Ryan said: The Herron VTSP-3A line stage did nothing objectionable, and for that I have terrific respect for it. Its sins were more of omission than the more annoying ones of commission. It did its job of controlling source selection, mono/stereo, phase, and volume in the most unobtrusive ways, while providing an uncolored reproduction of the signal with the convenience of a full-function remote. It was a delight to use on a daily basis, and seems engineered to last. Sonically, it gave up little to the best out there (mostly in macrodynamic swings and presence-region voicing), and let me hear what the rest of my components sound like. It would be at home in a system of any cost, but whether you prefer the VTSP-3A or one of its competitors will depend on how much you want to hear your line stage. You won’t be hearing the Herron.
The gist: Just really good performance all around.
Howard said: The LS27 will thrill most audiophiles. It raises the bar for what should be expected from a preamp in its price class. Moreover, it may convince all the digital junkies and audio minimalists out there that they really do need a preamp after all. The fact that I’m giving the LS27 a Reviewers’ Choice award may not be entirely surprising, given that it’s made by Audio Research -- a company known for making great preamps.
The gist: Another knockout preamp from the company known for knockout preamps.
Doug said: What I thoroughly enjoyed about listening with the LL2.1 Deluxe was that my attention didn’t dart from one performance parameter to the next, as it does with many audiophile components. Instead, the Lamm presented music so cohesively and convincingly, with so exceptionally natural and thoroughly engaging sound, that I easily lost myself in the music, largely ignoring the nitpicky things that so worry audiophiles -- and especially reviewers. Not many components can do this for me.
The gist: There’s just something intrinsically right about Lamm gear.
Michael said: The Reference drew from recordings a great deal of detail and information, but it also made me want to just sit back and be entertained -- it let me connect with the music. If you’re looking for a preamplifier at or anywhere near $9000, Purity Audio Design’s Purity Reference should be on your short list.
The gist: A reference tube preamp from a newcomer on the scene.
Price: $2500; add $500 for DAC and phono option
Doug said: Simaudio’s Moon 350P is a high-performance stereo preamplifier for the audiophile masses -- the kind of preamp that many people can aspire to own and can reasonably afford. Its $2500 base price is very fair, and $500 is little to ask for the options of a phono stage and DAC.
The gist: Plain-looking, good-sounding preamp.
Howard said: Being the offspring of Marantz’s classic Model 7 preamplifier and Model 9 amplifier, the Reference SC-7S2 and Reference MA-9S2 have some rather large shoes to fill. By my account they do just that, and the folks at Marantz appear to be worthy stewards of the historic company name. If you’re looking for a pair of amps and/or a preamp anywhere near or even above these models’ asking prices, you’ll want to head to your local Marantz Reference dealer to give them a listen.
The gist: Classic company produces an updated Model 7.
Doug said: I love how the JE Audio VL10.1 preamplifier sounds in my system. It’s one of the few products in recent memory that has thrilled me -- partly because of its great build quality, but mostly because of its incredible sound, which is quite unlike that of any other preamp I’ve heard. When it comes to the pleasure of listening to music, right now I’ll choose the VL10.1 over anything else.
The gist: A great value in a reference tubed preamp.
Pete said: The Reference 5 is a superlative musical investment, an indisputable high-end bargain, and a fortification for another 40 years of audio excellence from Audio Research.
The gist: Should be on your shortlist for the best preamps extant.