If Red Wine Audio had any one defining trait, it was the batteries. Integrated amplifiers, DACs, phono preamplifiers, amp/pre separates — all sported battery power supplies. Batteries, Rossi learned, were able to deliver shocking current with unbelievable speed, all the while completely eliminating one of the most bedeviling issue plaguing high-end audio: power. Specifically, problems with it. Dirty, noisy, not enough, too much, whatever. With batteries, your system was “off the grid”, and in my own listening to those components, I heard the blackest backgrounds I’ve ever even dreamed of.
Walking away from batteries was not something Rossi did lightly, but with his new brand, Vinnie Rossi, he does just that. His first product under this new venture is called LIO, an acronym for the three women in his life: his daughters Lilliana, Isabella, and his brand new wife (as of the end of August), Oiwah (you probably know her by her middle name, Alexis).
That’s almost too cute to tolerate.
Replacing the batteries this time is a new approach — Rossi is leaning on banks of ultra-capacitors instead. More current, faster delivery, and now, with a million-cycle life — unlike rechargeable batteries, which need to be replaced ever couple of years with regular use, the ultra caps will most likely outlive their owners. And, in another innovative wrinkle, if anything goes wrong — you plug the output to the input by accident or something weird — fixing the issue will be rather simple. It’s all user-upgradeable.
The new LIO is a platform more than a product, it turns out. It’s completely modular and the configuration options are pretty amazing — it’s all up to you. You can create an integrated amplifier, add your choice of preamp sections (an autoformer-based passive or stepped resistor-based active, which can have an optional tube stage), the number of inputs you need, a DSD-capable DAC, a phono pre, and even a headphone amplifier. All the parts are modules. Get what you need now, add the desired modules later. The headphone amp, for example, you can order with either a “standard” ¼” TRS phono plug or a 4-pin balanced XLR plug. Decide later that you need the one you don’t have? Order the jack you don’t have. It’s modular. A couple twists and Bob’s your Uncle.
User upgradeability, with what Rossi is confidently calling a “vast improvement” in power supply technology, is creating a platform that will carry himself forward. The new system is more resolving and open, more dynamic and more extended, delivering and almost electrostatic speed (instead of electro-chemical!). According to Rossi, the tone is “all there”, but low-level volume listening is significantly improved. With dedicated regulated feeds for each board and ultra-short signal paths and optimized circuits, the result is a cleaner system. And with an integrated, there’s no extra cables needed, and with the 30-day return policy (with no restocking fees), there’s very little burden on the consumer to try something out to see if it suits.
Speaking of flexibility, he’s even made it so that customers can (at some point) completely change the look of the unit, too. Currently, the design uses Corian on the front and sides (black and “silver”/white is what’s available on the site now), with an aluminum top, back and bottom. But as custom kitchen modders probably already know, DuPont Corian is available in all manner of weird colors — so, it’s good to know that those plates are all user-upgradeable, too. And yes, he’s even considering an optional see-through acrylic top plate for you looky-loos.
I asked about futures for LIO while we were talking, and he did mention that he’s planning on a stackable, full-width second box that he’s gonna stuff with amplifier guts, targeting >100w into 8Ω. The goal is to have that in time for RMAF. In the meantime, the first output module will be a more modest 25wpc. In addition to that, balanced I/O modules are coming for those of us with sources/amps that need them.
Build outs for LIO will be starting late next month, with customer shipments to start shortly thereafter.
All of this does beg the question about the future of Red Wine Audio. Rossi was blunt and pragmatic — Vinnie Rossi marks a change. An altogether good, and customer-friendly change, but a change nonetheless. For the rest of the year, he has no plans to discontinue any of the models currently available, but looking forward, Red Wine Audio as a brand will be where he continues to offer his after-market modding services. Currently, RWA offers mods for the excellent Sony HAP-Z1ES and the Astell&Kern digital audio players, for example. Those will continue indefinitely.