AMPLIFICATION

Amplifier technology is very well understood. There aren’t many secrets any more and there are a number of really good high-end amplifier makes out there all operating at the highest levels of performance. Because of this, elements like reliability, company stability, aftersales, value for money, depreciation and aesthetics become even more paramount to differentiate one from another.

People tend to like to buy amplifiers more than anything else but the truth is the bar is so high now that they are a lot less important than other parts of the system. Every amplifier we sell makes for an utterly staunch, neutral and highly transparent foundation for any system and even if you build something around our cheapest amps, and furnish it with good setup and ancillaries, it will still be an incredible sounding system. More mental energy and budget should ultimately be expended on choosing loudspeakers and then after that, cables and mains. Many people have a hard time accepting this but don’t worry, I will continue to remind you !

ALLNIC AUDIO

Allnic from south Korea is our valve brand but do not mistake it for a traditional vacuum tube sound. Allnic has energy and life that makes many a transistor amplifier sound lacklustre and turgid. Their budget integrated amps and phonostages offer tremendous value for money but then their flagship gear can go toe to toe with the very best tube designs from the likes of Kondo, Shindo and Air Tight but at far lower cost thanks to a small boutique factory and a simplistic and non-aggressive supply chain. We sell their incredibly natural sounding phonostages every month, they are renowned the world over. Some customers love their valve amplification too which is no less magical.

Compared to a Vitus or Tidal system, you will never quite achieve the same level of quietness, purity and sheer grunt but they counter with a looser, more fluid and freer sound with an incredible sense of space and exquisite harmonics and tonality. An Allnic system is the music set free, unbridled and flamboyant, deeply textured and delightfully holographic; dimensional and liquid in a way that the solid state equipment cannot quite match. For this alone it wins many admirers and owners.

VITUS AUDIO

Like Allnic, Vitus is one of the mainstays of Lotus. The beauty of valves with the control and power of solid state yet sounding like neither, Vitus always earns the very highest scores for musicality and emotional engagement.

When we started retailing this Danish high-end brand 7 years ago there were only 1 or 2 other UK appointed dealers and it’s fair to say they were fairly inactive as far as sales went. We ran hard with the brand, wrote about it extensively, did much to build the marque in this country, and converted well over a hundred Naim owners into it over the latter part of this decade. As you would expect, we understand the products deeply and having built so many Vitus systems and shoehorned it into many other non-native setups as well, we have exhaustive experience with its inner workings and idiosyncrasies. To get the best from it and truly realise all of its naturalness and potential, it does require extensive knowledge. As well as being supported correctly, it deserves carefully matched mains cables, interconnects and of course loudspeakers, products that are also truly high-end rather than mixing it with a set of floorstanders or speaker cables for example, that belong in a more regular British hifi system. This won’t happen here.

We do of course sell the Vitus separates but have a strong focus on the mighty Integrated amps. These are incredible value for money single boxes, outperforming pre-powers from rival high-end manufacturers and they can house a high performing DAC as well – just add speakers. The UK market and small English homes love this form factor. Everyone today wants a low box count but the same performance as a £100,000 multi box system might have delivered you 5 or 10 years ago.

By the time you get to the Signature pre power range, you are approaching very high levels of resolving ability and dynamics but still with the same slight emphasis on refinement, calmness and tonal luxury. After the Signature electronics, the Masterpiece series takes you further on again, into a domain really only shared by the top handful of solid state electronics manufacturers in the world. A Vitus system, properly setup, is a difficult one to walk away from and we have yet to hear a solid state brand which can be as beguiling and addictive in the way it goes about things. In the seven years we have championed them, it has won many many devotees all over the UK and the dealer network has grown considerably.

THRAX AUDIO

Thrax Audio from Sofia in Bulgaria is our most recent addition. It completes the magic fourth electronics brand that we were searching for in vain for some years. A fair amount of UK customers are not interested in owning valve amplification and Tidal starts at too higher price point for many more. All of which meant that for quite a long time, there was really only the choice of Vitus here for many customers. Not such a problem in itself given how much happiness Vitus has brought into British homes in the last decade but I always felt there was room left at Lotus for someone else. Along the way I considered many many brands for this role but most were simply not that much different from Vitus yet in most cases not as musical either and usually at poorer value and with less stable and robust underpinnings.

Soon after I started retailing their fabulous Yatrus turntable in 2019, I began to suspect that Thrax potentially held all the aces. A simple but yet broad range of profoundly ingenious products which are high performing enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of everything else I sell whilst at the same time occupying different price points and offering a completely different visual look too.

Jaw droppingly open, uncompressed and vivid. Holographic, dynamic and utterly see through. Thrax gives a highly neutral and natural sound like all my other amplification brands but it is perhaps a touch more ‘up on its toes’ and extrovert in the way it goes about things, without of course ever feeling remotely forced or aggressive. It is particularly magical when paired with Rockport and Avalon loudspeakers. As most of the designs are hybrid in nature, and often a unique marriage of the best old legacy designs and very new technologies, Thrax also presents like a genuinely different option to both Vitus and Tidal not just in sound but in philosophy and personality too. Some of the choice advantages of vacuum tubes with none of the maintenance or reliability considerations, married with staunch transistor design and new-fangled ways of approaching the problem of removing noise and artefact from the reproduction chain.

Thrax offers essentially 3 small ranges of electronics. Two single box ‘all in one’ Integrated systems sporting streamer, dac and phono stage, at a price significantly lower than the similar form factor Vitus RI-101. Moving upwards you then get to their Reference range comprising Maxinimus Dac, Orpheus phonostage and Dionysos Linestage which can be paired with either the Class AB Teres power amp (in stereo or mono form) or the Class A Heros power amps. After the reference products comes the flagship Statement range of Libra Preamp and Sparatacus Power amps, comfortably in the same ‘no holds barred’ stratum as the very best from Tidal or Vitus Masterpiece. Thrax also produce speakers and a turntable, both just as impressive as their electronics and covered elsewhere in this guide.

TIDAL AUDIO

Tidal for me will always be extremely special, a whole reason to start a dealership or even get into this hobby in the first place. The brand could quite happily have its very own luxury shop right in the heart of Mayfair or Knightsbridge selling just Tidal. It not only arguably deserves this but it would surely flourish exponentially if it did. Their recent partnership with Bugatti is a triumph of identity and market perception. It further clarifies their lofty status and the very highest design and manufacturing standards which they inexorably maintain. Truth be told well over 50% of everyone walking through the doors of Lotus is buying Tidal and has a Tidal system. It is our core business and once you begin to discover the brand you will quickly understand why.

For the size of the total world customer base, there are now too many High-end amplifier brands out there. Many of them are very competent and a select few are truly world class but not one of them can be built into a complete solution from end to end, streamer to DAC, amplification, cables and of course loudspeakers, everything perfectly sympathetic to everything else and designed by the same people in the same factory with the exact same principles, philosophies and know how. Added to this is the not inconspicuous price tag of the very top level Tidal system with La Assoluta floorstanders, a cool 1 million Euros, and it’s easy to understand why the company is simply out on its own, competing really only with itself.

Other brands have of course also tried to achieve a complete in house top to tail system, but being fair to the team from Koln, none even remotely near the level of a Tidal system. Then you get to the build quality, component choice and craftsmanship of this brand, recently aptly described by Jeff Fritz of Soundstage Ultra: “Their build and finish qualities, inside and outside the speaker, are the best I’ve seen on any audio product of any type.” Tidal is not only an ultra high-end product but also a true luxury product, in the same mould as say a Patek watch, a Leica M camera or indeed, a Bugatti hypercar.

Some customers might prefer Vitus or Thrax and the way they go about things and a Tidal system does begin at a higher price point which will exclude others, but if you decide that the Tidal way of doing things is your bag, then yes, nothing in my experience will compete with Tidal at its own game. As all the reviews and awards point out, Tidal offers you the very highest levels of performance but in a package that is possibly unequalled for its liquidity, naturalness and feeling of sonic invisibility or “equipment not being there”. A “pure glass of water” is the phrase managing director Jorn Janczak likes to employ.

BRINKMANN

In 2021 we will finally get our hands on the Brinkmann Voltaire super Integrated. We have not focused on Brinkmann electronics up to this point but the Voltaire is sure to be a superb addition to our range of amps. Crucially, this ambitious single unit should be around £19,000 in bare form but can be fitted with both DAC and Phonostage modules so will sit neatly in between the pricepoints of our Vitus SIA-025 and SIA-030 mega-integrateds and will be a very welcome addition to the portfolio, very much in tune with the UK market and the small system form factor that so many people now crave.

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