In a year replete with hot products say hello to quite possibly the biggest star of 2019. My apologies for the late publication of this investigation but the truth is I have just been too busy selling these things to find the time to write about them. Five to be precise placed in the UK in just a few months and one in the USA to boot.
Stepping up to the canvas, Achilles, Orpheus and Hercules. Let’s take this opportunity to afford ourselves a good look at how these three illustrious Gods of Highend Hifi all compare to one another. An internet first I think you will find.
As you may be aware, many a Lotus system is built around the Vitus Integrated amps. They have performance to spare rivalling many a pre/power at two or three times the cost, and the one box form factor – with inbuilt dac/phono modules in some instances – suits the way we live in UK homes down to a tee. With the newly released SIA-030 behemoth the range just went to 3 different choices at pretty much the £10k £20k and £30k price mark. So something now to suit everyone and no need to blow a full £60k on the pre power series. Incidentally, if £11,800 is beyond the budget we alo offer the £6900 Alluxity Integrated manufactured by Vitus’s Son Alexander, also a hugely convincing performer and incredible at that kind of money.
Now I have heard all these 3 amps many many times. The 101 and 025 I obviously know back to front and have heard them in tons of different systems and scenarios. The new 030 though I have lived with here for several weeks and I’ve heard it at Munich and then in various customer’s homes on demos several times over, including swapping straight over from a 025.
So I basically know what I am going to write here but it didn’t do any harm to set an afternoon aside and actually do a real time comparison with a really good control system to consolidate all impressions and insights that have been made in previous months.
I used the Tidal Piano G2 as the transducer. These are a deeply insightful floorstander with levels of clarity and transparency that even best a Vimberg Mino and the entry Mino has resolution that most speaker makes cannot match throughout their entire range. At the other end of the system I plumped for one of our best DAC’s the Tidal Camira fed by the top Melco streamer the ZS, an ultra high resolution digital front end. Interconnects were Tidal and speaker cables someything extremely special from a new brand that is coming to us very soon. Power cords were Tidal for the amplifiers and a Shunyata mix for the sources all fed through a Shunyata Hydra Alpha distribution block.
All boxes were stillpointed with Ultra SS under whatever amp was playing atop a Pro Audio Bono SE HAT isolation platform. The amp I was listening to was Entreq grounded into a spare signal RCA and also had the negative speaker outputs grounded with a Posiedon box for ultimate noise reduction. I also had all 3 amps warmed up for 48 hours prior to the test and the 25 and 30 were both set to Class A operation. When I swapped amps aound I allowed a further 60 minutes warm up just to get the speaker cables charged up again and sounding right.
Begining with the 010 in situ we have an extremely impressive system. As documented elsewhere on my blogs the 101 moved the game on significantly from the venerable RI-100 and the baby integrated is now as neutral as everything else in the system here. Gone is the slight warm bloom of the old amp and in it’s place something with lower noise floor, really impressively high levels of transparency and clarity, a top end with greater extension and sense of detail and superb lower end control and stability. The 101 has the kind of see through purity that makes it sound like a pre/power costing many tens of thousands. It’s an absolutely formidable unit and push it’s ability to the maximum with Stillpoint feet, a flagship mains cable and Entreq ground it too, and it will sit quite comfortably with the very best sources and speakers in the world. I do just that very often in my demo room and people are surprised at how good the cheapest Danish powerplant is.
The old RI-100 always had quite a punchy, propulsive nature that perhaps slightly belied the origins of the Vitus sound and much warmer and creamier products like the vintage SS-010 and SS-101 Integrateds and it was always one if it’s big appeals. The 101 takes this authoritative, slightly staccato persona to a better level though. Because the bass is now more neutral and uncoloured, the amp sounds faster, more precise and just more accurate and engaging rhythmically. Although the slight excess warmth of the old amp has gone, the 101 never even hints at sounding cold and the refinement is actually even higher on account of the lower noise. This is the same pure, organic Vitus then that we all love and listening sessions free from fatigue can be as long as you ever wanted, it’s just better again by “a country mile” as one customer of mine put it. Proof indeed that in a good system you simply do not need added warmth for digital or indeed any other source, even with the bad recordings.
Moving to the Class A SIA-025 what you first notice is quite a different tonality and presentation. The SIA is buttery to the 101’s more traditional transistor-esque stop and start fingerprint. I like to use the word ‘oleaginous’, not least because it’s a bit of an impressive achievement to get that word into any sentence in one’s working week ! The junior SIA is unmistakably Class A with a smootheness and an organic way which is as immediately seductive as it is defining. That’s not to say that the SIA can’t do more spikey, sharp, abrupt landscapes of music because it can and it’s as convincing as any other amp when it does so, but after the RI you are just aware that there is a wee touch of roundness to the front of the notes and the way they transition.
The second thing that strikes you is that accompanying this slight warmth and creaminess is a new level of tactility, expression and out and out musicality especially on Jazz, vocals, acoustic and more laid back decongested music. The SIA seems to squeeze out more expression, more fine acoustical details, more sense of air and ambience, and more harmonic structure and timbre. Instruments and voices have a higher saturation and therefore a higher perceived degree of richness.
That’s not to say that the 101 is anything other than beautifully full and rich and textured but with the SIA your ear is perhaps a little closer to the drum skin, the fret board or the singer’s breath and most of us just adore these subtle cues and shadimgs in the music; it is what goes a long way to creating realism and that holy grail ‘right there in the room’ feeling. In addition to this the insight into the recording studio, the mastering process, realism of the recorded event can often be quite incanny. The SIA has a sound which can be best described as very “present”; it is almost as if the music has a life of it’s own in your very room. It is very vivid, intimate and “reach out and touch”.
So this is what the SIA does so well and then there is the fact that it does this within a huge wide enveloping dimensional soundstage. The SIA is a gigantic sumptous hologram in the room, irresistible, intoxicating and delectable and very few people who listen do not buy. If the RI-101 is like bathing in Champagne then the SIA is like a bath of triple strong Brandy Alexander.
So the 101 to 025 move is most definitely a pronounced character and presentational change. The 025 still posesses some of the older RI-100’s extra warmth and the way the notes and the timing is reproduced is quite different. What about out and out fidelity though ? Well here is where things become not quite so clearcut because the recent 100 to 101 upgrade improved the entry level amp by such a large degree that in general hifi checklist terms the SIA isn’t as big and upgrade as it once was. The soundstaging is bigger yes, and the total bandwidth – the difference between absolute silence and full dynamic – is slightly bigger yes but on a lesser system these quaity differences are less obvious and I have had some customers actually prefer the RI-101 on account of it’s greater perceived sense of punch and articulation.
We can probably best summarise by saying that the 101 has a cleanliness, an openness and sense of invisibility which marks it out as as something extremely special whereas the SIA-025 has a very different delivery and if you are a fan of the way it does things then quite simply nothing else will do. Well, nothing apart from of course, the new beastie, the SIA-030.
As you may have guessed then, and to cut to the chase, the SIA-030 essentially marries the best bits of both 101 and 025 and then adds a whole ton of extra resolution, stability, purity, control and musical insight. It is bang on neutral neither adding nor subracting a single bean. It does not slightly round the front of the note or smooth out the top end frequencies yet it still manages to sound effortlessley liquid. It has all the agility, speed, precision of the Reference 101, and more, but then also even more expression, microdetail, purity, air and ambience than the 025. The lower end is effortlesley composed, coherent and revealed, the midrange endlessly see through and neutral and the top end has crispness, naturalness and delicacy to die for.
I have to say that the sound in my test system with the 030 in place was pretty startling even for me. Some other things were contributing to this a little like the run in Shunyata Hydra and some superb new speaker cables I was trialling but this 030 when properly warmed up and on song is really breathtaking. I found the music to be so vital, so dynamic and awash with intent and energy. The 030 genuinely gives the kind of performance we only expect from crazy six figure show systems. The sense of aliveness, of power delivered to the room, of emotional subtelty and purpose is really quite astonishing. Running through some of my favourite demo tracks had me grinning ear to ear at various occasions. It’s performance is so very stimulating and gratifying, home audio replay really at the highest of levels.
Rhythmically the 030 changes the game as well. The bass is just more neutral and faster than the SIA. Tighter, better control and just a lot more information is on offer about the pitch, volume and fabric of bass notes. What this means is that the rhythmical and melodic character of the music emanates forth even more true. Sade sounds even more smokey and smoochy, Coltrane blows faster and more psychedelic sheets of sound and Daft Punk has a precision and punch that makes it even more cheeky and robotically funky.
And we are mentioning it last but it might be the very biggest thing to hit you in the face and that is quietness. The 030 is so quiet, so low noise. It’s like there is no system there at all and this really is the key to it all. With the linestage from the Masterpiece MP-L201 and the regulated power supply from the output stage of the Masterpiece MP-M201, noise levels are kept to level seen only in the very best solid state equipment. This is how music can sound so vivacious , so powerful, so passionate, so vibrant. Suffice to say that the level of musical intensity and engagement with this device, setup properly in a good system, is actually really quite shocking.
A good customer of mine and (former) 025 owner had these words to say after trialling the new amp at home. It’s nice to hear someone else’s language so I will end on this note and please remember if there are any further questions or you are interested in arranging a shop or home demo please do not hesitate to get in touch.
“The 025 now sounds a little slow and blurred around the edges. The 030 has everything the 025 has but an incredible timing coming from all the frequencies. Yes the bass is tighter but the top end has incredible crispness which means timing and rhythm driven by a high hat for example is so taut. It’s like it has all the positives of the 025 with an extra dose of PRaT laid on top. Plus it grips at high volume. Can’t wait.