Belles, Audio Research, or Cary?

To Vade Forrester,

I just finished reading your review of the Belles Statement VT-01 preamp and it does a very good job, as you cover everything. I have a headphone amp/preamp that was designed primarily as a headphone amp, the pre as an afterthought. I’ve tried to smooth out the rough edges -- I built a separate preamp circuit -- but the voltages remain high and so DC offset is hard to control. My amp, a Classé CA-400, is very solid state, and doesn’t like any DC on the line at all. And, at this point, I’m ready to give in and choose another preamp, and, as there are so very many to choose from, I’m at a near loss for what to do.

I have an opportunity to buy a Belles VT-01, a demonstrator. I also have a line on an ARC LS26. Then there’s the Cary SLP 98, which is most similar to my headphone amp configuration and would have a similarly soothing, smooth sound. These are my main choices, but I don’t know how to choose! Your input is greatly appreciated, Vade.



First off, I've never heard the Cary SLP 98, so I can't comment on its sound. The fact that it has a phono section would be mighty appealing. Otherwise, you'll have to add an external phono preamp and an additional set of interconnects, which can add significantly to the overall cost. I see there is mention of a remote control in a review, although I can't seem to find it on Cary's website. I like remotes; they make it easy to adjust the gain from your listening seat. You may be less of a couch potato than I.

The other two preamps are probably my two favorites. I compared their sound in my review of the VT-01, and don't have much to add. I thought the VT-01 was an excellent unit, and it sounded great in my system. I've used the LS26 for a long time, and like its sound. It's more flexible than the Belles, with balanced inputs and outputs for every source and output. If your Classé amp has balanced inputs, it might sound better driven from a balanced preamp -- mine does. The LS26's display is much more informative, and the unit has something I prize highly: a balance control. Sound-wise, I gave the VT-01 a slight edge. It's prettier too.

A preamp's sound is system dependent. If you can audition any of these preamps in your system, I'd strongly recommend it. . . . Vade Forrester