As is the custom, the power transformer for this phono stage is in a separate and more compact, but equally well finished case with a switch on the front. Connection is via a modern looking umbilical lead, and the VIDA is supplied with a metre long cable. Build quality throughout is very high. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this is the same sample that ‘did the rounds’ four years ago, but except for a bit of damage to the woodwork, it’s in great condition. I should also mention that the input sockets are rhodium plated; a small touch but a nice one that promises better conductivity than gold and – unlike silver – long term shininess.
Listening commenced with a Transfiguration Proteus moving coil aboard an STST Motus turntable (the latter also distributed by Puresound). This proved a particularly sweet combo. The fact that the Proteus likes a very low 10 Ohm impedance undoubtedly works in the VIDA’s favour. But it’s a great cartridge and here delivered a combination of power and finesse that was beguiling, thanks to a slight emphasis on the midband that brings out vocals a treat. The VIDA is quite tube-like in character, combining rich tonal rendering with clear open highs and fluid yet clearcut basslines. In multitracked recordings it’s easy to hear the different layers in the mix and to pick out the various instruments and effects but this doesn’t undermine an overall musicality that’s very engaging. And it ‘times’ well; not as well as the best, but well enough to pull you into the music and focus your attention on the groove. Imaging is good for the price as well, with an excellent recording of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ [España, NSO, Chasing the Dragon], the voice stands out from the orchestra with considerable solidity and presence. The orchestra fills out the soundstage with ease and brings the vitality of the performance into the room. It is a very good recording, but you need everything in the system to be sorted to hear all of its scale, dynamics, and charm. The dynamics are perhaps the area that could do with some bolstering – gain is not that high and with a low level recording, I have to wind up the wick quite considerably to get some energy into the room.
Patricia Barber’s ‘Postmodern Blues’ [Modern Cool, Premonition] is another great recording that again is allowed some dynamic range and thus needs a bit more gain than the VIDA (and my admittedly passive preamp) can muster. But it still sounds captivating because there is so much feeling in the voice; all the nuance and inflection that Barber brings to the piece is clearly presented thanks to good low-level resolution and an effortless rhythmic backdrop. The double bass solo reveals much more timbre than usual and it’s impossible not to appreciate just how much poise this band possessed. Tom Waits [Swordfishtrombones, Island] also manages to get out of the speakers into the room rather well, in fact to an uncanny degree. Again it’s the timbre of voice and instruments that grabs the attention: the guitar, vibes, percussion, and ‘is that a mandolin?’ all take up space in a large, focussed soundstage.
Moving to a more familiar record player – the Rega RP10 with Rega Aphelion MC – ups the timing to the next level, in fact without comparison it’s hard to hear how it could be improved in this regard. With Mop Mop’s Isle of Magic [Agogo Records] the decay of a big, skinned percussion instrument is remarkably well resolved, as is the echo applied to other instruments that has rarely raised itself above the parapet. Contrasting the VIDA with my Trilogy 907 reference makes the latter sound more like a solid-state device than usual. It has a crispness to highs that doesn’t seem as natural as the VIDA, but it could just be avoiding roll-off. This extension does widen the soundstage beyond the speakers, however, making me inclined to think that the Japanese stage does have a smoother top end than is strictly neutral. Overall, however, and with this turntable and cartridge the VIDA wins the day with its relaxed yet well resolved presentation, and with strings in particular it seems highly natural, making the competition seem a little grainy. Even the dynamics are a bit better with this cartridge set at the higher impedance setting, which is conveniently the same figure as Rega recommends.