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May 2017
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Best Audiophile Product Of 2017 Blue Note Award
World Premiere Review!
VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage
For serious music lovers living at the cutting edge of what is possible.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage Review

 

  The letters VAC is not an abbreviation for vacuum, although the VAC Renaissance Mk V does have five miniature twin triode vacuum tubes on board. The company banner is actually an acronym for, Valve Amplification Company. This Mk V preamplifier is something entirely new in the VAC lineup for 2017. There is a basic MkV line stage preamplifier without the phono stage that sells for $9990. That configuration uses just two miniature Dual Triode tubes. The Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V under evaluation contains an optional phono amplifier stage which adds three additional 12AX7 tubes. With the optional phono stage on board the cost increases to, $12,990.  Interestingly the VAC company are not very specific about the exact type of tubes required. The specification tells us that you can substitute the following, 6DJ8 / ECC88 / E88CC / 6922 / 7308 these are once again all similar miniature dual/twin triode vacuum tubes.

 

The Body Of Evidence
A basic black steel chassis houses the renaissance preamplifier which takes up a bit more shelf space than most. I measured it at, 18" wide 16" deep 4" high. There is a large separate power supply measuring, 6" wide, 12.5" deep, 4.25" high connected to the preamplifier by a 10-pin umbilical cord. The Mk V has an unusually attractive front panel that is finished with a glossy black enamel coating containing tiny Gold Metal Flake highlights. At the left side is a rectangular opening framing the company logo that is painted with attractive gold lettering.

Directly in the center is another rectangular opening containing four items, they are:
A Light Emitting Diode that is illuminated Red when in standby and Green when the tubes are warmed up to operational status. Next is a switch to turn power On or to Mute the output. Next to that is another two position switch labeled Mode, Stereo or Mono. Switch to mono operation and both channels are summed for a mono source. Lastly in that cutout area is the Remote Control sensor. Farther to the right on the front panel you will see two black knobs. First is the Volume control, next to this is a three position source Selector switch labeled very simply as 1, 2, and 3.

 

VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage Review

 

Around back there are some unconventional things going on. The three line source input connections are designated as L 1 and L 2. The third switch position L 3 is intended to engage either of the two separate MM/MC phono cartridge inputs. Of course L 3 selects only the single active phono input and these cartridge connections are all unbalanced RCA jacks. Very unusually the built in phono amplifier is in two parts and housed in two separate areas at the rear chassis. So on one side there is a section for Moving Coil (MC) cartridges and next to that is another separate section for Moving Magnet (MM) cartridges.

The first MM section provides the gain and RIAA equalization required for basic phono playback. This is the heart and lungs of the phono stage, as it were. The MM jacks have independent loading at 47,000 Ohms and 100 picofarad, as is appropriate.  The MM/MC switch disconnects the MM jacks and connects the gain/EQ stages to the dedicated MC input. The key features of the MC input are two precision, wide-band step up transformers actually the same type found in the VAC Statement Phono Stage and a dedicated variable resistive loading switch. So, MM and MC share the tube gain and EQ sections, but have separate input, loading, and MC gain provisions.

There are six preset resistive loads built into the MC portion. So on the left rear panel there is a knob to select the resistive loading for the MC cartridge input. They are, 50, 80, 125, 200, 300, and 470 Ohms. And on the right rear side of the amplifier is another knob used to select either the MM or the MC amplifier input. The thing is of the four preamplifier input source connections two are RCA unbalanced phono inputs that go to the MM or to the MC amplifier. This permits only one type of cartridge to be used at a time and only with unbalance cables.

 

VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage Review

 

The remaining two line level inputs L1 and L 2 (In my sample) have dual provisions for either unbalanced our balanced connecting cables. So what you will find is a bit unusual. Right alongside of each type of input there are RCA  jacks for the left and right channels and also two left and right channel XLR jacks. The same two interconnection choices exists for input L 2. Therefore both types of cabling may be used to drive the L1 or L 2 inputs. However on the bottom panel of each input L 1 and L 2 there is a small two position Grounding Switch. You must set that switch to match the line cable you are using and so you cannot use both at the same time. This feature was saved for last for clarity.

In appearance the preamplifiers output cables can be RCA or XLR similar the L1 and L 2 input connections. They may look the same but these are the Mk V preamplifiers output connections to the power amplifier. You will find these in back next to L 2.  So there is a third set of RCA  jacks and another set of XLR connectors that allow you to drive a power amplifier with either balanced our unbalanced cables. Here is my one complaint. Even though two of the input spaces are taken by the optional phono amplifier I still wish that there was one more line input available.

 

Plugged In And Powered On
The VAC people stated, "The longer you allow The Mk V to break in the better it will sound". Well OK, I think somebody mentioned 150 hours, and that's about where we are now. This story is gonna be about one difficult to describe hunk a hardware because this thing doesn't have a persona and it pretty much disappears. And it takes on the characteristics sound of the source, whatever that may be. (Mothers don't let you sons grow up to be reviewers.) But come to think of it that's exactly what audio equipment is supposed to do, disappear.

The amplifier is a study in what a very modern tube amplifier sounds like, true to the source. Luckily there is a slim glimmer of audiophile hope and that has to be about a certain liquid harmonic structure. So you sit and listen and at first nothing sticks out and everything just sounds correct. You need to get your mind into a quiet place and once you get there specific tonal textures emerge. The Renaissance Mk V has an organic quality that can touch your emotions. If only honest human feelings were present in all music. But then it must be captured at the source from a stage or in the studio. No matter if it be from Tape, Vinyl, Compact Disc, or streamed to you.

Unfortunately, this heartfelt and truly organic quality is getting harder to find. As I write this the recording of Judy Garland's concert at Carnegie Hall is very much present in my thoughts. Yes that's a vinyl recording, and that "you are there" intimate quality is hard to find on a compact disk. But there is a possible compact disc contender that qualifies based on shear sweeping raw emotion. That is the CD album, Nils Lofgren-Acoustic Live. For people who have attended a recent audio show surely you must have heard, Keith Don't Go, that CD track from the album was played in more than one room.

This is very close mic'ed recording capturing the explosive transient impact of steel guitar strings. The VAC Mk V gets the transient impact and the strings metallic bite and finally the reverberant diminuendo of the guitar body perfectly. At this point we are not done we still need to explore Dimensional imaging and what appears in the space between speakers. This is a must on the must have list and for that we have to explore that quality on vinyl.

 

VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage Review

 

Vinyl Playback
My utmost curiosity was rather focused on that built in Renaissance phono stage. Pitting my reference, Tavish Design Adagio vacuum tube phono stage up against the Renaissance MC phono amplifier. It will be a very interesting shoot out, tubes up against tubes. Don't know why but Vacuum tubes and Vinyl just seem to go together. And even more poignantly both of these amplifiers incorporate vacuum tubes and step-up transformers as part of their gain stages. Over the years I have found that a tube powered phono stage incorporating step-up transformers has always proven to be a winner.  Let's begin playing records with my Denon 103 MC cartridge set at the required 100 Ohms loading. First let me give you a bit of a back story. In February 2016 I wrote a review of the Tavish phono amplifier for Enjoy the Music.com and subsequently I purchased the review sample. Let's begin playing records with the Tavish a six tube amplifier with adjustable cartridge loading and an outboard power supply.

Flipping through my stash of flea market finds one after another the quality all proved to be just mediocre. So at the risk of repeating myself let me talk about Another Page by Christopher Cross.  This studio album Is a favorite because of the clarity and depth complexity of the center image. The first cut side two, Its "All Right" the backup vocals repeat the phrase, "Its all right I think we are gonna make it". The spacing between those voices in the center are well defined. The tonal inflection and timber in each voice comes through with perfect clarity. The fast paced tempo is pure energy driven by a bass guitar and key board. This makes for an excitement laced complex instrumental arrangement. So far no surprises, this is what I'm accustomed to hearing when playing this recording with my Adagio Phono amplifier.

 

VAC On Vinyl
It takes a while to clear my ears and expectations, no paradigms allowed here. The Renaissance Mk V has been on and warmed up and ready to go with loading set at 125 Ohms. A load increase of an extra 25 Ohms when added to the Denon is insignificant in this evaluation. Same recording same track just moved the connecting cable to the Mk V phono input.

At this audition I find the stereo image now has a deeper center stage. The backup singers are spaced more clearly as separate individual entities inhabiting their own reverberate space. This combined with a very unexpected continuance. This is a word Harry Pearson once used to describe a gradual natural decay of a musical tone. More simply put every musical component seems to fade into silence in a very natural way.

What's going on? Every minute detail revealed by the VAC Mk V I believe can be accounted for by one supremely important characteristic. It does portray a stereo stage overlaid by a deeper quieter blacker back ground. Because of that everything is painted in greater relief.

 

VAC Renaissance Preamplifier Mk V With MM/MC Phono Stage Review

 

Conclusion
My Tavish Adagio has been bested, I didn't think it possible. If only it was as free as the Renaissance of any electronic background hash this might have held the Adagio on an equal footing. Talking about this preamplifier by dividing it up into separate parts may be misleading in some way. The important thought to hold onto is the calm and natural liquid quality that pervades all the music. These are expressed as purer timber richer harmonics and more stable images.

The Renaissance is not inexpensive but reasonable taking into account it is at the cutting edge of what is possible. If you're serious about and love music, this preamplifier will provide many years of totally immersed enjoyment. Go find a dealer, audition the VAC Renaissance Mk V preamplifier, and most certainly you will like what you hear. Remember to enjoy the music and from me, Semper Hi-Fi!

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube stereo preamplifier with MM and MC phono stage
Frequency Response: 5Hz to 210kHz (-3dB)
Gain: 10dB
Inputs: Two line inputs, selectable for RCA or XLR balanced
Outputs: Selectable for RCA or XLR balanced (pin 2 hot studio standard)
Tubes: Two 7308, 6922, E88CC, ECC88, or 6DJ8 (E88CC supplied)
Absolute Phase: Non-inverting from all inputs to all outputs
THD: <0.009% @ 1 kHz, 1 V RMS
Maximum Output: > 8 V RMS
Output Impedance: < 150 Ohms, 20Hz to 20kHz
Maximum Input: Infinite signal (attenuation precedes the gain circuitry)
Recommended Output Load: >300 Ohms
External Power Supply: detachable umbilical cable, detachable IEC power cord
Voltage: May be ordered for 100v, 120v, 220v, or 230/240v operation
Remote Control included
Finish: Hand-rubbed gold-flake gloss black lacquer with chrome knobs standard.
Hand-rubbed metallic gloss silver lacquer with chrome knobs special order with additional cost.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor, excluding tubes (USA, see manual for full details)
Dimensions: Audio chassis is 46cm x 41cm x 10cm ((H x W x D))
Weight: 9 kgs. 
Power supply 15 cm x 33 cm x 11 cm, 7 kg.

Phono Stage (optional)
Tubes: Three 12AX7
Gain: 42dB MM and 66dB MC
Frequency Response: RIAA 20Hz to 20kHz, 10 Hz to 80kHz @ -3dB
Channel Separation: >80dB @ 1 kHz
Maximum Input: >130mV @ 1 kHz, MM > 13 mV, MC
MC Load Impedance: Selectable, 470, 300, 250, 200, 150, and 100 Ohms
MM Load Impedance: 47k Ohms
Overload: 117MV @ 1kHz = 8 Volts RMS output; 460mV @ 10kHz
Residual Noise: Less than 3 mV at output (SNR greater than approx. 69dB)

Price: $12,990

 

Company Information
Valve Amplification Company
1911 East Avenue North
Sarasota, FL 34234

Voice: (941) 952-9695
Fax: (941) 952-9691
E-mail: info@vac-amps.com 
Website: www.VAC-Amps.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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