Somewhat belatedly the new £10,800 Vitus RD-101 DAC/Streamer has arrived at Lotus and this new year I have had some time to really put it through its paces. Some of you may remember the RD-100 which this new 101 replaces. The RD-100 was a superb Dac and sold well here in the UK but had it’s own linestage as well. This new model ditches the linestage and is just a pure DAC with a plethora of regular inputs and crucially its own streaming board for use with an additional ethernet input. Without a linestage it makes it a perfect partner for both the RI-101 and SIA-025 Vitus Integrated amplfiiers for a fuss free 2 box system.
RD-101 atop SCD-025. Picture for display only, we do not advise stacking Vitus units in this way !
As is customary from Vitus and his team, product updates are fairly exhuastive and this new DAC has been reworked extensively in pretty much all areas. New DAC architechture, a new power supply and improved output stage mean that this new 101 is a significant sonic leap from the outgoing RD-100 and gets even closer to the illustrious signature class SCD-025.
Looking briefly at the functionality we have the usual twin single ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs at the rear. Digital inputs comprise two RCA Spdif, two AES, USB and Ethernet port. A usb slot exists for a wifi dongle and the trademark and substantial Vitus chassis ground completes the back panel.
For my listening tests I set up the matching Vitus RI-101 reference level Integrated amplifier into a set of Tidal Contriva floorstanders. The Contrivas are not Tidal’s most expensive speaker by a long shot but resolution and transparency in the Tidal range tends to exist at the highest levels throughout the range so the Contriva are pretty much as open and resolving as it gets as far as loudspeaker design goes. Whatever the RD-101 does in conjunction with the RI-101, I am going to hear it and there certainly won’t be any speaker left in the final sound.
Upstream of the RD I connected a melco N1ZS server/streamer to it via the ethernet input and then the Melco was connected straight to my network. Now technically the RD-101 can just be connected straight to your network and access a simple NAS that is on the network as well. You also don’t even need stored files of any sort if you intend just to play music from streaming services and I know that many customers are going this route now.
I want to point out though that the very best sound will still in my experience be obtained when using a Melco as a storage device. We survey the market constantly and have sold other brands of streamer/storage but still believe the Melco to be the clear market leader giving the most neutral and transparent signal possible thanks to all its optimisation for low noise and clean pathways. Your files should be WAV as well because they sound fuller, bolder and more dynamic than Flac files and we also find CD rips from the melco D100 ripper to be superior to rips from conventional PC/Mac cd-rom drives and the like.
Opertaion of the RD-101 Streamer is extremely straightforward. Simply select “Streamer” as the device input, download the “Mconnect Control” app from the Apple Store (the “HD” version for ipad) and away you go.
The Mconnect interface is delightfully simple and fuss free so very intelligible and easy to comprehend and navigate. If you’ve ever used the Melco HD Music app then you’ll already know it. Top left you select what renderer you wish to play to and in the case of the RD-101 you will select “Vitus Audio Universal” which conveniently sports the Vitus Audio logo. On the right hand side of the interface you have all your various sources from the Streaming services of Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz to Spotify, vTuner Radio and then your various sources both in the cloud (Dropbox and Onedrive) and on your local network.
In terms of browsing your Melco or NAS, music can be found in all the normal ways using the ID tags. I personally am in the habit of looking just by folder as this works for me best. Mconnect also lets you add favourites and also create and manage your own playlists as is standard with streaming software.
Overall I found the Mconnect software to be fast, intuitive and nice to use. No it’s not quite as good as the old Aurender Conductor app but then nothing else really is as far as tablet control is concerned. I do have one criticism though and that is when selecting tracks to play the app always defaults to adding the whole album to the listening queue. Adding single tracks to the queue is quite a long winded process of pressing the “add to” button in the top right, selecting “Queue” and then selecting particular tracks and then finally hitting “Done”. It would be far easier if there was a master toggle button available onscreen at all times, an “Add track / Add album” toggle for example and then it would only take one single tap to add a single track.
So what of the sound ? Well to warm up I first just listened to the basic DAC module in the RI-101 Integrated to warm up. This is a much cheaper DAC, just a £2200 option that invisibly fits inside the RI-101. It’s a formidable and very popular combination and a true highend sound for a relatively inexpensive outlay. The DAC board would cost maybe £5000/£6000 or more if it had it’s own power supply, chassis, LCD, rear panel etc. and when we AB it against other DAC’s that customers own it certainly competes and hustles at or even above that sort of price range.
The RI Dac fed directly by USB with my Melco ZS streamer sounded very nice. The fact that the system worked in conjunction with the ultra revealing Contrivas spoke volumes to the quality and ability of the RI-101D. Cheaper or lesser speakers ultimately have more distortion and colouration and often add more energy, excitement and seasoning of their own. The Contrivas add nothing and there are no other colourations in which to collude with and hide behind. They will comfortably accomodate and fully reveal the best electronics the world has to offer.
After switching over to the RD-101 then, straight off the bat, the RD sounded a lot bigger, fuller, dynamic and just more alive and engaging. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, it drew comparison to the RI-101 internal DAC by retrospectively making it seem a little compressed and small. Flicking through a few of my demo tracks (Ani DiFranco, Angie Stone, Joe Satriani) what became immediately apparent is that the RD-101 has a very bold sound with a strong sense of dynamic pressurisation. If the RD-101 DAC module was a balloon filled with a few cups fulls of water to iron out any sagging or creases, the RD-101 was the ballon connected to the garden hose, filled with so much water that the rubber was almost transparent and the thing was close to bursting ! Instead of a penny, the weight of every note was now a pound coin.
Tonally I would say that the RD-101 is just as you would expect from the Vitus camp. It is liquid, very refined and just a hairs breadth to the warm side of neutral. It sounds very analogue and natural and there isn’t a hint of any digital or electronic fingerprint. You would need a very fine Turntable and phonostage combination to equal this source, at least as much in terms of financial expenditure.
Over the old RD-100 Dac/Preamp I would say that this new 101 definitely has more resolution and is more accurate and transparent. It’s a very decent upgrade over that unit for sure but the biggest difference is this exuberance that the new unit possesses. In point of fact, you could say that the new RD is just a small step outward from the traditional Vitus voicing. It’s nowhere near being forward or aggressive of course and still eminently natural but there is definitely a buoyancy, a vigour and a very pleasing sense of dynamic pressure to the sound. It reminds me of the Allnic D5000 DHT tube DAC in that respect although whilst trading off some flow and looseness, it musters greater precision and purity than that machine.
I like it a lot, an awful lot. Whilst moving to the SCD and the Tidal Camira will give you new dimensions in terms of naturalness and calmness the RD-101 is a fabulous sweet spot with an extremely engaging disposition that underpins the overall delivery. My laid back reflective acoustic and jazz tracks were beautifully airy, textured and beguiling but then when I switched to Muse and the electronica of John Hopkins the music was all powerful and driven, leaving no flatspots or sense of anticlimatic energy in the room.
The very last thing I did in my listening trials was to install three Stillpoints Ultra SS underneath the RD-101 followed by three Ultra 6. As is customary underneath almost any digital source, the Stillpoints gave a welcome and generous lift in space, air, soundstage, overall clarity and sense of flow and naturalness. The Ultra 6 were superb in bringing about even more fine microdetail from the DAC, and giving a very unselfconscious, ‘non-hifi’ like presentation.
That then was the RD-101. It fits in very nicely in our range of DACs, – Comet / D3000 / D5000 / RD-101 / Nyquist / SD-025 / Camira – and as a neutral, fluid and dynamic performer will suit many a system, from 300b amps to solid state sounding solid state ! On demo and available to order in silver or black from Lotus. Any questions simply get in touch.