I have always been a big fan of valves but one of the problems with some of these amplifiers is they are not best suited to less efficient speakers, driving rocking music or replaying deep bass. Because of that, I was looking for a really good solid-state amplifier. My search always seemed to give a few of the desired characteristics but not enough to make it worthwhile for serious consideration of adding them to my amplifier repertoire.
I have experienced big solid-state amplifiers with huge amounts of power that could easily drive inefficient speakers. They went incredibly loud (well over 100db) but they were not fast, nimble or fast-paced. In fact, they tended to be a bit slow and the bass did not sound like a real musical instrument. Instead of being hit in the chest with fast-paced bass, it was like being hit over the head with a big, soft plum. Splat.
At the other end of the SS spectrum, there were super sophisticated amplifiers with great detail that played natural instruments realistically, but driving rock music or big orchestral music just made them at worst stumble over themselves or at best just mess up the timing.
Some amps got close like the Pass Labs that had the sophistication and detail with great naturalness and did a good job of playing fast-paced music but it did not do enough of both to meet my needs. Some amps did great with fast pace music like the Naim 300 DR and it did a great job with natural music but not enough of both.
The only option was to keep looking.
I had heard about the Danish made amplifiers from Hans-Ole Vitus. They are humungous, heavy amplifiers that people said had a warm presentation that was detailed and played fast-paced music. Some saw them as a natural upgrade for owners of Naim 500 DR amplifiers. Richard Morris owner of Lotus Hifi has done a lot to show how the Vitus amplifiers could be natural sounding, powerful and fast-paced. On his site, he has written a few blogs describing these amplifiers and on the Naim forum, there were quite a few people who had made the transition. Nothing for it but to borrow one and by a dent of good luck Richard had a used integrated amplifier the Vitus RI100. I borrowed it for a week or two a few years ago. And it did not work. I am not exactly sure why but I think it was because I did not give the amplifier time to ‘warm up’. I now know that these amplifiers can take about a day to ‘warm up’. Maybe because they run Class A for the first 12 precious watts and after a few hours the amplifier does get slightly warm. It really only settles down the following day.
So, with apologies to Richard, I returned the amplifier and he was gracious (puzzled?) about the return. Especially as he had let me borrow an Allnic amplifier previously that sounded superb. Not only that I bought the Allnic and it is still here singing its little KT150 heart out with its nickel transformers. And a fine-looking thing it is too.
Fast forward a few years and after an audio show I am talking to the UK distributor of Vitus amplifiers Fraser Roberts at AIRT about his audio products and he mentions the Vitus amplifier. Ah says Fraser Roberts, you should hear the new Vitus RI 101 Mk II, it is a great amplifier and Vitus have moved the sound quality on a lot, whilst still retaining that fast pace drive you liked in the Naim 300 DR. Do you want to borrow one? Can’t refuse an offer like that can I? And I did not.
A really heavy Vitus RI 101 Mk II was in George47 towers a few weeks later.
Who is Vitus anyway?
Well the man behind Vitus is Hans-Ole Vitus. He is a self-taught electronics whizz. In an interview, Hans-Ole commented that he wanted to make amplifiers that met his design requirements and he would not accept anything else. His first requirement was the amplifier must have a mid-range like a top-quality valve amplifier that was natural on voices and made them sound human and 3D. The amplifier must also have bass that is tight, powerful, fast-paced and make bass instruments sound like musical instruments. Like a SS amplifier. No weak sounds with the bass sounding like a pip, pip in the background or soft and woolly, and definitely no plum splats! The top-end must not roll off or be unnaturally sharp and cymbals must never sound like hiss escaping from a radiator.
He wanted the lot.
Hans Ole made a lot of discoveries on the way to developing his amplifiers but keeps fairly quiet about the details. His amplifiers do not use overall global feedback and I, therefore, assume they must use local feedback. After a lot of work by Hans Ole, an amplifier emerged. How long did it take? 8 Years. Yes, all that time to develop what he wanted and ensure it met all his requirements.
To do this, his amplifiers were big, well-engineered with very large power transformers. Yes, they weigh a lot. The review RI 101 Mk II weighs 40kg. A heavy 88 lbs so move it with real care to protect yourself, those around you and the amplifier.
Vitus now have three ranges of audio equipment. The first level is the Reference, the next level is the Signatures and finally the Masterpieces. The first two levels were Vitus’s mainstay for some time and their sales slogan was “We start where others leave off”. Hans Ole claims that Level 1 amplifiers were better than other company’s top amplifiers, hence the Reference name. The Naim 500 was often used as a comparison amplifier so they were aiming high. And then people from the Far East and Russia wanted to know if Hans-Ole could make something that was a no holds barred amplifier and well over the top. So, he threw away the rule book and worked and worked and produced a few pieces for his top range, the Masterpieces. The Masterpieces are produced in limited numbers, their cost is in six figures and they are extremely heavy. The power amplifier for example weighing over 100Kg. Let’s leave the Masterpieces out of this review as they are true audio esoterica for the few.
In the Reference range, Hans-Ole produced an integrated amplifier to give people a good taste of the Vitus sound, at a not too exorbitant price. The RI 100 amplifier was born. The R 100 (Reference) uses the same output stages as the Signature SIA 25 (Signature) but with a different topology on the input stage. The RI 100 transformer is the more traditional EI-core rather than the UI-core used in the Signature range. Parts quality and matching of internal components have had particular attention paid to them. The RI 100 was a Class AB amplifier. It is a bridged amplifier to generate the huge output power of 300 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 600 watts per channel into 4 ohms. The RI 100 had two pairs of power devices per channel. It had a separate power supply for each channel with each having twelve 10,000 uF capacitors.
After being on the market for 5 years the RI 100 was updated to become the RI101 and then some years on the RI101 Mk II was released. The RI 100 input stage was changed to become the RI101 and then the output stage was changed to become the RI 101 Mk II. There were other changes but they are the main ones that Hans Ole Vitus talked about.
The RI 101 Mk II is a large amplifier at 435mm x 180mm x 470 mm (WxHxD). It looks a serious amplifier with a buff black box with a well-engineered chassis and a thick sheet metal lid. The front panel has three buttons on the left to control the volume (up and down) and mute. The three buttons on the right perform the menu functions. It weighs 40 Kg so careful placement is needed. There are three XLR and two RCA connections. It uses <3w in standby mode and about 90w when active with no load. The first 12w are in Class A mode. It has a comprehensive menu that allows changes to many of the operating parameters including volume sensitivity, pass through, maximum volume level, input name etc. The operation is fairly straightforward but a necessary cost reduction was made by using an Apple remote control. It only controls input selection, volume and mute. All menu functions have to be done via the three right-hand buttons. To be honest it is a pain with things like renaming the input name from Input 1 to CD requiring over 20 button pushes. I left the amplifier in default mode. An Apple remote on a £14,500 amplifier? Surely not!
On the back of the amplifier, there is a blank plate that can accept a DAC/streamer board based on the best ESS chip. That costs an additional £4,000 and people who have used it claim it is a good one. As I already had a good DAC, I did not miss not having one.
I connected the RI 101 Mk II to my Audionote E Silver Signature high-efficiency speakers using Cut Loose silver ribbon speaker cables. It was fed by a Denafrips T+ and a Jays CD2T Mk III and an Audionote CD4T and DAC 4.1x, with streaming and local files coming from a Melco. I used a variety of cables elsewhere from Audionote, Cut loose, Audioquest and Wave.
I was warned that these amplifiers take a lot of time to burn in and warm up so I left it on for 2 weeks with occasional listening. And I always ensured it had been on for a day or so before any serious listening.
It took a little bit of time to get the right setup as this amplifier showed what each item in the system was doing. I changed the digital front end depending on the music or what I wanted to hear. I preferred the balanced outputs from the Denafrips T+ to the Vitus and the RCAs from the Audionote setup. There were zero issues with power as the 300w/channel Vitus had no problem driving the 97db efficient AN Es.
But what about the sound quality, had Hans Ole succeeded in achieving his aims?
In a word, YES.
I used the Audionote digital front end first with my new list of test tracks, both good recordings and bad. I mainly used the Cut Loose RCAs. The amplifier was barely idling and sounded very relaxed. Playing Bella Flack and Flight of the Cosmic Hippo with Victor Wootan on the bass guitar, the bass was tight as you would expect from a large SS amplifier but at the same time, it flowed like a valve amplifier. The unreal staccato type of SS bass from some amplifiers was absent. The overall frequency response was very even so when the banjo comes in (Bella Flack’s instrument) it is easy to hear the instrument and the way it is being played. Some amps let the bass drown out the banjo. The timing was excellent and it had a light enough touch in the bass to show all the detail, but it did not slow the pace of the track. A good start.
Onto to Dame Janet Baker, Purcell, “But Death Alas!”..” When I am laid in earth”. Wow, the sound-staging was superb with real depth. Her voice was full of emotion and I understood every word. The whole track put across the sadness inherent in this music and showed what a great voice she has. This recording from 1962 was excellent musically and the amplifier really showed that without any of the usual issues like brightness, darkness or undue emphasis of particular frequencies. But how would it cope with big powerful music?
On goes Hans Zimmer playing 2049 and it is straight into the drama of that OST with big powerful electronic bass. The original filmmakers tried using Vangelis’s original music using a Yamaha CS-80 analogue synthesizer. The rapper El-P was asked to provide the music and he composed a track using the Yamaha synthesiser, but it was rejected. Hans Zimmer was then asked to compose the music. His music was different from Vangelis’s version and very dramatic. And what a great decision. The music was nominated for a Grammy. It opens with a big dramatic sound and this was right up the Vitus’s street. Big powerful dynamics, yes, deep bass, yes, and atmospherics….easy peasy.
I then played Alison Krauss and Union Station’s live recording from The Louisville Palace recorded on April 29-30 2002. Live was her eleventh album and the first live album by Alison Krauss and Union Station. At the 46th Grammy Awards, Live won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album and the traditional song "Cluck Old Hen" won the Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The reaction of the audience to the music adds to the atmosphere of this recording. And when she sings, on the opening track, that She Would Like to Touch You for a While…..well……..
And in contrast, the next track has some really lively Bluegrass with some excellent fiddle playing by Ms Krauss. It was almost impossible to stay still and not want to get up and dance. But I resisted the temptation.
And you can easily hear why “Cluck Old Hen” won the Grammy. It was lively, full of swing and went at a fast and danceable pace. It is bluegrass after all.
Next was a very nearly live album from David Bowie recorded at the BBC. It was initially recorded in 1996 in New York, during rehearsals for his 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden.
CHANGESNOWBOWIE is a 9-track session recorded for radio and broadcast by the BBC on David’s 50th birthday on 8th January 1997. This mostly acoustic session is a stripped-back affair featuring some of David’s favourite songs and was produced by Bowie himself, Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati. This is an eclectic mix of some of his favourite music. And it could have been written for showing off what the Vitus can do. The live feel of the album really comes across as did the fast pace of some of the tracks. Turn it up loud, listen and enjoy what Bowie was doing when he was 50 years old. The BBC captured the feel of the music and Bowie’s more relaxed presentation. Easy to hear on the Vitus.
And on it went as I forgot I was supposed to be reviewing this amplifier, I just kept thinking what will it do with…..and then hearing the album in a different light. I had to force myself to keep notes as I kept getting lost in the music. The amplifier showed no ‘favouritism’ to any genre of music. It had no issues with reproducing all my music, even opera. I normally have to reserve opera for when I am on my own and then I can indulge in Marie Callas’s Callas Remastered. Audiophile….nah. But what a singer. I do not understand a lot of the words but the emotion in her voice is easy to hear. Some say she was not technically brilliant but just listen to her sing Norma, Act 1:” Casta diva” (Norma. Chorus). If it does not move you, get a Vitus and if that fails, check your pulse 😊. And once started I had to listen to all 77minutes of the album…..pure joy.
In summary, this is a superb amplifier and so it should be at £14,200. I gave it a small tweak by putting an HRS damping plate on the top of the case, which removed the metallic ring that had produced a tiny edge to the sound. And in a hifi sense, the Vitus RI 101 Mk II showed every change I made to my system, in a positive way.
But the music…..ah the music….how good…..no option….I bought it. It is my most expensive audio item ever, I could not return it.
RI-101 SpeciﬁcationsRated Output Power…….........................................2 x 300Wrms in 8 ohm Class AB
Frequency Response..............................................................………....DC to +800KHz
Signal to Noise Ratio……………………..……...........................………..……> 100dB
THD+ Noise………………………...............………………………....Better than 0,01%
Input Sensitivity……...............with volume set @ 0dB / RCA = 1,4V / XLR 0,7V RMS
Input Impedance……..…....................………….………...RCA = 22KΩ / XLR = 22KΩ
Slew Rate…………………………...................…………………………...…....> 35V/ μs
Power Consumption (RMS):Standby…………………………………………………………..….....................….< 3W
Class AB (no load)………………………………....................…………………....~ 90W
Dimensions (W x H x D)……………………...................…………....435x180x470 mm
Vitus Audio: https://www.vitusaudio.com