TONEAudio Magazine Issue 33


Holiday Gift Guide

The 2010 Exceptional Value Awards

The 2010 Product of the Year Awards

The 2010 Publisher’s Choice Awards

2010’s Best Rock & Pop Albums
By Bob Gendron

Recordings of the Year
By Jeff Dorgay


The dCS Paganini Stack
By Jeff Dorgay

The Grado Statement 1 Cartridge
By Jeff Dorgay

The ARC REF 2 Phono Stage with a visit to ARC
By Jeff Dorgay

Vitus Audio SS -050 Amplifier

vitus-openingThe Vitus Audio SS-050 is a very high performance, yet minimalist integrated amplifier. Tipping the upper end of the price scale at $26,500, this is another destination product, and with one XLR and one RCA input, must be made part of a system that has only two sources. I imagine that this should pose no problem for the average person who has an analog source and a digital source.

Make sure your rack is adequately braced, as the SS-050 weighs 90 pounds. It’s a very compact yet dense piece of hardware with a huge power supply and some fairly massive heatsinks. Identical in appearance to the SS-010 amplifier, which produces 25 watts per channel in pure class-A mode, the SS-050 only remains class-A for the first few watts, going on to ultimately produce 100 watts per channel. Judging by the warmth of the sound and touching the outer case, it might be biased closer to class A than designer Hans Ole Vitus cares to admit.

An equal, if not higher amount of attention to detail is paid on the inside of the amplifier as well. Starting with the highest quality parts is only the beginning. Every resistor, capacitor and transistor is hand sorted and matched to assure only the best of the best exist in the Vitus amplifier. When I talked to Hans-Ole Vitus at this years CES show, he smiled and said, “You should see what we don’t use!”


With two inputs and an IEC power cord socket, it doesn’t get easier than this. I made it a point to feed the SS-050 with a dedicated 20 amp circuit, while the Naim CD555 was connected to a different AC line and the Nagra VPS/VFS phono stage remained battery powered. As the Nagra sounds best through its balanced outputs and the Naim does not have balanced outputs, these two high quality sources were a perfect match of the SS-050.

vitus-overheadAs with any solid-state amplifier that has been in transit for some time, the SS-050 took about 48 hours to open up, stabilize and sound it’s best, though it was more than pleasant out of the shipping carton. After spending a few weeks with the amplifier and going through regular power cycles, it takes about 30 minutes to fully stabilize in normal play.

The high current delivery of the SS-050 was a perfect match for my MartinLogan CLX speakers, however the lack of a preamplifier output, did not allow me to use my Gotham subwoofer with the SS-050, ultimately eliminating the CLX or the YG Acoustics Anat II’s that also required a high level output to drive its powered subwoofers. Keep this in mind if you have this requirement; if you love the Vitus sound, you will need one of their separate preamp/power amp combinations for this application.

Fortunately, the GamuT S-7’s were in for review at the time and these proved to be a fantastic match with the Vitus amplifier, as did the Harbeth Monitor 40.1’s. Those with a high performance full range loudspeaker will enjoy the powerful delivery the SS-050 offers. I’ve never heard the big Harbeth’s sound better than they did with the Vitus amplifier.

The sound

The highest strength of the SS-050 is the inner detail and lack of grain it presents. While some might prefer the somewhat dreamier, more romantic presentation of the SS-010 monoblocks, they are only 25 watts of pure Class-A power, somewhat more limiting in speaker options. 100 watts per channel just offers more opportunity to mate the SS-050 with different speakers.

This amplifier is solidly on the top of the mountain with the worlds best; one of a small handful that sounds like neither solid state nor vacuum tubes. On one level, it has no sound at all; merely presenting the music it’s fed in a completely honest way. Of course, the downside to all this honesty is much will be required of your source components.

vitus-rear viewI just happened to be listening to the complete set of the current AC/DC remasters on vinyl, so the first track I played on the Vitus based system was “Live Wire” from the High Voltage album. The guitar lead-in on this piece instantly struck me, as I could hear the speakers in whatever cabinet Angus Young was using to record with rattle, much clearer than ever before. Next up was “Night Prowler” from Highway to Hell. Again, I was impressed with not only the weight, but also the subtle texture and roundness of the opening bass riffs in this track. When I turned this up, perhaps too loud, the placement of the snare drum remained rock solid, just in front of the soundstage on the right side, and did not fall back into the mix. However, when I went back to my early stamper originals, it was plainly obvious that these records were produced from digital safety masters; another layer of detail was now available.

While AC/DC can’t be the ultimate judge of fidelity, it does reveal whether an amplifier has grunt fairly quickly. If an amplifier can’t really rock, what’s the point? I suppose for those of you in the audience that aren’t metal heads, a similar amount of stimulation would be necessary from your favorite large orchestral piece from Mahler or perhaps Shostakovich.

I’ve been in somewhat of a Mussorgsky mood lately, and one of my favorite demo tracks is “The Warrior Captain” performed by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble. While starting out very delicately, when the thunderous solo vocal enters the mix, it is tough for less refined amplifiers to retain the airiness of the wind instruments, while keeping the vocals out in front. The SS-050 passed this test with ease.

So how about some Monkees in the midst of all this? Much as I love the Monkees, most of their music is poorly recorded, but this is always a great test to see how well a very resolving piece of gear does with a terrible recording. I must say that the Rhino remaster of the Monkees’ Headquarters never sounded better. Thanks to all the inner detail of the Vitus amplifier, I heard some great overdubs on “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere.” The point here is that while the SS-050 possesses a high level of resolution, it will not be limited to the 20 “audiophile pressings” in your collection to give its all. Of course, the best recordings will be spectacular, but even the average recordings in your collection will reveal more than you’ve heard before. A tough challenge to meet, indeed.

Though it is a somewhat worn out audiophile cliché, that is often overused, the SS-050 is truly an amplifier that adds or subtracts nothing (or at least very precious little) to the recording; it just pulls everything that is available out so you can hear it. If you’ve ever compared the sound of a very dirty record, to one that you’ve just spent time meticulously cleaning, this is the effect the SS-050 will have on your music collection.

High frequencies are delicately rendered, without a hint of graininess. Overtones sound clean, with cymbals and percussion sounding correct without being overdone. Acoustic bass again has the correct amount of natural resonance without being loose and whumpy, yet without making the mistake of being overdamped. This is a trap that many solid-state amplifiers make and while this may appeal to a segment of audiophilia that is looking for really tight bass, is not what an upright bass sounds like in a room. All the way through the frequency spectrum, the SS-050 always retains a delicacy that many think solid state is not capable of producing, and was only reserved for vacuum tubes.vitus-front 34

The Bottom Line

The only limitations of the Vitus Audio SS-050 amplifier are in terms of flexibility. If you require more than two inputs and need to integrate a powered subwoofer into your system, you will have to pass on this amplifier. However it’s sound quality is without peer. I put the SS-050 up at the pinnacle of solid-state amplifier design that in many ways surpasses the best vacuum tube designs I’ve heard, yet having none of the inconvenience associated with tubes. This amplifier will sound just as good 25 years from now as it does today. And when you consider that over that period of time, you will have bought about 10 sets of 6550 output tubes, the SS-050 becomes a much more practical investment.

If you are looking for the anchor to an ultimately minimalist system, this amplifier should be at the top of your list. And it is available in silver and black as well as the bright gold you see here.

The Vitus Audio SS-050 integrated amplifier
MSRP: $26,500


Digital Source Naim CD555/PS555

Analog Source Nagra VPS/VFS

Turntable Spiral Groove SG-2/Triplanar/Dynavector XV-1s
Cable Shunyata Aurora interconnects, Shunyata Stratos SP speaker cable

Power Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim power conditioners, RSA Mongoose power cords

Speakers MartinLogan CLX, Harbeth Monitor 40.1, GamuT S-7

Octave MRE 130 Monoblocks Keeping the Studio Warm!

The Octave MRE 130’s arrived straight from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and they’ve been not only keeping the TONEAudio studio warm, but providing some great sound! Their 130 watts per channel of KT88 power has so far proven to drive all of the speakers we have on hand with ease.

We reviewed the Octave V40SE integrated amplifier earlier this year and observed a perfect balance of vacuum tube virtures; an open airy sound, yet powerful and controlled. Like the V40SE, the MRE 130’s offer up a weighty, dynamic powerful performance and do not suffer the tonal colorations that some amplifiers possess.

The MRE 130’s have an MSRP of $18,000 per pair. We will have a full review shortly.

For now, you can find out more about the MRE 130 here.