in instruments, especially at low frequencies, will have you nodding sagely and muttering, “Ahhh… tubes” under your breath. Yet listen a little longer and you’ll discover some distinctly un-tubelike qualities too. For a start, noise levels are extremely low and what noise you hear with your ear to the speaker is extremely stable, a low hiss with not a trace of whisper or distracting modulation. Then there’s the bass which isn’t just deep and powerful, but transparent and solidly propulsive as well, with air and space around the notes that lets you hear underneath them. There’s plenty of weight and wallop here. Finally, there’s the tonality, warm and natural but without any hint of bloom, roundness or cloying sweetness to congest or slow the midrange. The end result is a sound that’s neutral and inviting, insightful and musically generous. The Herron let’s you hear what’s happening as well as filling you with anticipation for what’s about to arrive.
Pick up an acoustic instrument and the better it is, the greater the sense of life, of energy just waiting to burst forth. This is exactly the quality that the Herron phono-stage captures. All that texture it brings to instruments is built on micro-dynamic definition and the ability to capture the harmonic envelope, the pattern of energy that extends from instruments. So, playing the measured, slowly building opening movement of the Sibelius Second Symphony (Berglund and the Bournemouth on EMI) the sense of constrained power, the players holding back under the conductor’s baton is almost palpable, lending even greater scale and emotional power to the giant sweep of the eventual release. Berglund’s bold use of the brass brings colour and impact, yet never swamps the supporting strings, while the pizzicato bass notes that punctuate the first movement are always pregnant with energy, a pluck and release with poise and purpose, rather than the leaden thuds you so often hear from systems playing this disc.
Now translate those qualities to the start of the second movement. The drum roll that opens proceedings is beautifully present, deep in the soundstage, the skin a vibrant and complex thing that sets up the extending, solo bass introduction. Again, the instrument is held within the soundstage, the subtle variations and development of its extended melody secure in pitch and pace, drawing you into the burgeoning layers to come. And boy do they come. The colour and ability to reveal each step in the growing intensity of a crescendo mark out the beautiful balance that the VTPH-2 strikes between the instrumental detail that gives music its beauty and the body and presence that gives it its drama and so much of its passion.
No, the Herron doesn’t have the astonishing transparency and planted stability that gives the Groove its absolute authority. Nor does it match the Groove’s ability to shade tiny, tiny graduations in level. Instead it treads a more benign path yet still allows the music to speak for itself. Its musicality is built on the ability to give instrumental character full reign whilst retaining the coherent sense of space, separation, presence and dynamic range that translates individuals into a performance. As I wrote above, there’s no clogging of the midrange or slowing of dynamic response, no rounding of what should be sharp edges, no allowances made to warmth or a comfortable, rosy glow. So, play Nanci’s ‘Listen To The Radio’ and you get all the insistent, infectious urgency of the driven tempo, while the fearful, angry snarl of Attila The Stockbroker delivering his nihilistic masterpiece ‘A Bang And A Wimpey’, constantly on the verge of corpsing, has just the right sense of desolation and that added hint of hysteria.
This phono-stage is a musical chameleon, shifting both shape and colour to catch the mood of a recording. But what makes it special is that (short of the likes of the Groove Plus SRX, the Connoisseur or the Zanden) it has sufficient resolution, detail and transparency to satisfy all but the definition uber alles brigade; or if you will, all the benefits of tubes with few if any of the costs – sonically speaking at least.
The VTPH-2 is colourful, dynamic and spacious, yet still offers the sort of noise levels, linearity, separation and precision that we more often associate with solid-state designs. The best of both worlds? For many a listener who wants the clarity that comes from silicon without the edgy bleaching that all too often accompanies it, or to release the beauty and emotion from records played on a dry and over-damped turntable, I suspect it will come as mana from musical heaven. Your first listen to the Herron’s MC inputs will likely be a fascinating example of audio expectation. The large, coherent acoustic it creates, the fabulous texture it reveals