Audiophile Magazine - The high End Audio Journal of Hong Kong
Issue: October 2003
Editor's Important Notice - by Mr. Y.K. Chan
Due to the burst of IT stock market, United States high end market is declining (Madrigal's shutdown is a well indication), lots of so called "high-end" manufacturers tried to create some ridiculously high-price equipment in order to keep them survive, however, the result is it opened up new opportunity for smaller-scale manufacturers, the advantage of their products is "good sound", perhaps the parts and finishing maybe not as good, but the reasonably low price they charge is hard to resist from audiophiles, Herron Audio is one of the best examples.
Keith Herron - founder of Herron Audio - established the company a few years ago, became well known after his first release VTSP-1 tube preamplifier, the preamplifier had very good "word of mouth" from all users and sales had been very stable even the market is down. When VTSP-1A started available in the market, I gave it a very high rating and confirmed that they're one of the best sounding preamplifier ever available in the market. VTSP-1A is the least expensive unit among the few best sounding preamplifier on my mind. Frankly speaking, every audiophile will be fond of having beautifully finished, seriously built equipment, if I got enormous amount to money to spend, I might perhaps go for a Conrad Johnson Art II (almost US$20,000.00), due to a different taste, some audiophile might choose some flagship from Audio Research, Convergent or Hovland, but if your consideration based on the factor of sound vs. price, Herron VTSP-1A will be the only choice. The unattractive appearance and chassis is not worth to talk about, but when you listen to its sound, you'll soon attached to its unlimited musicality and vibrant tonality. If your choice preference is "Sound first, Appearance second." The VTSP-1A preamplifier will be the best sounding unit you could get.
VTSP-1A is a product who had reached "Everest" level of design integrity, it won't be easy to get further improvements, since the last couple of years, VTSP-1A had become our reference preamplifier in our own listening room, every preamplifier we reviewed needed to be compared with VTSP-1A, in fact, there's a lot of good sounding preamplifier available in the market, but after I compare it with Herron, I realized that my Herron is always the winner...until the latest release update version, named VTSP-1A/166.
I was so curious to know how further the improvement from VTSP-1A/166, since VTSP-1A levels lots of excellent preamplifier that cost few times as much. Assuming if the VTSP-1A could climb up another level, it's an indication telling me that the VTSP-1A/166 will likely be the best preamplifier in the world.
Based on the manufacturer's info, the improved version used a more complex / accurate 166 steps volume control (that's the reason why Herron add "166" at the back of the model number), in addition to the volume, the circuitry had some improvement too. Based on the appearance, the new units looks the same as the old one, the only way to identify it is by checking the serials or by looking at the label on the carton box.
During our serious listening test, I noticed that the new unit had slightly higher gain than the previous one, there's already reasonable amount of gain at 9 o’clock position, when it went pass 9 o’clock, it became more sensitive, I noticed better dynamic and resolution when you crank it up higher, it's obviously better than the older unit. If we said that the VTSP-1A could release enormous amount of energy during climax, by comparison, the 166 will made you feels like an athlete is on drug, its speed responsiveness and energy goes higher than the reference - the new volume control took it to a much higher level. I'd listened to the Drum and Track Disc from Sheffield Labs to AB the two, the difference between it is very obvious, version 166's dynamic is way more superior, I fully believed that it's the most dynamic preamplifier I've ever heard.
In order to deeply understand the tonality of version 166, I've played a few violin and vocal recording to evaluate the two. We noticed the difference even we compare materials with solo violin or vocal, as an example, Perlman's Carmen Fantasy, version 166 reproduced a more lively / energetic performance. I honestly believed that the 166 upgrade is a remarkable achievement since the VTSP-1A had already reached the "perfection" plateau.
After this upgrade, Herron VTSP-1A/166's tonality reach a higher level again, whether they're already the “best preamplifier in the world”, I'm not sure yet, but certainly, based on my listening experience, there's no other preamp which could produce such excellent tonality and dynamic, because of that, as one of the best sounding preamplifier already, the VTSP-1A/166 price per dollar value is way ahead of any competitors in the market.
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