The previous Vitus RI-100 has been a firm favourite here at Lotus since the very first days we started with the brand back when there was only 2 or 3 other UK retailers and most people had never even heard the name of this obscure company from Denmark. We have been championing this multi award winning amp for nigh on 5 years now and it is the heart of many a Lotus based system still to this day providing year upon year of pleasure.
All those years ago we also devised the Naim to Vitus philosophy and pathway. We pioneered this progression, wrote about it, blogged it, banged the drum incessantly and went on over the next 5 years to convert scores and scores of customers not just across Great Britain but in Europe and the USA too. As well as British gear, we pulled people out of highend US, Swiss and German kit as well into this giant slaying little box of tricks. The RI always gave a level of transparency, resolution and clarity more akin to something 2 or 3 times its price. Although that being said, I would hasten to add that it was perhaps always more its naturalness, it’s ease and freedom from fatigue that won it so many fans.
Like all the big halo pieces we promote here, the RI-100 was a very complete product. It had no weaknesses, no downsides, did justice to all forms of music and no one ever sat there saying ‘the music needs a little more texture on the bass’, ‘it’s not natural enough’, ‘there’s not enough pratt’, ‘piano doesn’t sound right’, ‘could do with a bit more slam’. No, the RI did everything and pulled of that rare trick off of completely satisfying you and not leaving you wishing for more hifi. Of course there are amplifiers even in Vitus’s own range that have ten times the fine detail, space and calmness of an RI but the baby Vitus integrated always cast that spell over your lips, you mouthing to yourself the words “why bother spending any more when the music is this good”.
In point of fact, altough I have upgraded a couple of SIA-025 owners over the years, I can honestly say I have never upgraded one single RI owner into the bigger SIA Class A integrated or the Vitus separates and most of, if not all my customers still have their RI’s to the best of my knowledge (I do keep in touch with nearly all of them). That just goes to show what a highly accomplished and fulfilling bit of kit it was.
Now given all the above, I can’t hide the fact that it was a bit of a surprise to me when Vitus decided to upgrade the RI. It certainly didn’t need improving and in my experience, no rival product was especially close to it at it’s pricepoint. Hans Ole is not a person to rest on his laurels though and felt that it was time to push one of his biggest sellers even further away from any of its competitors. So what we have now is the RI-101, which apart form the extra row of vents in the top of the casework, looks identical to the outgoing model. The price has risen by £2000 to £11,800 and existing RI-100 owners can have their amplifier upgraded at a cost of £4000 including shipping to and from the factory in Denmark. There are now also two different internal DAC options. This is great news for customers with more choice than ever before and the option of a built in streamer and full ROON functionality. More on that later.
So what’s in the box ? Well customary for Vitus upgrades, quite a lot. That is to say pretty much everything inside save the main power supply and the output stage. So that means a significantly improved input stage in the power amplifier section, an all new fully balanced preamplifier stage powered by a complex and lower noise regulated power supply, the high resolution volume control from the Signature and Masterpiece linestages, a reworked transformer, new relay modules and improved cooling.
Once up to temperature after a good day or so of switch on, the first thing that strikes you with the 101 is that it is just way more neutral across the board. The slight bloom and smidge of extra warmth in the bass and lower mids of the RI-100 has now been replaced by a feeling of far greater clarity and even handedness. The 101 still posesses every inch of Vitus’s famed naturalness and liquidity but there is a sense that the 101 is now completely unchained and free from colourations or tonal proclivities. There is a new and higher level feeling of ‘see-throughness’ with this amp that is hugely satisfying, like some congestion or bloat has been dissolved away from the old design and in it’s place a new super-neutral, crystalline rendition of the music.
The old RI-100 only ever sounded like a true highend amplifier but I would say that this new version has taken a fairly giant stride into the sort of transparency and accuracy that is only ever associated with systems costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Such is the purity of the new linestage that when I first heard the 101 I almost instantly said to myself “baby Tidal”. Now although it’s a rival brand, that’s a great compliment. Not because one brand is better than the other but simply because the Tidal range is devoid of integrated amps and begins at a far higher level than the Danish company. Put another way, the Vitus 101 now starts at such a high sonic point that it reminds me of the kind of purity and noiseless insight that you get from a £60,000 entry level Tidal amp !
So on the face of it the 101 has lost a little viscosity and bloom in the lower registers that the previous design had and although some may imagine that they might miss this added warmth a little, the fact remains that we now have a much better less cluttered amplifier in its place and such warmth can be easily introduced elsewhere in a system if need be and in fact is better controlled somewhere else in the chain, in a place less expensive than the amplification. Do not make the mistake of imagining though that the 101 is now a cold or clinical amp. Not a chance. We are talking very fine degrees of tonality here. The 101 is still as natural, inviting and organic as it ever was and the nature of the mastering and relative warmth of the recording process will just show through even more true and accurate than ever before. Instruments are as textured and sweetly formed as they were before and harmonics are sumptous and rich as you’d expect from the Danish company.
Because the lower registers are now more true and articulate, basslines on the 101 are just better ordered and more precise. Now we know that the bass is the hardest part for any system and if you make improvements here then they are usually deeply felt. Sure enough the 101 with drum or rhythm based music definitely feels even more coherent and speedy. With no embellishment to the front or decay of notes the 101 sounds even more composed and time coherent and I would say that there is even more dimension and depth to the lower registers as well. Bass extension and the amp’s grip and propulsiveness was always a standout point with the RI-100 so it’s deeply impressive that this most difficult design area of the amplifier has improved further again.
Is the top end more extended ? Yes I would say it is. The older amp always had a very nice smooth treble which could on occasion be called a smidge polite but now greater clarity seems to exist at the high frequencies and in the presence region as well. The treble then is more accurate and more true but still has that beautifully inviting Vitus quality ensuring that your system will never stray into sounding analytical, overly sparkly or detail centric.
The other very obvious progression with the 101 is a cleaner amp with even less distortion. Backgrounds are noticeably blacker than the 100 and every single sound that the amp produces is just even more free from noise than it was before. This means that music has greater presence and tactility, vocals are more in the room now and there are more of those very fine details present which form the feeling of realism and palpability.
What about the overall delivery and disposition of the amp ? Well I would venture to say that whilst it might sound a tad faster and more articulate, the essential RI character has stayed the same. That is, an amplfier that is propulsive, dynamic, and with exemplary bass control and bass slam but one that does not fire music at you and never sounds forward or remotely aggressive. Music rather just exists, projected up into a holographic form in a natural unforced manner. A dynamic, neutral low noise source of course is the best thing to partner it with, rather than a weak source that is expecting to get a ‘pep-up’ further down the chain somewhere.
And now perhaps the elephant in the room, how much closer to the SIA-025 is it ? Well it’s £2000 closer so should have closed the gap a little and indeed it has. It has more fine detail and is purer and more open but I would say that it is still some way off and an SIA to me is just a different sounding amp. The elder brother is Class A through and through and has a much more organic, chewy, flowing nature to it which is just so utterly pleasurable. The SIA also is wider, deeper, more 3d, more spacious and airy and with even more intimacy, tactility and presence. When all is said and done though, the 101 at a £7000 saving does an incredible job and when you play the two side by side the junior amp still wants for nothing and you’d expect it to cost a little more than it actually does.
As a parting shot on the 101 upgrade, I will pass on an email I had from my first ever customer who did the upgrade. Nice to hear these things in another perons’s words:
“Hi Richard. Having had the best part of a couple of weeks now with the upgrade I thought I’d give you some feedback. The first thing that is apparent is that it is a lot quieter than the RI100. Not just finer detail coming through but the notes have more depth. The top end has a little more sparkle and the bass is just more ordered. I initially thought it was more bass but it’s just better defined. I think your initial thoughts that the sound is more linear are about right. All in I’d say it’s still sounds like an RI100, just a turbo charged version. So, very pleased with it and a thoroughly worthwhile upgrade.”
Those of you who know the RI-100 DAC module will appreciate just what a bargin this little add on is. By manufacturing it as a slot in board sharing a pre-existing chassis and power supply and doing away with the need for long pathways and extra interconnects, Vitus can deliver a highend DAC for £2200 which can outperform rival outboard units costing three or four times the price. When new customers call my shop wanting to move systems and I tell them all they need is this little onboard DAC to improve upon the digital source they already have they invariably remain a little sceptical until they do the demo. It is a true giant killer without question.
So this standard DAC board still is offered with the 101 with its usual array of USB, AES, SPDIF and Optical inputs and nine times out of ten customers using it will simply use a Melco streamer into the USB input for the best digital sound possible, better now than the most expensive CD transports.
There is a new £3000 DAC module available now though with the 101 and that is Vitus’s new network DAC sporting a simple Ethernet socket and it’s own streamer and ROON compatability. Now we still advise plugging a Melco into the 101 with this DAC because the Melco as a pure hard disk storage device will still outperform any NAS and is the lowest noise, highest performing method of storing your WAV files. You will however control your digital music using the Vitus app which has been engineered by Mconnect. On Mconnect you can control all your files and also stream from the likes of Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, Deezer and VTuner. The specification of this DAc is based around a slightly better chip and although we have yet to perform our own A/B we suspect that both DAC modules are reasonbly close and customers should choose one or t’other based more on the sort of functionality they require, ROON and inbuilt streaming vs. multiple digital inputs and the use of the highest performing Melco possible.
So there you have it. Affordable Highend just journeyed deeper into the Cosmos ! If there are any questions as always please just ask and get in touch if you are interested in a demo. The new RI-101 retails for £11,800 with onboard DAC modules priced at £2200 and £3000. Existing RI-100 customers can have their RI-100 upgraded at a cost of £4000.