It’s interesting how having a high quality streaming capability and a Tidal account changes your style of listening. As a result, I have been on a bit of a retro kick recently and looking more deeply into the complete works of Steely Dan. I always liked the albums and had massive respect for the musicians they assembled to bring the songs to life. Then they slipped out of my consciousness for a while. I would occasionally catch an audio glimpse of them and be reminded that it was time for a re-visit and this, courtesy of Roon and Tidal, grew into a renewed fascination as I have become more intrigued with their songs. Time has actually leant them a new depth for me.
It was during this musical period that I took delivery of the RI-101, the latest version of the entry-level integrated amplifier from Vitus. This is the successor to the eight-year-old RI-100. I have lost count of the amount of Vitus products that have passed through my hands since their arrival in the UK, and I am a big fan of the way they go about their business. Their SIA-025 has become an integral part of my whole listening experience and has been both fed and has driven many, many high-end components for years now. It is a real classic amplifier of the modern era design, fully deserving of the many accolades that have been heaped upon it.
I liked the RI-100 when I first heard it several years ago. It didn’t have the Class A switching, perhaps so vital to the SIA‑025’s creamy smoothness and tonal subtlety, but replaced it with sledgehammer driving power and a firework display of dynamics and grip of the rise and fall of musical movement. Who needs 300 watts? Well, the RI-100 can provide an answer to that question every time you sit back to listen. The seemingly bottomless well of power gives its own sense of ease. My abiding memories of that amplifier is that it ultimately lacked a bit of resolution and crisp articulation and it was perhaps a little flat and dark in musical perspectives. Certainly in comparison to the SIA-025 which, it must be remembered, is a considerably pricier investment.
When the new RI-101 arrived it seemed like a case of “Meet the new amp, same as the old amp,” but looks are inevitably deceptive. From the outside, the new version has little to distinguish it except, I am told, some extra cooling vents. The chunky industrial design, finished in black for the review sample, makes a bold physical statement with a very familiar and unmistakably Vitus look. Aluminium slab fronts merge into the small central illuminated control window while three flush buttons per side provide the control inputs, volume, and settings. An Apple remote, supplied as standard, offers fuss-free access to essential functions, including standby.
Internally, as you might imagine, there have been many improvements in critical areas. As usual, this Vitus is a modular design. It is beautifully assembled and laid out internally, so much so that it would actually look great with an acrylic top. The heart of all Vitus products is the transformer, and anyone who has spoken to Hans Ole will know just how meticulous he is where these are concerned. This one, an improved version of that found in the RI-100, has an EI-core instead of the UI-core found in the Signature series. The lettering indicates the shape of the core. It really does sit at the very centre of what the Vitus is all about and in the latest amplifier also provides an impressive 300 watts (at least) with extensive and complex modifications to the voltage regulation aimed at reducing noise at this critical stage. This leaves an even inkier black backdrop. But, perhaps the more notable differences between this and the amplifier it succeeds come in the preamplifier section. When you make as many products as Vitus does and arrange them into different categories, upgrading each of them as time passes will undoubtedly incorporate a degree of trickle-down technology. This means a constant striving towards new levels of perfection across the whole range. As one component is improved, so the next level will also be undergoing experimentation to raise performance. No company embodies this quite like Vitus. As such, the ultra-low-noise power supply in the R1-101 is further complemented by the inclusion of the high-resolution volume control from the SL-103 and MP-L20. The whole section of the amp that handles the inputs is improved too. The result is an amplifier that builds on the original with noticeably increased resolution. It was this that caught my ear as I made my way through my Steely Dan renaissance.