Vinnie Rossi

State-of-Art amplifiers hand-built & tested by Vinnie Rossi personally out of the USA.

Modular design expert Vinnie Rossi has announced the new L2 range-topping electronics featuring a dynamic series of DHT valve - L2i Integrated amp, L2i-SE Signature Integrated amp, L2 Signature preamp and L2 Signatute Monoblock amplifiers.

Vinnie Rossi For the past 15 years, Vinnie Rossi (initially forming Red Wine Audio in 2004) has established an enviable reputation for unique audio circuit designs, top quality craftsmanship, hand-built production in the USA and sterling customer service.

Professional writers and end-users alike have reviewed his creations in print and online only to overlap by extolling their exceptional performance, superior value and considerate options that allow customers to buy what they need rather than face fully loaded production builds by default.

Fast-forwarding to the second half of 2018, Vinnie Rossi introduced his finest components to date, the L2 Signature Preamplifier and Monoblocks.

In 2019 Vinnie Rossi released his all new L2i Integrated and L2i-SE Signature integrated amplifiers together with new L2 plug-in modular DAC and Phono to complete the L2 amplifier series .

Throughout 2019, multiple L2 reviews confirmed that now the brand is now competing against, high-end, esoteric ‘cost-no-object’ challengers from all around the globe, yet still maintains its forward-thinking high-value roots.

One reviewer even asked why none of the larger and more established tube electronics manufacturers had not managed to design such an uncompromising and purist design as the direct-heated triode L2 Signature Preamplifier.

For Vinnie Rossi, approaching premium two-channel audio design from a fresh perspective is at the core of his ethos. In an industry flooded with the same old design topologies that have been circulating around for decades, he chooses to demonstrate his genuine passion for his craft with innovation.

The Vinnie Rossi company is located in Holden, Massachusetts, USA.

To many audio enthusiasts, well-executed Directly Heated Triode (DHT) circuitry is the Holy Grail in terms of preamplifier design. Vinnie Rossi has implemented a DHT circuit in its new flagship L2 Class-A preamplifier which features patented Belleson super-regulated, dual mono linear power supplies.

The valve compatibility is quite wide and includes the 2A3 (matched Gold-Grid versions included), 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 DHT varieties with one-switch filament voltage selection.

Twin 100VA toroidal transformers and a 100,000 micro-farads capacitor bank form the solid L2 power supply.

The L2’s all-important volume control features a discrete 64-step resistor ladder attenuator incorporating high quality Pickering England silent signal relays.

The ultra-wide bandwidth design is also modular, as per company credo, and can accept the L2 phono stage and L2 DAC modules. The L2 DHT preamplifier caters for one balanced XLR and two single-ended RCA inputs. Outputs are one each in single-ended RCA and balanced XLR with a Neutrik-style jack socket for remote triggering when connected to the L2 monoblock amplifiers.

The hand-built L2 monoblock amplifiers are as simple as amplification gets in terms of exterior features. The high quality heavy gauge CNC-machined chassis is plain yet beautifully anodised while the single WBT NextGen copper binding posts, IEC socket with incorporated fuse and on/off switch, single-ended RCA and balanced XLR and ‘Trigger’ socket are all that are featured. The L2 monos are in quarter-sized format making for space-efficient multi-amplifier installations.

The monoblock amplifiers feature MOS-FET devices and a single ‘custom-wound’ 500VA power toroidal transformer per chassis in an ultra-wide bandwidth Class-AB topology. A capacitor bank of over 100,000 micro-farads is used while efforts have been made to keep the signal paths as simple and short as possible.

The new Vinnie Rossi L2 products are manufactured in the USA and hand-built and tested by Vinnie Rossi himself. 

The company offers a 10 year warranty. 

All Products

Reviews

All Products

Integrated amplifiers

VR 01 IA L2
NZ$ 24,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
REVIEW SUMMARY: I" had the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier in my system for many months, and I listened to hundreds of LPs during that time. I can’t pick out two or three that stood out. I...
L2i Features (Linestage/Preamp)     Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth, dual 6SN7 octal...
REVIEW: Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re probably aware...
Integrated amplifiers
VR 03 IA L2SE
NZ$ 35,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
At RMAF 2018, Vinnie Rossi introduced his NEW L2 Signature pre-amplifier and L2 Signature monoblocks with a dose of Aphex Twin. Almost a year on in 2019, Rossi has put all three (pre + 2x monos) into...
L2i-SE  Features (Linestage) Vinnie Rossi’s latest Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth directly...
REVIEW: I spent
Integrated amplifiers

DACs

VR 05 DC L2 DAC
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
NEW MODEL PLUG-IN DAC MODUALThe L2 DAC is our latest, statement-level DAC (d-a converter) module that allows music to flow in an effortless manner that mirrors true analog playback with its highly...
Bit-perfect playback at sampling rates up to PCM 768kHz (16, 24, or 32 bit compatible), as well up...
DACs

VR 06 PH L2 PH
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
NEW MODEL PLUG-IN PHONO MODUAL2 Phono is our new, statement-level phonostage that we designed in collaboration with Brian Lowe of Belleson (patent owner of the Belleson super-regulators used...
Inputs: 1 set of Moving Magnet (MM), 2 sets of Moving Coil (MC) Built-in, on the fly MC remote...

Preamplifiers & Line-stages

VR 08 PA L2 PRE
NZ$ 31,000.76 ea (incl. GST)
Likely the world’s first example of extreme performance derived from absolute circuit reductionism, the L2 Signature Preamplifier brings an unmatched listening experience. We configure only one...
L2 SIGNATURE PREAMPLIFIER features: Vinnie Rossi’s latest Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth directly...

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

VR 10 AM L2 MONO
NZ$ 28,500.00 pr (incl. GST)
Vinnie Rossi’s flagship power amplifier design, the L2 Signature Monoblock, draws the listener deep into the music with its completely natural and engaging sound signature.  Its superb linearity...
Ultra-wide bandwidth, Class AB MOSFET topology. Very short signal and power paths. Custom-wound,...

Reviews

REVIEW SUMMARIES

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2018

“Warmth and midrange smoothness were the strengths of a Vinnie Rossi/ Triode Wire Labs / Harbeth loudspeaker system…

Drums and percussion were depicted with excellence, the low tones of piano and instruments were conveyed with perfection, and the artistry and emotion of all concerned came through loud and clear.

In fact, the brilliance of music and interpretation was such that, for one of the rare times in my 15 years at audio shows, absolutely no one left the room or even fidgeted during a long piece of relatively obscure, heart-rending German lieder that was impeccably sung with deep feeling. This is a tribute not only to Vinnie Rossi, Harbeth, and Triode Wire, but also to the quality of show attendees whom Vinnie tends to attract. Thank you, one and all.” 

Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile

RMAF 2018 – Best in Show Sound

(Room 3018: Vinnie Rossi with Spatial Audio and Anticables)

“It’s rooms like Vinnie’s and Clayton’s that really are “the energy” for that audio show feeling.

… Bass was massive and natural — and by natural I mean it was like real thunder, not a facsimile, or one of those pesky apartment neighbors who just got “Sub-Woofer: The Movie” on Blu-Ray.

…The mid-range and treble was as effortless as anything I had encountered this year at any of the shows. Not to say it was out-right the best, but it was spooky in how it loaded the room and held voices inside the image when needed but allowed the vocals to show space when the recording demanded it.

…When we talk about ‘Best-In-Show’ sound, I can’t help but take into account that what I heard here at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is not only a few extra inches of performance, but a few feet worth. How many other speaker and electronics brands can admit they’ve made those kind of gains?”

Eric Franklin Shook, Part-Time Audiophile

(Room 4024: Vinnie Rossi with Harbeth Loudspeakers and Triode Wire Labs)

“Insight was available by the boatload. Bass attack, fast, but not bloated or overly thumpy. Mid-range, what I consider to be signature Harbeth, but turned upward and wider that I know from my previously smaller Harbeth experiences. Treble was where, for me, things shined. The insight came from imaging that hung afloat in the middle of the room like an apparition.”

Eric Franklin Shook, Part-Time Audiophile

 

“In the Spatial Audio room, Clayton Shaw was debuting his statement speaker, the Lumina L2 along with  Vinnie Rossi’s ‎L2 Signature Preamp and Monoblock System that he was debuting. This was some of the best sound at the show.

“This is one of the systems at the show that really got my motor running. The whole system didn’t cost what many of the speakers at the show sold for, and it sounded better than most. It was dynamic, open, had emotional energy and was very natural sounding. These were great debut products.” 

Jack and Becky Roberts, The Audio Beatnik

 

“The slide guitar-infused Plowin’ Mule track by Doug MacLeod posted almost ghost-like focus for each instrument in the music field. It was certainly hard to tell where the speakers were placed, and if pressed to gander a guess, I would have implied a location much further back, behind the somewhat close, actual placement of the 40.2s. A fun party trick? An expensive hollowed gesture to scare trick-or-treaters? I say nay. Raw craftsmanship from two brands that gel together for power when needed and grace unyielding. Best imaging and focus of the show for me.

Brian Hunter, Audio-Head.com

 

 

“RMAF Best of Show”

“This was one of those rooms you could sit and listen all day and never get fatigued. Vinnie had them [Harbeth 40.2s] dialed in and his new L2 DHT Preamp sounded terrific. You also won’t meet a friendlier bunch than these guys!”

Mike Bovaird, AudioShark.org

 

“Great Rooms of RMAF 2018”

“Lovely sound, typical of Harbeth and its legendary status. Great bass, too… Vinnie Rossi continues to make some of the most intriguing electronics, highly adaptable and sounding superb. Very good and reasonably priced.”

Anthony Kershaw, Audiophilia

* * * Link to more RMAF2018 show coverage and pictures of the Vinnie Rossi L2 System debut!

VINNIE ROSSIE LIO REVIEW SUMMARIES

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…a game-changer

“The base price of $4,875 USD for the [LIO Integrated] amplifier alone is a steal, but at $12,660 USD for all the options listed above – in one chassis – it is criminal for this level of sonic musicality.”  Rafe Arnott, PartTimeAudiophile.com (“Best of 2016 Award”)

“…the sheer fact of the LIO was undeniable. It’s different. It’s great. And with the unlimited upgradability, the value being offered has thrown down the gauntlet in the ring of today’s high-end.”  Scot Hull, PartTimeAudiophile.com (“Best of 2016 Award”)

 

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LIO roars! 

“If one wants the fragrance of direct-heated triodes pure… I’ve not heard or seen anything more powerful than this.”

“…Gives new meaning to the term plug ‘n’ play. It’s even more flexible and fun and useful than we knew when it first bowed. In my book, all of that—and whatever might be coming down the pike for it —makes it the one of 2016. ”

Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com (“2016 Component of the Year Award”)

 

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“…Musically Satisfying”

“Right out of the box, the Vinnie Rossi LIO played music that flowed smoothly and silkily—and was noticeably more quiet and grainless…”

“The LIO was extremely good at getting out of the way and letting this music have its way with me.”

“To my ears, it delivered the best of tubes (color, vividness, liquidity) and the best of solid-state (quietness, control). Its highly adapt­able modular design combines a fashionable Italianate aes­thetic with near-state-of-the-art sound.”

“If there is a more innovative and musically satisfying integrated ampli­fier than the Vinnie Rossi LIO, I have yet to experience it.”

Herb Reichert, Stereophile (“Class-A Recommended Component 2015, 2016, 2017”)

 

          

“I was impressed…”

“Sonically I found the LIO to be a highly transparent and extremely low-noise component that allowed the music to pass through it unscathed.”

“I was impressed by the LIO’s overall level of finesse and transparency.”

“The LIO consistently delivered music in a way that focused on the music.”

Steven Stone, The Absolute Sound (September 2015 issue, “Editor’s Choice Award 2016,” TAS 2017 Buyer’s Guide)

 

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DAR-KO Awarded!
“…tonality, timbre, textural detail, and finesse and, most of all, tonal density – the LIO takes it…
The LIO not only bundles speaker amp, head-amp and phono stage inside a single chassis, it keeps power supply to all three isolated from mains noise to wring stellar performance from each.”


John Darko, Digital Audio Review 

 

 

6moons


LIO’s first professional review gets the coveted LUNAR ECLIPSE AWARD from 6Moons

It’s smart, handsome, changeable and fun. And it’s ultra hip…”

“…Unique…its novel play’n’plug concept of hifi legos [is] cool.”

“…the LIO by Vinnie Rossi gets very high marks. What’s more, you save yourselves thousands…”

“…Box count, functionality, future-proofiness and, first and foremost, value. No matter which direction you approach it from, LIO is a remarkable heavy hitter.”

“Rather than being set in stone, this concept is flexible, adaptive and ‘open source’. When you add it all up, the conclusion to this lengthy assignment really wrote itself as predestined and inescapable. When all the moons align as they do so very very rarely, we call it a Lunar Eclipse award.”

Srajan Ebaen, 6Moons.com

 



“…LIO can do it all.”

“…clarity is beyond anything I’ve heard at home.”

“…tone was brilliant, clear and sweet.”

“Any way you want it, the Vinnie Rossi LIO can deliver the best sound from your LPs, digital files, headphones or speakers, LIO can do it all.”

Steve Guttenberg, The Audiophiliac/CNET

 

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From the Newport Beach 2015 show report:

“…the new Vinnie Rossi LIO integrated amp would be my early pick for the best sound of Newport 2015.”

Herb Reichert, Stereophile

 

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Most Significant Product Introduction:  Vinnie Rossi’s LIO modular integrated amplifier

“By far the most innovative single amp, preamp, and integrated amp I came across at the show was this hybrid unit, the LIO Modular, designed by one Vinnie Rossi”

Paul Seydor, The Absolute Sound (Newport Beach Show 2015)

“Build and sound quality are extremely impressive, so the LIO would be a cool product to own purely on the basis of its sound. It hyper-versatility, though, give it multi-purpose capabilities few other components I have seen could every hope to match.”

Chris Martens, The Absolute Sound (SoCal CanJam 2015)

 

bestinshow2015v2


Best In Show, RMAF 2015

“…at the end of the day I’m still dreaming about the sound of the LIO/Harbeth system. Paired with the LIO the sound was spectacular.  Seamless top to bottom. Open, clear…but with great bass and dynamics. The LIO is doing all the right things…”

Lee Scoggins, Part-Time Audiophile (Rocky Mountain Audio Festival 2015)

“…that room was magical. Paired with the new Vinnie Rossi separates, I was gobsmacked.”

Scot Hull, Part-Time Audiophile (Rocky Mountain Audio Festival 2015)

 


…easy to recommend.

“Awe inspiring and terrific tonality.”

Frank Iacone, Headphone.Guru (Impressions from Newport Beach Show 2015)

“The Vinnie Rossi LIO is very easy to recommend.”

Aaron Kovics, Headphone Guru

 


…No noise floor – Zero

“Very black backgrounds… Voices and violin/string tone were sensational

…no noise floor – zero. The dynamics were stunning especially noticeable on drums/percussion and horns, low level details revealed easily.”

Kemper Holt, Enjoy the Music (Impressions from Capital Audio Fest 2015)

 

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Ten Significant Products:  Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2014

“One of the biggest headaches for audiophiles who use digital products is obsolescence. Often a brand new cutting-edge device turns into a boat anchor overnight as newer formats become available. Vinnie Rossi… has come up with a solution that is so unique…”

Steven Stone, The Absolute Sound

CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

Customer Feedback


“…She’s a keeper.”

“…you can really feel that it’s a labor of love. This thing doesn’t exist just to exist, it exists because Vinnie wanted something better.”

“…she’s a keeper. Good work, Vinnie…a spectacular achievement indeed!”

brh / Audiocircle.com


“…S P E C T A C U L A R ! “

“I’ve had my LIO for a couple days now and thought you might like to know my initial impressions. In a word … S P E C T A C U L A R !”

“right out of the box the LIO is performing well beyond my expectations. I want to thank Vinnie for putting together what is likely to be the best piece of audio equipment I’ve ever owned. I’ll be selling off my old components and now useless cables in the coming days so I can spend the extra money (and time) on music. I couldn’t be happier. Keep up the good work.”

timkolacny / Audiocircle.com


“…I am loving it”

“I first heard the LIO at an audio show in the fall of 2015. It was amazing. I decided that I needed that sound in my room. Four months later I am loving it!

SteveKi / Audiocircle.com


“…a day and night experience!”

“My apartment, a 100year old building with ancient wiring and transformer pole right in front. Hum, and other noises being a major problem ever since I moved in 15 years ago… The LIO’s independent power supply sounded like a thorough solution… Wow, was that a day and night experience!”

4003 / Audiocircle.com


“…natural, non-fatiguing, robust…”

“What’s most striking for me is the tonal balance at any volume level. I listen a lot at lower volumes when I’m not doing critical listening, and the presentation can still make me stop what I’m doing and tell myself “this really sounds good.” The LIO excels at letting the music come through in a natural, non-fatiguing, robust way. There is a body to the music, a density that is simply addictive. From top to bottom, a cohesiveness. Just a real pleasure to listen to music through the LIO. And of course with the ultracapacitor power supply, the unit is dead quiet. I couldn’t be happier.”

anicca / Audiocircle.com


“…LIO fleshed out the sound.”

“The LIO, right out of the box, trumped the Bakoon on clarity – which was amazing – both for speaker and for headphone listening. However, to my ears, the biggest improvement was how the LIO fleshed out the sound.”

trcks / Audiocircle.com


“…the detail without losing any dynamics.”

“I highly value low level detail… and the LIO is the best I have experienced in this category. Listening to Sibelius’ Symphony no. 5 right now and I hear all the detail without losing any dynamics. Very, very happy. The LIO replaced a Musical Fidelity Integrated amp which had a lot more WPC and was fine but not close to the musicality of the LIO.”

cmvinyl22 / Audiocircle.com


“…exceeds my (high) expectations…”

“LIO exceeds my (high) expectations by a huge margin, and this product and company deliver more value than any audio purchase I’ve ever made, among many. It truly meets my needs now, and for the future, perfectly.
Many thanks and kudos to Vinnie Rossi”

TomS / Audiocircle.com


“…I respect it and value it.”

“I live in the UK and it feels like I am dealing with the corner shop at the end of my road – local and personable. I truly don’t know how he does it, however two things I do know for sure – I respect it and value it. On top of that his products are great and as an original LIO owner he is breaking new ground. Wonderful product. Respect to Vinnie is all I can say.”

CMcGolpin / Audiocircle.com


“No regrets.”

“I went into this wanting to get as close to analog sound as I could get. I had auditioned lots of other DACs and speakers (Heed, Direct Stream, Resonessence Labs, Metrum Acoustics), and I would have been more than happy with the LIO being at that level. The LIO got to a place I had never experienced digital in any setup, it was a full being there in the music that I had only ever experienced with analog. Here I was hoping for something to bring musical enjoyment and ease of use, instead I got what for me was a real auditory shift in getting about musical enjoyment. There are now things in my current system that the vinyl just can’t do, just as there are things the vinyl can do. But for the first time the LIO put digital on a level playing field with just a different perspective on emphasis. No regrets.”

karastav / Audiocircle.com


“Vinnie is great to work with…”

“The appeal of the LIO: Simplicity of one unit. Off the grid power. I can customize the LIO and replace the modules myself. Any future improvements are easily added. Everything about the LIO is high quality. Ten year warranty. Vinnie is great to work with and if there are any questions or problems, he is right there to help you.

Most importantly, all my music sounds really good. The system is now much more engaging. I’m even enjoying my older music on less than ideal recordings.”

postman131 / Audiocircle.com


“…rings all the right bells for me”

“…focused, pure, tonally dense, transparent and dynamic. In addition to great sonic performance, the LIO is a looker . . . and helps feed an ongoing process of simplifying my life.

Congrats on a great concept and excellent execution, Vinnie – thanks!”

Timbana / Audiocircle.com


“Truly a home run in every way!”

“I’ve owned my LIO for a couple months now, and there isn’t a day goes by that it doesn’t make me think about more ways to simplify… the LIO is just so darn good at everything I’ve asked it to do so far (MC phono stage, tube preamp). Truly a home run in every way!”

TomS / Audiocircle.com


“…great customer service…”

“I am getting GREAT sound with my LIO hooked up to KEF LS50s. Can’t say enough about the great customer service as well.”

mcanaday / Audiocircle.com


“…I find it highly addictive”

“To sum it up, the LIO was a massive upgrade to my system and I couldn’t be any happier. The LIO has absolutely no trouble driving my speakers [PSB Synchrony One, 4-ohms / 88dB sensitivity]. It is very realistic and detailed but most importantly it is incredible enjoyable to listen too and I find it highly addictive.

Vinnie was extremely helpful, responsive and insightful with his advice during the whole purchase process as well as after. Really outstanding customer support which for me just rounds off the package to be an really outstanding deal.”

SL / Audiocircle.com


“And best of all, Vinnie…”

“LIO is amazing in two ways. I can swap out modules and have some fun with different configurations. The sound quality of the LIO in the configuration I now own is superior to anything I have ever owned. The system really meets my expectations. I’m thrilled!!! And best of all, Vinnie… He’s just so darn friendly and responsive. I don’t know how he finds the time to respond… Thank you for a great experience!”

catmansound / Audiocircle.com


“…a man/business of the utmost integrity…”

“When you buy a LIO you gain access to a man/business of the utmost integrity and blazing intelligence who can clearly explain his system (designed for demanding audiophiles) to a non-hobbyist, freely gives non-sponsored unbiased advice on components/peripherals when asked, goes out of his way to build modifications… I could keep going on.”

Larry Kyoto / Audiocircle.com


“…hands down the best customer service…”

“Although we’re ultimately in this hobby for the music, knowing that the manufacturer has your back is immensely comforting. Even among some stiff competition, I’ve had hands down the best customer service experiences for my LIO.

I’m a huge fan of the optionality the LIO provides, as well as the opportunity to grow it as my budget allows. Thanks again!”

writersblock / Audiocircle.com


“…very impressed…”

“I have been very impressed with the LIO. I was looking for a relatively simple and integrated system for superior stereo music listening in my bedroom, with the capability to drive both speakers and headphones. The LIO solved these needs and much more! The MOSFET AMP turned out to be plenty powerful enough to power my speakers, so it precluded the need to buy an additional amp. Additionally, I loved the ability to add only the necessary modules and to upgrade to new modules in the future. And of course having clean power was a major plus.

As many others have already mentioned, Vinnie was extremely helpful throughout the entire process, which became another reason to buy – supporting an independent business and a gentleman who stands behind his product. Vinnie took the time to answer the many questions I had, always polite and never condescending.”

sbj23 / Audiocircle.com


“…romantic flavor.”

“I bought my LIO to substitute my Devialet 200. I think the Devialet is a great machine… however, I felt something was missing – I did not feel engaged, not falling into the music. With the LIO I get that engagement; I can easily appreciate and get emotionally connected to the music. The most important aspects behind my decision were the LIO’s “tonal density” and more “romantic” flavor.”

Lutry / Audiocircle.com


“…LIO is a wonder product…”

“Purchasing from Vinnie is a pleasure. He is a flat out honest man with impeccable integrity, customer service, and accessibility. When you add that on to the flawless execution and build quality of the LIO as well as Vinnie’s skill with voicing, the LIO is a wonder product in my opinion. The honeymoon period has been long over with my LIO and I like it more now than when I purchased it.”

schw06 / Audiocircle.com


“… a game changer”

“The LIO power supply has a clear and unmistakable advantage… in bass definition, control, and extension. ”

yardbird4 / Audiocircle.com


“You owe it to yourself…”

“Owning a LIO turns my analytical mind off and I get lost in the music more easily than anything I’ve ever owned before (and unfortunately there is an extensive list). In my opinion that is the ultimate endorsement. If that’s your goal, you owe it to yourself to at least investigate the LIO.”

schw06 / Audiocircle.com


“…I am loving it”

“I first heard the LIO at an audio show in the fall of 2015. It was amazing. I decided that I needed that sound in my room. Four months later I am loving it!

SteveKi / Audiocircle.com


“…biggest surprise has been the total compatibility…”

“So far, LIO has exceeded my expectations. I would say the biggest surprise has been the total compatibility with other gear, including my tube amp and a variety of sources. LIO slipped into my system as though it belonged there all along. The reviews convinced me that LIO configured with the AVC module would be very transparent. The reviews were correct.”

CSI / Audiocircle.com


“The LIO can do no wrong…”

“As one of the early adopters of the LIO, I’m happy to report that I’m still in love with it and have zero plans to change it. After decades on the merry go round of swapping out expensive components and cabling looking for my unicorn, I have finally found something that makes me happy every time I turn it on, no matter what I’m listening to. The LIO can do no wrong and excels at pretty much every thing that matters – staging & imaging, PRAT, accuracy, instantaneous current, whatever. It works well with every speaker I have used it with (ProAc, Sjöfn, Devore, and Harbeth to name a few)…”

timkolacny / Audiocircle.com


“Sonically…the ULTIMATE SOLUTION!”

“Sound is outstanding and the customer support of Vinnie is unparalleled.
Sonically the LIO is for me the ULTIMATE SOLUTION! I’ve never before had a comparable unit. I’m impressed and Vinnie thank you very, very much.”

hubi / Audiocircle.com


“…blacker background and a lower noise floor.”

“I have been exceedingly happy with the performance of the LIO with all of the equipment I have used with it. [LIO] offers a blacker background and a lower noise floor. There is no tube hiss whatsoever from the LIOs 6922 tubes; this is one of the only components I’ve owned that I would characterize as sounding truly ‘transparent’. The other thing I want to mention about my experience with LIO is regarding Vinnie Rossi’s service. Frankly, I couldn’t ask for better. Every question I had prior to purchase (and there were dozens, including a few rather long phone calls) were answered with patience and with an ear obviously bent towards really trying to help me.”

nnck / Audiocircle.com


“…headphone AMP with the internal DAC is so magical.”

“My spouse is pretty much an unofficial interior decorator. So the ability to customize the color was really important to me – she detests matte black components. When we got the LIO (white with silver knobs), she said we didn’t even have to put it in the console but could leave it out. I was floored.

If I had to list my favorite parts of LIO in order it would be:
1) The knowledge that Vinnie is awesome–I hope to make an audio show when day and shake his hand.
2) The form factor and upgradability so that as I and LIO grow, I don’t have to lose my initial investment.
3) That headphone AMP with the internal DAC is so magical.”

CarterB / Audiocircle.com


“The purity…is addictive.”

“Owning the LIO also helps feed an ongoing process of simplifying my life. It’s calming to replace the clutter of multiple power cords, interconnects and component boxes with a single box. And, it didn’t hurt at all that, after replacing my other components and cords with the LIO, I walked away with approximately $6,500 in my pocket… and a system that I prefer.

The purity that results from coupling full-range drivers (no crossover artifacts) to the LIO (clean, natural sound with no power supply hash) is addictive.
I want to thank Vinnie for sharing his vision, execution and superb customer service. Much appreciated, and much respected!”

Timbana / Audiocircle.com


“…artists’ work laid bare.”

“In a nutshell I can only say that I long ago forgot about “listening to the gear” with Vinnie’s offerings. You listen to the music you own never for a minute thinking it should sound any other way, nor wanting it to. It comes from a background of blackness with the artists’ work laid bare. Keep up the great work Vinnie!”

kitten / Audiocircle.com

 
 
EarSpace w/ Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature.- see video
John H. Darko

New room, new broom, new possibilities and for the hi-fi system owner – new challenges: standing waves and suck-outs in the low-end plus soundstage smear caused by wall, ceiling and floor reflections.

I’m now two years into my first Berlin apartment and I have my listening room dialled in so that it sounds pleasing to the ear but also looks and feels cosy enough to sit in when not listening to music. I work hard to keep the electronics tidy so that the room doesn’t appear overrun with audio gear and the (judiciously-placed) acoustic panels don’t have it looking like a sound lab. The tussle between what sounds best and what looks best is closely fought and neverending.

It wasn’t always this way. I started with bare walls, hardwood floors and a slapback sound that would make the average cafe owner wince. Rugs quickly went down to cover 70% of the floor but playback from a pair of ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 floorstanders, although considerably improved, was still too swimmy, their imaging too diffuse and, in the room’s corners, standing waves too abundant.

The short-term fix – until more furniture could be loaded into the room, a larger wall of vinyl acquired and acoustic panels mounted to the (thick) concrete walls – was to pull the loudspeakers further from the front wall and the couch further from the rear for a midfield listening setup. A psuedo-room within a room. Plants were placed at first reflection points for diffusion (frequency scattering). Do not underestimate plant power.

In the months that followed, I tried this configuration firing down the room and then across it to ultimately settle on the former. Aesthetic considerations vetoed a diagonal setup despite loudspeaker soundstage and directional fire running non-parallel to the room’s walls.

It was in the middle of a similar diagonal fire test run that I caught Vinnie Rossi setting up for RMAF 2016. Only Rossi didn’t have months to play with. He had only hours. Room setup for Audio Show exhibitors must be sorted inside a day. Expediting the process, Rossi draws a playlist of twenty songs, that he knows inside out and upside down, to call ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a Marriott Hotel room configuration before moving loudspeaker and electronics to new spots and testing again.

Rossi is no traditionalist. In recent years, his LIO platform has given us high-current off grid ultracapacitor power, Integrated modularity and instant upgradabilty. His LIO Preamplifier added DHT tube linestaging for marriage to solid-state amplification for the best of both worlds.

Catching up with Rossi at RMAF 2018 at the same Marriott Hotel but a larger room, the East Coaster had gone with a straight firing but midfield loudspeaker placement to put several feet between the Anniversary Edition Harbeth 40.2 and the front wall bench that housed his ALL NEW L2 Signature Pre-amplifier and L2 Signature Monoblocks.

A month later in New York and at another audio show, Rossi again gave the 40.2 midfield room placement to minimise the negative influence of any front-wall/window reflections. Plants were positioned at first reflection points to work as diffusers.

And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a billion.

Darko.Audio video editor Jana Dagdagan spent the weekend at the Park Lane Hotel next to Central Park for her Earspace YouTube channel to capture Rossi’s L2 Signature electronics and the (binaural) sound of music as they played into the Harbeth loudspeakers, all in a less-than-optimally looking/sounding hotel room.

I’m sure you will agree that visually and sonically, Dagdagan’s video is a treat for the senses, one that does proper justice to the luxury nature of Rossi’s handiwork and his room setup skills:

Note - see video in separate link

what I heard here at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is not only a few extra inches of performance, but a few feet worth.

SUMMARY: The mid-range and treble was as effortless as anything I had encountered this year at any of the shows. Not to say it was out-right the best, but it was spooky in how it loaded the room and held voices inside the image when needed but allowed the vocals to show space when the recording demanded it. Again, a scale thing.What I was hearing my first go round was the bass. Gone was the boxy boom. Bass was massive and natural — and by natural I mean it was like real thunder, not a facsimile, or one of those pesky apartment neighbors who just got “Sub-Woofer: The Movie” on Blu-Ray. This was a rumble that seemed like it entered the room from out in the real world and gave no mind to the walls and windows in it’s way. 

RMAF 2018: Spatial Audio, Vinnie Rossi, Innuos and Anticable; a nomination for Best-In-Show sound

The Story

Starting at the source, the Innous ZENITH which is directly a more affordable version of their SE model, and spiritually their reference Statement model. The ZENITH is no slouch by any means, — seriously, it has three linear power supplies, it is not a toy — but the ZENITH is also not the company’s most refined offering. I want you to know this, because I especially took note of this once the music started playing. It shouldn’t sound this good, but here we are and there it does. The ZENITH’s purpose in the Innuos lineup is to bring down consumer costs while still out-performing when compared to similarly priced in-market competitors.

Then we come to Vinnie Rossi’sNEW for 2018 — L2 Signature Pre-amplifier which is Class-A “ultra-wide bandwidth” directly heated triode (DHT) pre-amplifier, which means that instead of the run-of-the-mill output tubes we all know and love, the DHT design allows Vinnie Rossi to expand into more exotic and truthfully more fun, and yes… more expensive tubes. But who cares about expensive? If you do and you are here, you probably needed to turn around and go home whilst at the Denver Airport.

The L2 pre-amplifier is compatible with 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, SV811 and other 4-pin HDT families of tubes, which means the tube world is now a much sexier place to be with the Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature pre-amplifier in it. More features include dual-mono power supply with Belleson super regulators, a discrete 64-step ladder volume control using Pickering England silent relays, and finally as an option — a DAC module at $3,495 USD that does 32-bit / 768khz, DSD up to DSD512, using dual AK4977EQ converters, a (of course discrete) Class-A output stage, buffer and re-clocking, and more stuff I don’t understand, otherwise I would be doing and not writing.

The L2 Signature Mono-block Amplifiers at are not as complicated to understand. They are Class-A/AB Mosfet in topology, output 75 watts into 8-ohms, and 140 watts into 4-ohms — and before you ask — yes they are 2-ohm stable. Power supplies are taken directly from the US Navy’s Seawolf Class of submarines, okay, okay, maybe not true, but it sounded good. Are you still awake? — 100,000uF of low ESR power supply rail capacitance and each with a custom-wound 500VA power transformer. Wrap it all in half-inch thick aluminum, and slap the rear with a few WBT and Neutrik connectors, and now you’re in business.

Now we come to the part of the story where doubt, bias, and “speaker bigotry” enter the scene. Open baffle speakers have a history of being either A) a DIY thing B) a sound not for everyone C) a gimmick. With all of that “history” hanging over the heads of guys like Clayton Shaw (and others) who are making a legitimate case for open baffle loudspeakers to be taken seriously in certain hi-fi circles. Not only does Spatial Audio have to impress, they must impress against bias. Have they done so in recent history? I would say yes. But only to a point. They’ve made a splash in terms of refining what was once almost entirely a DIY hobby and of course for those who have already accepted “the DIY open baffle sound.”

The biases I have encountered against open baffle speakers run deep, and typically because in the upward battle of changing minds, I don’t think we’ve ever had an open baffle speaker reach the heights of Best-In-Show sound in the audiophile historical record. Think about it. If you’ve only ever compared to what sounds “good enough” in the pickiest of hi-fi circles (be them press or show attendee) then you’ll be seen as having limits, and therefore a gimmick. All of that is about to change.

The Spatial Lumina L2 is a 3-Way, open baffle, servo dipole loudspeaker featuring a top mounted 96db sensitive X32 Coaxial driver (that’s 12-inches of mid-range, and a 1-inch exit compression driver). Dual 12-inch servo controlled woofers (per speaker) which are self-powered and corrected by mono-block servo amplifiers. Impedance is the nominal 8-ohms, with a 6-ohm minimum, and at 48-inches high and 150 lbs each, they are no more intrusive than a pair of stocky 5th graders (sans the cell phone bill).

The Sound

The Spatial Room was a great way to end a mediocre Friday for me. I had made my way up to the 11th floor and down the shifty stairwells during my first quick pass, all the way down to Room 3018 before I really heard something to get excited about. It’s rooms like Vinnie’s and Clayton’s that really are “the energy” for that audio show feeling. You are either excited about them and sit for way too long listening and making requests, or it sets fire to your feet and you are now on a mission to find better or similar rooms to sonically wrestle away your opinions. I was feeling a bit of the former.

What I was hearing my first go round was the bass. Gone was the boxy boom. Bass was massive and natural — and by natural I mean it was like real thunder, not a facsimile, or one of those pesky apartment neighbors who just got “Sub-Woofer: The Movie” on Blu-Ray. This was a rumble that seemed like it entered the room from out in the real world and gave no mind to the walls and windows in it’s way. I like to think of this as bass scale. The servo subs, had this in gobs.

Bass is more than just thunder however, and where bass becomes musical I found the speed and immediacy of the servo controlled bass section to be damn near perfect, and for what I feel is a credit to the open baffle design, still on that higher scale than what box speakers can provide. None of that pulling-in that box speakers do when going up the frequency range. Speaking of servo bass, I lack the understanding of why more speaker builders don’t take advantage of this technology. It is corrected woofer performance, and I get that it is possibly just a matter of designers not knowing how to do it, but it surely would solve a lot of problems that speaker manufacturers have when it comes to system electronics matching options for the end user.

I leave the Spatial room, knowing I will come back Saturday with more exhibit room experiences under my belt. Saturday arrives and I’ve already met a few people who were impressed with Room 3018, and a few that were less than willing to have me drag them down to hear a Spatial open baffle speaker. But I insisted, and I can be quite convincing. Upon my return, I listened longer and deeper, and I gained a few new impressions. The mid-range and treble was as effortless as anything I had encountered this year at any of the shows. Not to say it was out-right the best, but it was spooky in how it loaded the room and held voices inside the image when needed but allowed the vocals to show space when the recording demanded it. Again, a scale thing.

When we talk about Best-In-Show sound, I can’t help but take into account that what I heard here at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is not only a few extra inches of performance, but a few feet worth. How many other speaker and electronics brands can admit they’ve made those kind of gains?

When a new audio item brings tears and goosebumps at 1AM you know it is good. The L2iSE is without question the best amp of any kind. It’s beautiful, sexy and sounds like it came from the heavens.
Steve Huff

SUMMARY: When a new audio item brings tears and goosebumps at 1AM you know it is good. My Octave has not done that for me and while amps of the past have, none have been at the level of the Vinnie Rossi L2iSE.
To be clear, this integrated sounds better than anything I have heard in 30 years. It allowed me to enjoy more music as it seemed to make anything I ran through it sound magical. Plenty of power, 300B in the pre-amp stage and a holographic yet powerful presentation that gave me what I have been missing in my system. 
I said in my Luxman review that it could be an end game amp if I let it. This L2i SE IS WITHOUT QUESTION a fully end game integrated amplifier. It will end your upgrade disease, it will make you smile, and it will give you a pride of ownership that doesn’t come with all audio gear. It is a special piece and at one point last night as I was transported to a different place during listening I said “this amp is worth every penny of its asking price, maybe even more”. This amp is no joke. When I first heard the cost of this amp I knew there was no way I would be able to ever acquire one. I also had no idea that it was as good as it actually is. I can say that after listening and listening and listening more now I have realized this integrated amp with DAC is well worth the asking price. It has muscle but also finesse. It pulls details yet does so with elegance and a human touch. It is an expensive amp but sounds every bit of that expense, and that is not always the case with high end audio. It’s an investment but only for those who keep their gear long term. This is not a piece you will buy, tire of in a year and sell. It is a lifetime piece IMO.
This amp took my 30 years of HiFi experience, threw it away and showed me what a well designed “cost no object” integrated amp could sound like. As good as I thought some of my previous systems were, this is next level, My experience with serious DAC’s range from a PS Audio Direct Stream to a Chord Qutest. The DAC in the Rossi amp is much much better in my system. As good as the Chord is, the DAC in the Rossi made it sound dark, muffled and closed in. The Vinnie Rossie optinal DAC is the most detailed yet fluid dac I have heard. It’s not bright nor is it bloated or warm. Listening to “Sara Smile” from Hall & Oates Live in Dublin album it feels like I am right there at the show and by the time the guitar solo kicks into high gear I am in awe as this song didn’t sound so hot with my Octave or even the recent Raven audio amp I reviewed. With the DAC in the L2iSE it gave massive life to this recording and now it sounded just as good as any other song I loaded up with this wonder amp.

REVIEW: Vinnie Rossi L2i SE Integrated Amp Review with L2 DAC. A Magical Experience awaits. 

NOTE: This initial review will be all about the sound quality of this integrated amp. I review audio like I review cameras…with real world use. I do not dig into specs and details as I believe it’s all about the sound, the music and the experience. Also, I placed an order for an L2i SE immediately after I posted this review (same day). When mine comes in (January) I will add more to this review as well as post a video review! Enjoy.

As many of you are aware, I also write audio HiFi reviews from time to time, and in 2020 will be spending more time reviewing audio gear for those who enjoy reading about the gear I am able to test out. If you are interested in HiFi, you can see my list of ongoing reviews. For 2020 I have decided to improve my system a little so I have a reference setup when comparing other items and gear. Just to note, this is my system as of December 2019

  • Octave Audio V40se and Black Box integrated amp (German made tube amp with oomph)
  • Dynaudio speakers
  • Swisscables Diamnd cables
  • Chord DAC
  • Modded Sonos Connect for Streaming 

As of this writing I am 100% happy with my main audio setup in all but one area. The amplification. It’s wonderful as is but I have heard better here in my room without question. The Octave V40 SE  is nice but not the sound signature that I fully enjoy or prefer (though many out there do). It has oomph and slam but lacks finesse and the all out holographic imaging I am used to when I sit down and truly listen to and enjoy the music. So I have been eyeballing getting a new integrated, and possibly one that I could call a true END GAME so I never have to worry about upgrading again. Seeing that I just hit 50 in 2019 I need something to last me for the next 20 years. Seems impossible in audio as we always search for the newest or better piece but I am serious this time. Already found the speakers and cables I am sticking with for the long term and my analog is all set as well though I listen to vinyl less and less as digital today is so so good when it’s all setup correctly and with the right synergy.

The most serious integrated amp I have ever auditioned

Today I want to talk about something new in the HiFi world. It just came out three months ago and it’s a high end product for two channel stereo listening that will set you back between $13k (base non LE version) all the way up to US$26k excl tax (loaded Signature Edition version) depending on your configuration. Expensive as all get out? Yes. Worth it? Read on to find out how this integrated amplifier not only rocked my world, it changed what I thought was possible in HiFi 2 Channel listing. I am lucky enough to have a fully maxed out SE version here for evaluation, and I have tears in my eyes right now for two reasons…and yes I am 100% serious! Ever seen a grown man cry? Lol…you would if you were here!

I am listening to this integrated amp in my system and during one song it painted such a realistic and 3 dimensional human presentation it brought a small tear to my eye as I was immersed in the music and the emotion that it delivered in my room. Then, tears wanted to flow stronger when I realized I could never ever afford to buy this amp, as I am hearing it now in it’s maxed out configuration! Lol,  just not possible for me mostly due to the fact that I am not a guy who likes to be in debt and NO, I do not have an extra U$26k (excl tax) just sitting around to buy an audio amplifier… but if I did….ohhhh man…this would be the one.

That’s the bad part about this hobby and passion…listen to items like this at your own risk because believe me when I say, and this is a spoiler, you will want this amp with DAC if you listen to it even for an hour, even for 5 minutes! It makes an impression instantly. Well, it did for me anyway. I knew within minutes I had to own this piece, but figuring out how to achieve this goal is another story and one that is “to be continued”. But I know in my heart and soul that this piece of audio art will be in my system eventually as going back to my previous amp (as good as that is in its own right) will not be fun after having this impressive L2i SE in my home.

It’s that amazing my HiFi friends, and only true nutty HiFi geeks like me will understand. I mean, you may be asking WHO SPENDS THIS KIND OF CASH ON A TWO CHANNEL AMP?!? Well, those who have a true passion for music. For the way it can touch our soul. For the way it can bring an instant connection with our heart and deliver an experience that most have never even heard or thought possible with simple 2 channel music. No you do not have to be “rich” to enjoy uber high end music reproduction, but you have to be comfy having some debt for a while if you do not have the kind of disposable cash that is sometimes needed for special pieces like this one. As for me, I only go into debt for something if it is something that will improve my life in some way so will this beautiful integrated touch my heart and soul enough for me to take the plunge? Let’s find out…

The Vinnie Rossi L2i SE Integrated Amp 

This is the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE integrated amp and I consider it a true “end game”  integrated amplifier that delivers everything I have ever desired in an integrated amp. I mean EVER. An integrated that is without question the most capable I have ever had in my room, even besting my previous favorites the Luxman 590AXii(solid state) and Line Magnetic 219ia (tube). As amazing as those two amps are the L2i SE takes it all up a few levels from those wonderful amplifiers (quite a few). So much so that I was shocked when I replaced my Octave V40SE & Black Box with the Rossi L2i SE. The L2i SE is a hybrid amp so it has a DHT tube line stage and a solid state 100 WPC class AB amp section. The best of both worlds really as the pre amp is where tubes create the most magic, and the Signature Edition has two big fat 300B tubes in the pre amp which makes it instantly visually appealing to these eyes and of course, the ears. I have always loved the 300B sound and I hear some of that magic in this L2i SE. These 300B tubes are not there just for show, they are used as the heart of the preamp, and wow…what a sound this creates. 

What is super cool is that this L2i Signature Edition Integrated features a CLASS A (preamp) directly heated triode design that ships with some EH 300B tubes but is also compatible with 2a3, 45, PX4, 101D, T-100 and other tubes in the same family. The amp is class AB (mosfet) and pumps out 100 WPC into 8 ohm and 175 WPC into 4 ohm. A true dual mono power supply is also implemented here. It seems no expense was spared here in this USA made amp. It’s a tank, it’s a beast and you can tell when you see it in person that it is built to last.

Keep in mind, I have not bought this integrated amp (yet, but keep reading for updates)) but have been able to try it out. I only demo gear when I am in the market for something and ready to pull the trigger. I’m not one to demo gear just to demo it. I have to be interested in it and in the market for it.

When I went in the other day I was in the shop looking at a Line Magnetic 508ia that comes in at around US$5k as I knew it had more “meat on the bones” than the Octave. Being a huge fan of Line Magnetic amps with their crazy cool tube configurations and designs I tried out the 508ia after owning a 219ia and testing a 518ia a few years ago. Seeing that the 219ia was my fave all tube amp, I had to hear the 508 which is double the power (48 WPC) and still a class A SET amp. The 508 sounded great but the heat issue (works like a heater in my small room) that the 219ia gave me were here in full effect so I knew it could not be an “end game” for me due to that alone. Sounded beautiful though. When I returned the 508 after 2 days of demo I was shown the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE and having seen it before, I knew it was out of my league. Even so, something about it pulled me to it..like a magnet tugging at my soul. You audiophiles out there know how it goes ; )

I saw this amp there before, and knowing it was well out of my price range I avoided it as much as I could. I have been trying to avoid crazy expensive amps, speakers, and gear for the last two years when it comes to audio. I’ve “been there, done that” but if I can be honest, my HiFi system as it is today is not as good as it once was and I miss that magic I used to have here in my system. It’s not my speakers, which are Dynaudios and it’s not my cables, which are now from Swiis cables, Diamond Range (beating Nordost Valhalla and Tyr 2) and YES cables can make a HUGE difference in sound, not always better but most always different ; )

I have been running a Chord DAC and an Octave V40SE with Black Box in my system. It sounds wonderful. Transparent, detailed, and spacious. With that said, I feel the Octave gives a cooler presentation, a more “dry” presentation over other amps I have owned. Compared to my all time favorite solid sate amp, the Luxman 590 AXII, the Octave is not as velvety, not as liquid, not as organic. It does have slam, energy and drive though and sounds more solid state than tube. It’s a wonderful amp, German made and all premium parts but with my Special 40’s I found myself missing the sound of the Luxman and even the big 219ia. Even so, I said “I will not spend more, this is good enough and I will be happy”! .

Then I found myself not listening as much to my system as I used to because the sound was not up to what I enjoyed in the past (I am spoiled and that’s not good). Hmmm. Whats the point in having all that money tied up in a system if you do not listen to it very much?  I knew I needed a different amp to bring back the 3D soundstage, the reach out and touch it vocals and the late night low volume listening sessions that bring on the goosebumps. My recent cable purchase helped with this quite a bit but it still wasn’t enough to get me where I ultimately wanted to be.

As I discussed this with Glen he suggested I try the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE at home in my system. I told him “THAT IS WAY WAY out of my Budget, I can’t”! He then informed me that pricing starts much lower than what his demo model costs. The demo was fully tricked out as it was the SE model, and he had installed the phono stage and DAC which are extras that can be added anytime via DYI. Two 300B tubes were up top and the look, build, design of this piece is modern yet bold. It is beautiful in the flesh and looks every bit of the “hand made in the USA” that it is. This is like a Bespoke item in its quality, even down to the stillpoints for it’s feet that would set you back $1k on their own.

if you choose the non SE model. This base model will come without a DAC (so if you already have one, no problem) or phono stage and with 6NS7 tubes over 300B so the pre amp will be different as well. When he told me this option I was intrigued as I also have a trade in that could go towards the cost (Octave & Black Box & Chord DAC) of this beast, making it an easier purchase. I thought if I could get in with the base base 6NS7 unit, I could later upgrade and buy the DAC module, which is plug and play. So yes, doable if this amp sounds as good as it looks. One thing I saw was that this SE model comes with a huge ten year warranty so some of the cost of this amp is in the warranty, and that is a good thing to have. Even so, for me the expense was the only concern. Then again, I did just celebrate my big 50th birthday so maybe this could be a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. Hmmm.

I decided to give it a try and figured if anything, I could write up an article about it, maybe make a video while I had it on loan. I loaded up the fully loaded L2i SE into my Mini Cooper and took it home.

I arrived home after a 40 mile drive and as I emptied the box I had my Octave V 40 SE running and all sounded wonderful and pleasing. I questioned why I was doing what I was doing? Sure, I was not 100% happy with my system as I have heard it sound much better but it was sounding fantastic and sort of close to as good as it ever has gotten. Yet here I was with a $25k+ integrated amp, on my floor in a box that was about to go against an amp I have about $4k in. Hardly fair, but should be interesting to say the least. This is the kind of thing that makes the hobby fun.

The remote is all metal, solid and allows you to do everything from your listening spot

I carefully unboxed the Rossi, lifted it up and put it I place. Not nearly as heavy as the Line Magnetic I tried earlier in the week but very hefty and felt like a tank with an amazing build quality. I hooked up my cables and first tried it with my Chord Qutest DAC, of which I have been really enjoying with my Octave. The sound was big, had some balls and yet sounded a tad off. It was so different from what I was used to I had to really sit down and dig in as to why it sounded so different from my Octave.

The first few songs were sounding great but to be honest, not a HUGE improvement over the Octave. It was better, especially in the bass which was tighter, deeper and had much more slam. No boom, but rather super tight rhythmic bass yet it seemed a little closed off and I did not understand why.

I decided I was safe and would not be upgrading! Phew, saved me some serious money…BUT then I did this…

I swapped out the Chord dac and used the dac inside of the L2i SE. Uh Oh.

Oh my how things changed. It was night and day dramatic and no contest compared to the Chord that I loved so much when paired with the German made Octave amp. I listened for a bit and due to the noise in the other room (TV was playing loud) I decided to wait until late night where I can have 100% quiet in the house and then dim the lights to enjoy some of my favorite test music. Beautiful music. It was obvious though that synergy that was there with the Octave and Chord DAC was not there with the Chord DAC and Rossi. I believe this is because the Octave amp is on the lean and cool side so the Chord DAC which is more thick, bass driven and fat sounding went well with it. Since the Rossi is no lightweight when it comes to bass, the Chord was too much of a good thing and not a great match, so I would do all of my listening from here on out with the internal DAC module of the L2iSE.

Later that night…

When I powered up the Vinnie Rossi at midnight in my listening room, using the built in DAC module everything changed. Before I go into details I will say that what I heard gave me chills, had me go get Debby (my wife) out of bed to see if she heard what I was hearing (as I truly had an experience that I never had before while listening). Seeing that she rarely hears the same things I do when it comes to imaging, soundstage, details, air, 3 dimensionality, etc I had to sit her in the sweet spot as she HAD to HEAR THIS! There was no way she would say it sounded the same as before. As I listened before I went to get her she was hearing me say aloud “WOW’…”HOLY COW”…”THIS IS CRAZY”…as she was in bed, lol. So I think she was even curious herself.

I sat her down in the room so she could hear what I heard…and she is no audiophile. She is happy listening to her iPhone speakers with music.

I cued up “Otherside” from Perfume Genius as she loves this song, yet she has only heard it on the TV or through her iPhone speakers. 

As she sat listening, I soon saw her close her eyes, then a huge smile. She rocked gently and when the song was over she said “WOW..NOW I GET IT..that was BEAUTIFUL”! SHE HEARD IT! Ahhh! I am not kidding you when I say that the sound coming from my speakers and my room was THE MOST magical I have ever experienced in my lifetime. Sure, I have waxed poetic about previous integrated amps on these pages but this is next level for my ears. Not only does the soundstage expand to my walls left and right, it expands to the damn ceiling and then back behind me at times. Front to back is DEEP and I have never experienced this kind of immersion with 2 channel audio, using the same tracks I have always used to test and SIMPLY USING a modded Spotify Connect as my streamer! My speakers dissapeared more than they ever have in my 30 years of HiFi. Ahhhhhhh! “This is what $25k buys you” I said to myself..and then I thought “this is just perfect”. Not sure how Mr. Rossi has done it because this is a huge step up from anything I have heard, even when visiting shops that have even higher end gear than this. Something about this integrated and my speakers and my cables just CLICKED as if they were meant to be paired together. I can tell you that if you want an instant magical audio system and have a small to medium sized room check out this L2iSE integrated, Swisscables diamond speaker cables, and Dynaudio Special 40 Speakers. You will be in audio heaven.

But Damn. Let’s see, an amp or a new car. Truth be told, I’d much rather have an amp like this than a new car.  I’m happy with my Mini Cooper and want for nothing more in a vehicle. It’s also paid for ; ) I would get much more enjoyment from this amp than any car, any boat, any kind of other large purchase, even a dream vacation or a in ground pool (which I put in 4 years ago, we never use and that cost US$10k more than this fully loaded SE amp does at full retail). How about the amp or a limited edition Leica M Camera set for US$25k? Nope, the Rossi would be my choice as I listen to music more than I take photos these days. An amp like this will last much much longer and deliver much more enjoyment over the long term than any of those other things, for me. Your mileage may vary.

I can buy two of these for the price of one Vinnie Rossi L2iSE ; ) But which would give me more enjoyment? Easy. The Rossi. 

I wish you guys reading could have heard what I was hearing as I sat late night listening to the music that just appeared in my 12X13 room like magic. You could look direct at the speakers and swear sound was not coming from them, but rather emanating from the room itself, from space. It was as if my room became a speaker with some music that was recorded very well.

I have heard immersive soundscapes from 2 channel audio with good speakers, cables and amps but never like this. I attribute it to not only the amp but the cables from SwissCables which are truly remarkable. SwissCables are not well known in the USA but they should be, as they best all other cables I have tested and for less money than those other cables. The Diamond line from Swiss is also next level. Lifetime cables you buy once and never want for more. That’s what they did for me and again, without the cost of a Nordost Tyr 2 or Valhalla 2. If you are curious, Took a few weeks to order in but they are so so worth it. If you want to see more details on them, let me know in the comments and I will work on that next.

Speaking of lifetime, this Vinnie Rossi LSiSE is a next level lifetime piece of audio gear and when I read the SE comes with a ten year warranty, it started to sink in that while expensive it truly is worth the asking price for what it offers the person who can attain this level of amplifier. I said something similar about the Luxman 590 AXII, and I stand by that but will also say that this piece is above the Luxman when it comes to detail, soundstage, vocals, presence, holographic sound, 3 dimensionality, and it gives a very realistic human presentation..emotions…palpable sound. It has balls yet delicacy at the same time. It’s super balanced and also has the best separation of instruments that I have experienced. I am a VERY picky audio nerd. The Luxman differs in that it offers up a more mellow presentation, more relaxed and it has less rated power. In every other way the L2iSE rises above the mighty Luxman but both are gorgeous amps. The Luxman comes in at around $9,000 and is made in Japan. It has no DAC but does have a phono stage that is quite capable.

Pumping out 100 WPC while using 300B tubes in the pre amp stage, here is how Vinnie Rossi describes his latest SE integrated:

“Unlike the L2 Integrated Amplifier (L2i), which runs a simpler 6SN7 linestage, the L2i-SE inherits from our L2 Signature Preamplifier the direct-heated big power triodes. Only one pairof the finest sounding 4-pin, directly heated triodes (DHT) are run in a dual-mono, class-A, grounded-grid topology with zero feedback. They feed a true dual-mono, high-bandwidth class-AB MOSFET output stage making the L2i-SE a DHT hybrid integrated amplifier and likely the only one of its kind in the world!

There are absolutely no compromises on bandwidth, phase, speed and directness, nor any distracting effects of driver tubes, coupling caps or output transformers to reproduce music with intense spaciousness, harmonic sophistication, liquidity and detail well beyond small triodes and pure transistors alike. 

You get the same flexibility as the L2 Signature Preamplifier (flick-of-a-switch tube rolling, tube bypass mode, L2 Dac and Phonostage options) and the full-function L2 remote handset. Merging all of this with superlative build quality, reliability and a 10-year warranty make the L2i-SE a striking single-chassis proposition that sits just one step below our flagship separates!”

So yea, this is just below the flagship separates and it sounds like a true flagship product. It IS a flagship integrated without question and seeing that it’s one of the most costly integrated amps out there we should expect this quality. But this amp does excel at spaciousness, sophistication, flow, liquidity and detail just as the marketing text states. It’s stunning.

As I sit here today and write these words I have the system running and am in awe at how much better it drives my speakers than the Octave does, and the Octave is no slouch at all.

I used to have a Luxman 590 AXII with a PS Audio Direct Stream DAC and Bridge and LOVED IT! That set up cost $16k. So which would I prefer between the two setups in my room, and with my speakers? The Rossi without question as I am hearing things I truly NEVER EVER heard before in my music, and it offers me more power and WOW factor over The Luxman/PS Audio combo.  Also, ALL music sounds fantastic with this setup, even bad recordings had my foot tapping (though the L2iSE can not perform miracles. Flat will still sound somewhat flat. As for good recordings? Goosebumps all night, a few tears (yes music can get to me emotionally) and it had me up until 4AM listening on the first night with it. No fatigue but at this level you should never get fatigue from listening.

What I heard in my first late night four hours of late night listening was pure audio magic, but even more than that I was part of the music. I had the artists in my room and could envision them right here and now. Guitars sounded so clean yet visceral, jazz was unreal, vocals were textured and present and I could hear every little detail in the voice yet the voices were full, huge, rich and 3D floating in space where I felt the artist should have been. Heavy Metal? THIS AMP made my Special 40’s ROCK and even vibrated my couch at times, without ANY boom (I do not use a sub). It was quite the amazing feat. This amp can SLAM you as well as SERENADE you. It’s like a Jeckal and Hyde in that sense. It is wonderful at low volume night listening as well which is a must for me (the Octave is not as good in this area).

Dynamics are superb here. From a whisper quiet passage to a loud booming complex arrangement the amp never faltered, and neither did my little special 40’s. The sound from a breath or explosion was either intimate or bombastic as they should be. Never had an amplifier here that could do this so well. Strings have texture, voices have gobs of texture and there is a spaciousness to the sound that is very rare and hard to experience with other amps I have heard. It’s also the quietest amp I have had in my system and equal to the Octave and Black Box in this regard (The Octave is Silent as a mouse). There seems to be more reverberation that adds to the spaciousness but it is not creating this, it is pulling it from the recording. I remember experiencing something similar back in 2000 when I had a set of Cary Audio 805 Mono Amps and never heard it again until this Vinnie Rossi amp.

Making the Special 40 even more Special. 

It was obvious that this amp powered my speakers to a level I never heard before. I thought the 40 watts of the octave amp was amazing but now I understand what it means when some say more power equals better control of the speakers. With my other amps and these speakers there would be at times, flabby bass. boomy bass. I thought it was my room but when the L2i SE was in place there was more bass but never any boom! The speakers were controlled as they should be, and bass was quick, fast and powerful. I never realized that these speakers could get better but they did with this amp in ALL areas. I have had 300 w in here before via a McIntosh and did not like the sound so much. It was dull, boomy bass, and had no air or magic to the sound. Just grunt. I like power when it is refined and sounds natural. It does with the L2.

After another morning filled with music I sit here with a dilemma. I have been trying to stay more minimal in my dedicated audio room and system. Trying to stay at 1/3 or 1/4 the price of what I had I previous times when I felt I spent way too much on gear. I still have a “reference system” but after listening to the Vinnie Rossi piece I realized I have been missing A LOT. Musically, emotionally and the overall satisfaction that comes from a truly magical two channel system.

I’ve been into 2 channel audio for over 30 years. I have had a system since I was 16 and am now 50. I have been blessed and lucky enough to try many amps, speakers, cables and enjoy this hobby to the fullest. Every now and again something special comes along that blows me away but in my 30+ years of audio, this Vinnie Rossi L2i SE has had the biggest impact on me, more so than any other piece of audio gear I have ever heard or owned.

Now I will try to justify ME purchasing this lifetime integrated amp. Hehehe. 

I believe we should live life in a way that makes us as happy as long as we can swing it. If we enjoy something, and it’s something we are passionate about then there’s nothing wrong with enjoying whatever that is. To upgrade to this SE integrated amp, for me, would probably take $15-$18k after trade in and a few weeks wait to get the product.  That’s the price of a decent used car (though I already have a car, and it’s paid off). That’s the cost of a down payment on a house (My home has been paid off for several years). One could also upgrade their cables to something pretty serious, and yes, cables will even help lower end speakers come to life. My cables cost around 2X what my speakers yet they took them up several levels from the Audioquest GO-4 I was using prior. I’m good with cables, speakers, stands and my basic analog turntable setup. The only area I am not 100% with is my amplification.

This Vinnie Rossi L2i SE took what I thought I knew about HiFi over 30 years and turned it upside down and inside out. I was NOT expecting it to be as good as it is and had no idea it would elevate my listening experience to the level that it did. When a new audio item brings tears and goosebumps at 1AM you know it is good. My Octave has not done that for me and while amps of the past have, none have been at the level of the L2iSE.

Truth is I do not want this amp to leave my house EVER. The thought of bringing it back and waiting weeks for an amp I would purchase hurts my soul, lol. ; ) While I am kidding (sort of) the wait for a new amp like this would make this 50 year old feel like I was back in 1978 Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa to deliver my Atari 2600 video game system. This time, being more mature and having refined tastes, I would love for a new Vinnie Rossi L2i SE to be under my tree this Christmas.

I have spoken in the past of amps that could be lifetime amps for ME.  The Luxman 590 AXII and the Line Magnetic 219ia. The reason the 219ia did not stay with me was due to the extreme heat those 845 tubes put out in my small 12X13 room. With Phoenix AZ summers hitting 120 degrees at times, running an 845 amp was not working well. The Luxman left as I was selling my entire system due to a move to a new house (that eventually fell through due to a sewage line issue, and had me feeling dumb for selling my $30k worth of audio gear) and I decided to use the money from the sale to go towards the new house for a chunky down payment and scale down my audio dramatically. I missed that Luxman ever since and thought about getting another but after hearing the L2i SE and realizing it beats the Luxman for me and my tastes in my room (and with my setup) I have decided I will do my best to acquire this integrated amp no matter what it takes. If I have to sell other items I own that do not get used, so be it. Trade in? Yep.

To be clear, this integrated sounds better than anything I have heard in 30 years. It allowed me to enjoy more music as it seemed to make anything I ran through it sound magical. Plenty of power, 300B in the pre-amp stage and a holographic yet powerful presentation that gave me what I have been missing in my system. The cost is insane for mere mortals but I look at this like I always looked at cameras.

I enjoy Leica cameras, always have and have reviewed them here for 12 years, yet they are expensive with some models costing US$22,000 with one lens! An M10P and Noctilux for example. I enjoy Leica due to the experience they offer. The Beauty in the design, build and image quality. They speak to my soul where other cameras do not. So yea,  I have paid over $22k for a Leica setup years ago. I didn’t think anything of it as I had the money at the time. So why do I question a purchase like this for audio when I am just as passionate about music as I am about taking photos? Well, because no matter what it is you are buying, this kind of cash FEELS insane to spend on one electronic item no matter how you try to justify it.

It’s a mental thing. I think we feel we are not supposed to pay this kind of money for things other than cars and homes. Yet every day people spend this kind of money on watches, boats, and yes, even WINE. If something will last you 20 years, or in this case the rest of my life, then it may be a GREAT investment. 20 years of enjoyment, of satisfaction, of not worrying about “what is better” and 20 years of immersive 2 channel music listening.  I am 100% happy with my Special 40’s and have been since they came out. I am happy with my Turntable and analog setup. If I buy the Rossi amp, I will be happy with it as there truly is nothing better that I have heard or have an interest in even trying out. It would mean an end to “upgraditis” when it comes to amplifiers. Imagine that. Just as the Leica SL put an end to my Camera search and lust for many years, this amp will do the same if I am able to acquire it. There’s no where else to go for me and my room. This would be a true end game setup unless a day came that I lost my hearing and had to give up 2 channel music or God forbid, I lost everything and had to sell.

I said in my Luxman review that it could be an end game amp if I let it. This L2i SE IS WITHOUT QUESTION a fully end game integrated amplifier. It will end your upgrade disease, it will make you smile, and it will give you a pride of ownership that doesn’t come with all audio gear. It is a special piece and at one point last night as I was transported to a different place during listening I said “this amp is worth every penny of its asking price, maybe even more”.

If you can afford it and have the funds for something like this and you are passionate about your two channel audio then I can not recommend any piece of audio gear any higher than this. If you are tired of the upgrade game, tired of spending a fortune on multiple cables and want end game quality in build and SOUND then this piece is what you may want to audition. Load it with the optional DAC module and optional Phono module and you can sell your expensive interconnects as they will not be needed. ; ) I have always said we do not need to spend a fortune on audio to enjoy it, and this is 100% true. One can get a system for $1500 total and enjoy it all day long and for many years, but to those who want the ultimate in performance and are willing to invest in audio, this product proves there are many ways to climb up the HiFi ladder when you are ready to do so.

I did check out the phono stage briefly inside the SE and will write more on that later but it was good, really good. Made my vinyl sound bigger, fuller, and was just so pleasing and it retained the 3D image as well, just as the DAC did. While my Analog rig is more basic (Technics 1210 GR and Ortofon Bronze MM) this phono stage in the L2i SE made it sound much more transparent and larger than with my phono stage from Shiit audio.

Listening Notes: 

Sunday Walker by the Villagers. Surreal vocals that seem to be in the room, dead center. It’s haunting with the trippy music going on all around the room that seems to have no boundaries. This sounds beautiful and the music seems to appear from a space from within the room itself and not the speakers. I am getting an amazing huge sound that is detailed yet rich at the same time. Fat yet never warm or muffled. Never heard anything this good in my lifetime and this is from speakers that cost a fraction of what the amp cost. With the L2i SE and the Swisscables the Special 40’s sound like $20k speakers. This is so cool. Had a friend over and he was shocked at what he heard and said “This is at least 5 levels up from the best you have ever had in here”.

You needed love, I needed you by Angelo De Augustine. This acoustic vocal is expansive with an in the room feel and the voice is so detailed and velvety smooth and wide. Quite the experience at 2AM in the dark.

I WOULD by Kan Wakan – Oh man this one has some serious spaciousness going on and the vocal is so pure, so clear, so rich, so textured that is pops out into the room while the guitar and reverberation trails drift off to the sides and into the room boundaries. When the bass kicks in look out! It was felt by me at my listening position but again, it never was booming or out of control. This amp controls the speaker so well the bass is tight and powerful. It hits when it should and does it with authority. At the 3 minute mark it really kicks in and creates a wall of sound that just easily and effortlessly fills my space. This alone sold me on this amplifier.

Round Midnight by Mel Torme. An oldie but in a way I have never heard it here in my room. The separation of the channels is intense with this amp. It is no only dead silent, you can truly feel that 300B tube at work here as the vocals are pure delicious MAGIC. Zero buzzing, Zero noise, Zero hiss. This amp is DEAD QUIET! The piano plays to my extreme left as Mel croons in the middle and at one time seems to walk to the right just before the horn comes in. This is a masterful recording and performance and best heard in the dark with a glass of scotch, though I prefer Absinth in this situation ; ) Also, there is a weight to the piano which gives it a very realistic tone and timber. Just beautiful.

Amazing Grace by Maneli Jamal. You must hear this instrumental performance and with the L2iSE running the show it felt as if I was being hugged by a wall of guitar strings that reverberated throughout my entire listening space. Volume at only 26 and I was inside the song. The most magical acoustic instrumental music experience I have had here yet. This amp is blowing me away by taking these songs I know well and presenting them in a way that I never heard before (in a good way).

HEROES by Chip Taylor. Possibly the BIGGEST, RICHEST and most HOLOGRAPHIC vocal ever recorded. When I closed my eyes I cold almost see Chip in front of me singing. The guitar strums to my left were floating about a foot in front of the speaker. This is a song that is about as 3D as it gets in two channel audio and if you want a great song to test this in your own system, give this one a listen. It should be huge, detailed yet smooth, with a wide expansive soundstage. When it kicks in there should be no confusion and you should be able to hear every little nuance in Chip’s weathered voice and the instruments floating around the room and even above the speakers. Bass should be full and throaty in the voice and when the music kicks in, it should be huge, full and produce a solid wall of sound. The L2i SE did this effortlessly as if it was saying “no problem Steve, bring it on”.

THIS THING MEANS BUSINESS

This amp is no joke. When I first heard the cost of this amp I knew there was no way I would be able to ever acquire one. I also had no idea that it was as good as it actually is. I can say that after listening and listening and listening more now I have realized this integrated amp with DAC is well worth the asking price. It has muscle but also finesse. It pulls details yet does so with elegance and a human touch. It is an expensive amp but sounds every bit of that expense, and that is not always the case with high end audio. It’s an investment but only for those who keep their gear long term. This is not a piece you will buy, tire of in a year and sell. It is a lifetime piece IMO.

This amp took my 30 years of HiFi experience, threw it away and showed me what a well designed “cost no object” integrated amp could sound like. As good as I thought some of my previous systems were, this is next level.

The DAC module in this amp is also without question the best DAC I have heard, and yes, DACS sound very different from one another when you start to get into the high end (US$2000 and up range). My experience with serious DAC’s range from a PS Audio Direct Stream to a Chord Qutest. The dac in the Rossi amp is much much better in my system. As good as the Chord is, the DAC in the Rossi made it sound dark, muffled and closed in. Things I did not notice until I heard the DAC inside the L2i SE! If I were to buy an L2si SE it would be with the dac without hesitation. It created the largest 3 dimensional soundscape I have ever heard and I mean side to side and up and down and front to back, with some recordings. I also think the Swisscables help this as well as they were a huge improvement in the area over my previous Audioquest cables. With this amp they are a home run so what I describe here also pertains to these hand made Swiss made cables. They are astonishing.

The optional DAC is the the most detailed yet fluid dac I have heard. It’s not bright nor is it bloated or warm. Listening to “Sara Smile” from Hall & Oates Live in Dublin album it feels like I am right there at the show and by the time the guitar solo kicks into high gear I am in awe as this song didn’t sound so hot with my Octave or even the recent Raven audio amp I reviewed. With the DAC in the L2iSE it gave massive life to this recording and now it sounded just as good as any other song I loaded up with this wonder amp.

After just a couple of days with this amp I put my Octave back in and wow. I miss the L2iSE already.

The Octave is fantastic but the L2i SE is just so many levels up, as it should be. Look at the cost difference. The Vinnie Rossi flagship Integrated L2iSE is hands down without question the best amp of any kind I have had through my room.  I have nothing bad to say about this amplifier. It’s beautiful, sexy and sounds like it came from the heavens.

I will own one. I see a black one with DAC in my future. I may even get a tattoo of it on my arm ; ) (kidding)

Thanks to Arizona HiFi for loaning me this amazing Amp to check out. They had no idea I would write a review (or buy one) but was happy to do so as this amp truly got me excited. When that happens, I write to let anyone else know about the experience. We will see if I am able to swing the purchase of this amp. I may have to move a few things (sell) as well as trade in my Octave and Chord DAC but in the end, it will be worth it if I can ease my mind about the credit card bill I will have for quite some time. The enjoyment this will bring into my life for years to come may be worth the little stress of a credit card bill. Again, at 50 I am now looking to settle down with a long term audio system as I have grown tired of playing the upgrade game for so long. At this point in life, I am all about “buy once, keep for a long time”. I have also settled in with cameras and no longer have interest in the constant upgrade game. Time to live life and enjoy what I have and feel blessed for being able to enjoy the things in life that I do enjoy.

What the hell I think I will do it. I will end this now so I can send a message to and say “I WANT IT”. More to come…

UPDATE: I ordered one of these L2i SE integrated amps (in black) from my local dealer immediately after posting this review.

The L2SE will be an easy adjustment for your reference gear. it could live in my system forever - an Audiophilia STAR component
ANTHONY KERSHAW

SUMMARY: Adding this fantastic bit of kit will elevate your musical experience into regions you have yet imagined. Sure, it’s expensive, but did you see that parts list? However, it’s the sum of the parts and their implementation that produces the sublime sounds.
I have not heard stellar and expensive preamps from the likes of Boulder Amplifiers (the legendary 2110 at US$55,000; I may get to hear one at the end of this month), but I expect the L2 should placed on the same dance card. It could live in my system happily. Forever. Very highly recommended. 

REVIEW: Oh my, what do we have here? A full featured preamplifier from Holden, Massachusetts’ Vinnie Rossi, replete with live easy modules for digital and vinyl. And it’s not only a standard tube preamp, but one of the few starring the grail of sonic tubes, the 300B. Gold plated and a matched pair, no less. 

As a good friend in the industry continues to say to me, ’there’s always room for a full featured preamp’. Full featured, yes, but the L2 Signature is far more than that. It is full figured. And that’s not the half of it with this tank-like, but sexy behemoth from the pen of designer Vinnie Rossi. 

Rossi has received raves for the first components from his eponymous company, the LIO series, featuring a highly customizable preamp and integrated, with add on modules aplenty. The new Signature series advances his art and design acumen considerably.

The L2 Signature Preamplifier review will take place over three instalments. First, here in its primary line stage guise, then a follow up on both the vinyl and digital modules. Rather than stretch these reviews out, they will follow from my desk chronologically. Workmanship and design of this quality deserve very close attention. 

The Line Stage  

The Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Preamplifier is Rossi’s flagship design. As is typical with Rossi designs, this preamplifier is customizable. Both a phono stage and a DAC may be added to give the owner complete front end control of their digital and analogue domains. Be sure to check back for the complete look at this very functional high end art piece. 

I first noticed Rossi by his ads in other publications—each ad was exquisitely produced with high style and featured kit that caught my eye on a beauty and function level. I’m an audiophile who loves both visual and aural aesthetics. Rossi is one of those designers who obviously insists on both. All his gear is styled in a slightly retro, industrial way, but with a sheen that oozes super fine quality. Fit and finish are exemplary. Buttons and knobs are rock solid. Have you ever tested a boutique high end piece of tube kit that you worried would blow up with all that unharnessed, raw power hovering about? No worries with Rossi gear. It’s bulletproof. Nothing will go bump in the night. In fact, the soft start mutes the L2 for 25 seconds ‘till those glorious tubes are heated. No diving for the gain.

Rossi’s superb style and eye for detail also imbues his website with some of the best component photography on the web (many manufacturers, please copy).

Rossi explains the design of his L2 Signature Preamplifier this way: 

The L2 Signature Preamplifier is our new flagship design that creates an effortless connection between the listener and the music. Compatible with the most cherished of 4-pin directly heated triode (DHT) tube families, L2 delivers an unmatched listening experience with its exceptional resolution, tonality, and “reach out and touch the performer” sense of realism. Superb linearity and extra-wide bandwidth recover delicate nuances and provide incomparable texture, layering, and spaciousness. And when it comes to bass response, L2’s articulation of each and every note is phenomenal.

At the heart of the L2 Signature Preamplifier is Vinnie Rossi’s latest Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth, DHT topology powered by patented Belleson super-regulated, dual mono linear power supplies.  L2 exemplifies elegant simplicity and finesse in communicating all the emotion and passion in the music.

Each L2 Signature Preamplifier is meticulously hand-built and tested by Vinnie Rossi himself. Its no-compromise construction and use of the highest-quality components assure the listener of reliable performance for many years.

Pretty fancy writing about some metal and glass. Let’s take a look at the features and specs and get into it. 

 Features

  • Vinnie Rossi’s latest Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth directly heated triode (DHT) preamplifier design, compatible with: 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 DHT families with one-switch filament voltage selection.

  • Dual shielded power supplies with in-rush current limiting.

  • Dual-mono layout using multiple patented Belleson super regulators for ultra-quiet linear voltage regulation of the L&R triode B+, L&R triode filaments, and power to the (optional) L2 DAC and L2 Phonostage modules.

  • Discrete, 64-step resistor ladder volume control using Pickering England silent signal relays.

  • True active balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) inputs and outputs.

  • Dual 12V Trigger output jacks with on/off control switch on front panel.

  • Internal, “DHT bypass mode” switches (Replaces DHT stage with a Class A JFET stage).

  • Internal front panel display & LED brightness controls.

  • Yamamoto solid Teflon UX-4 tube sockets.

  • Solid, precision CNC machined aluminum chassis and “bank vault,” ball bearing control knobs.

  • Solid, precision CNC machined aluminum isolation base with Stillpoints ULTRA MINI feet.

  • Mesh tube covers for added noise shielding and tube protection, with matching mesh ventilation on top panel.

  • Included tubes: EH300B Gold-Grid (matched pair).

  • Full-function aluminum remote control handset.

  • Designed and manufactured in the USA.

  • 10-year warranty.

Specifications

  • Frequency Response (with stock EH300B tubes): 2Hz – 500kHz (+/- 0.5dB); 0.5Hz – 950kHz (+/- 3dB)

  • Output Impedance (SE and BAL): < 100 ohms

  • Input Impedance (SE and BAL): Approx. 10K ohm

  • Voltage Gain: 8 dB (with stock EH300B tubes); 0dB (DHT Bypass Mode / Unity gain JFET buffer only) SNR (with stock EH300B tubes): -120dB (A-Weighted), SE IN/OUTSNR; (DHT Bypass Mode): SNR (DHT Bypass Mode): -140dB (A-Weighted), SE IN/OUT

  • 12Vdc Trigger Outputs: 12V (+/- 0.1V), 200mA max (each) with on/off switch on front panel

  • THD+N (with stock EH300B tubes): Less than 0.5% (unweighted), SE IN/OUT; THD+N (DHT Bypass Mode): Less than 0.0006% (unweighted), SE IN/OUT

  • AC Input: Factory configured for 110-120Vac -or- 220-240Vac (50/60Hz)

  • Volume Control: 64 steps (approx. 1dB per step) from -∞ to +8dB; Balance Control: 24 steps from L to R (approx. 1db per step)

  • Power Consumption (with stock EH300B Gold Grid tubes, L2 DAC and L2 Phonostage installed): Approx. 65W

  • Protections: Fused AC input; MOV (AC input surge protection); Output short circuit protection

  • Dimensions (With mesh tube covers and isolation base installed): Approx. 17.25″ wide x 14.5″ deep x 8.75″ tall (438mm x 368mm x 222mm)

  • Shipping Weight: 38 lbs (17.2 kg); 62 lbs (28 kg) including travel case

Rear panel  without  the phono and DAC modules installed. Look for photos of the installed modules in the following two reviews.

Rear panel without the phono and DAC modules installed. Look for photos of the installed modules in the following two reviews.

Delivery and setup

The L2 is was delivered in a military-grade, hard travel case. If your FedEx guy drops it, no worries. This thing is solid! Unpacking is easy and Rossi sent me truly idiot-proof, step by step instructions. He knows his musicians/reviewers.

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The solid metal baseplate is unpacked first and the main unit is screwed on to it. Feet (Stillpoints Ultra Mini) are adjustable. Everything is top quality and simple to setup. 

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The main unit is heavy, so lift with legs, or, even better, have a friend set it up with you. I used white ‘tube’ gloves to press the 300Bs into their sockets. The tubes are protected by a mesh cover which is the only part of the setup I was not fond of. Getting them absolutely vertical was difficult—the mesh always seemed a little off center. Eventually, they seemed straight enough. Rossi explained them to me this way after my ‘are these necessary?’ email:

To achieve the lowest noise/hum levels, they are necessary. Different direct heated triodes have different sensitivities to noise and hum pick-up in the L2 Preamp's circuit, but I have found that no matter which of the compatible tubes are used, the mesh tube covers ensure noise/hum is essentially eliminated. If you are not the type to put your ear up to the speaker to listen for hum when no music is playing, then you probably will not need them in place.

Mesh tube cover with the glowing EH300B Gold-Grid tube (one of a matched pair).

Mesh tube cover with the glowing EH300B Gold-Grid tube (one of a matched pair).

Electro-Harmonix Gold Grid 300B tube (x2).

Electro-Harmonix Gold Grid 300B tube (x2).

The unit comes with a superbly finished remote control. The same manufacturers mentioned earlier, please copy. If you have to charge a little extra to produce a beauty like the Vinnie Rossi, so be it. I complain every day to anybody who will listen about the absolute cheap and nasty plastic piece of nonsense that came with my US$12,000 integrated amplifier. It doesn’t even have to be metal. Rega and Naim make, functional, quality, plastic remote controls. The metal Vinnie Rossi remote adds to the sense of pride owning such high quality kit. It’s a full functioning remote and can be used for the DAC and Phono modules, including switching cartridge loading and DAC filters on the fly. What a treat.

IMG_0071.JPG

My use

Rossi specifically asked me what amplifier I was going to use with his L2 Signature Preamplifier. I had a choice of three; Ayre, Prima Luna and my Jeff Rowland. Because I would have to use the bypass on my reference Jeff Rowland integrated, I thought I would borrow one of my buddy’s standalone amplifiers. It turns out, as I had suspected, the Jeff Rowland amp section of his incredible Continuum S2 integrated amp was a well nigh perfect match for Rossi’s 300B tube masterpiece. No blushes, either side. I used the Allnic Audio Mu-7R RCA Cable (review forthcoming) as bypass cables. Very high quality cables connecting very high quality components. 

The L2 unit was new with very few hours, so I played music casually for 20 or 25 hours before I began to sit down seriously. I will tell you, the preamplifier sang beautifully right out of the box. 

Because of tube warmup, etc, my protocol was the same as for the equally brilliant Allnic Audio H7000 Phono Preamplifier I reviewed a few months ago. I turned on the preamp as soon as I rose and turned it off last thing at night. The Jeff Rowland is on permanently as are the Mytek Mannhattan DAC II, Antipodes Audio Core music server and Sutherland DUO Phono (this last component doesn’t even have an on/off switch).

Before we get to the sound of the unit, a few words from our designer:

With the L2 monos being solid state, what was the thinking and choice behind the 300B for the preamp?

The L2 Signature Preamplifier is a "convertible," directly heated triode (DHT) design - the only one of its kind that I know of. By convertible, I am referring to how it allows for swapping of different 4-pin DHTs (e.g. 300B, 2A3, 45, PX4, SV811, 71A, T-100, 205-D, and others) via the filament voltage selection switch on the rear panel.

The primary goal was to use only the very best sounding of triodes (the 4-pin DHT families) in the linestage, where there is only one triode used per channel. No driver tubes.  No output transformers. No loading the tube with a loudspeaker, as these tubes are commonly assigned for in SET power amplifiers. No feedback. Just glorious, ultra-high bandwidth class A, line-level voltage amplification (~ 6 to 9dB of gain, depending on the tube used). It sounds simple and minimalist, but there is a reason why a design like this is not common - it is quite challenging to implement (especially with the incredibly low noise as the L2 Preamp).  We're talking super-regulated power supplies, 4-layer PCB design, and complicated grounding techniques that have taken a long time to perfect.  

The L2 Signature Monoblocks take this signal and give it the power to drive loudspeakers with a very linear, ultra wide bandwidth MOSFET stage that does not add the common solid-state sounding artifacts. The L2 Preamp is the heart and soul of the electronics chain. The L2 Monoblocks provide the muscle. So, unlike a typical SET power amplifiers, the L2 Preamp + Monoblock has much better power, bandwidth, dynamic range, bass impact and control—but with the attributes that I believe DHT's do better than anything else: a 'reach out and touch the performers' soundstage, rich tonality texture and spaciousness, realistic vocals (you hear a human body attached to them), top-end nuance, delicacy, and decay (better than the typical high frequency detail that any good amplifier can reproduce). 

Please let our readers know how you started in the business and your design/topology aesthetics?

I began Red Wine Audio in 2004, performing various modification services to components and also manufacturing a battery-powered, Class T amplifier (a variation of Class D using Tripath chipsets). My amplifiers that followed were class AB designs, and later they contained tube buffer stages on their inputs. The RWA product line also contained tube preamplifiers, DACs, Phonostages and headphone amplifiers—all of which were powered by internal battery packs and used external battery chargers.  

In 2014, I started the Vinnie Rossi brand with the LIO platform (a modular design topology using ultracapacitor banks), and in 2018 I introduced my flagship L2 Signature product line, which will include the upcoming L2 Integrated Amplifier (L2i) in the fall of 2019.

I have always strived to create highly innovative designs that compete sonically with more costly competition, and that are backed by stellar customer service and support. Each and every year I aim to raise the bar with my designs on multiple levels (e.g. sound quality, reliability, build quality, aesthetics, user experience), while keeping them manufactured in-house (Massachusetts, USA) and improving upon their quality and value to our customers. 

The high-end home audio design/manufacturing business has been and continues to be highly competitive. When you are a smaller company such as myself, it is very difficult to survive among giants unless you are deeply driven to create products the challenge convention and do things differently not just to be different, but because you believe that they communicate your passion and vision in this niche industry. It has already been 15 years for me (they do go fast), and while there are some days that I feel overwhelmed, there are more days that I feel like I am just warming up and there is so much more that I have in my mind that I am excited to bring to life one day.

Sound 

As Rossi suggests, the preamplifier is dead silent. No tube rush, nothing. A black background for the musicians to paint their sounds. During the break in, I had become enamoured with its sound during my standard sneak peeks. Warm, rich and refined, yet with incredible detail. All instruments shone with the most beautiful halo of vibrant sound. Vocals, too. Deep, rich, throaty. But with a harmonic ‘completeness’ to their presentation. Almost tactile. And definitely goosebump time. I could imagine the artists smiling and nodding with pride if they heard this type of playback. 

I’m guessing the 25 hours break in made a difference; it had to, right? Buggered if I know. The sound was so glorious after a few hours, I was already convinced and captivated. While playing digital files, I remember thinking ‘this preamp makes my digital sound like vinyl’. That sounds a little cliché, but there it was.

Albrecht Mayer’s oboe, for example, on a FLAC file of his new DG recording Longing for Paradise with all the air and presence I expect from good vinyl pressings. The overtones that make an oboe sound distinct (and often shortchanged on digital files) were heard in a timbre as thick as clotted cream with melodies phrased as beautifully as during his weekly Berlin Phil performances. I’m not sure whether it was Mayer’s playing or the Rossi presentation of his sound, probably both, that made me fall in love with this album? The recording also has some subtle orchestration—Elgar’s ‘Soliloquy’ orchestrated by my father’s instrumentation prof, Gordon Jacob, and played exquisitely by the Bamberg Symphony. Nothing escaped the Rossi’s musical embrace. Whether the most beautiful and moving nuance or the slightest stress on a note to make a musical point. Listen to the opening movement’s First Subject flute solo in Kirill Petrenko’s new Tchaikovsky Pathetique on the Berlin Phil’s own label to hear clearly what I mean (it’s on Qobuz in HiRes). The player makes the most subtle (and beautiful) change between the two imitative phrases at the very top of the second phrase. You won’t miss a thing. And like all great components, it draws you closer to the musicians’ intent.

The L2 enhanced my very fine digital setup, and considering the preamplifier section of the Continuum S2 (basically, a Jeff Rowland Capri II preamplifier) is outstanding and an obvious match for its connected amplifier section, it couldn’t better the gorgeous sounds the 300Bs were portraying. For sure, a completely different topology, but the way Rossi has his tubes singing is very persuasive.

It’s been my experience that some tube preamps let the side down during thunderous piano performances. No fears, here. Martha Argerich’s famous Berlin/Abbado/DG (vinyl reissue) of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was overwhelming at times. She's a powerhouse; a force of nature. And all her power was unsullied and heard to astounding effect. Piano fans will love this preamplifier. Yet, at the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the Rossi retrieved even more subtlety from John Bingham’s playing of Schubert Songs arr. Liszt on Meridian vinyl than I’m used to. I use my late friend’s playing as a test for quiet pianism; pedal, bell tones, touch, ppp voicing, etc. This was pretty miraculous as a musical experience. The LP is available on Discogs. 

But what of the audiophile eschewing bigger and better boxes. A DAC/Streamer with volume, a Qobuz account and a set of powered speakers and I’m good to go. I’m afraid in their haste to downsize, they’re missing a lot. Maybe being that skinny works for them. But great preamps like the L2 add so much to a system. Audiophilia’s Karl Sigman had the same reaction after inserting his PS Audio BHK preamp (from the mind of Bascom King) into his system. ‘How is it doing that?’. Why is it doing that?’. ‘What happened to a straight wire with gain?’. The same for my digital research of late—both Tidal HiFi and Qobuz sound so much better through my Antipodes CORE Music Server’s Roon Core than through the highly regarded Mytek streaming card add on module to the Manhattan DAC II and other streamlined digital setups I’ve heard (several at the recent Munich show, where skinny was good). Possibly, think of it as a journey between two points—one in a Chevette, the other in a swish ride. The L2 Signature is like adding a Rolls Royce to your system. 

The L2 was a lovely match to my recent build analogue system—starring the Bergmann Audio Magne turntable. However, digital or vinyl, the Vinnie Rossi fit right in and highlighted the significant qualities of both formats. I think no matter your predilections and kit, the L2 will be an easy adjustment for your reference gear. I would suggest, though, quality needs to be matched with quality in this business. Why do you think Rossi was so interested in what amplifier I was going to match with his flagship? I’d have asked the same question. 

So, check back to see if the line stage played as beautifully with its phono and DAC add on modules as it did with my reference boxes.

Summary 

Adding this fantastic bit of kit will elevate your musical experience into regions you have yet imagined. Sure, it’s expensive, but did you see that parts list? However, it’s the sum of the parts and their implementation that produces the sublime sounds.

I have not heard stellar and expensive preamps from the likes of Boulder Amplifiers (the legendary 2110 at $55,000; I may get to hear one at the end of this month), but I expect the L2 should placed on the same dance card. It could live in my system happily. Forever. Very highly recommended. 

Vinnie Rossi discusses new L2i-SE and L2i Amplifiers optional DAC 2.0 Module
Rafe Arnott

Options.

They’re essential in life, so why wouldn’t they be in high fidelity?

With the recent announcement that Vinnie Rossi has gone from a direct-sales model to that of a dealer-based network in the United States (and the appointment of Mark Sossa as the company’s sales representative for North America), Rossi looked at his options and decided to make a change.

The same could be said with his new L2i-SE integrated amplifier (10-year warranty) and L2i integrated amplifier (10-year warranty), both of which will be available this coming September and offer an optional (at time of order or whenever you want to plug it in) phono stage and DAC, both clocked.  Again, options.

The new hybrid tube/solid-state designs came about when Rossi wanted to see what he could design and build if he combined his L2 Signature Preamplifier and L2 Signature Monoblocks into one chassis. This gave rise to the two new amps with differing circuit topologies to hit differing price points.

 

L2i connectivity.

The SE features a Class-A DHT (directly heated triode) preamp section with support for 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 tubes. Dual-mono layout with patented Belleson super regulators, a discrete 64-step resistor ladder volume attenuator, true-balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, a DHT bypass mode to utilize a Class-A JFET stage and Class A/B MOSFET output stage pumping 100 Watts per channel into eight Ohms (to name just some of the tech loaded-up), while the non-SE version boasts a simpler tube implementation making use of dual 6SN7 octal triodes in its line stage.

I’m looking forward to hearing the new amplifiers, but wanted to dig a little deeper under the hood of the optional DAC stage, its design and how Rossi came to choose the components he did for its circuit topology and clock architecture, so I caught up with him this week with some questions about the DAC 2.0 Module.

Rafe Arnott: Your new L2i integrated amplifiers feature an optional L2 DAC module specified with ultra-low distortion, 128dB signal-to-noise ratio dual AKM AK4497EQ chipsets (one per channel) for up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD 512 playback. This isn’t the first time you’ve tapped AKM’s flagship chip for digital duty (LIO DAC 2.0 in 2017), how many other companies products did you try before settling on this particular implementation? Why no ESS? Why no multibit? Why no R2R?

Vinnie Rossi: The L2 DAC is essentially the same three-PCB stack as the LIO DAC 2.0, but the main voltage regulator feed for the L2 DAC is a Belleson super-regulator. I was very excited when the AKM AK4497 d/a was introduced because it has a non-oversampling, digital filter bypass mode that can be activated in software control mode (an onboard PIC microcontroller sets this when the unit is turned on). With most off-the-shelf d/a chips, you are fixed with using their internal oversampling and using one of their internal digital filters. With the AK4497, it can be run in non-oversamping mode and without having to use any of it’s internal digital filters, so I was able to implement an analog-domain filter in the Class A JFET output stage that follows the d/a conversion – one AK4497 per channel. The AK4497 also supports PCM up to 32-bit / 768kHz, and up to DSD512 (8x DSD).

RA: What made you want to adopt a modular approach to the DAC section in your designs over the past several years to begin with? What are the main benefits from a design and manufacturing standpoint and for the consumer?

 

Vinnie Rossi L2i in silver.

VR: With LIO, as well as with the new L2 Signature Preamplifier and upcoming L2 Integrated Amplifiers, the goal is to have the DAC be a modular option for our customers (the same is true with our L2 Phonostage option). It mainly has to do with flexibility. Some customers already have an external DAC that they are happy with, so they simply don’t need one or don’t want to spend the money for our DAC module, or can always add it later. Others love the all-in-one aspect of having the L2 DAC module in the L2 Preamp or L2 Integrated Amp. This eliminates another box, another power cable and set of interconnects. The L2 DAC gets it own dedicated Belleson super-regulated power feed inside the L2 component used, so it is not sharing power from other audio stages.

The other nice thing about the modular approach is the ability to upgrade at a later time if/when a new design comes out. With LIO, we offered the original LIO DSD/PCM DAC module (“DAC 1.0”) for a few years and then later developed the DAC 2.0. Close to 75% of our LIO customers upgraded to the DAC 2.0 and appreciated this level of flexibility.

RA: Inquiring minds are beguiled by acronyms and their meanings, so armchair engineers like myself wonder… you implement JFET (Junction Field-Effect Transistor) semiconductor analog outputs running discretely in Class A for the DAC section, is this because the JFET output characteristic is flatter (more critical for digital) than that of MOSFET (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistor)?

VR: JFETs and MOSFETs are fairly similar (both are field effect transistors, both have a high-input impedance and are voltage-driven devices), but yes, for line-level signals, the JFET typically has the advantages of flatter output characteristic curves and better noise performance. 


RA: The L2 DAC module is specified with an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array – another type of semiconductor) buffer and femto-reclocking circuitry to minimize the effects of jitter. Can you talk to us about your implementation of this design?

VR: For all three digital inputs of the L2 DAC, we electrically isolate from the source to minimize the effects of any electrical noise from the source. But in order to negate the effect of the source’s jitter (timing variations of its digital output signal), we first send the incoming data to an FPGA buffer to store the data, and then reclock the data coming out using our on-board, low-jitter oscillators. Timing becomes more and more critical in the d/a conversion process as the sampling frequency of the data in increased (e.g. a 44.1kHz stream vs. a 384kHz stream, or a DSD64 stream vs. a DSD512 stream). It is similar to driving a car at 60km/h on a road with a speed limit of 60km/h. You can go even faster on that road, but it becomes more difficult to actually stay on the road at 120km/h or 240km/h (less room for error). The car is like the digital data, and jitter is like the car driving off of the road when the d/a required you to be on the road to properly do its conversion.

With so many of our customers using Roon and their sample-rate conversion (for example, you can have Roon covert all your files to DSD512 or PCM 768kHz if you have enough processing power to not bog down your machine), the FPGA buffer and reclock circuitry are helpful when doing d/a conversion at these higher speeds.

RA: In your considerable experience, how much of an impact does the Belleson Super-regulated voltage feeding alll the linear regulators affect the noise floor of the digital module in particular? We often hear how critical a low noise floor is for phono stages, but I think it makes an even bigger difference to digital-audio circuit paths than analog ones – would you agree and why?

 

The L2i SE rear panel with optional Phono 2.0 and DAC 2.0 module bays.

VR: If we are talking about a DAC’s analog output stage vs. a phonostage, I believe low-power supply noise is more important for the phonostage because the phonostage is amplifying the signal 100x (40dB, MM input), 1000x (60dB, MC input), or even more depending on the max. gain of the MC input. Even the noise of the amplifying devices themselves comes into play more than with a DAC’s analog output stage, which is usually outputting around 2Vrms (“line-level” signal).

But when you are trying to come as close as possible to realizing the theoretical SNR of 24-bit playback, the analog output stage of the DAC also requires a very low-noise power supply. The Belleson super-regulators provide exceptionally low noise and low-output impedance over a wide frequency range, along with high load regulation. Their website has a section that details their performance attributes, and I used them in both our L2 DAC and L2 Phonostage.

The L2i will make its debut at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (Sept. 7-9) in room 5125, with Well Pleased AV (QLN Loudspeakers, Innuos Music Servers, Swiss Cables, Gigawatt, and SGR HiFi Racks).

Those folks loving their powerful monoblocks need not fear inhibited dynamics or power drain....they’ll be no compromises in sound, dynamics or power delivery with this one chassis solution.
ANTHONY KERSHAW

Conclusion: Pair the L2i-SE with good cables and your favorite quality loudspeaker and you’ll be set for the final path of your audiophile journey. No compromises, no buyer’s remorse. Musically, it’ll keep you guessing every time a new recording comes your way. In four months as the mover & shaker in my system, it astounded me daily with its musical ability. By its nature, the SE will give you a lifetime of musical pleasure. Very highly recommended.

REVIEW: I spent a good portion of 2019 in the company of Vinnie Rossi’s superb L2 Signature Preamplifier. My review was in three parts—the Linestage proper, the added DAC module and finally the Phonostage module. The two modules increased the price just shy of a not inconsiderable 24K. However, fewer large boxes clogging up your rack and a superior, lifetime component.

Jump to September 2019 and the introduction at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest of the new Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE ‘Signature Edition’ Integrated Amplifier, the subject of this review. The ‘SE’ improves upon his L2i Integrated Amplifier by adding matched Elrog 300B DHT tubes and other changes. The DAC and Phono modules are available for both the standard L2i and SE versions. This review is of the L2i-SE without modules. My unit was in silver. Rossi builds every SE by hand. The fit & finish is exemplary, commensurate with such an expensive, boutique component. The unit comes with a 10 year warranty.

I asked Rossi a few questions regarding the SE’s upgrades.

Hi Anthony,

1) The L2i-SE uses an entirely different (the only one of its kind) directly-heated triode (DHT) preamplifier stage instead of the 6SN7-based preamplifier stage of the standard L2i.  

The L2i-SE also features a switch on the rear panel to allow the listener to use different families of 4-pin DHTs, such as 300B, 2A3, 45, PX4, 811, and a handful of others.  The dual mono power supply rails for the B+ and heating of the cathodes of these tubes also uses custom, patented Belleson super-regulator circuits.

In terms of sound, the DHTs are the finest sounding triodes and offer improved resolution, spaciousness, tonality, and realism.  

2) I find the Elrog 300Bs deliver stronger tonal density and a more effortless top-end compared to the stock EH300B tubes.

Best regards,

Vinnie

My Use

Rossi’s first review piece shipped UPS in a Pelican case. Nothing was going to harm that component. The SE arrived in a high quality, double cardboard box with precision-cut foam for the unit’s protection. Ship and receive the expensive component with confidence. It weighs in at a substantial 27kg.

The SE was ‘delivered’ via Canada Post. Postal workers don’t write the item name and/or shipper on the delivery notes for community mailboxes. Door delivery? Forget it. So, when my wife did a post office drive by to pick up the item (usually LPs or something small from Amazon) and discovered a 60 pound behemoth waiting for her, she muttered a few choice words. With the help of a kind gentleman in the parking lot, they wrestled the box into her Fiat 500 Cabriolet. And with a hand truck and elevator, we got it into our townhouse.

Unit setup is a breeze but best to have a friend with you for lifting to be safe. Rossi always sends me a very detailed email with a PDF manual attached and personal instructions. As such, it was up and running a few minutes after I inserted the two precious, gorgeous Elrog 300B tubes into the chassis. Rossi knows I don’t like mesh tube guards blocking the look of exquisite tubes so he didn’t bother sending his. The guards are said to eliminate the very small possibility of electrical hum. I never heard any deleterious tube sound. As quiet as a church mouse.

The SE has a precision CNC machined aluminum chassis which sits atop a very heavy, metal isolation base with Stillpoints ULTRA MINI feet as standard.


Matched Elrog 300Bs retail for $1500/pair.

Matched Elrog 300Bs retail for $1500/pair.

The SE only had a few bench hours on it so I continued casual listening for a week. During break in, I never had to ride the volume control. In this Signature Edition 300B DHT version, Rossi tests for 100W RMS per channel into 8Ω (170W RMS per channel into 4Ω). Those numbers into the 8Ω Qln Prestige Three or 4Ω Alta Audio FRM-2 Celesta Loudspeakers presented no problems. I could crank up the volume to well above tasteful levels with absolutely no panic by the SE. A reminder—it is typical for 300B tubes to need a longer break in than other types; 200 hours usually suggested. I kept this in mind during the beginning phase of the review.

Functions on the faceplate are mirrored on the substantial aluminum remote control. Power, volume, source, balance, etc. Mute and module functions are on the remote, too. Lights/type on the faceplate/info screen indicate red. Want to go old school? Use the tactile knobs on the faceplate. The volume control knob is wonderfully springy, notched, and very precise (a discrete, 64-step resistor ladder volume control using Pickering England silent signal relays—approx. 1dB per step from -∞ to +8dB).


IMG_0071.jpg

As you would imagine with Rossi’s design legacy and the unit’s cost, the SE is feature rich. Yet, no superfluous add ons as manufacturers attach in the name of value—everything Rossi places on/in his chassis has a targeted function in the service of great sound.

L2i-SE  Features (Linestage)

  • latest Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth directly heated triode (DHT) preamplifier design, compatible with: 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 DHT families with one-switch filament voltage selection [a small but very important switch on the rear panel and clearly marked in the manual—ignore at your peril if switching tubes-Ed].

  • Dual-mono layout using multiple patented Belleson super regulators for voltage regulation

  • True active balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) line level inputs and preamplifier outputs

  • Internal “DHT bypass mode” switches (replaces DHT stage with a Class-A JFET stage)

  • Yamamoto solid Teflon UX-4 tube sockets

L2i-SE Features (Power output stage)

  • Wide-bandwidth, purist Class AB MOSFET topology (only one pair of output devices)

  • True dual-mono power supply with custom-wound toroidal power supply transformers

  • WBT NextGen 0703cu Speaker Binding Posts

  • Speaker outputs can be switched on/off via the front panel


L2i-SE-Rear-Silver-1 copy.jpg

Specifications

Output Power: (Tested with 120Vac input)

Output Impedance: Approx. 0.1 ohm

Input Impedance: Approx. 10k ohm (RCA and XLR inputs)

Frequency Response: 0.5Hz – 150kHz (+/- 1dB)

Voltage Gain: 32dB (with stock EH300B tubes); 24dB (DHT Bypass Mode Enabled)

THD+N (with stock EH300B tubes): Less than 0.5%

THD+N (DHT Bypass Mode Enabled): Less than 0.01%

AC Input: Factory configured for 110-120Vac, or 220-240Vac (50/60Hz)

Protections: Fused inputs for linestage and power output stage sections
MOV (AC input surge protection) 
Output short circuit protection

Dimensions (with tube covers and isolation base installed): Approx. 17.25” wide x 14.5” deep x 8.88” tall (438m x 368mm x 226mm)

Volume Control: 64 steps (approx. 1dB per step) from -∞ to +8dB

Balance control:  24 steps from L to R (approx. 1db per step)


Stunning in silver, too.

Stunning in silver, too.

Sound

I matched the SE with superb ancillaries including an Allnic Audio ZL-5000 Power Cable ($2000) & ZL-5000 Speaker Cables ($3800/pair—review forthcoming), an MBL N31 CD/DAC ($15,400) and my Bergmann Audio Magne Turntable ($13,500/with arm) through my reference Allnic Audio H-7000 LCR Phono Stage ($16,500). Cartridge duties included my reference Phasemation PP-2000 MC Phono Cartridge ($6000) and Miyajima’s Infinity Monaural Cartridge ($3375—review drops next month).

Rossi says:

The L2i-SE is our response to “what if?” What if we could combine our L2 Signature Preamplifier and L2 Signature Monoblocks into one chassis but with absolutely minimal concessions to design and performance? Could we still offer all the flexibility, build quality and stunning appearance to truly stand in a class of its own? The L2i-SE is Vinnie Rossi’s realization of that dream.

Unlike the L2 Integrated Amplifier (L2i), which runs a simpler 6SN7 linestage, the L2i-SE inherits from our L2 Signature Preamplifier the direct-heated big power triodes. Only one pair of the finest sounding 4-pin, directly heated triodes (DHT) are run in a dual-mono, class-A, grounded-grid topology with zero feedback. They feed a true dual-mono, high-bandwidth class-AB MOSFET output stage making the L2i-SE a DHT hybrid integrated amplifier and likely the only one of its kind in the world.

For sure, it’s an easy visual winner in all of Rossi’s categories. Just look at it. But the sound it produces is very special. And some of the most musically inviting, transparent, sweet and diaphanous sound I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in my music room.

The magic is mixed in Rossi’s conjuror’s hat. For sure, the very high quality Elrogs have a great deal to do with the sound—typical of superb 300Bs—but Rossi’s design prowess (ears/voicing) adds much to the general character.

Aficionados will testify just about any quality tube in a good preamplifier design will change and improve the sound over a similarly-priced solid state preamps. Okay, for the sake of peace, let’s say ‘different’. For me, I’ll ride and die with good tubes in the system. The Elrogs are certainly those. In fact, sublime compared to mere mortal tubes.

In my dreams, I have a tube expert in my music room to roll Takatsuki, Western Electric and Elrog 300Bs at my whim to see which comes out on top. Happily, even the most reasonably-priced 300Bs will offer improvement and attempt to replicate some or all of Rossi’s Elrog descriptors (more tonal density and a more effortless top-end compared to the stock EH300B tubes). In this installation, the Elrogs are Rolls Royce 300Bs on a McLaren chassis.

As such, they produce, in concert with the outstanding Class AB MOSFET, a coherence from a blend of topologies that only masterful designers can pull off (just think how many designers mixing and matching ribbon tweeters and dynamic woofers have failed, let alone electrostats with attached, boxed subwoofers). Effective integrateds are much desired by 2020 audiophiles, but their efficacy can be challenging. Happily, I can attest the L2i-SE is a masterpiece component.

At last year’s RMAF and Toronto, I heard many integrated amplifiers, some with MSRPs approaching $50,000. They looked incredible with hovering sycophants delivering superlatives and showing off the latest gleaming resin statuette from this or that outlet. Yet, most left me cold, at least under show conditions and playing digital. That’s why I kept returning to the Vinnie Rossi/WellPleased A/V room. A musical respite.

The sound I experienced in my listening room was much of the same as RMAF. Those folks loving their powerful monoblocks need not fear inhibited dynamics or power drain. For example, the finale of the Dorati/Mercury/LSO vinyl reissue The Firebird was massive, awe-inspiring. In fact, it was at that moment on Boxing Day when my twin brother, getting the royal demo treatment, said: ‘Anthony, I’ve never heard your system sound better’. He’s heard most of my systems in London, Montreal, Toronto, and Victoria over the past 40 years. Thus, they’ll be no compromises in sound, dynamics or power delivery with this one chassis solution.

The SE playing Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat deciphered the usual overdubbing but left his wonderfully expressive voice intact—complete timbral precision, no matter the layer. Same for instruments. Wolfgang Schulz’ glorious flute floated exactly as Strauss would have wanted in the tranquil opening sequence of Tod und Verklärung (Vienna Phil/Reiner/Shaded Dog reissue). The protagonist’s last breaths mixed with dreams of love as represented by very high flute over diaphanous strings (and harps) is a real test. I used this track when reviewing the L2 Signature Preamplifier. It sounded very beautiful. But, the Elrogs produced exactly what Rossi suggested—’tonal density’. The vaunted 300B sweetness was heard in spades, but there was an underlying solidity with perfect instrument placement in the musical picture. And Strauss’ very advanced harmonies had the aural sophistication audiophiles desire. Thus, nothing earthbound will distract you from the music—driver tubes, coupling caps or output transformers. The L2i-SE is a beautiful conduit to true artistry.

Bass fans have nothing to worry about. In fact, all octaves meld seamlessly, from deep, characterful bass (bass with personality—not just slam) to inviting midrange to very sweet highs. Rossi’s design gives the listener everything they could desire in quality playback.

Musically, you’ll want for nothing.

Conclusion

Pair the L2i-SE with good cables and your favorite quality loudspeaker and you’ll be set for the final path of your audiophile journey. No compromises, no buyer’s remorse. Musically, it’ll keep you guessing every time a new recording comes your way. In four months as the mover & shaker in my system, it astounded me daily with its musical ability. By its nature, the SE will give you a lifetime of musical pleasure. Very highly recommended.

Would I buy this if I had the budget for amplification? I would
Marc Phillips

SUMMARY: I had the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier in my system for many months, and I listened to hundreds of LPs during that time. I can’t pick out two or three that stood out. I can tell you that this was one of the most rewarding periods of my life as an audiophile. It’s all a happy, satisfying blur.

 

REVIEW: Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re probably aware that Vinnie Rossi has been shaking up the world of high-end audio shows with his tremendous L2 amplification line. I’ve always been a fan of Vinnie’s designs, going back more than a dozen years when I listened to one of his battery-powered Red Wine Audio amps. I used it to review a wonderful pair of WLM loudspeakers from Austria, which Vinnie used to import into the US.

Over the last year or so Vinnie Rossi has partnered with Mark Sossa of Well Pleased A/V, the US distributor of Qln loudspeakers from Sweden, to create some of the most amazing sound I’ve heard in a hotel room since I first attended a hi-fi show almost 30 years ago. These are amazing systems, yet they are simple—usually it’s one of Vinnie’s L2i-SE integrated amplifiers with the L2 DAC module, a pair of petite Qln 2-way floorstanding Prestige Threes and an Innuos music server. These are not big six-figure systems in one of the huge conference rooms downstairs. I’m doing the math in my head, and I think the entire Vinnie Rossi/Qln systems usually run for less than $50K. That’s not chicken feed, but that’s also incredibly reasonable for a system that often winds up competing for Best Sound at Show.

Here’s how I thought this review was going to go down. As I mentioned, Vinnie and I have known each other for many years. We talk all the time, especially about loudspeakers that would work with his amps. I got this Part-Time Audiophile gig around the time Vinnie started showing the with the Qln Prestige Threes. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time in his rooms, long enough to fall in love with the sound, and then I’d make some sort of swooning gesture toward Vinnie and then I’d be on my way. I just assumed that I’d eventually get a chance to hear this combination in my own house.

I must have said something out loud to Vinnie or Mark. I must have.

A funny thing happened, however, on the way to this review. I got the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier in for review. Vinnie brought an extra one to the Capital Audiofest last November, and I put it in the back of my SUV and drove it home. The Qln Prestige Threes, unfortunately, did not make the trip. Instead, they went our very own Dave McNair for review, and he loved them so much he bought them.

It’s my fault, really. Dave was looking for stuff to review, and I already had a house full of gear. I grudgingly told Dave to go ahead and review the Qlns if that’s the way you want to be, New Guy. But I also figured this would be a great way to separate these two wildly synergistic components and find out just how special the Vinnie Rossi L-2i integrated amplifier really is on its own.

Vinnie Rossi L2i

First of all, I didn’t get the same Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE (Signature Edition) that Vinnie brings to the shows. My review amp was the simpler and less expensive L2i. If you’ve had any experience with Vinnie Rossi amplifiers such as the innovative LIO, you’ll know that these designs are both modular and highly upgradeable. (The LIO started at just over $5000, but you could drive it close to $15K with all the goodies, everything from DACs and phono stages to autoformers for the volume control.)

Vinnie explained to me that the biggest difference between the L2i and the L2i-SE was the line stage, and that the stunning L2 Phonostage module is the same in both models, as is the L2 DAC module option. (Each one costs an extra $3495.) While the L2i in its basic form uses a pair of octal triode 6SN7 tubes in the line stage, the SE uses a pair of directly heated triodes. That means you can use 2A3s, 300Bs, 45s, 101Ds, 205Ds, PX4s or SV811s in the line stage. (I’d love to try a pair of NOS RCA Cunningham “globe” 45s, one of my favorite output tubes, in the SE!)

With the L2i, you don’t get to see those fancy DHTs sticking out of the top of the chassis. When I first posted pics of the L2i in my system, a couple of my audiophile buddies asked when I was going to put the tubes in. I already had—the stock 6SN7s simply weren’t tall enough to poke through the tube openings. But you can fix that if you want through tube rolling. Vinnie sent me a gorgeous pair of Shu Guang CV181-T tubes to use, and they were just big enough to easily see from the listening position. Plus, these tubes sounded a bit more three-dimensional than the stock 6SN7s, so I would choose these if I bought the L2i. You can also use 6N8P or 6BL7s if you wish.

In other words, the L2 integrated amplifiers are hybrid. While the line stage of the L2i is dual-mono Class A with zero feedback, the power stage is dual-mono Class AB MOSFET with only one pair of output devices. That gives the L2i 100 wpc into 8 ohms, and 170 wpc into 4 ohms. That’s more than enough for any speaker I had in the house—and there’s a lot of them right now.

While the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE costs $18,995, this simpler L2i costs just $13,995. Vinnie supplied the review unit with the optional phono stage module, which brings the price up to $17,490.

That Phono Stage

Vinnie Rossi knew that I would want the L2 Phonostage module installed. “I think you’re going to love it,” he told me when he handed me the box.

At first I thought okay, whatever, since I’ve had a steady flow of excellent phono stages in my system over the last year or so. I don’t need an inboard phono stage but if you include one, I’ll certainly check it out. Well, I was flabbergasted by this phono stage. It’s flexible, and it sounds utterly fantastic—so fantastic that for a while I had the L2i running an all-analog system with two turntables and I was in heaven for months.

The secret to this phono stage module is Belleson. Vinnie uses Belleson super-regulators all through the L2 product line, and he collaborated with Brian Lowe of Belleson to design this module. It uses the Belleson split-supply voltage rails and four low-noise, low-distortion gain stages. The module has three inputs—one for MM and two for MC. You can adjust the gain for MM at 40 or 46 dB, and MC at 60, 66 and 72 dB. You can set loading via the remote control, a feature that always makes me giddy.

At the Capital Audiofest last year, I met Brian Lowe and his wife Christina. They were such lovely people to hang with, and we had a great time at the show. I wanted to go back to South Carolina with them. It’s incredibly gratifying when such nice people make such a great product.

Set-Up

When I used that battery-powered Red Wine Audio integrated, I vaguely remember that it had 25 wpc. I know that the LIO had just a bit more power. For some reason I thought the L2i was going to dwell in that same range, so I started thinking about which speakers I wanted to use with it. Then I looked at the spec sheet. 100 watts per channel? Really? As I mentioned, I have plenty of speakers in my humble abode right now, and once I experienced the high level of performance of the L2i I wanted to try them all.

That list includes the Living Voice OBX-RW3, the Trenner & Friedl Osiris, the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi, the Brigadier Audio BA-2, the Fern & Roby Raven II and the Von Schweikert Audio ESEs—everything but a pair of Qln Prestige Threes, of course. While the Vinnie Rossi L2i didn’t meet a speaker it didn’t love, I had very high hopes for the ESEs. Although they are 91 dB efficient, the impedance is 4 ohms and VSA’s Leif Swanson is adamant about using powerful amplifiers in order to get that incredible sense of dynamic energy from his loudspeakers.

It’s not a surprise that the ESEs were my preferred speakers for use with the L2i, or that the L2i was my preferred amplifier with the ESEs. I had it all with this combo—deep bass, a huge soundstage, a profound sense of quiet between the notes and, of course, plenty of excitement.

Finally, I used plenty of different analog rigs with the amazing phono stage module including the Palmer 2.5 turntable with Audio Origami tonearm and Hana ML cartridge, the Fern & Roby Montrose turntable and arm with the ZYX Bloom 3 cartridge, the Technics SL-1200G turntable with the Sumiko Starling cartridge and finally a $500 rig consisting of the Fluance RT85 Reference ‘table and the included Ortofon 2M Blue. (This probably the first time I’ve used an MM input in many years.)

Visually Speaking

Before I launch into the sound quality of the Vinnie Rossi L2i, I must remark about its visual impact. If I told you that an $18,000 integrated amp that came in a simple, no-frills metal box offered this level of performance, you might say “Oh, that sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll check it out.” With the L2i and all the other products in Vinnie Rossi’s L2 product range, you get a product that’s at the vanguard of industrial design. Spend a little time up close with this beast, and the price suddenly seems very reasonable.

The craftsmanship of this amplifier is stunning. Like a Ferrari, it’s been designed to look beautiful at every angle. While I was running the two-turntable rig with the L2i, it was placed on the middle shelf of my Fern & Roby equipment rack. If it wasn’t for the second analog rig, the L2i would sit on the top shelf, lit by several spotlights. If you walk into a room and there’s an L2i in it, it will be the first thing you see. The first words out of your mouth will be “What…is…that?”

What’s even more amazing about the L2i is its relatively compact dimensions. You get a high-quality power amp, preamp and optional phono stage or DAC in one chassis. That chassis weighs 50 pounds, which is both substantial and manageable. If you’re the type of audiophile who has exquisite taste in hi-fi without having a lot of space to situate multiple components, the L2i is the answer.

Sound

After hearing the pairing of Vinnie Rossi amplifiers and Qln speakers so many times, my first objective was to recreate that immense sense of spaciousness in my listening room. That really wasn’t possible in my room—Vinnie and Mark conjure up that mind-boggling soundstage by bringing the speakers far out into the room, almost half-way, in a diagonal set-up. I’ve had rooms that have allowed me to do that, and the results are always incredible. In my current room I could probably remove most of the furniture and get that deep, deep sound, but it would be a much less comfortable room, one where I might not want to be.

I made a compromise and set the speakers in their usual position about three feet from the back wall and slightly toed-in. It wasn’t much of a compromise, since the ESE/L2i combination still possessed everything else that I heard in those exhibit rooms such as a pure, clear midrange that seemed realistic in size, scope and physical presence. (By that last term I mean any sound that helps to complete the illusion of not just notes, but of notes played by a real human being.)

The soundstage was not so deep that I had to shake my head in disbelief, but it did expand in all directions. The walls disappeared, and I could easily see the distant horizons of sound. My brain still exclaimed “wow” at regular intervals, goosebumps still appeared. It didn’t take long for me to forget about the magic combination with Qln and settle into the nearly perfect realism of what I was hearing in my listening room, right at that moment.

Usually this is the point where I start trotting out my favorite recordings and telling you how the Vinnie Rossi L2i reproduced that part where the singer takes a sip of their martini in between verses, or where the drummer drops a stick and has to play a couple of bars one-handed. If I don’t mention favorite recordings, someone will make a comment like “What music did you use?” I’ll be honest for a second and tell you that I hate when half of an equipment review sounds like an amphetamine-fueled listening session that went on for three days. I listened to this! And then this! Which led me to this!

I had the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier in my system for many months, and I listened to hundreds of LPs during that time. I can’t pick out two or three that stood out. I can tell you that this was one of the most rewarding periods of my life as an audiophile. It’s all a happy, satisfying blur.

Conclusion

I’m concerned that my reviews are starting to sound the same. Each review sounds like I’m crowning a new King of the Mountain. I’m not. What’s happening is this: I’m lucky to have this gig. Eighteen months ago, I told Scot Hull that I would be happy to review those middle high-end audio components since we have people like Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis and Richard H. Mak to handle the exotic stuff, and others to handle the more affordable gear.

That’s not what happened. As my tenure goes on at Part-Time Audiophile, that sound system in my living room is becoming more and more impressive, more and more of what I really desire when it comes to reproducing music. I think about that a lot, especially when it comes to reviewing products I just reviewed, the Palmer turntable and, of course, the Vinnie Rossi L2i integrated amplifier. Would I buy this if I had $20K to budget for amplification? I would.

That’s not the first time I’ve said that this year, but I really feel it in my bones.

That said, I’m still curious about those Qlns and the sound I hear at those audio shows. How will this be resolved?  There’s only one problem—the L2i integrated needs to go back to Vinnie. I’ve had it a long time.

Here’s the good news. I explained my dilemma to Vinnie, and he’s going to send me the L2 separates to use with the Qln Prestige Fives. I’m also moving to Portland this summer, so I’ll be looking for a house that has a room where I can try a diagonal set-up and bring those Qlns way out into the room. Because when gear is this awesome, audiophiles like me will buy a house just to make them sound better. Highly recommended, and an Editor’s Choice Award winner.

From the opening notes of 'Victoria', with acoustic and electric guitars and deliciously splashy drumming, I was totally hooked.
Ken Kessler

Hi-Fi News Verdict: An upside to being a downsizing pensioner: I'm not buying any more gear. But if I needed a new amp, I'd be splashing out on a Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE because I simply adore it. The build, ergonomics and features leave nothing to be desired, and it was a joy to use the entire time it was in my system. I even loved just staring at it! But forget all that. Ultimately, this is about sound. And it was 'Bellissima'.

REVIEW: Can't choose between tubes and transistors? Vinnie Rossi may have the answer with the L2i-SE integrated amplifier, which deals with that conundrum in a unique manner

So overwhelming is the matter of choice when putting together a system that it can cause as much anguish as pose a fun challenge. What type of speakers? MM or MC pick-up? Integrated or separates? These usually sort themselves out due to space or budget, but 'tubes versus transistors' almost calls for a leap of faith – unlike 'digital versus analogue' because most enthusiasts can manage two sources. The valve/solid-state conflict, though, may find a cure in the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE integrated amplifier, the 'SE' standing for 'Signature Edition'.

Until this came along, addressing the matter usually involved either a hybrid product, eg, Radford's pioneering TT100 with solid-state input and tube output, or pairing a valve preamp and transistor power amp (or less often, a solid-state preamp and tube power amp). Vinnie Rossi's one-box solution may not be cheap at £18,995 in line-level form, or £25,985 with phono stage and DAC, but it is so clever and truly fascinating on an intellectual level that its absolute performance may even be secondary. I know that is near-heresy, but hear me out.

Glass Tiger
Simply stated, this can be used as a strictly solid-state integrated amplifier or with a valve 'element' that can be switched in. My initial reaction was to recall Musical Fidelity's X-10D 'tube buffer' of 25 years ago, which injected euphonic tube colour into one's system. I loved it, but then I have my own peculiarities. The X-10D, though, was fun, inexpensive and thus a godsend for impoverished hobbyists.

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Vinnie Rossi's concept is more complex, but also difficult to assess because switching from solid-state to 'plus valves' nearly triples the gain, as well as applying the tube traits, so one needs to be careful when comparing the two. Swapping between them is fiddly, so A/B comparisons are not possible unless you have two units and some form of comparator to switch between them. The swap requires the removal of the two 300Bs, flicking the internal 'DHT' (Direct Heated Triode) toggles next to each valve base, refitting the tubes and then switching the amplifier back on. And there's also a warm-up pause to add to the delay.

I asked company owner Vinnie why he made it such a lengthy procedure, instead of fitting a front panel selector with level compensator. He explained, 'The unit needs to be powered off when you flip those switches, otherwise you'll get a big pop from your speakers. I actually never intended that switch to be used often. It's more like a tool to evaluate what the triodes are adding to the sonic landscape – so you can hear what you have been missing without them'.

Fully Loaded
It's easy to see his logic, for unlike the front-panel facility for bypassing the power amp for use as just a preamp, which might be used frequently but threatens no risks, I suspect that users will prefer one mode over the other and leave it that way. I spent several days with the unit in solid-state mode, but after injecting the tubes, I never went back. Long-term readers have already surmised that I would prefer to have the triodes in circuit, given my known passion for glassware. No surprises there, then.

Even for those who acquire the L2i-SE because of tube-vs-tranny indecision, it is still unlikely that switching between them will be a regular occurrence. If this raises the question of it being too elaborate a feature if it's only to be used rarely, I prefer to look at it this way: the mere option of being able to choose between valves and solid-state alone is precisely the reassurance one needs if one genuinely is unable to make a permanent decision.

820vinnie.bac2

Now that you know the L2i-SE's main party trick, let's not let this aspect of the design overshadow the rest of what is on offer, especially in fully 'loaded' form. I loved having three phono inputs – one MM and two MC, with adjustable gain – and the ability to alter the load via remote, a must-have when assessing new cartridges. The DAC module also accepts three sources, and the remote allows you to play with the digital filters and invert phase from the hot seat. As for line sources, the L2i-SE handles two single-ended and one XLR balanced. Then there's the preamp output option.

That is self-explanatory, and worth having if you're the sort who wants to dig out an old amp that's lying around, or to upgrade the amp section sometime in the future. But it also serves another purpose, which I learned of when I asked Vinnie why there was no headphone output in this day and age of headphone dominance (and of late the increase in headphone usage during lockdown to prevent domestic warfare).

Vinnie said, 'Adding a headphone jack to the front panel did not visually appeal to me, especially the balanced, 4-pin XLR jack that most people want with the higher performance headphone models. However, there is a "secret" with the L2i-SE: with the use of an adapter cable, one can connect to the balanced XLR output jacks and convert it to a 4-pin XLR, and it drives most headphones with ease. You simply press the 'AMP' button on the front panel to turn off the speaker outputs. We do not sell the adapter cable, but Moon Audio in the USA has been making them for our customers'.

With that out of the way, I found nothing else to question. I even got a kick out of the company name, which sounds like a gunsel for Tony Soprano. The L2i-SE worked faultlessly, the quality of the construction and components was first class, especially the multi-way speaker terminals, the display was informative and I loved every second I spent with it. But to get to the heart of this, we must first address solid-state-only versus the 300Bs in operation.

sqnoteTotally Hooked
Because the amp was in solid-state mode when it arrived from Editor PM, I tried that first. Here I must make a confession for I knew in my heart-of-hearts that my deep-rooted prejudices would have me preferring the triode mode, that I would switch to it after my time with the solid-state listening and thus would not have to go back and forth. However, what I wasn't anticipating was that I would actually be charmed by the solid-state-only session.

Because I purchased The Kinks' Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) in both LP [BMGCAT407LP] and CD [BMGCAT407BOX] form, I was able to set up both and cue them 'just so', thus allowing A/B switching between LP and CD, with levels matched. With either digital or analogue sources, the nature of the amp was obvious and consistent enough to deem both the phono stage and the DAC of astonishing capability. From the opening notes of 'Victoria', with acoustic and electric guitars and deliciously splashy drumming, I was totally hooked.

820vinnie.remMassive Attack
Inescapably evident, after a mere ten minutes with this amp via CD, were three exceptional qualities. The first, and most vivid, was speed, the attack of both the guitars and percussion reminding me of much bigger beasts, such as the D'Agostino Momentum Stereo amp [HFN Aug '12], which remains my solid-state reference. The L2i-SE doesn't match its sense of forcefulness, but neither does it lack power in any sense. Whether driving Wilson Sasha DAWs [HFN Mar '19] or ornery loads like LS3/5as, the crispness and clean transients were realistic, never sounding exaggerated nor too abrupt.

One word kept entering my head: 'sparkling'. If a system can sound as effervescent as a glass of Prosecco, this is it. And I don't say that just because Vinnie Rossi is of the Italian persuasion, but stop me if I compare the depths of the rhythmic bass retrieval to a glass of Aldo Conterno Barolo.

Second was the openness, and here was one of the areas where LP proved audibly superior to the CD. Not a cause for fretting, for the impression of scale was almost identical, but the added hygiene of digital somehow altered the perception of space. I did play with the filters, preferring the default 'filterless' state, despite appreciating the value of switching in the Minimal Phase digital filter. I certainly preferred coaxial S/PDIF, connected via BNC.

The third quality was an extremely wide soundstage, obviously part of the openness, but I am talking 'Denon DL103' width. Both of these were revealed in the second track, when the opening drum segment for 'Yes Sir, No Sir' revealed itself to be of such a high standard via this remastering that it should be an audiophile demo staple, its 'air' stretching across the room. I am almost at a loss to define the majesty and authenticity of what is at first merely a martial drum progression. So simple, so minimalist, it was disconcerting that a few bars of drumming could stop me dead in my tracks.

Turning to a well-recorded-and-remastered live experience, Jimi Hendrix's Songs For Groovy Children [Sony Legacy 19075982772] provided a real, as opposed to studio-created, space and the L2i-SE again proved adept at transporting the listener to the musical event. But another area of excellence emerged – conveying the textures of Hendrix's guitar playing, ranging from fluidity to screech to staccato in a single break. 'Foxey Lady' on CD3 left me stunned. But it was time for tubes.

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Ear Candy
Again referring to PM's elucidation, the triodes here are not performing as they might in a standard hybrid amp, but perhaps more like a valve preamp-plus-solid-state-power amp. Yet however optional their role, added gain aside, their presence is undeniable. As the triodes operate in single-ended, Class-A mode with no feedback, so one might anticipate a whiff of classic SET romance, especially with Rossi stating that the harmonics 'will certainly be 2nd order, 4th order, etc'.

Repeating The Kinks tracks with the triodes switched into the circuitry, I was hit with additional revelations. I am no bass fetishist, but the bass guitar on 'Drivin'' enjoyed added body and texture… and that was via CD. Switching to LP, it was even more palpable, with added atmosphere.

I was starting to suffer that feeling of being overwhelmed by a surfeit of delights, a kid in a candy store. Exposed was a newfound liquidity to Dave Davies' lead guitar on 'Mr Churchill Says', even more body to the bass playing throughout the album – I had to keep telling myself that, as with the Musical Fidelity X10D, 'this is added artifice. It is a layer of coloration, of increased distortion'. I didn't care.

820vinnie.side

Then came the barrage of sound effects: Kazoo. Harpsichord. Trashy drumming. Tooting horns. These are what made 'She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina's' even more of a 'music hall' facsimile than The Beatles' 'Honey Pie'. It leapt from the speakers. Suddenly, I realised something so telling that I was embarrassed for not grasping it earlier – of course I would fall for the L2i-SE. Vinnie Rossi and I both use Falcon Acoustics' LS3/5as [HFN Jan '19]. As Stevie Wonder sang, 'I was made to love her'. In this case, 'her' is the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
An upside to being a downsizing pensioner: I'm not buying any more gear. But if I needed a new amp, I'd be splashing out on a Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE because I simply adore it. The build, ergonomics and features leave nothing to be desired, and it was a joy to use the entire time it was in my system. I even loved just staring at it! But forget all that. Ultimately, this is about sound. And it was 'Bellissima'.

Tubes To Taste

As discussed, even without the DAC and phono stage options, the L2i-SE has a split personality. With the tubes switched out it's a J-FET/MOSFET integrated amp that offers plenty of power, low distortion and very low noise. Switch the 300B tubes in-circuit, however, and while adding an extra 8.7dB of voltage gain (32.8dB from 24.1dB) into the preamp circuit, they also bring a wealth of, well, 'colour'. Even allowing for the increased gain, the A-wtd S/N falls from 96.5dB to 82.5dB (re. 0dBW) and while there's no significant change in response the increase in distortion is typically a thousand-fold! The Graph [inset] compares distortion vs. frequency at 10W/8ohm with the triodes in [red] and out [black] of the signal path.

Tube stages can be designed for both low noise and low distortion but VR's triode implementation is single-ended (necessarily Class A) and without compensatory feedback, so THD is very high. Remember – these tubes are in the preamp, so the distortion and noise are 'created' before the (music) signal hits the solid-state power amp. As a result, while distortion increases with power output, this is just a reflection of distortion increasing with the voltage output of the tube preamp. The ability of the power amp to 'drive' the speakers has not changed. In practice, THD is already at 1% by 1.5W, reaching 2% at 8W, 3% at 20W and 5% at 78W (all 1kHz/8ohm). PM

Vinnie Rossi

Editor PM caught up with Vinnie Rossi during 'lockdown' on both sides of the pond, intrigued to discover VR's earliest influences.

 

'I studied electrical engineering in the '90s while working as a test engineer for a major telecom giant', Vinnie began, 'but I was also an audio hobbyist and so, in 2004, I followed my passion and established Red Wine Audio where I focused on battery-powered components. However, in 2014 I introduced a modular integrated called LIO that had an ultracapacitor supply, and the move away from battery PSUs prompted a change in brand name'.

nd direct-heated triodes – where did these spring from? 'I used 8 and 9-pin indirectly heated triodes in my linestage designs before seeking the "holy grail" of valves – the 4-pin directly heated triode (DHT)', says Vinnie. 'Once I began listening to them, I was quickly put under their magic spell. The L2i-SE's DHT preamp is convertible and accommodates numerous 4-pin DHTs including the 300B, 2A3, 45, PX4, SV811, 71A, T-100, 101-D and 205-D – all via the filament voltage selection switch on the rear panel.'

 

A quick glance at the L2i-SE might suggest it's a 300B SET amplifier, but these tubes are not driving speakers, they are in the preamp stage. So why the high distortion? 'My preferred topology features no driver tubes, no feedback, no output transformers, and just 6 to 9dB of gain, depending on the tube used. It sounds simple, but designs like this are rare, and very challenging to implement with low levels of noise.
Lab Report

Tested without the 300Bs in-circuit, the L2i-SE put in a sterling performance. Power output is comfortably higher than its 100W/ 8ohm rated specification at 2x130W/8ohm and 2x210W/4ohm and there's sufficient in reserve to accommodate 180W, 333W and 234W into 8, 4 and 2ohm loads, respectively, under dynamic conditions [see Graph 1, below]. Power is limited to 128W/1ohm (or 11.3A). Distortion trends downwards with increasing output from ~0.01%/1W to 0.009%/10W and 0.0055% at the rated 100W (all re. 1kHz/8ohm) but increases at higher frequency from 0.1%/10kHz to 0.2%/20kHz (all re. 10W/8ohm). Gain is low at +24.1dB, but ideally suited for use with 2V line output sources, and the S/N is fabulously wide at 96.5dB. The response shows a subsonic roll-off of –0.1dB/20Hz and –6dB/2Hz while extending out to –0.1dB/ 20kHz and –1.0dB/100kHz.

 

Measured via its balanced preamp, VR's AKM AK4497-based DAC stage offers a maximum 4.6V output, and 108dB S/N ratio, from a low 25ohm source impedance. An acceptable ~125psec jitter rejection is achieved (all sample rates) while distortion falls to a minimum of 0.00035%/1kHz and 0.00055%/20kHz over the top 30dB of its dynamic range [see Graph 2], albeit peaking at 0.1-0.15% over the top 10dB. The default NOS filter offers responses of –5.0dB/20kHz, –5.4dB/45kHz and –6.9dB/90kHz with 48kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz files, respectively, trading a very limited alias rejection for zero time distortion. The minimum phase filter offers a superior 70dB image suppression and flatter –1.8dB/20kHz, –2.7dB/45kHz and –4.1dB/90kHz responses. PM

I struggled to pull myself away from every listening session, and was frequently overwhelmed by the emotion and majesty it had the capacity to convey.
Matthew Clott

SUMMARY: I typically find myself describing specific passages and sonic attributes connected with those passages to best convey how the unit sounds and where it stands in relation to other products of its kind and price range, but the L2i-SE was a performance of passion, gestalt, and simplicity. The unique amalgamation of a directly heated triode-fed preamp section with a MOSFET solid-state amplifier stage left me wanting for very little. There was nary a musical genre that was misrepresented. Dynamics were bold and bountiful without ever being overstated. The low end had the proper timing and control. To be honest, I have heard more expensive monoblocks that would have been jealous. The midrange was luscious when it was supposed to be, and laid-back when so directed. Those overused terms “fun” and “engaging” popped into my brain several times. Highs were eloquently presented and never overwhelming, with an immediacy and clarity that allowed the overall presentation to flow completely unimpeded, like the waters of Niagara. I have no negative comments to make; it is that simple. 

Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE Integrated Amplifier

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. 

A quick comment on the DAC and phonostage options. My review sample came with both installed, and I had the opportunity to extensively compare them to external options. Although you can see the specs of the DAC and phono- stage below, I will confirm that the DAC is compatible with everything it’s supposed to be compatible with, and immediately connected with whatever I offered as digital source, functioning without issue. The phonostage allows on-the-fly cartridge loading from 10–1000 ohms with as much flexibility as you would ever need. Both units compared favorably to standalone components around $5k. And in most cases it took a $7–$9k external device to justify the increased cost of additional power cables and interconnects. Read that as a damn good value at $3495.

What of tube rolling, you ask? Vinnie sent me a pair of KR PX4 tubes and a pair of WE 300B tubes to play with. I had to try the DHT-bypass mode, as well. DHT bypass sounded great, to be honest. I found the stage to be ultrawide, and tonal reproduction to be meticulous, but the L2i-SE lost its soul without valves in the signal path. Some may call it distortion; some may call it psychoacoustics; and others may call it poppycock. But I preferred the L2i-SE as it was intended to be heard, with those glowy glass things doing their job. To that end, the 300Bs opened up the stage behind the speakers, thickened the midbass, sweetened the midrange, and softened the treble just a hair. They also imbued the integrated with a sense of soul and a palpability that was hard to stop listening to—an infusion of passion, if you will. The PX4s were my personal preference. The stage moved forward significantly and widened, with ever so slight increases in instrumental definition and tonal density. The sweet sensuality of the 300B remained with added layers of transparency and low-end extension, and highs flying a bit higher in the clouds. In fact, the mental images of birds in a blue sky actually came to mind during a selection from Yanni Live at the Acropolis (yes, I listen to Yanni, and you should to). The glass makes a difference, and I was glad it was there, both visually and sonically.

I typically find myself describing specific passages and sonic attributes connected with those passages to best convey how the unit sounds and where it stands in relation to other products of its kind and price range, but the L2i-SE was a performance of passion, gestalt, and simplicity. The unique amalgamation of a directly heated triode-fed preamp section with a MOSFET solid-state amplifier stage left me wanting for very little. There was nary a musical genre that was misrepresented. Dynamics were bold and bountiful without ever being overstated. The low end had the proper timing and control. To be honest, I have heard more expensive monoblocks that would have been jealous. The midrange was luscious when it was supposed to be, and laid-back when so directed. Those overused terms “fun” and “engaging” popped into my brain several times. Highs were eloquently presented and never overwhelming, with an immediacy and clarity that allowed the overall presentation to flow completely unimpeded, like the waters of Niagara. I have no negative comments to make; it is that simple. 

As I mentioned, Vinnie is 94% heart and soul. Clearly using magic (others refer to it as engineering and science, but I know better), he has taken an ever so tiny portion of himself and embedded it in the core of the L2i-SE. The sum of its parts only hint at what this integrated amp is capable of. 

In comparing this, quite expensive integrated to its brethren in class, I can say that it holds its ground with aplomb. Is there better performance to be had with high-end separates? Of course. Is there better performance to be had in other integrated amplifiers? For more money, yes, there is. But in its price class I believe it’s an apex predator. I struggled to pull myself away from every listening session, and was frequently overwhelmed by the emotion and majesty it had the capacity to convey. And isn’t that, truly, what a device intended for the reproduction of music is supposed to accomplish? Bravo Mr. Rossi. Bravo.

It will definitely be getting a Brutus Award from me at the end of 2020…no doubt about that at all.
David W. Robinson

SUMMARY: I am hoping to get a fully-loaded L2i SE back here at PF Central in the next few months. I really do miss it. Indications from Vinnie Rossi are that this will happen. Most excellent! Meanwhile, I can say this with full confidence: The Vinnie Rossi L2i SE is a world-class, top-o'-the-heap integrated in my book. Lovely to look at; utterly seductive to hear. It will definitely be getting a Brutus Award from me at the end of 2020…no doubt about that at all. And so, here's a Ye Olde Editor's "Very highest recommendation…enthusiastically!" for the L2i SE.

REVIEW: Vinnie, and I crossed paths at 2019's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. It was there that I got a chance to meet Vinnie, and spend some time listening to an Innuos front end and Qln loudspeakers at the further end. In between was an integrated amp that was ultra-cool looking, and sounded bloody wonderful!

This was the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE, the special edition of their L2 integrated. This turned out to be a hybrid design, featuring a dual-mono, class-A topology with zero feedback. It has the ability to use 2A3, 45, 300B, PX4, 101D, 205D, and SV811 DHTs, depending on your preferences. The DHT filament voltage is switchable, depending on the needs of the tube compliment: 2.5 Volt, 4 Volt, and 5 Volt. The output section is composed of a Class A/B MOSFET, with only a single pair of output devices. (The less, the merrier with MOSFETs, as I learned from the GamuT M250i reference monoblocks.) The L2i SE also has the ability to bypass the DHT section, and go all-MOSFET, which some may find useful. (Personally, I stayed with the DHT SETs throughout my time with the review unit, as I was never tempted to wander off from the exceptional nature of the sound. Your mileage may vary.)

Anyway, I was unaware of Vinnie Rossi and his designs, but this little monster was dragging my soul away with the brilliant sound that I was hearing. I talked with Mark and Vinnie about arranging a review, which they were willing to do. Excellent!

Not long afterwards, the L2i SE arrived.

Technical profile and general description

The technical profile of the L2i SE is different from that of many integrated amps, and quite impressive:

  • Output Power (Tested with 120V AC input): 100W RMS per channel into 8-ohms (170W RMS per channel into 4-ohms)
  • Output Impedance: Approx. 0.1 ohm
  • Input Impedance: Approximately 10k ohm (RCA and XLR inputs)
  • Frequency Response: 0.5Hz – 150kHz (+/- 1dB)
  • Voltage Gain: 32dB (with stock EH300B tubes); 24dB (DHT Bypass Mode Enabled)
  • THD+N (with stock EH300B tubes): Less than 0.5%
    THD+N (DHT Bypass Mode Enabled): Less than 0.01%
  • AC Input: Factory configured for 110-120V AC, or 220-240V AC (50/60Hz)
  • Protections: Fused inputs for linestage and power output stage sections
    MOV (AC input surge protection)
    Output short circuit protection
  • Dimensions (with tube covers and isolation base installed): Approximately 17.25" wide x 14.5" deep x 8.88" tall (438m x 368mm x 226mm)
  • Weight: Approximately 50lbs. (23kg)
  • Shipping Weight: Approximately 60 lbs. (27kg)
    Volume Control: 64 steps (approximately 1dB per step) from -∞ to +8dB
  • Balance control: 24 steps from L to R (approximately 1dB per step)

There are three inputs, two unbalanced and one balanced. On the output side, you can either go unbalanced or balanced, using the L2i SE as a preamp, or you can hook up your loudspeakers directly to the WBT NextGen 0703cu speaker binding posts. Very flexible.

The output power is quite solid for a hybrid design, using a matched-pair of the stock electro-harmonix EH300B Gold Grid tubes, and should drive all but the most inefficient loudspeakers. Even the very fine Focal Sopra No. 1, which has an efficiency of only 89dB/watt/meter, and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms but dips to 3.9 ohms, was easily driven by the L2i SE. Check out the excellent frequency response too, which in these days of high resolution is a major strength. The specs say that the volume control is a "discrete, 64-step resistor ladder volume control using Pickering England silent signal relays." What I can say is that the feel of this control is quite seductive…silky, detented operation, with a rock-solid feel.

There is a serious metal remote, which I really liked, but I can tell you that if you do use the front volume knob, you're going to love it.

The chassis is very impressive, being CNC machined from aluminum, with integrated Stillpoints Ultra Mini Isolation Feet. (That's a fine touch; I have great regard for Stillpoints Isolation Feet.) That's why the L2i SE tips the balance beam at a hefty 50 lbs.

All this and a ten-year warranty too. Outstanding support!

Better and better: There are optional integrated DAC and phono amp modules available at $3,495 each. The optional Vinnie Rossi DAC is capable of DSD up to DSD512, and PCM out to 768kHz/32-bit. Bloody good!

The specs on the phono section are impressive, especially given the relatively reasonable price of this optional module (from the Vinnie Rossi Web site):

L2 Phonostage Features

  • Inputs: 1 set of Moving Magnet (MM), 2 sets of Moving Coil (MC)
  • Built-in, on the fly MC remote adjustable cartridge loading (10 – 1000 ohms). Cartridge load setting viewable from L2 front panel display
  • Adjustable gain jumpers for MM and MC inputs
  • Belleson Super-Regulated split-supply voltage rails
  • Four low-noise and low distortion gain stages. Each stage has a nominal gain of 20dB, resulting in higher bandwidth per stage and lower phase shift across the audio band
  • Low output impedance design
  • DC coupled from input to output (no dc blocking capacitors added in series to the signal path)
  • DC Servo keeps output offset negligible
  • Design optimization for lowest value thin-film resistors, resulting in the least possible noise
  • High accuracy resistors and capacitors used throughout
  • 4-layer PCB with separate ground planes for analog and digital (control circuitry)
  • Cardas Audio input jacks
  • Connect up to three tone arms and switch between them via L2 front panel or the remote handset
  • MM Gain Settings: 40dB, 46dB
  • MC Gain Settings: 60dB, 66dB, 72dB
  • Output Impedance: < 100 ohms
  • Noise (3Vrms output, 1kHz): > 90dBV
  • THD (3Vrms output, 1kHz): < 0.002%
  • RIAA Accuracy (20 – 20kHz): +/- 0.5dB
  • Output DC Offset Voltage: < 2mV (servo controlled)

The design of the phono section was done by Brian Lowe of Belleson, whose super-regulators are used throughout the L2 line of products. At $3,495, I consider the capabilities of the phono section to be in the "killer!" range. 1 MM…2 MC inputs…good! And the MC gain settings are just what the doctor ordered. I didn't have a chance to listen to either the DAC or phono sections…not enough time, since I was concentrating on the preamp/amp performance on both XLR and RCA inputs…but to the extent that specs can tell us that a design is promising, and shows good ROI at the price point, this is really good stuff.

The System; the Sound

Now I have to confess that I have always been strongly attracted to Directly-Heated, Single-Ended Triode designs…when they were done at the highest level. When not…well, that's a different thing. There's just something special about what they can do for musicality in audio reproduction, a kiss of organic reality, a sort of harmonic rightness, that is utterly seductive when it is done well.

In spending months with the L2i SE, I used all digital sources in our reference office/desktop system room. Flowing down the digital signal river: The Internet came to us via our Xfinity gigabit feed, fed through their latest router/firewall to our managed Cisco switch system. The Ethernet cable to our DACs was Furutech's CAT 7, now sadly discontinued.

Our DACs included the exaSound DM DAC/Streamer, the Mola Mola Tambaqui reference DAC (both DSD256 designs), and the iFi Pro iDSD (up to DSD512, with oversampling to DSD1024, and PCM 768kHz/32-bit. More to come soon from me on this remarkable bang-for-the-buck DAC!).

At the further end of the line were the Focal Sopra One monitors, very satisfying performers, indeed. I've had a lot of monitors here over the years, but the Sopra One's are an excellent balance of tonality, musicality, and detail that really please me each time that I listen to them. They certainly did hook up with the L2i SE, like wine and cheese, or great Port and a fine cigar!

For this review, I had access to both Roon-based Qobuz and TIDAL (MQA and otherwise streaming PCM sources, as well as LAN-based DSD (up to DSD512) and PCM sources (up to 192/24). As usual, I broke-in the L2i SE for a week or two, playing mainly DSD256 sources through it to assure that I was working out the extended frequency range and dynamics of that format. I would sandwich in extended sessions with Qobuz and TIDAL to bring PCM into the mix.

There were a great variety of LAN-based and SACD albums that I used during the time of my review of the L2i SE, far too many to detail here. Among them were DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, and even DSD512 from NativeDSD.com. NativeDSD has an extraordinary collection of labels and music, all with DSD and DXD master-quality titles easily available. DSD256 and DSD512 (in particular) are my reference-standards for digital audio, since they are amazing in their ability to deliver mic-feed and master-tape resolution.

Also in the mix were dozens of recordings from Robert Witrak's stellar download site, High Definition Tape Transfers. Bob has a very different A&R going for classical and jazz recordings, all transferred to various resolutions and types of audio formats. I am particularly fond of his purist transfers to DSD256 of his high-quality source tapes. He carries recordings that you won't find much of anywhere else. Note that he also has PCM versions available, for those who prefer (or who can only handle) that format.

Cookie Marenco's Blue Coast Records, with tons of DSD recordings that are pure and wonderfully produced in a number of genres, provided me with hours of listening via the L2i SE. Just the Qua Continuum ambient music series…in twelve albums no less…provided me with endless delight. (Twelve albums. "Endless" is no major exaggeration. But I have listened through the entire series several times, great ambient music being something that I love very much.)

And yes, there were some DSD titles from Acoustic Sounds, as well. (My old friend Leopold and his Rhapsodies"!) Plus SACDs from my library of over 7,000 discs, far too numerous to mention over the extended period that I listened to the L2i SE, generally for 4-8 hours per day. Stacks of SACDs, endless streaming via our exaSound DM Reference DAC/streamer, and hours of LAN-based and NAS music files. Hundreds and hundreds of hours.

It did take the L2i SE 50-100 hours to shake off a bit of haze…nothing too serious…but then it began to bloom quite nicely. Somewhere north of 200 hours, things just start to happen. Any audiophile who has noticed the moment when bloom! happens will know exactly what I mean.

Hybrid designs are an attempt to get the best by taking the best from both worlds: tubes, and solid-state design. Put tubes on the input, to get the really seductive kiss of the incredible harmonic structure of DHT SETs…then put the muscle and coherence of a tightly-matched pair (no more!) of MOSFETs on the output side, and…if you do things just right…real musical magic can emerge!

By doing this, for example, you can have extended frequency range, with no stereotypical roll off in the upper frequencies, and no flabby tubbiness in the bass-meant. Of course the midrange would be glorious…no surprise there…but the upper frequencies would supply megatons of air, spaciousness, dimensionality, and presence.

Dynamics would not be a problem at all. Bammo-slammo would happen, in spades. (In my case, the Focal Sopra No. 1's had all that they could handle.) SACDs like Audio Fidelity's Blade Runner soundtrack, or streaming M83's Oblivion soundtrack, or the soundtracks of ArrivalChernobylInterstellar, and the Lord of the Rings via streaming all made the joint jump. No sign of sucking out, pooping out, or tiring out from the L2i SE. None, zip, nada.

DSD all the way out to DSD512, which are particularly demanding, all arrived with effortless ease, something that surprised me somewhat, given the nominal 100 WPC power rating of the L2i SE (though with with Focals, it would be closer to 170 WPC in its dips to 3.9 ohms). Joe Parvey of Wolf Audio Systems did a magnificent job of assembling and setting up the PF QNAP NAS, and then assisted in the final polishing up via remote access. I recommend his products and services most highly, and will be commenting on his Alpha 3SX Music Server/Streamer in the near future. The performance of the Wolf Audio Systems NAS via Media Center 26 to any of our DACs to the L2i SE was simply flawless. (It had to be; I have extremely high expectations.)

The L2i SE simply produced quiet, cool, effortless music with aplomb. No sweat, no strain. No overheating, no bad habits, no "Oh no!" moments. Lord knows that I could do with more of this sort of thing in my life.

The combination of musicality and power, delivered with such finesse, carried out the promise of a hybrid design done in the challenging framework of DHT SETs.

Impressive as hell! And I hereby announce myself duly impressed.

End of the Curl…

Well, what more can I say?

The Vinnie Rossi L2i SE certainly towed my heart away with a tremendously transparent, marvelously musical presentation and presence. In all of the formats that I tried, I didn't find a single "close but no cigar" element in its handling of any of our reference recordings or streaming sources. No "Yes, but…", no overemphasis on the midrange, no loss of harmonic balance, and no operational failures. (Those are more common than you might think.)

Yes, the base price of the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE does put it out of range for many people. Then again, many exceptional designs in high-end audio do the same thing. Ditto in most all of life: excellence arrives at a price. You're the only one who can decide if the price is worth the sacrifice. (Christ's "pearl of great price" and all that, eh?) And personally, when I consider that you get a smashing-looking integrated amp, with world-class audio performance and the ability to add a DAC section with up to DSD512 capabilities, plus a very promising phono section, all in one place…well, I'd say that you could save space and $$$ without compromising the quality of your musical experience. If you can handle the price range, then you really do owe it to yourself to consider the L2i SE. It's killer!

In fact, I am hoping to get a fully-loaded L2i SE back here at PF Central in the next few months. I really do miss it. Indications from Vinnie Rossi are that this will happen. Most excellent!

Meanwhile, I can say this with full confidence: The Vinnie Rossi L2i SE is a world-class, top-o'-the-heap integrated in my book. Lovely to look at; utterly seductive to hear. It will definitely be getting a Brutus Award from me at the end of 2020…no doubt about that at all.

 

And so, here's a Ye Olde Editor's "Very highest recommendation…enthusiastically!" for the L2i SE.