To Garrett Hongo,

I’m looking to replace my much beloved CAT SL1 Ultimate preamp, which I’ve now owned for over 12 years, with something even better. My research led me to your review of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. I was almost convinced that this would be the right choice for me till I came to this sentence when comparing it to the DeHavilland Mercury 3, “With soprano recital and Renaissance choral CDs, the VAC was less refined than the Mercury.”

That something costing half as much could be better in any area of music reproduction would indicate a failure of design of the VAC. Saying it was less refined is a serious charge. For those of us who like soprano and Renaissance choral music, your review would suggest we’d be better off buying the DeHavilland and pocketing the $5000 difference. Am I wrong to conclude that? Of course, I listen to other music as well, but still . . .

My system consists of the following:

Speakers: Verity Audio Parsifal Encore
Amp: Music Reference RM-9 SE
Preamp: CAT SL1 Ultimate
DAC: Concert Fidelity DAC-040
Music server: Specially built by Mike Powell of Verastarr Audio
All cables and power cords are Verastarr Audio Grand Illusion series and everything is plugged into the PS Audio power regenerator.

This system is extremely musical and involving and that’s how I like it. My research led me to two potential choices, the VAC Renaissance and the Shindo Monbrison or Allegro, as they seem to satisfy my needs (judging by the reviews).

The price of the CAT Renaissance [preamp] is going up from $15k to $20k. Unfortunately, price is an issue for me as I’m on a budget and don’t want to spend more the $10k.

Thank you ever so much. I’d like to read your future reviews.

United States

You raise a complex question! Thanks for asking it and for your appreciation of a review I wrote some years ago now.

The answer? As is often the case, the answer is “system dependent.” Luckily, I know the gear in your system very well!

Of the preamp targets you list, I know and highly recommend the Shindo Monbrison (have had it in my system). Yet, the Monbrison can be critiqued as being on the soft side, though rich in tone and texture. It’s fine with blues and jazz, but may lack the kind of powerful drive for rock and orchestral music the VAC Ren Mk.3 has. Drive and slam to beat the band has the Ren 3. Perhaps more than any pre I’ve tried.

But if a remote and built-in phono aren’t an issue, have you thought of the Lamm LL2.1 linestage? I owned one for several years and, next to the Ren Mk.3, it had the best dynamics, drive, and slam. Plus tone and refinement too (though not as refined as Monbrison or deHavilland Mercury 3). I loved its retro looks. Good luck! . . . Garrett Hongo