The word “entry-level” covers a vast swath of price points in the high end. For Vitus Audio, a premium maker of electronics from Denmark, its Reference Series, which includes the RI-100, is a $13k entry-level product—Vitus’ bottom rung. It’s beneath the Signature Series, Vitus’ pure Class A fully balanced designs, and even further down the ladder from the heady, damn-the-torpedoes, dual-chassis Masterpiece Series. The RI-100 is vivid confirmation of the Paul Simon lyric, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
The Reference RI-100 linestage integrated is not my first date with a Vitus Audio amp. In Issue 218, I reviewed the Signature Series SIA-025, a marvelous Class A linestage integrated and, at a vertiginous $25k, the most expensive one I’ve reviewed to date. So it would be natural to assume that the RI-100 at roughly half the price would be a big step down. Not by a long shot.
At its core, the RI-100 is essentially the Vitus Audio RS- 100 solid-state stereo amplifier with the addition of a linestage preamp. It outputs a stout 300Wpc RMS into 8 ohms. Cosmetics are minimalist but the amp is built to endure. It shares both the chassis and the massive aluminum faceplate and pushbutton controls of the RS; however, unlike the Signature and Masterpiece components, the rear casing is prosaic sheet metal, a nonmagnetic aluminum rather than the thick slabs of steel and aluminum of the pricier products. The expansive back panel houses a pair of unbalanced RCA and a trio of balanced XLR inputs, plus a preamp output.
Controls, memory functions, and assorted connectivity can all be optimized via menu-driven software from the front panel or remote control. The latter is an Apple remote, not the fullyfeatured rechargeable masterpiece that the uptown Signature Series offers. Since it’s an off-the-shelf device, the user needs to pair the remote to the RI-100 (unless you like triggering other Apple-compatible devices elsewhere in the house). Like the pricier models the precision volume control is relay-based and employs only a single resistor in series with the signal at any given time. Still, ergonomics are a little clunky and the display too small for my taste. Personally I like spinning a heavy volume wheel and seeing the results via a large set of fluorescent numerals.
I asked company president Hans Ole Vitus about the key differences between Reference RI-100 and the previously reviewed SIA-025. He stated that the output stage is identical to the SIA-025, but with some topology differences in the input module. The transformer is a more traditional EI-core rather than the Signature’s custom UI-core. Parts quality and matching of internal components, while stringent in the Reference Series, reaches an ever-higher threshold in the fully balanced Signature Series. The crucial difference, as mentioned earlier, is output stage operation—Class AB for Reference Series and Class A for Signature.
As powerful as the RI-100 is, brute force is not the sonic element that stands out—at least not all the time. From day one, what really struck home was the lack of an electronic signature throughout the frequency spectrum. There was no glaze smudging transients, or any dry powdery whiteness over the treble. The RI-100 was supernaturally quiet. I’d describe its character as relaxed but ready. Sure there was impressive transient speed that seamlessly integrated with a rich tonality. But the RI-100 was not euphonic in the classic tube sense of the word, nor was it etched or pushy like less-desirable solid-state. In comparison to some other amps I’m familiar with, its top end would have seemed a tad warm and reserved at first, except for the amount of sheer musicality that poured forth, especially on violin recordings like those featuring Arturo Delmoni [JMR] or Anne-Sophie Mutter [DG]. The RI-100 delicately presented the upper register of the violin as sweetly contained aggression, which is the most concise way I can describe what a violin sounds like at full tilt.