VINNIE ROSSI L2i 100w Integrated amp w tube preamp - super quite

VR 01 IA L2
NZ$ 24,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Vinnie Rossi
New

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 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"..... Marc Phillips - Partime Audio

The L2i is our response to “why not?” Why not simplify our L2 Signature Edition Integrated Amplifier (L2i-SE) for customers looking to avoid the expense of big, exotic direct-heated triodes like the 300B or 2A3? Why not offer the same flexibility, stunning build quality and appearance – including a large percentage of the Vinnie Rossi Signature Edition sound – at a more attractive price point? The L2i is Vinnie Rossi’s answer to that question.

The L2i’s gain stage incorporates a single pair of octal 6SN7 small triodes instead of inferior 12AX7/6922 types. The 6SN7 with its beefier plate structure is tonally far more sophisticated and our top choice when DHTs are too costly. Ours run in a dual-mono, class-A, grounded-grid circuit with zero feedback. This feeds a true dual-mono, high-bandwidth class-AB MOSFET output stage to make the L2i an exceptional hybrid integrated amplifier. The tubes set the sonic characteristics and the transistors add the high-current drive for challenging speaker loads. It’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario with very low maintenance or tube replacement costs.

This integrated amplifier reproduces music with terrific spaciousness, harmonic sophistication, liquidity and detail that transistors simply cannot achieve on their own. You also can inlude the L2 Dac and Phonostage options and full-function L2 remote handset. Merging all of this with superlative build quality, reliability and a 10-year warranty make the L2 a striking single-chassis proposition. It sits just one step below our flagship integrated but at a significant savings to offer you the highest performance/price ratio in our product line.

L2 OPTIONAL DAC- plug-in module available for L2i / L2iSE Integrated amps & L2 preamp 
L2 OPTIONAL PHONOSTAGE-MM/MZ plug-in module available for L2i / L2iSE Integrated amps & L2 preamp

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

L2i Features (Linestage/Preamp)
     Class-A, ultra wide bandwidth, dual 6SN7 octal triodes.  Also compatible with CV181, 6N8P and 6BL7 tube families. 
     Dual-mono layout patented Belleson super regulator feed for ultra-quiet linear voltage regulation of the triodes, and 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) line level inputs and preamplifier outputs
     Internal “tube bypass mode” switches (replaces tube linestage with a Class-A JFET stage)  
     Included tubes: EH6SN7 (matched pair)
     Full-function aluminum remote control handset

L2i 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

Additional Features
     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
     Designed and manufactured by Vinnie Rossi in the USA
     10-year warranty

Specifications

Output Power: (Tested with 120Vac input) 100W RMS per channel into 8-ohms (170W RMS per channel into 4-ohms)
Output Impedance:  Approx. 0.1 ohm
Input Impedance:  Approx. 10k ohm (RCA and XLR inputs)
Frequency Response::  0.5Hz – 100kHz (+/- 1dB, with stock EH6SN7 tubes) / 0.5Hz – 150kHz (+/- 1dB, with Tube Bypass Mode Enabled)
Voltage Gain:  32dB (with stock EH6SN7 tubes) / 24dB (Tube Bypass Mode Enabled)
THD+N (with stock EH6SN7 tubes):  Less than 0.5%
THD+N (Tube 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. 438  x 368D x 222H mm
Weight:  approx. 23kg
Shipping weight:  approx. 27kg
Volume control: Balance control: 64 steps (approx. 1dB per step) from -∞ to +8dB 24 steps from L to R (approx. 1db per step)

Reviews

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.

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.

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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 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 

 

 

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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)

 

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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