To Garrett Hongo,
My name is Dave and I am down in Louisiana. I always enjoy your reviews. They are the most useful reviews I run across because you always tie it back to the music. After reading your review of the deHavilland KE Model 50As, I contacted Kara Chaffee [of deHavilland] and spent some time discussing the 50As vs. other amps I was familiar with and got comfortable that the deHavilland amps are very special. I've had my pair for almost a year and have enjoyed them immensely.
The reason I am contacting you is that I am considering adding a preamp to my system, which currently is set up with my MSB DAC handling preamp-switching and volume-control duties directly into my pair of deHavilland KE Model 50A amps. While the MSB DAC is specifically designed to be used in this direct setup, several knowledgeable audio experts have suggested that a preamp could improve the overall sound of the system. So I am investigating that and have an Aesthetix Calypso Signature line stage coming to me as a loaner to see what it does for the system's overall sound.
My purpose in writing to you relates to the other three preamps I am considering: Kara Chaffee's Mercury III, the VAC Renaissance Mk.3, and the Herron VTSP-3A. I know from your reviews that you have used the Mercury 3 for a good while and that you have used a number of pieces of Herron equipment in your system. In the 2010/11 time frame you also were very positive on your experiences with various VAC preamps and power amps. In fact, for a bit I thought the deHavilland equipment would be replaced with VAC equipment as your reference. But when I started looking at preamps, I went back [to 2013] to see what you listed as your reference system and the deHavilland Mercury 3 and KE Model 50As were listed, but no mention of the VAC amps. So I'm curious:
Are you still as positive on the VAC Renaissance preamp as when you reviewed it? Have you concluded that the deHavilland is simply overall more musical than the VAC? Do you have any thoughts on the Herron VTSP-3A?
Thanks for your time reading through this.
First of all, thank you for getting in touch and for the kind words about my reviews. I'm glad to hear that they speak to you, especially regarding my descriptions of the music as played back by the various equipment I've had in my system. It's the pleasure of the hobby for me and the real fun in getting to use different gear is to bring out different aspects of the music I love.
I don't know the Aesthetix Calypso line stage very well except for having heard it at the shows, where it's sounded fine with Aesthetix amps and Vandersteen, Nola, and other speakers I can't offhand recall.
I'm still a big fan of VAC preamps, however, and especially of the VAC Signature IIa, with or without phono. The same goes for Herron Audio gear. The Herron M1 monoblocks have been my solid-state reference amps and VTPH-2 phono my analog reference for years.
That said, I most prefer the deHavilland Mercury 3 with the dH KE Model 50A tubed monoblocks, as I believe in system synergy. The dH electronics are my main reference equipment.
I adore the VAC preamps with the VAC Phi 200 stereo amp and I'm very intrigued by the new VAC Master preamp. And, though this was before I had the Herron M1 monos, I've had the Herron VTSP-3A preamp in my system, where it performed admirably with the KE 50As. Again, I most preferred the dH Mercury 3 with the dH KE Model 50As, however. Had I owned the Herron M1s then, I might now also own the Herron VTSP-3A right now.
The dH Mercury 3 is a very special line stage to my ears. It handles high frequencies in a supremely refined and nuanced manner, registering the sound of violins and choral and operatic singers with a special touch that I have not found bettered. The midrange is also good, and the bass definition and punch are terrific, particularly with orchestral music. It does dynamic scaling very well.
I think there are line stages with more richness in the midrange -- the Lamm LL2.1 comes to mind (which I also own) -- and likely many, many others quicker on the uptake, especially with rock bass and drumming (perhaps the Herron VTSP-3A?), but I love the synergy, slam, and sophistication of the deHavilland Mercury 3 in combination with the deHavilland KE Model 50A monoblocks. Again, these are my reference electronics. Good luck in your decision! . . . Garrett Hongo