It’s been 12 months since Vitus Audio launched the brilliant RI-101 mk2 integrated amplifier and in that time it’s proved to be a very popular addition to the Vitus and Audio Therapy portfolio. Taking several design cues from the mighty SIA-030 the mk2 is a significant step up over the mk1 in every area, don’t assume the step is subtle, in performance terms it’s a much bigger step than going from an RI-100 to RI-101 mk1.
To sum up the RI-101 mk2 in simple terms, it’s engaging, clean, precise and wonderfully open and dynamic. At the same time it is completely fatigue free and is incredibly quiet, it is this aspect of the amplifier that has thrown more than one customer on a first listen. The lack of noise simply pulls more subtle detail, texture and expression out of the music, even on music you know very well, and it’s quite something when you experience it for the first time.
The 101 has a more neutral presentation than an SIA-025 which is ultimately more creamy, seductive and alluring. Then of course there is the SIA-030 which combines the best aspects of both the 101 and 025 and takes the performance from an integrated amplifier to a whole new level!
My demo 101 hasn’t been used for a couple of months due to lockdown, plus an arm injury meant I couldn’t move my SIA-030 or SIA-025 so the 101 was sat off to one side. I finally moved things around a couple of weeks ago and connected the 101 back up and was grinning from ear to ear from the moment it started playing music and as with all Vitus products they simply get better and better as they warm up.
It’s well trodden ground but there are plenty of customers (both Audio Therapy customers and those from other Vitus dealers) who’ve moved from 3 or 4 (or more!) boxes of Naim (or similar) to a Vitus 101 and never looked back. It may be the ‘entry level’ amplifier from Vitus but what an entry!
The RI-101 mk2 in standard amplifier form offers 3 pairs of XLR inputs and 2 pairs of RCA inputs and is priced at £13,600.
There is also the rather significant plugin DAC/Streamer module available for the 101 as well. This option is £3200 if purchased at the same time as the amplifier, it can be retrofitted as well, although the price does creep up a little if fitted later. With the DAC board you are obviously not paying for expensive casework or elaborate power supplies, a touch screen display or any other superfluous features, you simply get a very well implemented and properly designed DAC that increases the performance and flexibility of the RI-101 mk2 no end.
Don’t underestimate the DAC board either, it may ‘only’ cost £3200 but will offer a serious sonic upgrade over a Naim NDX 2 and plenty of other DACs and streamers costing much more than the price of admission here.
For those who want even more performance there is the standalone RD-101 DAC/Streamer which is £12,000 and you also have the Signature SD-025 which sits at £20,000. Relatively speaking, both of the standalone DAC’s have been popular. The RD-101 is a big step over up over the internal DAC with the same tonal characteristics and tone, but even greater resolution and realism. The SD-025 is from the Signature range (like the SIA-025 and SIA-030) and whilst perhaps not the natural partner for the RI-101 on paper, when you put them together the combination is quite incredible, you get the dynamics and neutrality from the RI-101 and the alluring seductiveness of the SD-025. I know this is a combination the guys in Denmark particularly like, as do I!
In terms of connectivity, the RI-101 mk2 DAC streamer board offers 3 digital inputs, there is 1 x AES/EBU XLR input and 1 x RCA input, both designed to connect a suitably equipped CD player or transport, or an existing Network Player with digital out like a Naim NDS. The 3rd input is a network connection, which has so far proved to be the most popular connection. You may also spot a USB type A socket, this isn’t for audio, but for connecting a Wi-Fi dongle should a hard-wired network connection be not possible.
Once the 101 is on the network it essentially turns into a high end one box system, simply add appropriate speakers and a streaming service like Qobuz and you are good to go!
Controlled via the MConnect app, the streamer works with Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer, vTuner Internet Radio, even Airplay. Both Tidal and Qobuz are the go to streaming options for the best performance and for me Qobuz is the best sounding one by a decent margin. Whichever service you prefer it a makes a really compelling argument for a one box system with streaming as the primary source.
The MConnect app will also see any UPnP servers that are broadcasting on the network and will play from them as well. For example, I have a 4 bay QNAP NAS running Minimserver 2, this library is essentially a back up of a back up of my main music library on my Melco N1ZS, I can select Minimserver on the QNAP as the library and it all works perfectly, so if you have a NAS drive full of music the Vitus will see and be able to play it.
If you have a large collection of ripped CDs (or a big CD collection you want to rip) adding a Melco Streamer/Player to the Vitus delivers an instant and obvious uplift in performance and will certainly allow you to get the very best from the Vitus DAC streamer, there’s a range of 5 different Melco players starting at £2000 and going up to £10,000 for the flagship N1ZS. There are obvious and demonstrable differences between each model, the N1ZH EX at £5250 is arguably the sweet spot of the range and this has been the most popular model I’ve sold, followed by the flagship N1ZS.
One of the key Melco features which allows the Vitus DAC Streamer to really stretch its legs is the Player Port. This is a second ethernet connection on the Melco, if you are using your Melco with a USB DAC this connection will not be used, but if you are using it with a network streamer such as the Vitus it becomes quite relevant.
The Melco connects to the router via its primary ethernet port. Ordinarily the Vitus would connect to the router via its ethernet port as well, but with a Melco in play you actually connect to Vitus to the network by connecting it to the Player Port on the Melco. Configured this way the Vitus still gets an IP address and still gets access to the online streaming services and MConnect still works perfectly, but the Melco essentially ring-fences the Vitus from network noise and this further improves performance when you are running the RI-101 on the streamer input. All networks are inherently noisy so any helping hand you can give it always pays dividends in terms of musical performance. The Melco S100 data switch is another product worth looking at to further improve what the DAC/Streamer in the RI-101 can do, even if you just stream Tidal or Qobuz using the 101 as a standalone amplifier/DAC the S100 is a brilliant addition to any system which streams music over ethernet and it’s not a subtle addition.
Overall the DAC streamer in the RI-101 mk2 is stereotypically Vitus in terms of its presentation. It sits just on the warmer side of neutral and has wonderful poise and precision without ever sounding ‘digital’, harsh or fatiguing. As mentioned above if the DAC streamer was an external DAC in a nice case with a power supply, supplied in a shiny box it would easily be twice the asking price of the DAC board here, when comparing it to external DACs from other brands it’s quite happy going toe to toe at double its asking price and has ruffled a few feathers beyond that as well.
It’s worth pointing out that the Vitus responds hugely to an appropriate pair of loudspeakers. I’ve done plenty of customer demonstrations and the Vitus always sounds fantastic, it’s an amplifier I know inside outside and occasionally it often has been held back by the speakers being used. This isn’t me being negative on loudspeakers in general, it’s just a case of upgrading components in a system in a particular order, not everyone has the budget to replace everything in one go and it’s all about the right move at the right time.
A perfect example of this was a blog post from last week where I put a pair of Avalon PM1 into a system replacing a pair of B&W 802D, the Avalon really allowed the customers Vitus SIA-025 to do it’s thing and the impact was huge. Even though the B&W are highly regarded ‘high end’ loudspeakers, the customer has owned the Vitus for 18 months but only now has he heard it’s true potential.
Exactly the same applies with interconnects, loudspeaker cable, power cables, Stillpoints isolation and Entreq grounding – all aspects that when applied correctly will really allow any system to shine and the Vitus is no exception. I must stress it’s not about changing the sound one way or another, it’s about lowering noise to reveal more natural detail and get the very best from the Vitus. It sounds incredible from the off, but with some careful guidance on system set up you can take it to another level entirely!
With lockdown and travel restrictions slowly starting to ease customer visits and home demonstrations will soon be allowed to be carried out. It’s no problem for me to travel when allowed and a proper home loan is the only way to experience things. This will enable you to make an informed decision on how to best upgrade your system and spend your hard earned!
Any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch and remember part exchange is welcome!