If I could find a way to sneak the new phono pre into my abode, I'd have done it long ago!
Unfortunately, I do not run an analogue set-up. I know, I know! Some audiophile I am! Unfortunately, this means that the only thing I can do is sit on the sidelines and watch others play.
As for auto-biasing... I could have sworn that the circuit is a standard feature on the i34. However, upon reading the manual on the Vista Audio website, it looks like I may be dead wrong. Odd. I'm almost positive Boris confirmed the auto-biasing thing with me, but.. *shrugs*, there it is in black and white. Yo Boris, whats the situation on that?
As for the i34's advantages over the casual array of integrated amplifiers I mentioned.... to my ears, it all boils down to the i34's balance of virtues. Thus far, practically every truly affordable (sub $1500) tube amp I've stumbled across has a glaring compromise or two in its presentation. Even if the amplifier does a number of things well, you can always count on a 'but', the most common of which being grainy treble, a lack of bass control on the usual array of dynamic loudspeakers, some discontinuity between the frequency bands, a slightly overdone rich/warm/whatever adjective you want to use/ character that forces itself into the sound, and so on and so forth. What I love so much about the i34 is that, relative to its low price point and topology, it does nothing glaringly wrong. It's everything a good tube amp should be: linear/balanced, resolute, and has just the right amount of harmonic texture woven into the presentation to help breathe life into the music. While I'm positive that there is someone else out there that offers a similar type of product that showcases many of the same talents as the i34, I sure don't know about it, especially at/under the $1000 price point.
The funny thing is that when Boris first approached me with an offer to review his smaller i84 integrated (almost two years ago), I initially tried to pass it off onto someone else on the Affordable Audio staff. I was so frustrated with affordable tube amps at the time that I simply didn't want to 'go there'. Suffice to say, it didn't take me long to learn how to dine on crow. Every once in awhile... that's a good thing.