Compact Disc Player
Manufacturer: AVA GROUP A/S
In Illustrated History of High-End Audio. Volume Two - Electronics edited by Robert Harley the Vitus Audio brand is mentioned among few others in a section titled: Today’s Vanguard. In the preface to this section Jonathan Valin wrote:
All selected by us firms representing Today's Vanguard are truly unique. And their products belong to the best high has ever seen.
The firm is named after its founder, Hans Ole Vitus, just as many other great brands before such as: McIntosh, Marantz, Mark Levinson, Conrad Johnson, Pass Labs, Dan D’Agostino to name a few. These were all family businesses and so is Vitus, with Hans Ole being also the chief designer. This is of course one of two main paths to take. The other, represented by such brands as: Goldmund, Soulution, Spectral, Parasound, or Constellation Audio, involves the founder/owner of the business employing high class specialists for development of particular projects. Both way can bring equally impressive results.
Hans Ole Vitus got himself involved in audio business already in 1995, but his first own products weren't released until 2003 when he presented the RP-100, a battery-powered phonostage, the RL-100 linestage and the SM-100 monaural power amplifier. Amplifiers are namely the first love and fascination of the said gentleman. He likes them working in class A without negative feedback loop, featuring extremely solid, aluminum enclosures. All products share similar appearance which on one hand is cost-effective for manufacturer and on the other it gives all his products certain characteristic, proprietary style.
In 2007 the first digital source by Vitus was released. It was the SCD-010 CD Player. Back then nobody seriously even considered playing music from computer, and the only competitors for CD in 'digital domain' were SACD and DVD-Audio discs. Today the former is a niche product used by few, the latter is a history, as they say. SCD-010 featured Philips CD Pro-2LF transport modified by Vitus, and another of Vitus solutions – SMD modules.
Vitus products have the latter in common with another Danish manufacturer, Alluxity. It is owned by Alexander Vitus Mogensen, Ole's son who used to work for Vitus for 5 years before establishing his own company that is focused on modern technologies and solutions, including products such as music server. As he told us during interview, his factory makes above mentioned modules for his and his father's brands. And yet, while modules look similar, their design differs significantly.
In 2013 a successor of the said SCD-010, SCD-025 was released. It features the same transport mechanism, same upsampler module and DAC chips. All the rest was designed from scratch. Version we received for a review is another variant of this project. It's a one-box device of modular design. Transport, power supplies for digital and analogue sections, DAC chips with master clock module, digital input section, analogue output section – they all sit on separate boards that, if needed, might be independently replaced.
This last option is particularly important for digital input section, the USB one in particular – the very reason why SCD-025 came to life, and a serious headache for designers, as the requirements for USB inputs change rapidly over last few years. First version accepted PCM signal up to 192 kHz and 24 bits. Latest revision, introduced in 2014 added also DSD compatibility.
Manufacturer decided to warn users already in the opening section of the SCD-025 manual: „This devices I VERY HEAVY – we recommend that at least two people are involved in its unpacking and setting up”. I suggest one treats this warning seriously – it's not there by mistake, it's NOT a part of amplifier's manual used in this manual by mistake. Despite the fact that both devices share very similar enclosures each of them features a separate, dedicated, in-depth manual. This CD Player weights 26 kg and its make&finish is simply remarkable.
It is a top-loader, with manually operated cover. It features 3 digital inputs ( RCA S/PDIF, AES/EBU and 2.0 USB), hence it might be used also as a D/A Converter. It is compatible with 16-24 bit, 32-192 kHz PCM signals and with DSD signal (via USB). To use USB input with a PC as a source one has to install proper USB driver (available on CD-ROM delivered together with the device). The disc includes also a digital version of manual and a few photos of each Vitus product from current range.
Inside all signals are upsampled first to 384 kHz/24 bits and only then sent to two DACs. This module (upsampler) differs in this 'II' version from the one in version 'I', and so does the board with master clock and with DAC. Player sports two outputs, a balanced one and unbalanced and one chooses in the menu which one is activated. Menu is also more complex. It allows user to adjust display's brightness, to switch phase, to name digital input, to turn (digital) volume control on, and so on.
The make&finish of SCD-025 is among best ones I've ever seen.
HANS OLE VITUS
Wojciech Pacuła: How this version differs from Mk I?
Do you believe in Compact Disc format still? What is its the future?
What are advantages and disadvantages of CD format?
I see there is a separate DAC and I/U PCB - what DAC chips did you use? Is I/U converter passive or active? (You have there some nice caps:) We still use the ADI1955 – we evaluated pretty much everything else, and did not feel a big step forward and hence stayed with it. U/I is active – but yes, in the filter we do use MCAP throughout for best sound.
Aren't you afraid of lack Philips' transports on the market?
Any plans about Masterpiece series CD source?
Recordings used for the test (a selection)
Every person that visited me when SCD-025 was here was truly impressed with its appearance. These were mainly distributors and their employees, so people dealing with high-end devices every day and still, Vitus managed to impress them. It simple creates this image of a particularly solid, reliable device. One just looks at this robust aluminum device and immediately starts to believe that it holds pure music inside. One plays any album and believe turns into certainty.
I can say that at the very beginning because if you try it you will hear the same thing at once. This is an amazingly warm sounding Player. It sounds a lot like a 'warm' turntable. These two qualities, not necessarily meaning the same thing, this time come hand in hand. Such a, for the lack of a better word, analogue sound will determine at once whether particular person likes it or not. This Player has its own „Personality”, it's not just another Player trying to deliver 'truly neutral' performance, what whatever that means.
I think I need to elaborate on the above description. Otherwise one reading it might conclude that this device offers a 'warmed-up' and 'smoothed-out' performance, which is not true. When I said that Vitus offered a warm sound I didn't mean any sort of coloration of the sound. The sound is namely perfectly coherent, which would not be possible if the tonal balance was shifted one way or the other. This particularly dense sound signature is a result of a slightly rounded attack in upper midrange and treble area. „It's silky” – one would say, and it would be true. I listened to album after album and found no harshness in the sound. What is left after eliminating all harshness is amazingly rich, dense and warm (but not warmed-up) sound.
The obvious question that comes to mind is whether such performance isn't to monotonous. Because if everything sounds in this way maybe proper differentiation of recording is lost in the process? Different recording cab be very different from each other – made using various recording, mastering and pressing techniques. An answer to this question is not so unambiguous, but there are no truly unambiguous answers in high-end audio – if you doubt that please read the coverage of the 101. Cracow Sonic Society Meeting. It is so much easier to assess budget and mid-priced devices/systems than those of high-end class. There are, in my opinion, many equivalent paths/choices in high-end audio.
The device under review has its own, strong sonic character – that's obvious. To some extend it does unify presentation. As I said the performance is always smooth, silky, enjoyable. But that's just the outer shell, packaging if you will that does not affect deeper, actually most important layers of any recording. That's why the first impression when listening to most albums is similar but their true nature is different. No particular effort is required to get to those deeper layer – they are right there, within grasp. But only if one knows what to look for due to one's extensive experience with high-end devices. One who doesn't know much about high quality sound might not be able to realize the quality of this performance.
Listen to two versions of Seong-Jin Cho's, winner of the 17 International Chopin Piano Competition, album – the German and Korean ones, and you'll realize at once what I mean. The German version seems quieter but more refined, the Korean one (Polish too, by the way) sound more 'artificial', more 'raw'. These are not subtle differences at all. In terms of timbre Vitus presented them even more clearly than dCS Rossini , Chord Red Reference Mk III and Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-edition.
My impressions when listening to two versions of an analogue remaster (made from master tape) of Perfect's album Unu prepared by Damian Lipiński were very similar. Damian sent me two versions (WAV 16/44,1) and asked which one, in my opinion, was better. I chose, as it turned out, the 'less-messed-with' version. I burned them on a CD-R (there are less and less laptops on the market with CD-burners – what will happen when they stop to make them at all?!) and compared them again using Danish Player. My conclusions were exactly the same as before.
There is a price to pay for these sound qualities – selectivity, that is simply not as great as, for example, offered by above mentioned dCS, Lektor Grand SE Ancient Audio and some other top CD Players. But the way it presented bodies of instruments reminded me of what Soulution Players did, or Audio Research Reference CD9.
Perception of lower end, so bass and lower midrange is similar. It is not particularly well controlled. There is a lot going on in this part of the range in both, electronic music recordings and in acoustic one. Bass goes deep, but it is not as punctual as some other, more open sounding Players present it. If I were to guess (without knowing the design) I would have said that it featured tubes in the output stage, rather 6SN7 than ECC88 or 6H30Π. Why? Because, as I remember that after all these years, Audio Research sounded like, and also Jadis two-box Player. Club remixes by Depeche Mode, Kendrick Lamarz To Pimp a Butterfly and others alike will amaze will colors, but they will lack drive that is a key element of this type of music.
Many people will be surprised, maybe even shocked by the way Vitus Player renders so called soundstage. I used to use this term in the past but it seems that today it does not carry quite the same weight as in the past. In many English reviews I've seen a new term: 'holography”. It seems that it is supposed to indicated something even more profound than “soundstage”. I don't know if it really makes sense. Maybe we should use a “holographic soundstage” term as a description of particularly well developed soundstage? It would describe soundstage rendered by Vitus perfectly.
Instruments in front of us are not 'extracted' from the mix and from background. This way the presentation resembles that of analogue master tape played by reel-to-reel rather than one of vinyl record. Images are not that precisely described and yet we know their size, location on the stage and in regard to other instruments. It is a true holography if we define it as phantom images having full body and listener having a full knowledge of what's happening on the stage without studying it, analyzing and categorizing what he can hear. It is a very natural, organic way of soundstage presentation, one the requires absolutely no effort from listener to understand it and accept it. As I said – it might come as a shock to some people, that might be even bigger after listening to some recordings with sounds coming from all around, such as Tame Impala Currents.
I wish more designers knew how to create such a fantastic sound sources. A design and its features and performance came together creating a Player one can spend his entire life with. It's ironic that it was released so late, when CD format is at the verge of sliding into a small market niche next to ones of vinyl record and SACD. But that's life. I hope some people will still be willing to keep CD alive for many more years. But even if the end of CD format is close it's worth spending the time we have left experiencing qualities of CD using such a brilliant Players as SCD-025. Even more so considering that it features also digital inputs, including USB that allows user to use a computer or music server as a source and expect a similar performance.
Just like many Hans Ole Vitus' products also SCD-025 is an extremely sturdy beast that would probably survive even a direct hit by long-range rocket. It is very heavy and quite big too (for a CD Player, I mean). Enclosure is made of thick aluminum plates. Black and silver finishes are available. Chassis sits on four feet with rubber inserts. I assumed that manufacturer chose this solution on purpose so I decided not to use any additional anti-vibration elements and just placed it on top shelf of my Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack.
Also like other Vitus devices, this CD Player comes paired with high quality power cable. It's not just some cheap wire, but a dedicated solution (similar to the one offered by FM Acoustics) so I didn't even try to replace it with any other chord. Also, the same wire is used for internal cabling of the device. Power chord's name is Andromeda and is constructed with carefully selected top grade copper wiring and terminated with high quality Furutech connectors: FI-11 (Cu) and FI-E11 (Cu).
Front, top and rear
A small, one-line, amber display sits in the middle of the front panel – similar to that used by Accuphase. In my opinion it is too small – I couldn't see much from a 2 meters distance and I'm not that old. It would be good to see displayed information as these include number of tracks, time of each of them, or menu section names. Below manufacturer placed Vitus logo. There are six push buttons, three on each side of the display. Four control basic functions of the Player, 3 are used to move around menu. It looks really good and the same solution is used for all brand's Players, preamplifiers and integrated amps. The only downside is placing 'play' button on the left side of the display – not the most comfortable, or 'natural' placement if the device is used by a right-hand person.
Disc is placed directly over motor's axis. One places a metal clamp over the disc and manually closes drive's cover (it works smoothly). After cover is closed TOC information is read, and opening cover stops playback.
Rear panel is occupied by solid Neutrik connectors. The RCA socket sit quite deep inside the panel which makes it impossible to use Interconnects with large diameter connectors. Thus instead of using Siltech Triple Crown IC I had to use Tellurium Q Silver Diamond. There are three digital inputs: S/PDIF (RCA), AES/EBU (XLR) and USB, and two digital outputs: S/PDIF (RCA) and AES/EBU (XLR). Due to its balanced analogue stage Vitus features both, balanced (XLR) and unbalanced analogue outputs.
The interior is filled with electronic circuits, but the mechanical part also occupies a lot of space. After removing top cover I was surprised to see how deep the transport mechanism was placed – it looked like designer wanted to lower the center of gravity. The Philips CD Pro2LF drive misses its original base and instead it is bolted to a much larger, more rigid board of milled aluminum. This board is supported in four point and the mechanism is decoupled.
There are power supplies on both sides. I spotted as much as four (!) transformers hence there must be at least four independent power supplies. I assume one for the drive, one for digital section, maybe one for master clock and one for analogue output. These are custom made EI type transformers. Boards with individual modules are placed next to the rear panel. Right behind the drive one can spot a board with DAC and master clock. Vitus builds this high quality master clock by themselves. I couldn't see the markings on DAC chips but the previous version featured Analog Devices AD1955 DAC.
Same board hosts four high quality polypropylene Mundorf M-Cap capacitors - probably they are part of I/U converter. Also output modules, same as DAC, are closed inside metal shielding housings. These are SMD circuits working in class A with no negative feedback. These are the same as used for SL-102 preamplifier.
Signal, before it goes to DAC is processed by upsampling module (a digital filter). It's a large, plastic box placed next to digital input section. Previous version of the Player featured Anagram Technologies Q5 filter, that is used also in Cambridge Audio CD Players. CA bought exclusive rights for this upsampler so it's not available for other manufacturers anymore. The Q5 use only synchro-upsampling (with 8-times oversampling), converting 44.1 kHz PCM signal to 352.8 kHz PCM, and DSD signal to 384 kHz PCM. Same circuit changes 16 bit signal into 24 bit. As I mentioned in my review of Soulution 745, it's a true extrapolation system and not just adding 8 „empty” bits.
The Anagram Technologies company doesn't exist anymore, now it is named EngineeRED and it is their module one finds inside new Vitus version. Now it is called Q8 and it's a stereo synchro-upsampler that accepts PCM signal from 32 up to 384 kHz, but also DSD64 and DSD128 (2,8224 MHz and 5,6448 MHz). It delivers a PCM 24/384 kHz signal that drives two mono D/A Converters.
Remote provided with the Player is surprisingly handy – same as the one used by Ancient Audio.
Specifications (according to manufacturer)
Master Clock: 24,576 MHz
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One