As well as the output class switching Vitus have included an intriguing option of two ‘sound modes’ which is unusual but actually rather fun. Although Hans-Ole has named them Classic and Rock modes they should really be thought of as alternative views of the music. Personally, I would forget the idea of either being entirely suited to classical or rock music and think of them as options that enhance the amplifier’s versatility. Add these voicings to the Class A or A/B settings, all accessible through the amplifier’s menu system and the SS-103 becomes very configurable for a power amplifier. The difference between the two is probably best described as a change of listening perspectives and flavour and this is certainly going to depend on the rest of your system (in its entirety), your room, music, and personal taste. The Rock choice is unsurprisingly more forward in its presentation, while the Classic is more erm..classic, speaking in general terms of course. I can easily envisage situations where you might flip between each mode several times during long listening sessions. You will have your own preferences but, whichever one you use, you will not be disappointed as both have those key Vitus values when it comes to getting to grips with the music. This amp is all about focus, complete dynamic shape, and movement in extremis no matter how you configure the amplifier.
The SS-103 is the result of just about everything that Vitus himself has learnt over the years. It is balanced from front to back and modular in design and construction, enabling any internal component upgrades to be interchangeable. It goes without saying that every individual transistor and resistor is both the finest available and impeccably matched to its partner on the opposite side of the amplifier. The local shunt-regulated power supply has been redesigned to incorporate new technologies and having spoken to Hans-Ole on several occasions and understood how meticulous and fastidious he is where transformers and their associated circuitry are concerned, it is clear that as usual this is truly the beating-heart of the new amplifier. If that extra sense of quiet and blackness to the musical experience is one of the results of the improvements he has wrought then it has been a noticeable success. The SS-103 is as unobtrusive, noise-wise, as I have heard from a power amplifier, especially one of this tremendous potential.
I had wanted the full-fat Vitus listening experience so the nice man from Kog, the UK distributor and myself manhandled both the power amplifier and an SL-103 line stage into position before we both slumped, tea in hand, onto the sofa, grateful that our backs had survived the ordeal. I employed the wonderfully musical dCS two-box Vivaldi CD/streaming front end and spent the following weeks listening to CDs and whatever took my fancy through TIDAL. My advice is to leave the amplifier switched on once it has come up to temperature and then have fun with the class and mode settings. I must confess to a preference for the creamy, seamless and tonally rich benefits of Class A myself and I like both listening modes, depending on mood and music. The smaller speakers I used were both remarkable, but alternative examples of what a modern high-end stand-mounted design can achieve. The Wilson Audio Duette Series 2 and the Raidho D-1.1 are so very different, but both offer the potential and musical intensity and involvement that really must be a huge part of any system, let alone one of this pedigree. Both speakers loved the Vitus and I am always delighted with the kind of immersive and joined-up experience that these systems can offer. Suitably sourced, both systems really do rock along but the extra weight and bandwidth of the Duette 2s is impossible to ignore. Both combinations – like a great book that you simply can’t put down because you are so intrigued and don’t want to miss what comes next – show that the SS-103 is an intense and compelling amplifier indeed. Yes, it has power to burn but it never sounds enormously powerful for the sake of being so. If this seems like a contradiction, I would point to the way it employs its considerable reserves. It simply produces what the music requires, with no extra fat or excess. Any dramas lie within the music and not the equipment. It is certainly as tonally rich and flavoured as any solid-state amplifier I have heard but part of its charm lies in the way it realises its dynamic potential by bringing the relatively small to life and animating the subtleties. A gently brushed cymbal that you may have heard many, many times is opened up with a dynamic precision and specific sense of focus that is delightful. Where it may have been nothing more than an embellishment the Vitus renders it as a vital component of counterpoint purely through the way it applies its sense of the ‘dynamic within the dynamic’ nuance and a supreme command of the envelope. The cymbal has a life, a duration, a decay, and more importantly, a relevance to the whole. The cymbal, or whatever delicate seasoning was present certainly sounded different through each speaker system but the intensity, resolution, and focus (there’s that word again) never wavered.
The amplifier’s abilities when dealing with anything from a sweeping musical landscape to a solo instrument were always entirely in perspective and its sense of shape has a beautiful feel of unforced control. Grip is superb but might be too extreme a word really as it could imply a certain degree of electronically enforced emphasis. It is all about the way the SS‑103 employs its resources. At lower levels, it breathes rather than drives. It can shock when called upon to swing a series of mighty transients with staggering speed and instantaneous transportation of dramatic, but controlled, musical drama. Dynamic contrasts are its thing really. It enables each component of the recording impressive freedom and tonal colour and it also gives serious attention to the term ‘headroom’ as you will never hear the amplifier run out of it and this is part of its charm and further sign of its enormous musical potential.