Budget isn’t really a word you immediately associate with Lotus. When I started out on my journey back in 2010 I wanted to deliver a very natural “non-hifi” sound with little compromise. The simple fact is that to meet my minimum level of expectation there are no real shortcuts. That said, the lower end of the marketplace is evolving very very fast and its also a challenging area to operate in so over the next couple of years, I will be turning a little more of my attention to the smaller budget and trying to offer more in this sector.
The good news right now though is there’s already something seriously compelling to tell you about. Anyone trying to assemble a really fantastic system with a smaller purse must look very very closely at the Vitus RI-100 integrated amplifier sporting its all new £2000 on board DAC. This £11,500 product, a simple one box all-encompassing system which just needs speakers, is so damm good and such fine value that it genuinely deserves as many column inches as I can give it. Since the Dac module landed in the UK it’s been sending shockwaves through the UK dealer network and all who have heard it. Ok, so the idea of a one box amp with digital inputs is nothing new with the likes of the Devialet D-premier having been around for 3 or 4 years now, but do read on because Vitus’s first offering in this arena is a totally different kettle of fish sonically.
Digital electronics is a fast developing arena. Here is a £2000 digital source that will eclipse multi-box, £10,000+ DACs of yesteryear. Whether it’s the simplistic design, the lack of extra pathways or simply Vitus’s know how progressing at a rapid rate, the DAC module is truly extraordinary at it’s price point and in my view, inside the RI-100 integrated amplifier, makes a fairly bold statement about the entry point of affordable Highend. The module sports 4 separate digital inputs (USB, AES, SPDIF, OPTICAL) so all you have to do is plug in a basic CD transport or a laptop/computer one end and a set of speakers the other and you are away. The 4 inputs show up as regular inputs on the RI-100 integrated and can be cycled in the normal way.
The actual RI-100 integrated amplifier of course many will already know about. This is a 300 WPC class AB powerhouse that has won countless awards all across the globe. It’s grip and control and huge dynamic power is as impressive as its delicacy, richness and fine detail. Whilst it will one minute delight you with its sophistication and refinement and its beautifully nuanced expressions, the next it will impress with its seemingly limitless reserves of clean and uncorrupted power. Yes, it’s super dynamic and it slams and boogies but then throw on a bit of Jazz or acoustic and the beauty and realism that percolates forth is something that you would normally only expect from an exotic valve amp from the far East. Is it musical ? Yes, about as musical as it gets in my experience.
The DAC module mirrors the RI-100 word for word. It is very very open, highly resolving with a wide and layered midrange and a tonal and harmonic beauty that completely belies the world of low cost digital. Put on some pop or rock and the thing has punch and propulsion, gliding effortlessly through complex arrangements and conveying the structure and rhythm of a track with huge levels of verve and involvement.
The DAC’d RI-100 is one of those products that immediately calls into question the sanity of spending any more on this hobby of ours. Yes, if you spent £25,000 on the Vitus masterpiece DAC then you would hear more of this and more of that but the point is the RI just sounds so complete and convincing, and is so universally competent and engaging with everything you throw at it – whether that be different genres, good recordings, bad recordings – that it compels you to step of the merry go round and end the journey there and then; it is a sound with no inherent evils and which commits no sins. Whatever aspect of sound you mostly engage with, it will delight. It’s never analytical, it’s never bright or harsh, it never sounds veiled or dirty, it never fatigues or tires but then it’s never soft or slow and when the music calls for it, it has enormous dynamic potential and will drive any speaker you care to mention. You do not sit there wishing for more of this or that, it just cuts to the chase, takes you beyond the kit and immerses you deeply into the music. I have heard many a popular system widely available on the UK high street – complex multi box arrangements with extra clocks and power supplies, sources in speakers, active setups, mono amps, fancy streamers etc. – and genuinely none of them have gotten near what this single unit can do. You could spend 2 or 3 times the price and end up with a result far far worse.
So there, a hard and impassioned sales pitch for you but I genuinely am surprised myself at what this combination does at its price point and if you come and investigate I can almost guarantee you that you will share my enthusiasm and respect for this remarkable product.
Let’s take a quick look at the nuts and bolts of a system designed around the RI-100 with its DAC. My recommended choice of speaker from my own portfolio would be the Avalon IDEA and this means a complete system for under £20,000. The sensibilities of the Avalon perfectly match the Vitus electronics and when you pair them together the naturalness, the beauty and the dynamics all shine forth. The Avalon are first class image makers as well so all that lovely holography which the DAC and RI create will be faithfully passed on by the IDEAs and they will disappear in the room leaving you with no sense of the actual speaker itself. The IDEA throw an enormous soundstage, surprisingly large for the cabinet size and the bass response too is very generous for this size of speaker. Like all Avalons the tonality is perfect, notes and instruments are as neutral as the Vitus electronics and you are hearing the recording as it’s supposed to be and most definitely not listening to a speaker.
If you were unable to stretch to a set of IDEA then finding a brand new speaker as good for significantly less will be extremely difficult. I believe that speakers are possibly the very hardest component to design and whilst there are quite a few reasonably competent amplifiers commonly found on the UK high street for example, I could never say the same for loudspeakers. If you need to cut costs here then perhaps secondhand is the best bet. A used set of the older Avalon Ascendant would be a good shout, maybe some cut price Focal Diablo Utopia or perhaps a set of the original Wilson Duette standmounts which were an excellent speaker.
Many of you will have your personal tendencies when it comes to speakers but if I could offer some overall advice I would say stick to something that was likely designed at its factory using other high performing equipment, a speaker with a flat frequency response that is neutral and balanced rather than a speaker with a strong inherent ‘character’ or one that was designed more to compensate for the limitations of other budget equipment. A lot of cheaper speakers add in an their own sense of excitement partly because they are likely to be used with equipment that lacks true bandwidth and dynamics. This is not something you want. You don’t want an aggressive speaker with a poor quality tweeter and you also want the bass to be well controlled and be seamlessly connected to rest of the frequency range and to have some shape and life to it rather than just being a sustained low frequency noise with a bit of a extra boost to its overall response. You also don’t want a soft speaker that adds a ton of warmth to the sound. There are quite a few like this and they are fairly ubiquitous as people for decades have employed them to remedy the ills of bright and forward sounding solid state equipment which lacks refinement. You don’t need to darken or tame Vitus and you don’t need to season it with extra excitement, you just need to reveal it as much as you can and with as little colouration as possible.
When it comes to cables I am not one of these dealers who stipulates that you need to spend £XXX on wires to do a system justice. A setup like this will work with any good cable as long as that cable has matching sensibilities. I have plenty of RI-100 customers using basic TelluriumQ black. This is an inexpensive cable at £50 per metre but it is open, neutral and has a fantastic sense of timing and rhythm. One day of course you could move up to something a lot higher if you so desired and you will most definitely reap the rewards given the quality of the rest of the system but it’s not mandatory and a basic loom of TeluriumQ will still give a fabulous result.
The same is true of adding a dedicated streamer. Streaming your music files from a Melco or Aurender music server (starting from a modest £1750) into the Vitus will bring about a big lift in performance but on a budget a PC or Mac will be just fine and still give you an exceptional result.
Ladies an Gentleman, I give you the very simple one box RI-100 with onboard Dac at £11,500. If you are looking for a very natural real sound which oozes sophistication and musicality and has the sort of detail and transparency levels one normally only associates with mega highend setups, then it will be most definitely leave you with a wide smile and fairly slack jaw.