Frank let me take home his new Vision Phono preamp about 2 weeks ago to review.
My analog system is very humble. My turntable is a refurbished 1970's Thorens TD-145 semi-auto that I placed in a plinth that a friend and I made out of beautiful and very dense Cocobolo wood. The plinth and bottom cover (which I made out of Baltic Birch) are lined with GTMAT for additional dampening. The TT rests on sorbothane feet. My Cartridge is a Nagaoka MP-200 (this is a $400 moving iron cartridge that has a slightly warmer signature with a rich midrange and powerful bass). My current phono preamp is a Bellari VP-129 that a friend gave me. I upgraded the tube to a slightly rare 1950's Raytheon Black Plate 12AX7 with the long shiny black plates that took this budget preamp to another level of refinement and musicality to the point that it competes with more expensive phono preamps. The rest of my system is a BAT VK-51se, Pass Labs X250 amp and Magnepan 1.6 speakers run full range with 2 Martin Logan sealed subs crossed over at 45hz.
Ok, with that out of the way, here is the scoop on the new Vision Phono Preamp-
First off, the preamp is built like a tank. It will do MM and MC and has settings for adjusting the gain and cartridge loading from 30 ohm to 1K. The cover must be taken off to make the changes.
My initial impressions after the first 30 seconds was wow, Frank has another winner. And after hours of listening, that impression did not change. The sound of this preamp is very refined and detailed. It reveals textures to the music along with spatial cue's that the Bellari just can't deliver. While the Bellari has a wide and deep sound stage, the Vision's is wider and taller. The space between instruments is greater, giving a sense of more air and transparency. The background is dead silent. Bass is tight, agile and controlled where as the Bellari's is a bit more powerful with some bloom but slower. Cymbals with the Vision are very natural with excellent timbre and air. They are a little more forward than with the Bellari which is a good thing as I always felt that cymbals were pushed too far back. Vocals sound more real and you can hear more natural imperfections of the singers voice while the Bellari smooths things out a bit. Strings have more pluck and better attack. Piano has just the right amount of decay and ring. Overall, the general tone of the Vision was neutral to slightly warm, probably due to my Nagaoka MP-200.
Unfortunately, I did not have another phono preamp besides the Bellari on hand to compare the Vision to. I did get to review the original Vision a while back and the new one is much better. Even my son commented on how much better the new Vision is. It is more refined with greater musicality and a blacker background. In addition, I did get to hear an iFi phono preamp in my system. It is an excellent preamp in it's own right but I preferred my Bellari with its tube upgrade for its warmth and musicality. The Vision is a step above both of them.
By the way, the Needle Doctor is selling the Vision. Frank told me that some one at the ND told him that the Vision competes with $1K phono preamps.
Steve Miller- Fly Like an Eagle a MFSL Original Master Recording
Miles Davis- Kind of Blue
Diana Krall- Wall Flower
Eva Cassidy- Night Bird
Lucinda Williams- The Ghosts of Highway 20
Grover Washington Jr.- Wine Light
Neil Young- Harvest, Reprise Version
Bob James and Earl Klugh- One on One and Two of a Kind
Joni Mitchell- For the Roses
William Ackerman- Turtles Navel
And a few others