Say hello to the new flagship digital source from Hans Ole Vitus. The team over in Herning Denmark have been working on this one for some time now and here at Lotus we have had plenty of time with it and a chance to compare back to other machines of similar pedigree.
Any discussion of a heavily reworked Masterpiece DAC might start with some notes on the previous model. I wrote about this unit extensively back in 2014 but this summer an example passed through my classifieds so I recently was able to freshly reacquaint myself with its abilities and you can see it pictured down below, a shot taken during a customer demo who compared it back against the tier-below Vitus Signature SCD-025 DAC and Brinkmann’s highly alluring Nyquist MK2 DAC.
The old MP-D201 stretches back to around 2011 I believe. At this time, the highend DAC market was somewhat scant and technology in this area severely immature. The big selling point of the old Masterpipece was surely it’s very high degree of refinement and it’s organic elegant delivery. Back in 2011 there can’t have been many DAC’s that even approached this sort of sound. Certainly it’s an enviable performance even today and back then was thankfully a mile away from the likes of the the multi box Scarlattis and Paganinnis from DCS, the Weiss DAC’s of the time and the much punted STahl-Tek.
Listening to it present today, it still impresses deeply with it’s depth, refinement and ease of listening. Anyone who tells you that a £3000 modern day DAC can do what a Mega DAC of yesteryear can achieve needs to hear this beast … not even remotely close. Resolution levels are extremely high by any standard and it has a richness and harmonic and timbral indulgence that is truly addictive on vocals, jazz and acoustic music. It throws a big 3d soundstage and the overall experience is sumptous, tactile and deeply engaging if just a touch too polished and smooth at times.
Play the later but cheaper Vitus SCD-025 CD/DAC side by side and you begin to understand the old Masterpiece’s less strong points. Although information levels are somewhat abbreviated by comparison, the SCD has a bite, clout and feeling of dynamic propulsiveness that the MP-D201 doesn’t quite match. The SCD can’t approach the MP’s levels of space, microdetail and expression so wouldn’t it be great if you could marry both units and have all the best bits of both machines ?
Enter stage left then the 2019 model MP-D201, conveniently offered at the same £24,000 price as the outgoing model (for the time being !). After a few days sitting on the rack warming up it’s time to press play on Vitus’s latest flagship and find out how things have moved on in 8 years or so. For source we are using WAV files on the flagship Melco N1ZS/2 streamer piped into the DAC using Tidal’s one and only USB cable.
What immediately hits you is a massive massive sound full of that same richness, composure, naturalness, steady-handedness and very fine gossamer expression of the outgoing Masterpiece. This is resolution of the very highest order. This time though, we are looking out of an even bigger window with a larger dynamic range and clearer, more colourless transparent glass. And the 2019 MP-D if anything has gone the other way; it actually sounds exuberant to the older unit’s slight lethargy. This is a slightly extrovert DAC without a trace of it’s older brother’s shyness. Energy swings, rhythms, crescendos and heavy hit instruments are thrust holographically into the room with much verve and intent so it has much of the SCD’s heft and vigour but with even more resolve and coherency.
Typically for Vitus, this new Masterpiece does not hold back when it comes to texture and harmonic structure but there is less embellishment going on this time. The MP-D sits fractionally to the left of dead neutral but never sounds quite as tonally drenched and saturated as the older unit. This is good news as far as I’m concerned because it ultimately means the new unit just sounds even more lifelike. Like the RI-100 to RI-101 we are seeing a movement to greater neutrality, accuracy, speed and dynamics and ultimately, just greater emotional involvement. Whilst the old unit was incredible on more laid back music, spacious music relying on real instruments and singer songwriter material, this new MP-D can excel at all of that just as much but then just about every other genre as well.
Is it more resolving and precise than the old Masterpiece ? Yes, absolutely. The noise floor is lower so it sounds cleaner, more accurate and it has a poise and a transparency about it that the old unit can’t quite match. That said it feels just as organic and “non digital”, just in a more accurate uncoloured way.
Playing some Fink, Stevie Wonder and Leonard Cohen on all 3 machines, the new MP-D201 just made the hairs tingle substantially more. As emotional intent and power built within the tracks, this was just conveyed with more intensity and with greater anticipation, crescendo and release. The sense of musical development, melodic phrasing and energy progression was revealed in a more pronounced, more delectable and satisying manner. Overall this made the new MP-D a big big hitter in terms of musical involvement. I found myself feeling totally enraptured and entranced by some of my more favourite tracks, to a level that only the very best systems can personally do for me.
Whilst “we were down there” it would have been a waste not to fire up our other “world’s best DAC” that we sell here at Lotus, the £25,000 Tidal Camira. It’s important for us to know exactly how these two giants differ so we can give customers as good a service and advice as possible and very shortly after my first tests I actually did a real life MP-D vs. Camira demo for a customer as well so the contrasts are now pretty well known to me.
The simplest way of expressing how these two Golden Chalices compare is to first understand that if you like the “pure glass of water” Tidal way of doing things, the ultra extreme neutrality, balance and invisibility then nothing, and I mean nothing in my experience, can live with the Tidal.
Such is the extreme performance level of Tidal then and so it is here too. The Masterpiece cannot quite match the purity of the Tidal, simple as. But then in the same breath you have to concede that the Vitus unit is the bigger sounding, the bolder sounding and is richer too with a small degree of character that many would choose over the Tidal. The comparison is actually spookily like Avalon vs. Vimberg and the reality is they are both winnners, both incredible machines and both different and relevant enough to split a whole bunch of customers one way or t’other. You will walk out with one or the other depending on how you listen and what the rest of your system is.
When the Camira was developed there was a Vivaldi and an MSB signature in the corner of the room and I have since had the likes of the CEC 3.0 here and one of the CH-Precisions so we really are talking the very pinnacle of digital replay here, just not thankfully some of the crazy telephone number prices as well. Very lucky and privileged is the customer who can come and choose between one of these two units for his system. We believe this is as good as it gets right now and are here to help you at this level as best as we possibly can. You might seek out September’s Hifi Plus magazine as well for a great review of the MP-D from Chris Thomas. In the meantime if there are any questions, don’t hesitate to ask away.