VINNIE ROSSI L2i Signature 100w Integratrated amp w tube preamp - super quite

VR 03 IA L2SE
NZ$ 35,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Vinnie Rossi
New
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 a single chassis for the L2i ‘Signature Edition’ integrated amplifier that, according to the man from Massachusetts, makes “absolutely minimal concessions to design and performance”.

The new L2i-SE integrated is a hybrid design, inheriting the L2 Signature pre-amp’s single pair of 4-pin direct-heated ‘big power triodes’ – dual mono, Class A, zero feedback, “grounded-grid”, single-click rollable, by passable – and feeding a dual-mono Class A/B MOSFET output stage for 100wpc into 8 Ohms. The mainboard will also play host to the L2 Signature pre-amp’s optional L2 DAC and phono boards.

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.”

The L2i-SE is Vinnie Rossi's 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! 

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!

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

Videos

Features

L2i-SE  Features (Linestage)

  • 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-mono layout using multiple patented Belleson super regulators 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 “DHT bypass mode” switches (replaces DHT stage with a Class-A JFET stage)
  • Yamamoto solid Teflon UX-4 tube sockets
  • Mesh tube covers for added noise shielding and tube protection
  • Included tubes: EH300B Gold-Grid (matched pair)
  • Full-function aluminium remote control handset

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

Additional Features

  • Solid, precision CNC machined aluminium chassis and “bank vault,” ball bearing control knobs
  • Solid, precision CNC machined aluminium 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 – 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. 438W x 368D x 222H mm
Weight:  approx. 50lbs. (23kg)
Shipping Weight: 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

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.

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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. 

Videos

RMAF 2019: Vinnie Rossi previews his L2i-SE amplifier

Vinnie Rossi L2i SE Amplifier, QLN Speakers, Innuos