recently replaced by it.  Most Modulus 3As are now just about ancient in comparison.  Current price for l3b is $4795.
Mea culpa.  Agreed that the 3A is ancient, which is why, when I saw the designation "L3A", I thought the reference was to the old linestage version of the 3A.  I think there was such a thing. 
current cartridge is an AT-ART9XA. I have others too, mostly LOMCs.

Power amp is a Bryson 4B SST2 and my speakers are Maggie 1.7i.

Definitely power suckers as I expected :)

Magnepan 1.7 SPEAKERS:

3-Way, Full-Range, Quasi-Ribbon

Freq. Response: 40-24 kHz

Sensitivity: 86dB/500Hz /2.83v

Impedance: 4 Ohm

Dimensions: 19 x 65 x 2
I started with a VTPH-2A with a VTSP-3A(ro2).  Loved the sound. 

Now I have a PS Audio Stellar phono pre into a PS Audio BHK pre amp.  In my system, that combination sounds better. The Stellar phone pre is worth a listen.  Mine sounded great right out of the box.  With PS Audio's return policy, you have nothing to loose - other than return shipping cost.

Speaker efficiency doesn't even come into consideration for me, only the sound.  If I find a speaker that I like, getting the right amount of power is simple.

Efficient speakers for the sake of efficiency is just another audiophile religious cult.  Feel free to drink your cool aid, I'll stick to sound quality.
In defense of the “inefficiency” of planar speakers in general, the standard method for measurement falsely reduces their apparent efficiency, because it does not account for the radiation of sound across the length and breadth of the diaphragm. This is the case for any magneplanar and any full range ESL.
By the way, old school may be the first on this forum to say he prefers any other reasonably priced phono stage to the Herron.
lewm is correct.  Line source speakers have roughly half the propagation loss as point source drivers.

see for a good basic explanation.
Preferences are just that.  It doesn't bother me if he prefers something different.  I haven't heard the PS Audio gear, other than an S300 amp which was impressive for the price.

Having said that, I'm thrilled with what the VTSP-2A did for my listening experience.  I don't need to second guess that.  I've never been a flavor of the month audiophile.
Ok, so I've looked as some suggestions so far.

Audible Illusions L3A - Tons of gain (way too much?), has a reputation of burning thru tubes.

DENAFRIPS products look nice, I'll have to go thru reviews more.

Benchmark LA-4 looks very interesting.  I may try to get one to check out.  Reviews look almost too good to be true at the price point, but there's a 30 day return policy so it may be worth a try.

PS Audio BHK is out of the price range for now, even used.  I like their 30 day return policy.

EAR 868 is out of reach until next year.  Also, very limited US dealers so I'm not sure about return policy.

Vintage, no thanks.

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions.
VAC, Pass, CAT, anything that uses 6SN7. Stay away from 12AU7 if used for gain. Some really good line stages may these days fall into the category of vintage, because to some degree an ordinary line stage has fallen out of fashion. A 20 to 25-year-old unit that is in excellent operating condition should pose no problems. But I understand your feelings about it.
Speaker efficiency doesn't even come into consideration for me, only the sound. If I find a speaker that I like, getting the right amount of power is simple.

No simple and this is the reason you ask for active gain line stage when your power amp already 300 watt. I'm not gonna say your speakers are bad, but they are power suckers for a reason. 

Efficient speakers for the sake of efficiency is just another audiophile religious cult. Feel free to drink your cool aid, I'll stick to sound quality.

We are all for sound quality here, great high efficient speakers can be driven by 2-10 watt amp and passive preamp. Professional BIG studio monitors are high efficient, this is 101db. Main studio monitors must be absolutely neutral and must reproduce music in a control room just like in recording room where musicians are playing. High efficient is about dynamics in music, so it's about quality.  
No simple and this is the reason you ask for active gain line stage when your power amp already 300 watt. I'm not gonna say your speakers are bad, but they are power suckers for a reason.
Rediculous.  Now your telling me I need to pick speakers I don't like just so I can use a passive preamp?  Which can't be passive anyway because of the need for buffers to work with the Herron?

There are compromises in any system, but I'm not going to compromise on my speakers any more than my budget forces me to.  Don't hijack my thread and go preach your cult mantra someplace else.

Hey, you don’t tell me what to do ok? 

I just posted some facts, I don’t care about your speakers, but the nonsense I read on audiogon about GAIN is just a result of those inefficient speakers, let’s face it.

You can buy tremendous amount of power (huge amps, high gain preamps etc), but a good high efficient speakers can work perfectly without all that ... , just with 1.5 watt triode tubes and passive volume control (or passive preamp).

I’ve been using inefficient speakers before. If you bought your phono preamp by audiogon member recommendation then you could learn a bit about GAIN and why it’s not enough gain for you in your system.

99 dB’s and above = ultra efficiency

95 - 98 dB’s = very high efficiency

91 - 94 dB’s = high efficiency

88 - 91 dB’s = medium efficiency ( most common )

85 - 87 dB’s = low efficiency

85 dB’s and below = power suckers

I own a VTPH-2A and use it with a VTSP-3A (r03).  It is an excellent combination.  Plenty of noise-free gain even when using a Clavis D.C. (0.2mv) and speakers ~ 87dB. Some speakers I've used with this combination have been ~ 85dB, one pair (single driver) came in a little below. No problem. (The Clavis D.C. has been replaced by a Lyra Skala.)

I'm satisfied. I can identify no shortcomings with the VTPH-2A / VPSP-3A(r03) combination. They do not introduce any coloration, masking, veiling, hardness, softness or other distortion of their own. 

I have some listening experience with a VTPH-2A in combination with a VTSP-360. The -360 is a better preamp. To my ear. Matches well with the VTPH-2A (as should be expected). 

Note that at this stratospheric level of performance, there is little, if any, competition for either combination. One must take a hard look upstream or downstream to move the marker forward.  

If someone is going to purchase new equipment, the question is whether the VTSP-3A is still available.  

Schiit Freya+. Surprisingly good. Well within budget. Easy resale. Current production. 
Yeah, auditioning the VTSP-360 is the ultimate goal, but I won't have funds for it until next year, and VTSP-3A's come up used, but only occasionally.

I thought about the Freya+. Ordering one now looks like a 4-6 month wait. If I were to wait that long, I'd just wait a bit longer and look at the Herron next year.
Chak, I share your sentiments about using efficient speakers, up to a point.  (My own fetish is for ESLs and the like.) But in this case, if the added gain from an active linestage is needed, it may have more to do with the input sensitivity of the amplifiers than it has to do with speaker efficiency per se.  Some amplifiers require more signal voltage to drive them to full or even near full output than others.  Even low power amplifiers can be guilty of this; even some of Nelson Pass's First Watt amplifiers. Mr Pass does this deliberately in some cases; he talks about using the linestage as if it were the input/gain stage of the amplifier. So he does not build high enough gain into the input stage of one or another of his series in the First Watt category, to drive the output stage to full output. What you're buying is basically an amplifier output stage.
Users have their mantras suggest their ideas (many invaluable) even if they’re not for you. I always appreciate input from all sides, even if I’m invested in the opposite direction. If not, then best to ignore the comments you find irrelevant, rather than having a “psychotic reaction”. All my peers romanticize Klipsch, Shindo and Gerrard, to the point of nauseam, and even I am a child of The Loft, but I’m not running to sell off my 89db speakers, 200wpc monos and direct drive TT. You’re definitely right to find the speaker you love first and power it however it requires.

Anyway, lots of good knowledge here, especially from Lewm! I’m taking notes for future.

I had the Herron, and loved it. Wife and I termed it “juicy” and it was hard to let go, but ended up selling it for the Pass XP25 (not only because I’m not ready in life to relax my ear that much, but mostly for the easy of changing cartridge loading/gain without pulling the rack out from the wall to access the loading pins, especially frequent with 2 TTs or tone arms). I’ll may go back to the Herron later. Both Herron and Pass seem to work well with my pre-amp, Cello Palette, which does have 3 internal gain settings as well as balanced output (I’m running 20 foot ICs to my amps that live across the room with the speakers)... but that is indeed vintage, so... no dice.
Users have their mantras suggest their ideas (many invaluable) even if they’re not for you.

Users, yes, audio cult members, not so much. You can tell the difference when they get either mad or insulting when you don't agree to follow their doctrine.  Or they continue to post the same drivel even when it's apparent the OP isn't interested.  

But anyway, I have my Herron on a wall shelf next to the turntable. It's easy for me to reach over the top of unit and manipulate any of the connections and plug in or change the loading resistors. But I do have to say I am enjoying it most with no loading resistors.

I remember reading about the Cello back in the day.  I'm pretty old school, and at the time it looked too much like a preamp with an equalizer. :)  

I'm still pretty purist, I bypass the tone controls where possible, but yeah, the Palette is a bit older than what I'm looking for.

I have owned a multitude of Preamps over the years...including a EAR 912.  

Recently purchased a BLACK ICE F360, a HYBRID Tube amp (one 6SN7) and am discovering that it is the best Preamp I have owned...

I am running a Allnic H-7000 Vacuum Tube Phono Stereo Preamplifier to it and my VINYL has never sounded better.

Very impressed.