Vinnie Rossi and his enthusiasm for great music being cranked to triple-digit dBs is infectious. How could it not be? Rossi is always laughing, smiling, and always willing to throw on whatever LP or digital tunes you want to hear, and he doesn’t care if it’s non-audiophile, or empties the entire room except for the two of you. And it’s not just me, I’ve heard from numerous people that this same situation plays out all the time. Rossi is in a unique position in this world because he can translate his passion for great sound from his mind, through his hands, and into your living room should you so desire, because not only is he the man behind the legendary company Red Wine Audio, he now fronts his namesake venture: Vinnie Rossi.
I heard this amp in Chicago at AXPONA, and was deeply impressed, but it had been paired with Harbeth 40.2 speakers (86 dB), so here was a chance to see if the LIO could blow out the windows with big, high-efficiency horns. For T.H.E. Show, Rossi teamed up with über loudspeaker designer Greg Roberts of Volti Audio to bring the magic of mid-century valve tone to the audiophile masses. Roberts is the man behind the 104 dB Vittora speakers ($25, 750 USD) and ELF (18″subwoofer) cabinet that the LIO DHT integrated was powering, and the combination was a fat pizza slice of hi-fi heaven to my ears (a Marchand MB42 300-watt mono amplifier with analogue crossover is recommended, and sold by Volti to power the ELF for $1,900 USD).
As I wrote previously, the LIO in its basic form is a Class-A, OTL (Output Transformer-Less) zero feedback pre-amp, that features a fully customizable, and interchangeable architecture that allows (for example) the addition of a 25 w/pc into 8 Ohms MOSFET integrated amplifier for power duties, a Class-A, zero-feedback JFET phono stage with MC step-up transformers for the spinning crowd, a DSD/PCM 32-bit/384 DAC for digital duty, and of particular note for valve peeps, a LIO can be configured with a Directly-Heated Triode line stage… all for $10,470 USD (in this configuration).
Vinyl was having its fields plowed by the venerable Ortofon 2M Black ($755 USD), on an Acoustic Signature Triple-X turntable ($5,995 USD), kitted-out with a TA-1000 12-inch tonearm ($1,995 USD). I’ve heard other Acoustic Signature ‘tables, and arms previously, and the 2M Black is a moving-magnet favorite, so I was reasonably familiar with the sound of these sources, and also had a pretty good handle of what the LIO was going to bring to the performance. Wiring was handled by Triode Wire Labs, which had a mix of cables on hand from the Obsession mains cable ($1,299 USD) to the American Speaker Cables at $599 with Cardas termination.
The LIO in Chicago with the big Harbeths was emotionally engaging, and delivered on every sonic front I could grade it on, and Newport was no different, except the Voltis expanded the sound stage, and brought an even deeper organic, and visceral impact to the music. That, and real quickness. Attack speed on notes, and transients was blinding. The efficient Vittoras were able to enjoy far more headroom, and shrugged-off big, fat dynamic swings with Rossi’s 25 watts on tap. Deep bass guitar notes, and inflection? Check. Open, spacious air around vocals, and pinpoint instrument separation? Yup. Guitar-string pluck, note sustain, and three-point, fade-away jump shot decay on strings, cymbals, and high hats? Gawd yeah. While, ultimately I felt that for peak performance the big Voltis could use more breathing space than what was on tap in a Hotel Irvine hotel room, there’s no denying that Roberts, and Rossi had tuned this system for a near-field experience I won’t soon forget.