The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I love that expression. It is truthfully the very foundation upon which this hobby is built. Speaker A + Amplifier B + Preamp C + Source D = “Ahhhhhh.” Scientifically it is an impossibility; 2+2 will always equal 4. Yet in the world of high-end audio, science and emotion intertwine, skewing the laws of physics like the singularity of a black hole (or too much single malt Scotch). So, would a directly heated triode 2 plus a solid-state Class AB 2 still equal 4? Vinnie Rossi clearly believes that the answer is a resounding “No”; it equals “joy.” I admit my application of the laws of nature and science may not be 100% mathematically sound, but only because we have yet to ascertain the method by which emotional engagement can be objectively measured. For now, we prove the theory in the most subjective yet simple, elegant, and enjoyable of ways...we listen.
Vinnie, for those who have not had the pleasure of meeting him, is 54% heart, 40% soul, 4% great guy (this is actually too low a value, but I’m trying to make a point here), 1% realist, and 1% nerd (also too low a value). His equipment has garnered a loyal following over the years and earned the reputation of being insanely high value. The nerd in Mr. Rossi pushed him into unfamiliar territory—the magical world of “what if.” His first “what if” led to the creation of the Signature series Class AB MOSFET monoblock amplifiers and the dual-mono, Class A, directly heated triode (DHT), zero-feedback preamplifier—both implementing an absolute reduction in circuit topology and both truly wonderful, emotional, and beautiful products in their own right. The heart and soul in Vinnie then jumped to the next obvious “what if.” What if he took both units and combined them in a single chassis, while sacrificing next to nothing in performance? Thus, the L2i-SE “Signature Edition” integrated amplifier was born. There is a non-Signature L2i available as well, which utilizes a pair of 6SN7 tubes in the linestage instead of the directly heated triode pair. The standard L2i integrated retails for $13,995, and the SE version bumps the price to $18,995. An additional $3495 buys you an optional phonostage or DAC, and there are slots for both—not one or the other. As an aside, the 4% great guy tried to lower the price to $39.95, but the 1% realist just wouldn’t have it.
So how did Mr. Rossi cram a preamplifier and two monoblocks worth of bits into what is essentially the beautifully crafted casework of the Signature preamp? My original assumption was that he used that shrink-ray machine from Willy Wonka or Despicable Me. When my wife finally convinced me that neither of those really exist (I’m still not 100% buying that—something about having a hard time distinguishing reality and fiction), I was left with one obvious solution…magic!
For the sake of thoroughness, the practical bits around back offer two pair of RCA inputs and one pair of XLR inputs, as well as one pair each of RCA and XLR outputs, should you want to bi-amp or use the preamp section alone. The speaker posts are lovely, and clamp down to hold the heaviest of speaker cables with Hulk-like grip. Two removable panels allow insertion of either or both a built-in phonostage and/or built-in DAC. There is also a small switch that allows you to adjust directly heated triode (DHT) filament voltage, giving the owner the ability to roll in 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 DHT tubes. As an interesting feature, you can remove the tubes and flip an internal switch to enter “DHT bypass mode,” bypassing the tube stage entirely and making the L2i a completely solid-state unit using a Class A JFET circuit. The tube cages up top are optional.
The front features a large source-select knob on the left and a volume control on the right. You can power up the preamp section with or without the amp section powered on. The design is unique and meticulously machined. Stillpoints Minis come standard as outriggers fitted into the base plate. I did not try to use any other feet as the Stillpoints did the job with surety. The L2i Signature comes in black or silver and the build and finish shout luxury item like a C-class Mercedes. I loved the feel of the large knobs in my fingers, and they were luscious to slowly rotate (yes, I said “luscious”). Small changes allowed meticulously adjusting the 64-step ladder volume control to exactly my desired level. And the remote control was equally well fabricated and implemented. The complete unit looked and felt every bit the part of a $20k piece of kit, which makes the non-signature version (built to identical standards) a knockout value at $14k.
The Signature version comes with a pair of EH300B Gold-Grid matched pair DHT tubes. Power output, no matter the DHT, is a flexible 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 170Wpc into 4 ohms. Voltage gain is about 32dB with DHT tubes and 24dB in DHT-bypass mode. The integrated weighs a hefty 50 pounds and has a quite reasonable footprint of 17¼" wide and 14½" deep. I am not too much a man to admit that I was drawn to its looks—a combination of retro sci-fi, modern art, and Robby the Robot meets atelier Ulysse Nardin.