Written in August 2015. Prices and model names might be out of date.
Like many people I started my Hifi journey with Naim back in the late 1980’s. A 62/140 which later saw the addition of a hicap, a 250 and then a move to SBL’s and a CDi. Its my belief that everyone should try a Naim system at some point. The chaps from Salisbury have a very singular approach, a very unique house sound and whatever finer points devotees and detractors may argue over, one thing is for sure and that’s the Naim sound involves you, gets the foot tapping and keeps you interested.
The other obvious thing is that Naim ownership can be a lot fun too. Slowly climbing the upgrade ladder to the full on 500 series is inherently aspirational and can be a satisfying journey on many levels, a seemingly endless series of materialistic ‘fixes’ as you go from hicap to supercap, 250 to 300 to 500. On a final note, Naim equipment is also well built with great reliability, very good resale value and a large, friendly and helpful user base into which one can dive in and be a part of. When it comes to owning expensive things and all the responsibility that entails, in my opinion these facets are just as important as the actual sonics.
Life After naim ?
But what about those people who finally reached the top of the tree but are now looking to progress to something which gives them even more ? What about those people who reached the top and maybe felt that things didn’t live up to their expectations ? What about those people who simply grew out of the Naim methodology, the myriad of boxes and custom interconnects, the unwieldy burndies, the acute setup demands, the need for flawless mains and the constant nagging feeling of needing to upgrade or add yet another box or powerline ? And finally, what about those customers whose ears simply grew older, who now are looking for a more refined, more sophisticated and totally fatigue free sound which embraces 100% of your music collection – even those appallingly brittle and harsh Coldplay CD’s – a sound which does all of this, yet also, crucially, loses none of that involvement or sense of dynamics and aliveness which we all crave ?
Well scratch your head no more because over the last 12 months I have provided the perfect answer to many such Naim fans by moving them into Vitus systems and writing this guide will hopefully save me repeating myself on a weekly basis over the telephone to new customers looking for that magic ‘next thing’. Many of the customers who’ve upgraded with me had been die hard Naim devotees for decades and many of them had steadily upgraded and tweaked their rigs to an within an inch of their lives to achieve the limit of their absolute potential (including one with over £20,000 of Vertere+Sarum+Entreq accessories). This Danish highend brand seems to have a unique knack of fulfilling the pre-existing expectations which Naim owners have about musical involvement but then is also able to bring a whole other range of previously ‘untasted’ delights to the table.
What about all those other expensive brands ?
You are probably now thinking ‘why Vitus’ and acknowledging that there are in fact many other alternative brands out there which are surely also viable choices ? Well it’s a good observation but there’s an equally good response to it. In my experience a good proportion of what’s out there in UK’s highend shops simply does not really retain the Naim involvement factor either because its too soft and languid in sound or does not place timing, dynamics and drive high on the agenda. Nothing really wrong with that of course, it’s a different sound and one that many people favour but it won’t appeal to a Naim user. So with maybe 50% of widely available gear discarded, of the rest, most of these brands fall into the category of being a little bit different from Naim but not necessarily much better yet also possibly sporting worse residuals, a smaller user base and maybe poorer aftersales and a more precarious retail infrastructure. So really, breaking it down, that just leaves a small handful of UK available brands which offer a sound significantly desirable over Naim but then of these, many are either ridiculously expensive, boutique in the extreme (6 month plus lead times, endless model changes, near impossible to sell on etc.), unnervingly unreliable (think several months to fix with an accompanying invoice of telephone digit proportions) or prone to eye watering depreciation when you’re finally sick of it playing up all the time.
On that last point then, and before we even get into how Vitus sounds it’s important to realise that here is a brand which is fresh, young and thriving, driven by love of music rather than bean-counters, and very dedicated and helpful towards its distributers, retailers and customers. The extremely talented people at its helm are here for the duration and becoming stronger every year in terms of reputation, product catalogue and out and out market presence and they are represented worldwide by some of the best, most professional outfits in the business. Next, you need to know about build quality and reliability which are in short as good as it gets. I have yet to have any piece of Vitus develop any kind of fault and the craftsmanship and finish of the boxes has to been seen in the flesh to be believed. Lastly, the brand has an almost unique level of consistency across its designs and is creating modern feature-laden equipment very much with the future of Hifi in mind. Such is the brilliance of Ole Vitus that the cd players, DACs and phono stages are as stunning as the amplifiers. No awkward mixture of superstars and clangers here then.
The Vitus ladder
So how does it sound from the point of a view of a Naim user ? Well first of all you should know that the Vitus ladder is a much much taller one than the Naim ladder and not only that but its bottom rung, the ‘reference range’ begins at a performance level above where Naims 500 series ends. In addition, this ‘reference range’ with trickle down technology from the top of the line flagship gear, packs a huge amount of value into its price. Yes you heard that right, we are talking about a CD player/DAC costing £7990 and a single box integrated amp costing £9500.
So whilst a quick scan of the full Vitus catalogue and their signature and masterpiece ranges (£110,0000 power amps, £45,000 phono stages etc.) may elicit short sharp intakes of breath, the real world truth is that the lower tier equipment is actually incredible value for the performance you get and part exchanging a secondhand Naim system for a new Vitus one invariably results in a cash neutral deal or at worst, one requiring only a small input of additional funding. It’s also worth bearing in mind that against new Vitus I give very good prices for traded in Naim, probably as good or if not better than you could get yourself.
Despite the relatively low admission price, it must be said though that should you want to one day climb the Vitus ladder then you have a long and very exciting future ahead of you; the ceiling of this Danish brand is so high that it could take decades to reach its outer limit and without question, it will take you to a place occupied only by the very best solid state equipment in the world.
The Vitus sound ?
Moving onto the sound and what you can expect, I am going to first refer you to a very long thread on the popular Naim forum. This ongoing discussion has been populated by many music lovers who have made the switch and their language and their own personal descriptions of their journey are really rather useful. Here are a few excerpts, the first from a NDS/555/552/500 owners impression after a first listen:
When Shanks came for that first demo he typified how most Naim owners react when first hearing Vitus. The first thing you will notice is that the whole presentation is very different. Every track seems a touch more laid back and less excited, the bassline seems less prominent and a lot of sounds in the midrange that were always quite forward in the soundstage and quite strong in volume levels seem less aggressive and less conspicuous in the overall mix. The other big thing is that the whole sound is not a thin wall obviously emanating from the speakers but it has a completely three dimensional and layered “walk-around” physicality, left to right and front to back seemingly divorced from the speakers. The music actually occupies real space in the room and sounds can even seem to come from behind you as well as outside of the side walls or way beyond the back wall behind the speakers. Davidulo explains this very well here:
I have performed many dozens of demos to Naim owners and the initial shock of the Vitus presentation in truth only really lasts for 3 or 4 tracks. It’s around about then that you start to focus more on the much greater levels of transparency and fine detail and a completely new sense of realism (helped greatly by that 3d imaging and palpability which flat-earthers were always taught to trivialise and disregard !). This is a very refined, pure and grainless sound. The overall rendition sounds very very sophisticated. It has richness and a wet kind of lushness, a luxuriant expanse of sound which immediately feels highly pleasurable to bathe in. Somewhat refreshingly, the treble also seems to have a complete absence of hardness, harshness, shrillness or glare yet it is not soft or rolled off in any way either. It also sounds so funamentally correct in pitch and tone, no pinching, no brightness, no metallic sheen, no constriction of any particular frequency; a piece of solo piano played through a Vitus system for the first time can almost be a revelatory experience.
Quite quickly the penny drops and people realise that this new Vitus presentation is largely the way it is because you are getting a much more neutral, faithful and transparent reproduction of the music. The holographic imaging, the very exquisite fine expression, the long decay of notes, these are all things that are on the disc and have always been there; the amp isn’t creating these things but rather, as an ultra low distortion design, it is doing nothing which robs the sound of these properties so you get to hear them fully intact out the other side. In a curious way, over the course of only one album or so, Naim owners find that the Vitus sound is actually teaching them things about about the Naim sound and what a Naim amp does that they never really could appreciate before. This is an observation that I have heard quite a number of times in my demo room.
The everpresent bass kick that you were used to in your Naim system is now conspicously absent. This is because a Vitus amp strives to have a completely flat and neutral frequency response, neither enhancing or diminishing any part of the spectrum. So Vitus bass, whilst not having that same exaggerated punch, actually goes lower, has more shape, more definition, more texture and just a lot more information about the particular instrument responsible for the bass. In a similar vein, vocals and instruments that you expected to be louder and more forward seem less pronounced and in a different place in the overall mix but you know that what you are hearing now is closer to the actual recording and it all makes for a sound that is supremely natural and non-fatiguing. This more natural handling of energies and respective volumes of frequencies allows subtler dynamic shadings to reveal themselves and fine detail and harmonics around vocals and midrange instruments that you have never experienced before are now present right in front of you, seemingly hanging suspended in a physical space. Quite simply, the sense of ‘in the room’ realism of a Vitus system is endlessly pleasurable.
To illustrate this last point further allow me to tell you about a very illuminating demo of the Vitus RI100 integrated amp which I once performed for a Naim owner who was also a professional pianist. For the first 3 tracks he simply remarked how different and natural everything sounded but then for the 4th track he played a solo piano piece which he was currently learning to play himself and he sat there shaking his head and eventually stopped the track halfway through to tell me how amazed he was. For the first time ever, he said he could hear the pianist making very very small and difficult expressions of volume change in certain phrases and this was giving him a new insight into the skill and artistry of the performer and the piece itself. He proclaimed that he would now go home and assimilate this into his own learning and also chalk up a new found deeper respect for the pianist on that CD. Let’s just say that by the time the 5th track was over I had sold him the amplifier and a month or so later when he came to upgrade his CDS3 he ended up with the Vitus RCD-101 cd player as well.
So what about the jewel in the crown, the Naim PRaT ? Naim’s pacey, foot-tappey sense of ‘boogie’. Most demos get to a point early on where this gets tested out because ultimately it’s the Naim USP and what brings people to Naim in the first place and keeps them there. Whilst the Vitus sound does not have the same driving leading edge and propulsive thrust of Naim, it will at this early stage of the demo seem at least as involving and enjoyable, carrying rhythms with great skill and allowing the music to flow along in a most arresting manner. It will also be apparent that it’s giving you a whole other palette off things to enjoy rather than just ‘PRaT’ and this is making the whole listening experience more rewarding and compelling. It will force you to question if musical enjoyment begins and end with just ‘PRaT’ and make you perhaps ponder on the notion that if you want real, if you want special, if you want something greater, then you will have to embrace a much richer, wider and more mature presentational menu which goes significantly beyond just pace, rhythm and timing.
Truth be told, Vitus equipment times incredibly well but just in a different way to Naim. No frequency is augmented to highlight the tune or rhythm. Notes are not truncated, squeezed together or made razor sharp to give the impression of greater togetherness and taughtness. Instead, notes are allowed the time and space to begin, mature and decay and fit together naturally and beautifully. So whilst some tracks over that first encounter may appear to sound a little slower and perhaps less ‘exciting’, the coherency and the way it all fits together is more complete, more musically meaningful and more truthful to how the music would sound if it were played in front of you for real. You are no longer listening to an Amp but to the fruits of the artist as they were intended by him or her. In my experience, it takes people a very very short space of time (days at most) to wean themselves off the Naim sense of added excitement and speed and not one of my customers who bought themselves a Vitus system ever regretted it or sat there wishing they had a little more “Boogie factor”. No, Vitus has pace, drive, massive massive slam, stunning levels of grip and incredible timing all in a supremely natural and invisible way and it’s the main reason why this migration between brands is so easy accomplished and becoming pretty much a weekly occurence in my demo room here.
Shank’s point on transients/dynamics perhaps requires some expansion. What I find from my customers initial encounters is that at first they think the music is little more polite, a touch more laid back but that is only because the ‘rest pose’ of the Vitus is more neutral and honest. When customers then try a Symphony or something with lots of crescendos and dynamics what they immediately discover is that when the music actually calls for it, when it’s on the recording, the sound is actually a lot MORE dynamic with greater extension, far bigger reserves of energy and at the point of big dynamic swings instruments never seem to run out of apportioned energy and the imaging, tone, texture and fidelity of each note does not degrade and collapse to the point of spoiling the sense of performance and realism. In short, Vitus amps are very low distortion designs with ultra clean power supplies and signal grounds, they have huge bandwidth and masses of sheer grunt. The dynamics and the unbridled sense of vitality you hear is not the result of a fixed design decision where everything by default sounds more punchy and forward all of the time, but this is real dynamics when it’s in the music and faithfully telegraphed by the amp to the speakers on account of the lack of constraint on transparency, bandwidth or current.
Making the move
So in one sense, any move from Naim to Vitus first involves a shift in perspective or awareness. You are not going to hear ‘supercharged Naim’ but something entirely different. It takes a very short period of time though to click into this new frame of reference and understand what the two different manufacturers do and why. After that, in every single case I have found that people’s emotional migration is fast, fully committed and resolute. Such is the magnitude of change and realisation that they have experienced that over the lead time period, after the home demo ends and whilst waiting for their new equipment to ship from Denmark, very few wish to temporarily reinstate their old systems. A well setup Vitus system is simply an emotional experience of enormous depth, joy, and insight into the artist and one that can sustain itself free from fatigue for very long periods of time. The topography of a Vitus system also means that it does not incessantly yearn for the next upgrade or the next tonal tweak but it is a truly fit and forget approach, designed to disappear from the music and from ones mind pretty much for good.
The Vitus range, an overview
Before I sign off I wish to just to give a very brief overview of the range and what you can expect as a Naim owner. In terms of amps in the UK we focus mainly on the two integrated amps as they pack so much value into one unit. Forget that its one box and don’t imagine that the included linestage is anything but true highend.
So the reference level integrated amp is the multi award winning RI-100 priced at £9500. The Signature level Class A integrated is the £18,500 SIA-025. If you want better than that then you have to go to a separate preamp and you are looking at the SL-102 and SS-025 power amp (approximately £45,000) or the SL-102 linestage with the SS-011 monoblocks (£59,000). Although the last two options are more commensurate in price to a Naim 500 setup, they simply aren’t necessary and almost 100% of Naim fans who I have moved over have gone for the RI-100 or SIA-025 as far as amps are concerned.
As far as digital sources go, at the reference level we have the RCD-101 cd player/DAC and then the RD-100 DAC/pre. The RCD-101 will function as a pure DAC with multiple inputs for a streamer, bluray, sky etc. and it also has an excellent transport for spinning CD’s or SACD. At £7990 it’s an absolute bargain, especially when you consider that I have had several CD555, NDS and KDS owners move into these. The RD-100 is very similar sonically but also has a fully functioning preamp with analogue inputs and no transport so if you are streaming only then it makes more sense. As it has it’s own linestage you mate it with the RS-100 power amp (which is essentially an RI-100 but without the preamp section and £500 cheaper).
Moving onto the Signature digital you have the recently upgraded Mk2 SCD-025 CD player/DAC (£18,500). This is an incredible one box machine and even in mk1 guise Chris Thomas of Hifi+ magazine hailed it as the best single box digital he’d ever heard. Coming from the Naim camp or even something like the Linn Klimax DS gear, the SCD will be a very big jump. Such is the magnitude of its ability that for out and out musicality it will arguably even give a DCS Vivaldi setup a fairly hard time.
Streamers, cables, phonostages and speakers ?
As far as streaming is concerned all the Vitus DACs have a myriad of inputs from USB to AES and SPDIF so you can easily stream from something cost effective like a PC, Mac mini, laptop. If you have an existing Unitiserve, Sneaky/Majik DS, or a streamer from the likes of Logitech, Bryston etc. then this will also fit it just fine but do bear in mind that all these solutions will add their own character into the sound to a certain extent. To do the Vitus full justice there is no other product I would recommend other than an Aurender music server (with TIDAL integration) which has quickly established itself as all dominating as far as the highend community is concerned and is also recommended and officially distributed in Denmark by Vitus themselves. There are more expensive Aurender options but the basic X100 with 6Tb of storage at £3250 will cover all your needs. The streamer adds a huge part to the overall sound of digital and whilst a pc/mac/3rd party device will be a good stop gap, the Aurender is supremely natural and unforced sounding and as effortlessly musical as the best transports and I would recommend moving to one when funds allow.
Recommended and proven cables and interconnects go from TelluriumQ to Allnic then HFC and Entreq. Prices start from around £1000 for a decent USB cable, signal IC interconnect and set of speaker wires. So there you have it. Simply put a reference Vitus system will come in at around £17,500 (without streamer/cables) and the signature system £37,000. A popular choice is to have one Sig and one Ref component so say the SCD into the RI100 and this comes out in the middle at £28,000.
A quick word for Vinyl guys. If moving to Vitus we would also advocate switching to a suitable phono stage as well to match if you don’t already have one. Popular phonos found in Naim setups like the Superline or Urika will be ok as a stop gap but ultimately be holding things back a bit and moving to a much more transparent and resolving stage that will also preserve those fine details, spatial and textural nuances that the Vitus will thrive on will pay handsome dividends. The phono stage is a highly critical point in the chain and any constriction here can never be reversed further down the line.
Finally what about speakers ? Well Vitus will generally work with any speaker and both integrateds will drive almost any design you care to mention regardless of sensitivity. In a perfect world it likes a highly transparent, neutral and even design with matching sensibilities and for this reason an Avalon is still my top choice but along my travels I have noted great success with all sorts of brands (Pmc, Wilson, Sonus Faber, dynaudio, Totem, magico, Raidho, ATC, Audiovector, Naim, Spendor, Harbeth, B&W, Kef, Linn). In many ways, because of the refined treble and the excellent grip and resolving power in the lower frequencies, Vitus is often a wonderful anti-dote for less than perfect designs, speakers which have tricky tweeters prone to raggedness or brightness for example or models which have a pronounced bass boost or are too loose and undefined in the bass. The top end on a Focal for example is something quite special with a Vitus amp and the B&W 802 Diamond is like a totally different speaker plugged into say an SIA-025. Designs that stray a little toward a drier, more clinical sound will also benefit hugely from the Vitus’s rich and fluid delivery (e.g. Magico, ATC).
That just about wraps things up. If you’d like to know even more then follow the links down below, especially my Vitus blog where I go into each component in more depth. As always simple get in touch to arrange a demo or extended home loan or a swift quotation of all your part exchanges. I hope you enjoyed reading at least some of this article and I tried my very best to convey things exactly as you will find them if you do come exploring.