Herron VTPH-2A / Origin Live Conqueror / Koetsu Black Goldline


Ever wonder, "Yeah, but how much better is it, really?" Which, when you get down to it, comes down to, "Would the average person really care? Or even notice?"

Almost always, if we're honest, the answer is, "No."

Some years ago I upgraded from the highly praised and justifiably respected Graham 2.0 tone arm (with upgrades) to the much less well known (stateside, anyways) Origin Live Conqueror. The Graham does a lot of things right, totally earns its rep, but the Conqueror is a whole other realm. There comes a point with some components where to run down the list of attributes just seems so pointless, when its so much better across the board its a whole lot easier and more accurate to simply say, this is a whole new realm.

That's what I got from the Conqueror. The wife, not so much. Never even noticed. Not one comment, pro or con.

Few weeks ago a new Koetsu Black Goldline replaced my Benz Ruby H. Same thing, whole new realm. Everyone lauds the legendary Koetsu midrange. Deservedly so. Its just spooky real! What they almost never say though is that Koetsu magic isn't just midrange. Its everything. Its music. Its power and silence and dynamic shadings and, well the whole package wrapped up and delivered in such a way as makes you want to forget about all that stuff. With all my prior cartridges for example I would tweak VTA every record and notice, and only be happy when it was right, and even thought this constant fine tuning was one of the most important elements to good LP playback. With the Koetsu, once I got it dialed in it sounded so good I just totally lost interest in anything but relaxing into the music.

That's what I get from the Koetsu. The wife, not so much. Never even noticed. Not one comment, pro or con.

Even though, around this same time, I also got some Synergistic Research ECTs and Blue Quantum Fuse. Just one ECT is enough to get me going. One Quantum Fuse even more so. All together, while a really nice upgrade they are not to my ears game changers in the league of the Conqueror or Koetsu. I was sure all this together with the Koetsu would spark a comment. But no. My wife actually sat down and listened a while without ever saying anything one way or another.

Then the Herron came. In fairness, Keith tried to warn me. It'll sound "completely different" than my Audio Research PH3-SE, Mr. Herron had told me, and "It'll sound good right out of the box."

I'll say.
When of course nobody by now cares what I think. All I can add anyway is the same old same old, with maybe a new twist on realms, universes, whatever the plural of cosmos is. By now, if you are not clued in that its all about the wife, well then its back to Expository Writing 101 for me!

But first, a little about my listening room.

The result of a major remodel (some would say rebuild) my listening room is about more than having good sound in the room. Its also about no sound- getting in, or going out. So instead of the usual 1/2" sheetrock there's 5/8" sheetrock. (Stops sound almost twice as good as 1/2"!) Over 1/2" sound board. Over, because this is a remodel, exterior plywood and siding. With a solid core door. With weather-stripping. Nowhere near professional studio standards, yet well above even very good residential construction.

Okay. So I'm sitting in my listening room enthralled with the Herron, blissfully (thanks to the weather-stripped solid core door) unaware of my wife clamoring around in the kitchen. Until, that is, she opens the door, sticks her head in and says, "Dear, did you do something? It sounds completely different!"

Well, what could I do? I mean, what could I do?

"Yeah I was busy today cleaning all the connections."

And off she goes. Whew. Close one!

Until, later on that same night she catches me in the kitchen. "Dear, it sounds completely different!"

"I know. I took everything apart. Cleaned everything. Used to do this at least once a year but I let it go, been more like 10 years. Really needed it."

Keep in mind, she has not yet even been in the room. This is all through the door.

Next day she actually comes in the room. Thought for a minute she was going to sit down but then, "Dear, its like completely different system. What did you do? You bought something. What did you buy?" (Guessing.) "Did you buy a new amplifier?"

"Sort of. Phono stage. That thing down there."

And now, the coup de grace. What you all know is coming. Which. Did. Not. Come!

So now, on top of asking yourself just how good a component has to be to make your wife come and tell you how good it is- and not once, not twice, but three times, unasked!- on top of that wonder at how good it has to be to make your wife not even think about how much it cost.

Not some audiophile. Not even some average person. Your wife.

Sure I could go on and on about how great this thing is. About how dead silent and black the silence between the notes is, about how startlingly real every tonal signature is, about how it had me catching myself slack jawed mouth agape all but drooling and trying to get my mind around how a phono stage somehow made my system lose what for years I just kind of assumed was some sort of tonal signature probably coming from the speakers, only I never even knew it was there until it was gone, its frankly just guessing, all I know is its gone, its all gone, the whole enchilada just gone, just this music now somehow floating there in the room, ephemeral yet palpably real as all get-out.

But what would be the point? You heard the wife. Nuff said.
Awesome! Very well written and fun to read and remember women have better hearing than we do.  Congratulations on your new analog front end and new room! Sounds like a very nice system and you're blessed with a supportive wife with great ears. Happy Listening!
What table are you running the Conqueror on? I've always been interested in the OL arms but not so much their tables...... 
Its my Miller Carbon table. Its built around the Teres bearing and platter, with the superb Verus rim drive motor. The base is made from a BDR Source Shelf, with another large round threaded "nut" made from Source Shelf holds the bearing. The bearing is thus completely encased in Source Shelf. The three legs are Pucks and Cones screwed directly into the base. The arm mounts onto a base of Shelf. That's three layers of Source Shelf, plus the Pucks and Cones. A photo taken with my old Graham arm can be seen here 

I didn't mention the turntable because its a subject worth a story and review all its own. It began with a Basis 2001. When I replaced the Basis motor with the first early Teres motor and say how much better that was I decided to build the Miller Carbon. So take as a bench mark the Basis 2001, and know even just with the motor upgrade its a huge leap above the Basis. Then moving the Teres motor to the Miller Carbon, that was an even bigger gap up. The next step was the upgrade to the Teres Verus motor, another big  gap up. This was all with a Benz on the Graham arm, so being consistent there means all the improvements were coming from the table and nothing else.

Granted a Basis 2001 was never the best Basis, but imagine not one or two steps better but three, and not just steps but leaps. I don't know how to say it, three huge advances in noise floor reduction, dynamic and bass foundation, 3D imaging, just everything across the board. Another way to get some idea, I also use a record clamp made from a Shelf. Walked it around at CES one year A/B-ing it with a lot of sometimes very expensive record clamps. Never did hear one do what this one does. And it works even better at home. I made a "washer" out of carbon fiber. The washer fits around the spindle and is just thick enough to raise the record very slightly above the platter. Tightening the clamp then actually presses the record down onto the platter across its entire surface clear out to the edge. This is so effective that when the clamp is removed the record acts as if it is vacuumed to the platter for a second, until air gets in and it pops up!

Bottom line, I would not be afraid to put this up against anything out there, at least under $100k. In fact from what I have heard some of them even at that level would not do so well! 

Same goes for the Origin Live arm. Remember the Graham was one of the very best arms available at the time. Mine had all the upgrades then available. The Origin Live Conqueror utterly crushed it. Not even close. Not one in one thousand would say they were even close. Just a whole different level of performance. Best of all is that these improvements were not just technical, but the kind of thing that is hard to describe but gives you that tingly this is real hair on the back of your neck foot just starts tapping feeling. Origin Live are in the very rare category of components that do that.

Yeah and mine comes in to listen with me a lot more often now too.

I just had a nice conversation with Keith Herron. Just a few of the many interesting bits-

The tubes that make it into the VTPH 2A are warmed up for 2 hours before testing. 1 dB too noisy and they are discarded. Only a small number make this first test where sometimes 12 in a row are discarded. But then sometimes even these very quiet tubes become noisy after burning in. So they are tested again after running in.

I'm familiar with the benefits of selecting and upgrading caps, but was a little surprised when Keith told me he finds even more variation with resistors. Every part in the circuit is selected by listening. Not only every part, but the location of every part! One sometimes affects the performance of another simply by where it is placed. 

Unpacking my 2A I noticed how solid it feels. Keith uses 10 gauge aluminum, not easy to bend but essential for controlling vibration. Circuit boards seem to be more solidly secured than any other component I've seen. Its all a part of improving performance by controlling the vibrations generated within the electronics.

Millercarbon your last post perfectly illustrates why Keith Herron's designs are unique and so musically satisfying. Keith is both an engineer and musician by training AND he is meticulous in his pursuit of perfection. I have known Keith for at least a decade now and find him to be uniquely competent--he is a rare find. On top of all that he is one of the nicest people you will ever know and provides unparalleled service to his many loyal clients. 
I had to do a little trouble shooting with mine, cover off, and mentioned to Keith
I was taking the opportunity to roll some tubes. To make a long story short, no, NOS tubes could compete with his stock tubes 😊
dodge alum, I mentioned how many times I've been a little shocked at how real it sounds. A wood block or rim shot is so incisively sharp and true to life. A bass line comes in on a Jennifer Warnes track I know by heart, only now its not just full-bodied wolly bass, the bass is clean and there's a female chorus doubling it and you can hear the lyrics, practically even count the individual voices! Keith said this is timing, which I was able to drag him down into trying to explain to my mathlexic mind the Fourrier Transform relationship between frequency and timing, when he said, "I think it really helps the performers musical intent come through."

So on top of all the fanatical (his word!) devotion to accuracy is an equally deep love of music. 

jmolsberg, based on what Keith told me you'll find it pretty close to impossible to improve on his tube selection. Unless maybe you like something that imposes its own sound on the music. And noise. You would have to prefer more noise. Or you could buy and throw away a couple hundred tubes to maybe find 5 that are.... almost exactly what you had to begin with.

The more Keith tells me about what goes into one of these the more amazed I am that he's able to offer them at such a reasonable price.
Millercarbon ...

Thanks for a very well written report. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope you’ll continue with your posts. :-)

Speaking of origin live ... If you have a belt drive turntable, do yourself a favor and order a custom belt from originlive.com. Its a major upgrade for such an inexpensive tweak. You can actually hear it break in over an hour or so while it’s playing. Better dynamics, more of a 3D presentation and less grain. 


Frank, the table I use is of my own design, described in my post above dated the 18th. Here's an early photo http://www.teresaudio.com/fame/cmiller.jpg
At this time it was powered by an early Teres motor pod using the silk thread in the photo. Building this table was an iterative or developmental process with a lot of learning at each step. First was hard wiring a better power cord to the original Basis motor. Next was trying the silk thread, which turned out to work better than the Basis rubber belt. Then came upgrading to using the Teres motor on the Basis. Because each step was discrete, changing just one thing at a time, I learned a lot about how each of these affects performance.

At the same time I was learning a lot about vibration control. Nothing in my experience comes even close to the Black Diamond Racing carbon fiber Cones, Pucks and Shelfs. Unlike everything else the technology of these is built into the composites themselves. It seemed so natural that a turntable, the component above all others that benefits from a stable, stiff, and highly damped construction, should be made of the stiffest most highly damped material known, carbon fiber composites. Not that it was easy. But well worth the effort.

Today the Miller Carbon is driven by the rim drive Tires Verus motor. http://www.teresaudio.com/verus-motor.html 

I've never seen or heard an Origin Live table. I've never even seen any other Origin Live arm besides mine! They seem pretty rare here in America. Based on their arm though I would be surprised if their turntables aren't equally impressive. Not that I'm the least bit tempted. I'm way too happy with mine.

Great, well-written post! Hilarious and makes your point. I took one additional step to further increase the wife's enjoyment of the music. I upgraded the wife! ;-) 
Enjoy your setup...and your wife's company. Cheers,
Now just one week in, and today put one Synergistic Research Blue Quantum Fuse and 3 ECTs inside. So now on top of the stage I got the fuse breaking in. These fuses do sound better one way than the other, and with circuit traces on the other side of the board its not always easy to see which way things are going. One neat feature, the Herron has a polarity switch. Definitely sounds better one way than the other.

Ran a few sides in. Linda Ronstadt recorded some of the great standards with Nelson Riddle and mastered by Doug Sax. Instrumental solos that were a little down in the mix are much more "there" now. Put on my new copy of the MoFi 2 LP 45 set of Brothers in Arms. Guitar has incredible bite to it, rim shots crack viscerally, and I never realized Sting is singing with Knopfler virtually the whole time. Never before heard anything come even close to this things ability to be both authoritatively fast and effortlessly smooth. Only. One. Week. In.
I’m excited to hear about the positive changes you are experiencing.  I do have an Origin Live Resolution table with the new Light Speed Control update and an Origin Live Illustrious mk3c tonearm.  These sing with an Ortofon Windfeld Ti.
 I love the teres table as well! One thing I did that made quite a bit a difference for me was I took the strobe sticker that goes on the bottom of the platter, took it to a graphic shop and had it blown bigger so it is right at the edge of the platter.   Obviously you have to move the sensor closer to the edge of the platter as well. This increases your speed accuracy by a fair amount. 
Yes, and it was Chris Brady and his Teres project that got me going and really learning about turntables. Turntables are strange things. On the one hand everything is out in the open. Very little hidden in a box, you can pretty much see how they’re made. On the other hand though its all black magic. Completely different designs, each one supposedly better than the next. Nothing in life is like that! Teres gave me the opportunity to actually check and compare and learn what each individual part is doing.

Can the motor really make a difference? How much? And what kind?

For starters I tried replacing the stock power cord on my Basis motor with a known good power cord. Big improvement! Better, more solid and well defined bass, better overall rhythmic drive, better dynamics, right across the board!

One less black magic trick. I saw the motor. Stock motor you could look up on and buy on the internet. I was happy with my Basis, especially being able to sell it after a dozen years for more than I paid new. But if it is anything to go by then turntables are vastly overpriced for what you get! Not so Teres. Their level of parts quality, if VPI or ClearAudio, would be low 6 figures.

Anyway, that experience encouraged me enough to try the Teres motor pod, the one like you have now. Simply taping the strobe sheet onto my Basis platter (and drilling a small hole in the plinth) enabled me to run the Basis with the Tires motor. Big improvement!

By now I was learning and comparing and while the Basis bearing looked pretty good it clearly was nowhere near the level of the Tires design. I mean, Chris has his full design and specs right there on the web. Basis does not. But once you understand the design principles its clear the Basis bearing cannot be as good. And sorry to say, same goes for the vast majority of turntable manufacturers out there. I even took my bearing around to some very good machinists. How good? One of them, just from looking at it and handling it made a damn impressive estimate of tolerance and finish spec. I mean he darn near nailed it. We talked a bit about production runs. No way he could get anywhere near what Chris sells them for. You have a Teres, you have one of the all time great audiophile bargains. If you did a good job building yours then you probably already know nobody can touch what you got for under 10 grand. If not you should. Because they can’t.
Hi there,

I just received my Herron VTPH-2A Phonostage yesterday and slipped her into my rig.  Currently running a Kiseki Blue NS MC cartridge through a Bob's Device SKY 30 SUT into the MM stage to Primaluna Dialogue Premium HP Integrated.  It sounds WONDERFUL! 

Happy New Year - Dana
Congratulations, Dana!

I've never heard anything sound so good right out of the box as my Herron. Unlike some people I thoroughly enjoy listening to new gear. The way the sound changes is just fascinating. I put on a side, enjoy the sound, and become enthralled as it develops, especially in the beginning where changes are so fast and large just in the time it takes to play one side you realize if you went back to the beginning it wouldn't be the same as the first time through. 

In general I find the initial sound very fast, detailed and airy, with a little less weight or harmonic development in the balance. Then as it goes along this fills out into a more even balance. Not always exactly like that though. With mine it seemed like there was one day where it seemed just a tad more weighty and solid vs fast and detailed. Next day that was gone as if it had never been. Because I was feeding it so many different records, crazy stuff like going from Santana Abraxas to Belafonte at Carnegie Hall to Ellington Jazz Party in Stereo, I'll never really know if that was the Herron or what. Main thing though is not that it ever sounded bad, it was just a tiny brief shift in the balance, but that even that one tiny little departure from beyond perfection was enough to make me feel like some crack junkie needing to score. 

Now barely two weeks in, I have been leaving it on all the time, its still developing just much more slowly. So you are just barely two weeks behind me. Already mine is so thoroughly fleshed out and palpably real its hard to imagine it getting any better. Yet Keith tells me he has customers swear theirs continued to improve even up to a year. Truly amazing.
Thank you MillerCarbon and very good to meet you. Glad to see that you know Ted Denney as well and his SR gear - awesome! Ted and I are friends and I sure dig what he is doing. Please shoot me an email at Homer_Skins@yahoo.com as I would like to speak with you some more concerning this fine Herron phonostage. Wow! Just so cool. Thanks friend - Dana
I met Ted when he came up to demo his then-new Active Shielding for a select few of us at a very boutique (I guess you could call it an audio salon although this one really was) dealer friend of mine. By then I had already experienced first hand how everything of his I tried was light-years better for the money than anything else but even so was not really prepared for his Active Shielding, which was truly jaw-dropping. As I’ve said before nobody really knows how or why stuff works, not beyond crude meter readings anyway, so in a lot of ways it all comes down to who has the best ears, creativity, and perseverance. Keith Herron is a good example of what that can lead to when focused on amplification. Ted Denney has taken on a few different targets, signal purity in wire mostly, but sound/vibration fields, harmonics and room acoustics as well, and in a field where most strike out more often than not he has a record more like Ted Williams- hit after hit after hit, with quite a few home runs thrown in for good measure! Herron and Denney are superstars as far as I'm concerned, mostly unsung but each in their own way a Michael Jordan or Lewis Hamilton, in accomplishments if not bling.
Right on! Yes, Ted has some amazing technology going on! It sounds like you have done your homework like I have. Good deal! Dana