Vista Audio i34 Integrated Amplifier

In the world of audio, simplicity not only exists, but also is ravenously celebrated. Both Conrad-Johnson and McIntosh have produced anniversary editions of a few of their most beloved equipment. The single driver speaker community is alive and well. Most importantly, the days of mass buttons and switches have gone the way of the dinosaur, sans home theater receivers. Vacuum tube equipment thankfully has always followed a more simplified life. Though the process of developing a fine piece of glowing glass is a long and laborious process, the finished product is quite simple, and usually elegant.

Vista-Audio first caught my eye a few years back when I got to spend a few weeks with their i84 integrated tube amplifier. It was a very musical amplifier, that had a tonal purity and did an excellent job with fairly inefficient speakers, so I was anxious to sample their latest creation, the i34, which uses a pair of EL34 tubes per channel to produce 35 watts per channel. This definitely opened up the possibilities to mate the Vista sound with a wider range of speakers.

The i34 is designed and built in Serbia and is very reasonably priced at $980. It uses a pair of ECC832’s, which designer Boris Sasic feels offers the best qualities of the 12AX7 and 12AU7 in one tube. The latest version of JJ’s EL34 the EL34L’s are used for the output tubes and are supplied in a matched quad for this view

Sleek and simple

The i34 features a basic layout, reminiscent of the Dynaco Stereo 70 or early McIntosh power amplifiers with an open steel chassis, exposing the tubes and transformers. Definitely an old school approach. The transformers are sourced directly from Traformatic, who’s factory is nearby. Sasic says that this helps to keep the build cost more reasonable, because the majority of the amplifiers bulk doesn’t have to be shipped very far. The i34 weighs 24 pounds, but feels heavier than it is, definitely having a short and stout footprint.

The front panel has a simple volume control and input selector. Around back ar three sets of high level inputs marked CD, TUNER and AUX. There is also a ground for Vistas’ new phono preamplifier that I am in the process of reviewing. There are taps for 4 and 8 ohm speakers, rounded off with a standard IEC receptacle for power and the power switch, which keeps the front panel clean.
Setup and burn in

Thanks to the matched quad of tubes, the i34 leaves the factory with it’s bias already set. Sasic claims that the tubes do not need to be rebiased until a new set is fitted. Per Sasic’s direction, I gave the i34 a full week of burn in before settling down to serious listening.

Not wanting to get too much of a tubey good thing, I kept my modified Jolida CD player with a tube output stage on the sideline and used the SimAudio i.5 and the Rotel RCD-1520 CD players as sources for the bulk of the review. My usual reference speakers, the Eficion F200 speakers were used, sans MartinLogan subwoofer, as the i34 does not have a variable output to use with a sub.

The Sound

The i34 had a very open tonal quality and did not bloat breathy female vocals as some tube amplifiers can do. When listening to Nora Jones, Come Away With Me, the airy sultriness that attracts most listeners to her voice wasn’t overdone in the least. This was very similar to my memory of the i84; midrange magic, but not too much.

Thanks to the more delicate nature of the EL 34 tube, this amplifier is probably more suited to acoustic and vocal music. Unless you have incredibly efficient speakers, you won’t be able to enjoy Megadeth or Audioslave at the proper levels, though I was intrigued with the Who’s Quadrophenia when listening to Keith Moon’s drumming. While this amplifier does not hit you on the head with thunderous bass performance, the quality of the bass is excellent and the amplifier has great pace overall.

Comparing the i34 to my other tube amplifier, the Onix SP3, the Onix amplifier had more overall slam, but the i34 had more detail and delicacy. The i34 is a very resolving amplifier for its price point indeed.

Trying a few different speakers, I had excellent luck with the Swan 2.1SE monitors, which have a slight bass bump, making for an excellent match with the bass performance of the i34. The Era Design 5’s are less efficient and were not terribly enticing overall. The i34 is no different than any other 35 watt tube amplifier in this respect; careful speaker matching is necessary to get the most out of the power on tap.rear view

Final thoughts

There’s a solid selection of tube integrated amplifiers around the $1000 price range. At $980 the Vista Audio i34 holds it’s own very well. The fit and finish is excellent, with an understated vintage aesthetic. The overall presentation is excellent, with this amplifier providing a more refined sound than you would expect at this price point.

The Vista Audio i34 amplifier

MSRP: $980

Manufacturers Information

ENG Vista, Inc.
77-21 86th St
Ridgewood, NY 11385