As you can see from the circuit description, Nagra don't claim unique technology or circuit design for their VPS. Neither do they need to when the combination of excellent if simple circuit design plus outstanding parts delivers the goods like they do. When you first introduce the VPS into a system, it is unlikely to amaze and dazzle. It won't attract attention to any specific area of music reproduction. If you are into musical fireworks, it might actually disappoint. But if you have been at this little game for a while, you know that creating a component that lets the recorded music speak for itself is not so obvious. Yet the VPS has an uncanny ability to do just that. Which is not the same as being completely neutral by the way. The VPS certainly is not. Its sonic signature is midrange centric, then couples to what is an extremely low noise floor by tube or solid-state standards. This creates a tremendous sense of resolution. That resolution comes with a slight sense of warmth and extremely intense tonal colors. The name of the VPS game is resolution and saturation throughout the midrange. By contrast, the frequency extremes are somewhat more reserved but for the most part that's because the midrange stands out by its excellence. Bass is resolved and weighty if a little woolly at times. Transients could be a little sharper. Similarly the treble is gently shelved down to insure that brighter cartridges won't get intolerably harsh. It's not an extremely overt voicing. Cymbals still shimmer. Just so, even with the less than state-of-the-art treble of my Ocellias, I heard a slight reduction in energy compared to what I was used to with the Esoteric E03 or my current reference by Lounge Audio. Compared to the Lounge, the Nagra struck back with a significantly more relaxed though at the same time more detailed treble if also a little less energy.

If you couple this outstanding and energized midrange with excellent but slightly more controlled extremes and leave with the impression that this phono stage is most at home with acoustic music over electronica but will still do a decent job when pushed with hard-hitting fare... you'd be right on. A few other attributes add to making the Nagra a champ at acoustic music. The first is a very supple sense of ebb and flow which some solid-state designs may approach but very few can match. The Nagra has that ease and fluidity which marks it as an outstanding tube phono preamp. Last time I heard that level of tube swagger was with the NAT Audio Signature phono I reviewed years ago. The NAT and Nagra share the use of input transformers for MC and tubes for the main gain stage (NAT only use tubes and all of them triodes) and a lot of their sonic character. The NAT has been gone for far too long to attempt any kind of comparative comment but I know that both left me feeling the same: with a great sense of ease and refined elegance. The second attribute where the Nagra shone beyond anything I have heard at my place was soundstaging. When equipped with the VFS platform, the Nagra threw the widest, deepest, most 3D soundscape I have had the pleasure to enjoy. Remove the VFS and things collapse back to a more 'normal' presentation - far from flat or lacklustre but being such a visual giant on the VFS  support, anything less will be a bit of a let-down even though still better than most. If you have good room acoustics that allow imaging to develop fully, the VFS is a must-have accessory; actually more than an accessory. It is an integral part of making the VPS phono stage a truly striking performer.

Another way to not so subtly alter its sonic character is to engage the solid-state second gain stage. In many cases that will be a necessity when the native 0.3V output level won't be enough or force your amplifier to operate at gain levels where it is not the most comfortable. Yet if you have a high-gain integrated or preamplifier, you have the option to run 'au naturel' sans solid-state gain. That will produce more tube goodness and badness. Tone gets even more intense and that fluidity I talked about is pushed to another level. Any system on the edgy side would benefit tremendously from this injection of soul. The Nagra without the final 15dB of transistor gain delivers a huge dose of that emotional intensity which more sterile systems lack so badly. That said, the bass will also get looser and transients round off to a level that didn't suit systems like mine (triodes and high-efficiency widebanders). I really needed the solid-state contributions of control and drive to integrate the Nagra smoothly into my system. I actually view this as a great asset in Nagra's favour. Without losing its core qualities of incredibly intense midrange and flow, the overall sonic gestalt of the VPS can easily be adapted to fit into fairly different systems.

Another factor to watch and take advantage of is the impact of phono cables. One can meaningfully tweak the sound by changing them as another testament to Nagra's transparency and very low noise. The Lounge phono cable that worked so well with their own phono stage and step-up was a non-starter with the Nagra, being fuzzy, undefined and bloated. At the other end of the spectrum, pure silver cables from Ocellia or Slinkylinks gave that magic midrange even more illumination and helped tighten the bass for more speed and resolution if also a little less weight. Overall I felt that in my system the Nagra did better with leaner cables like the Ocellias and more neutral cartridges like the Ortofon Quintet Black. That's because it did not need any of the tonal or textural reinforcements provided by the Zu/Denon DL103 or Dynavector 10X5. Ultimately a phono preamp should strive to take those micro signals a cartridge generates and amplify them to preserve as much of the recorded signal as possible. At this junction in the review, I felt that the Nagra performed that task in a remarkable way which was neither completely neutral nor flashy in a look-at-me sort of way but simply with a sense of presence I've rarely heard matched. Over the next few months, our family are on the move again, relocating from Pennsylvania to Des Moines/Iowa in the heart of the Midwest. The new house is picked. Whilst it has no dedicated music room, I hope that its large open living space, twelve foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling wood paneling will make for a very suitable listening space. I'll then add some meaningful comparisons to a certain like-priced competitor.