A trip to the Vitus Audio Factory
Denmark, a country with a landmass 1/25th the size of Ontario Canada and a population of only 5.6 Million, occupies one of the most prestigious spots in the world of high-end audio. Danish audio manufacturing is a benchmark of excellence, known worldwide for their high-quality standards and manufacturing precision. The sound Danish audio equipment is also known for having natural timbres and organic elements, which makes them desirable and highly sought after worldwide. And Vitus Audio (website) is undisputedly one of the hottest names in Danish audio right now, judging by the number of awards they have received and their worldwide popularity which has led to multiple years of consecutive revenue growth.
Words and Photos by Richard Mak
Towards the end of the 2018 Munich High-End Audio show, I had the privilege of spending a day with Hans-Ole Vitus, CEO of Vitus Audio, and to see the inside of the Vitus Audio factory.
The Vitus Audio Factory is located in Herning, approx. 3.5hrs from Copenhagen. After a scenic drive that encompasses crossing the “Great Belt Bridge” and a journey through Denmark’s countryside, I arrived at an inconspicuous building with a sign which says “AVA Group A/S”.
AVA Group A/S consists of Vitus Audio as well as Connaisseur-AV, which is the high-end distribution arm of the business for names such as Furutech, Purist Audio Design, Estelon, etc.
Vitus Audio was started on Jan 17 of 1995 by Hans-Ole Vitus, who came from a background of electrical engineering and a life long passion in high-end audio which begins with his first stereo system at 12 yrs old. From “taking things apart” in his teenage years to professional tenures in various electronic companies, including Texas Instruments, Hans-Ole carries years of experience under his belt in all aspects of electrical circuit design and manufacturing. He is fiercely bold when it comes to Vitus Audio’s design principle, in his own words: “It is all about the music, and to deliver the original sound of a recording”.
The first 8 years of Vitus Audio as a company, was purely devoted to research and development until the first product was launched in the 2004 Frankfurt Audio Show, which has now become the Munich Hi-End SHow.
Whatever formula Vitus has put together, appears to be working because from 2003 onwards it is almost a straight path to stardom.
As I entered the building, I was greeted by the award plaques which Vitus Audio has won over the years from the most prestigious of High-End Magazines to Denmark’s highly coveted “Gazelle Award” by leading Danish business newspaper Børsen.
The Listening Room
Though the listening room was actually the room I visited last, I placed it at the beginning of the visit as
I believe manufacturers (and audio reviewers) who are lucky enough to have a proper listening space are in a much better position to properly demonstrate and comprehend a piece of equipment’s fullest potential. There are far more sonic characteristics beyond mere numbers and specifications. The terminology used by audiophiles such as tonality, tonal balance, ambiance, or sound-staging, all of which are very difficult to quantify, yet those who have experienced it will know that they are real.
The Vitus Audio Factory demonstration room is one of the finest audio rooms I have been into in not just Europe, but the entire world. Only in Texas, Indonesia or Malaysia are rooms size of this magnitude commonly found. It is not only a demo room for Vitus’ products, but it is also Hans-Ole’s personal man cave, housing some of the most coveted and iconic turntables in the world.
The room measures 7m x 10m, and has a ceiling height of 3m ?, adhering very close to the Golden Ratio. It has been professionally designed with the proper acoustics treatment, with a frequency response that has been verified by professional acoustics engineers.
I spotted a Plethora of the very best turntables including the Micro Seiki 8000, the Dohmann Helix, the Kuzma XL, the Continuum Caliburn, the Kronos Sparta, …….. Just to name a few.
But of course, you’ll also find the multiple chassis Vitus Audio Masterpiece Series Mono Power Amp, Preamp, and Phono stage in full display.
The Vitus Audio Factory
I have visited the McIntosh Factory in Binghamton, USA, a few times over the last 20 years. While their manufacturing equipment has changed over the years, they represent the iconic powerhouses of the assembly line manufacturing, almost like a GM or Ford automotive manufacturer with mass inventory and tight production schedules.
The Vitus Audio Factory, on the other hand, is an exquisite boutique manufacturer almost like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini plant. The building is divided into each representing each of the manufacturing stages.
I see no assembly lines, but small work stations for meticulous “hand made” assembly.
Each Vitus Audio product begins on the drawing boards of product design, from schematics, electronic circuitry to chassis design, everything is done in house by Hans-Ole and his team. Hans-Ole explains that the development of a product, from the drawing board to the completion of a product, usually takes 3 months, but never more than 6 months.
Thanks to the “modular” concept which Vitus Audio has adopted, where circuit boards house separate modules similar to the “PCIe” cards in a PC, they are able to efficiently revise their design without having to remanufacture the entire circuit board. Over the years, they have perfected their technique so that each product usually requires no more than 1-3 revisions.
Printed Circuit Boards
Once a circuit board has been designed, it moves onto actual PCB Manufacturing.
I was especially intrigued by the 3 printed circuit board machines which Vitus Audio uses. They represent over U.S $ 600,000 dollars in investments and are only found in companies 10-100x the size of Vitus, their very presence serves as a witness to Vitus Audio’s commitment to quality control and repeatability.
Vapor Phase Soldering Machine
The Asscon VP-100 is a Vapor Phase solder machine controlled by a computer. Vapor Phase soldering gives a huge increase in soldering quality compared to the other alternatives such as the most common Reflow method employed by most in the industry. The effectiveness is caused by several reasons. The first is heat transfer; as liquids have better thermal conductivity than air, the vapor transfers the energy more efficiently. Since vapors get in everywhere, you eliminate the shadow effect seen in Reflow ovens.
As the boiling Galden and vapor are locked in a chamber and the temperature of the chamber is cooler at the top, you can easily adjust the soldering program to any special solder curve since the PCBs only need to be adjusted in height in order to increase or decrease the temperature. The Vapor Phase machine usually do this automatically after you’ve inserted specific parameters for it to follow.
On a reflow oven, you need to program each zone to a specific temperature and finetune with measurements before having the correct profile.
Galden: Special homogeneous fluid that has a very fixed boiling temperature that does not vary much with age.
Shadow effect: When a large and small component is placed close, the larger component will receive more heat than the smaller. In some cases, the smaller component will not be soldered correctly and will either be a cold solder or break under low stress.
Versa Flow 3 (Dual Nozzle Solder Applicator) Machine
Other than Vitus Audio, there exists only one other such machine in all of Denmark. The Ersa Versaflow machine applies solder traces so provide connectivity between components on a PCB, it employs the use of Nitrogen.
There are 3 types of leaded machine soldering. The first is Wave soldering where the whole board is fluxed and soldered. This is quick but needs a huge amount of work to optimization in order to have a proper solder everywhere. The second is Selective soldering. As the name implies: you have a nozzle that can vary in size from a few mm and up, and program each point to be soldered separately. This way you can overcome some of the solder challenges you get from Wave soldering.
WIth the Veraflow machine, it is fitted with 2 solder pots giving us the option to use both a small and a large solder nozzle for increased flexibility and quality. It’s worth noting you can get a small adapter allowing you to have a Wave solder on a Selective solder machine.
The third option is a combination of the two first. You customize a physical solder profile with “Chimneys” that works as solder nozzles like on the selective machine. This is the quickest method but also the costliest.
Essemtec” Pick and Place machine (1st one in Denmark)
SMT (surface mount technology) component placement systems, commonly called pick-and-place machines or P&Ps, are robotic machines that are used to place components onto a printed circuit board (PCB).
The Essemtec Paraquda is by far one of the most flexible pick-and-place machines on the market. While not being the fastest by far, it places components down to 01005 (0.4 x 0.2 mm) and up to 100 x 100 mm and a package height of 18 mm. Pick and place machines built for speed is very limited to the package sizes and are called Chip shooters.
The Paraquda also features 120 slots for feeders which makes it possible for us to produce circuit boards that have a lot of different components in one go. If you’re limited in the number of components you can place, you’re limited in the design possibilities.
Normal pick-and-place machines use an old school X-Y listing software where one page is for pick position and another for place position. It can be tricky to navigate and wrap your head around at times and this is where the Paraquda once again shines. The software is a 2d overview and before finalizing your PCB program, you must validate the program visually thus minimizing potential errors.
This P&P machine is not the fastest in the world but has as high precision as any on the market. It will place components with sizes down to below 0102 which is so small one needs a microscope to actually see it! All programming is handled via a touch screen, which only Essemtec manufactures. This tells a lot about the know-how which went into designing this machine, and it gives many pros during the setup and actual manufacturing. It has one of the highest flexibilities on the market and fits up to 240 different components at the time.
So much for the technical language, but it gives you an idea of the machinery which Vitus Audio possesses, which gives them the leading edge over and above most high-end manufacturers.
Essemtec Fino Machine
The Essemtec Fino is a small and neat screen printer. The screening function applies the solder paste and this is a very delicate and important process. We use state of the yard electropolished stencils for a more precise screening (less paste gets stuck in the stencil edges), and cameras to adjust each PCB for optimal screening.
Essemtec Cubus (Storage Machine)
The latest investment is an intelligent storage cabinet. The Essemtec Cubus can store 7-900 8mm reels depending on the model size and keep the temperature and humidity in the right area to avoid aging the components.
What makes the cabinet highly intelligent is the communication between the cabinet and the pick and place machine. The cabinet will count the components and tell you when you need to buy more and when you need to set up a new program, you simply need to tell the cabinet to start feeding you the necessary components.
Omron Automatic QC machine
Next up is a machine which checks the quality control of the printed circuit boards. The Omron completely automated and can check the integrity of a PCB in a mere 13 seconds. It cost over $ 90,000 Euro.
After components come off the PCB machine, they are moved onto a separate area in the factory for assembly. Having been in the automotive component manufacturing business, I know firsthand the difficulty in maintaining a clean and organized environment. In a factory with a tight manufacturing schedule especially in the “Just-in-time” era of manufacturing, it is easy to overlook the basic aspect of keeping a clean and tidy workspace.
Again, Vitus scores high on all accounts, they have the hallmark of a boutique high quality manufacturer which is small, hands-on, yet highly advanced and efficient. You can tell Han-Ole runs a tight ship.
Quality Control and Testing
Every product which comes out goes through rigorous testing and burn-in. Meticulous attention goes into every product, nothing is overlooked.
Field Test: A visit to Dato Danon Han Hong Den of Analogue Fellowship
No factory visit is complete without actual field testing. What better place could offer a better demonstration in the field than at one of Asia’s most famous audio rooms? For this, I flew over to Malaysia to enjoy the rich and welcoming hospitality of Dato Danon Han Hong Den of Analogue Fellowship, and to witness the full power of the Vitus Audio Masterpiece series, power the Gryphon Kodo speakers.
There, I fully experienced the unlimited and unrestrained dynamics of the Vitus Audio amplifiers, which gave me a glimpse into what the award-winning Vitus sound is all about. They exhibit an organic and natural realism to the sound which resembles closely to live performance, yet when power and oomph is called for, the 500W Master Reference Monoblocks met the challenge by delivering lighting fast transient attack without sounding abrasive or unnatural.
The most interesting aspect to the sound is the Vitus amps sounded as if they have a lot more power and speed than just 500Ws. I use the 2000W McIntosh MC2KW power amplifiers at home, yet they are noticeably slower sounding by comparison.
When it comes to fine details and vivid imagery, well demonstrated on the snappiness of plucking of the strings to the ambiance of instrument separation, the Vitus sounded refined and detailed, almost like a 300B amplifier.
Let me end this article with a live Youtube video demo of the Vitus sound at Dato Danon Han Hong Den’s room.
If you find yourself enticed by Vitus as I have, do give Hans-Ole a call and schedule a visit to the Vitus Audio Factory in Denmark!