A wise man once said that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but that is the way to bet. Can I get an “ahem”? Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Audio’s high-end is simply littered with silly little aphorisms.
Like this gem: “you don’t need to spend a lot to get a lot.”
Now this is true — and obviously so. Unpacking the idea a bit, there are a lot of value plays out there. Products that punch above their weight. They’re great finds, when you stumble on them, and they’re fun to write about, when I stumble upon them. But they’re analogies. Turns of phrase. All of these expressions are attempting to make a reference to a “something else”, a product or service that is simply beyond the ken of the average man, some approximation of which is now, finally, within your feeble reach. We can hem and haw about how much value the less expensive product brings to the table, but value in comparison to what? Something else. Something we wish we could afford.
But when we do, when we finally hit the “high-end”, well, that’s when we stop and turn around. You look back at all that clamoring for attention, all that struggle for meaning, all that value — and then you face forward, to this guy, and you get it.
Value, smell-you, who cares.
There are products in audio’s high-end that make me shake my head in wonder at the wild audacity the manufacturer must have to offer such an absurdity and slap their name on it.
There are also products that make me snap my fingers impatiently and say, to a room empty of anyone able to do anything at all about it, “Anybody seen the Lotto Fairy? Bitch stood me up, again.”
Vitus Audio falls into that latter category. And when I think of this class of gear, I have this picture of the Chairman of Bentley Motors in mind, sitting so calmly and coolly in his $10k suit on an overstuffed leather sofa, sporting a Mona Lisa smile that says “Whatever, dude. You have no idea.”
Dude. You have no idea.
The Voice That Is
I met Doug White of The Voice That Is a couple of years back and for whatever reason, we just got along. After years of being gobsmacked by his audio show demos, chatting about the industry, its characters and it’s flaws, I’m proud to think of Doug as a friend. He’s also this site’s first sponsor, and for that, I’ll always owe him a bit of a debt.
If you’ve never met him, or heard about his boutique shop outside of Philadelphia, let me make the intros. Most importantly, I have to tell you that he’s a consultant, and he takes that pretty seriously. That’s factored in to the service he offers, the products he carries, and the prices he charges. To him, it’s all of a piece — and that is worth something. If that sounds a bit old-school in today’s net-forum info feeding frenzy, well, it ought to. I seriously, honestly and abjectly wish there were more like him. Apparently, there used to be, but … well, Doug is certainly the rarity these days.
All that said, hanging out with Doug is a pleasure. The Doug (I think I’m just going to call him that from now on) has access some of the finest audio jewelry being made — I mean, seriously — he has TIDAL Sunrays in his house. Helloooooo. Yeah.
I wanna be The Doug when I grow up.
Anyway, one of the few brands The Doug carries — he’s terrifically picky — is Vitus Audio. And for reasons that still are somewhat mysterious to me, he sent me his demo SIA-025 integrated amp for a few weeks around RMAF this year. To say I was a little excited by the offer doesn’t quite cover it.
Like many of the things that come through, this wasn’t to be an extended visit. Just a teaser. A mere taste. Holding things like this longer, I’d be able to do much more of course, but that wasn’t the point. This is a working piece, part of a real demo system that just happened to be down for a few weeks. I got lucky, and you get a mini review.
The Vitus Audio SIA-025 is $27,000. That’s a lot for an integrated. Hell, it’s a lot period. For reference, this is the same as a brand new Toyota FJ Cruiser. That’s something! Now, I only mention this as a point of reference, and not as a comment on the 99% or anything remotely political. It’s just that sometimes, we lose track of what these numbers actually mean. So, yes, $27k is a lot of money. And like I said at the outset, this product is not an attempt to be a value play. There is nothing about this that says to me that the designer attempted to cut costs, “find a cheaper way”, or otherwise make the product affordable, reasonably priced, or put within reach of the Everyman. Vitus Audio has other products that attack that market — this, from their Signature Line of offerings, isn’t one of those. Nah, this one goes after a different market (see Bentley CEO, above). Said another way, this product is what you get when you tell a designer to stop worrying about “common” concerns of price and performance trade offs and just go for it. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it! But it’s interesting, nonetheless, to see what a creative artist like Hans Ole-Vitus can come up with once the gloves are off.
And what a pretty little monster the SIA-025 is. Take the remote. On second thought, don’t touch it. Ever. Yeah, it’s that kind of remote. It has an oddly pleasant weight, a metallic solidity that feels good in the hand. The display is elegant — and no, it’s not some iPod ripoff. There’s nothing so gauche as a touch screen. Who needs color — it’s a remote. When you’re ready, you pick the remote up, and the display turns on magically. It tells you what you need to know, you do your thing, the screen reflects that act, pauses, and then goes to sleep, awaiting your next need. Move your hand again, and the display comes back on. Neat trick. Pushing the firm little buttons yields a mild clicking of the relays in the amp to let you know something is happening. The whole experience is relaxing, sensual, engaging, and will put you at your ease.
The case reeks of elegance and class. The big cooling fins are black and contained. All surfaces are refined, beveled, smooth. Buttons are perfectly leveled to the surface they’re found on and click to a satisfying end when they travel. Connectors are all recessed, with space around them, and finely fitted out. The display is modest, legible, and again, elegant. I actually found myself saying that word, ‘elegant’, like a mantra. The only thing inelegant? The heft — 100lbs is no joke in a package this compact. You won’t believe how dense this thing is by looking at it and it caught me totally by surprise. I managed to heave it atop a Symposium Ultra platform, popped a couple of Skelaxin, and then I just left it there for the duration. Whew.
Okay, so back-busting aside, the spec sheet for the VA SIA-025 claims it puts out something like 25wpc in Class A mode; in Class A/B, this moves to 100wpc. I suspect that what this means is that there’s always 100wpc available before the amp starts the climb up toward distortion/exhaustion, but that only the first 25 are Class A (when that option/mode is selected). This is important only in that there never seemed to be only 25wpc on tap, even when it was cranking away in Class A — I seriously could not get this amp to kerfluffle. I hooked it in to friendly speakers, because that’s all I really have here, but I got no indication that there was a bottom to the well of power the amp was able to draw from. YMMV, but I’m willing to bet that this 25wpc will go a lot farther than you might be expecting it to. Just saying.
My favorite pairing was with a $4,695 pair of Clearwave 7R loudspeakers. These stand mounts feature a RAAL-ribbon tweeter and an Accuton mid/bass driver. I’ll have a lot more to say about these loudspeakers soon, but let me offer that the cabinets are all bespoke as shit — the pairing here was, actually, quite the (visual and aural) feast and I was so distracted I don’t think I took a single picture that entire week. Sorry. But there is a thing that VA gear seems to have with ceramic loudspeakers that is mesmerizing. Not sure precisely why, or what’s going on, but the two go together like peas and carrots. Err … okay, like caviar and water crackers? Whatever. I found it intoxicating.
Loudspeakers from Fritz Frequencies and Joseph Audio, both falling into that mid-80 dB range that low-power amps ought to be nervous of, and I simply could not get the SIA-025 to even break a sweat much less show her ass. I played shit music — like a CD rip of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” (what a crying shame that CD is). I played my go-to Stockfisch audiophile cuts like Chris Jones and
“The Cricket Song” “Roadhouses & Automobiles” and 24bit/176kHz files of La Segunda from MA-Recordings. I played Copland, Cash, Rush and Professor Longhair (and a few hundred others). I had a blast.
The sound, as compared to the other bits in the chain, was a subtle thing to tease out. I ended up scribbling things like “tube amp” to describe the mid range. Through the various transducers, vocals were rich and rounded in a way that reminded me of a certain 300b-based SET from BorderPatrol. “Articulate” described the mid-bass and on down. “Finessed” captured the treble. But the truth is, none of this approaches what I heard. It was more than “I didn’t have a complaint”. Far more. I was transported.
If I had to file an affidavit, complaining about something, I suppose I’d say that both the monos from Pass Labs and the huge hunk of metal from Plinius had deeper bass. As a card-carrying bass freak, that’s important to me. On stand mount loudspeakers, of course, this isn’t all that much of an issue, but the eFicion F300s do drop cleanly below 30Hz, so I heard it.
I want to say that the amp is warm, and perhaps a bit smooth — some of my 80’s rock didn’t suck nearly as bad as I seemed to remember it sucking. But detail retrieval was excellent, so not sure what’s up with that. More time would have been helpful. Another time, another place, another set of speakers … which reminds me. I have something I’m not going to tell you till after New Years. Heh heh.
Some closing comments:
- It’s built like a tank. From Bentley Motors. Be nice to it, but if you can’t, it won’t care.
- This amp falls is the middle of the VA lineup. There’s some less expensive Class A/B gear in the Reference Line and some much more expensive gear in the Master Line. Looking over the amp, my thought about the Master Line is this: you’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me. Bah. I’m going to go be a hermit somewhere. I can’t take this.
- There’s a computer in there. There’s gotta be. The sheer number of options and tweaks you can do to the way this thing works reminds me of a surround-sound processor. Takes time to learn, but the rewards are worth it.
- The SIA-025 does come with its own power cord. And it’s fantastic. Yes, I tried others. Why bother.
- I’m told that the monoblock versions of this amp (the SM-010) have insanely good bass response. Which is … awesome? Hmm. I’m not sure I needed to know anything more about a $45k pair of amps that I really never, ever, want to see anywhere near my house. I refuse to even talk about the $75k SM-110 — I just don’t want to know. Go away. I am not doing another re-fi. Sorry. La la la la laaaa! My fingers are in my ears! I can’t hear you!
Anyway, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — when the Lotto Fairy does finally show up, I’m calling The Doug. And if she visits you first, you suck. If she visits you first and you don’t call The Doug? You’re an idiot.
As far as I’m concerned, this is state of the art and it’s easily the best I’ve been able to spend time with. To really dive deep into these waters will require way more investment than I’ve currently made. May ever make? Who knows. But my goodness that was one fine honey of an amp.
Much thanks to The Doug for the ride.