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Vitus Audio MP-D201 DAC

Mogami Cables

jls001

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TL;DR (too long, didn't read a.k.a. executive summary): It's amazing what a great source can do to even a modest chain. It can raise the performance of an ordinary chain to a much higher level.

Conventional audio wisdom says that a source (or for that matter any component in the audio chain) must be a match to the others in the chain. A match in terms of performance class, as well as price class. Well, this understanding is mostly true, and makes the utmost economic sense. For example, one would logically assemble a chain with, say, a Rs 40000-50000 CD player (or DAC), a Rs 50000-60000 amplification, and correspondingly priced speakers (say, Rs 100000 or thereabout). A 5 lakh equipment in this chain would indeed be out of place. Audio wisdom further says that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. For a moment, let's turn this truism on its head and ask ourselves - can plonking a 5 lakh rupees device in the above mentioned hypothetical chain somehow lift the performance of the audio chain to a higher performance class? The cost figures given above are just examples; you can substitute them with numbers comfortable to you. Just make sure that 5 lakhs is substituted by x10 (or even higher) of the cost of the source to keep the discussion going.

Can a standout device in an otherwise ordinary chain lift the performance to a higher level?

I had the happy opportunity to try out just such a scenario. Enter the Vitus Audio MP-D201 DAC courtesy a good friend who was kind enough to let me try it in my own setup. This DAC, by any reckoning, is an ultra high-end DAC (with a price to match;)).

Here's a photo of the front fascia:




And here's the back panel connections:




It supports one USB input, two AES/EBU and two S/PDIF each. Output is selectable between balanced or unbalanced. There is an IEC power socket with two inbuilt fuses and a power switch. And that makes up the rear panel.

Detailed specifications can be found here. This DAC uses DSP chips from the Swiss specialist Anagram to upsample and process all inputs. All the five inputs can handle 24/192 signals.

Current retail of the DAC is about 28000 Euros (or slightly over 33000 big ones in American greenbacks).

I brought home this heavyweight DAC (literally! it weighs 26 kgs) with the help of fellow forumer Rikhav (thanks, man for the help). I don't know what's inside but it is stupidly heavy. It weighed more like a tube power amplifier with three very large transformers that I used to own. If weight were a metrics of seriousness of intent, it has already scored an A+ there.

The idea was to feed it AES/EBU digital signal from my ancient music PC, but the PC refused to boot. The PC hasn't been used in the longest time. Next we thought of using my CD player as transport but unfortunately the digital output of the CDP is a BNC socket and I didn't have any BNC cable at hand. So the responsibility to be the transport fell on my beat up laptop running Win 7 32-bit, running foobar2000 audio player. I fished out an old, but well-kept, USB cable (A to B type) from deep in my cable junk pile; if I remember correctly, it had come bundled with a (now long-dead) deskjet printer. The USB cable is surprisingly well made. Plugged in the USB cable to the USB port of laptop, then to the USB input of the DAC, hoping that Windows 7 will recognise the DAC and automatically install the drivers. Alas, this was not to be. Windows 7 failed to install the driver. A frantic search of the manufacturer's website didn't help as they don't host drivers for download. The visit to the website at least helped us determine that the DAC is non-PnP. So that left us with only one option - to ask the owner if he had the driver. Luckily he had the drivers. Installation was a breeze, and on connecting the DAC to the laptop it was immediately recognised by Windows.

Listening Impressions:
After selecting the Vitus DAC as the output device in foobar, the first notes we heard made us sit up! We started with very familiar tracks. All of them sounded so much more cleaner and clearer. The bass weight and heft improved by several notches. From being a near "one-note" bass setup, my setup suddenly metamorphosed into something that ably discerned the richness of tone and texture of standing acoustic bass. The bass glissandos on Barb Jungr's Lilac Wine and Michael Buble's Me and Mrs Jones stood out like they never did before. The bass lines on Spyro Gyra's Pipo's Song and You Can Count On Me had an easy flow that was easy to follow. It brought out the texture of the bass like I've never heard from my speakers. Another kind of bass - that of bowed cellos - can make the hair on the nape of the neck stand up. For example, in the cello intro to the cover of The Beatles' classic "Eleanor Rigby" by the gifted Italian duo of Petra Magoni and Feruccio Spinnetti (from the album Musica Nuda), the buzziness and rasp in the tone of the bowed cello stands out. Earlier, I used to hear much of the texture smoothed out. My speakers would not bother to reveal the details of the texture of this bowed cello. As was the harmonics on Hugh Masakela's trumpet solo in Stimela - they brought a richness to the tone of his brass instrument.

Orchestral brass sections endeavour to make their massed brass section sound like one sound. But this DAC makes you hear the differences in the tonality and differing SPLs of trumpets, flugelhorns, bassons and saxaphones playing in unison.

The ability to resolve micro details also took a quantum jump. Details that are usually sandpapered over and get lost - like the decay of a plucked bass string hitting the fret and decaying almost instantly, a singer taking in breath, feeble percussions that otherwise get buried too deep in the mix, and tiny changes in vocal nuances and inflexions became audible even at moderate volumes. I've been hearing lots of new details on tracks I'm intimately familiar with. Sounds cliched, but true.

Another thing that is worth mentioning is the low noise and the low distortion. This translates to a need to increase the volume. Most of my listening now needs to be done at 12 O'Clock. Earlier I rarely ever went beyond 11. Despite the higher volume, there is no listener fatigue. This usually happens when the amount of distortion in a chain drops. The proof of this was when I suddenly realised that I had been listening to track after track till 1:30 AM the night I brought it home.

Soundstage has deepened than before, and there is a clear demarcation of instruments and voices in both the lateral and depth sound fields. However, the soundstage width remains about the same as before, perhaps due to limitations of my speakers or the room, though one can more clearly discriminate the distinct placement of instruments and voices along the width. It is definitely easier to follow the individual threads of the two dueling guitars on Rodrigo y Gabriella's Tamacun.

The tone and texture produced by this DAC is nothing short of a thing of beauty to my ears. It does magic to pianos, violins, saxaphones, clarinets, trumpets & flugelhorns, snare drums and percussions. And human voices. From the deep "cigarette bass" baritone voice of Leonard Cohen singing/speaking ".... he's a lazy bastard..." in the track Going Home (from the album Old Ideas), the dusky baritone of pianist-singer Jamie Cullum (on his excellent cover of Rihanna's Don't Stop The Music), Natasha Beidingfield's soulful and soaring rendition of The Rolling Stones' Wild Horses, and all the usual suspects that line the female vocal brigade - all of them had a greater presence. One standout artist strongly recommended for your listening pleasure is Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura. Try youtubing her number Sou Do Fado, Sou Fadista (though I must warn you that the youtube video does not really showcase the richness and nuances in her voice). Her music is somewhere at the crossroads of the African-Arab and the European. You'll hear both but they have been beautifully melded to synthesize a more beautiful new. Her singing is decidedly closer to the southerly influence.

To get back to the Vitus DAC, I won't even bother to talk about the beautiful midrange and limpid highs. Consider them a given.

It has also made the sound denser and more focussed - something I welcome in my setup. This may seem to contradict the opening lines which stated that everything sounded clearer. Strange as it may seem, this is true. I am guessing the non-homogenization of the voices and instruments even at orchestral crescendo levels is what makes the overall sound so much clearer. Case in point is the Eiji Oue conducted Minnesota Orchestra performing Modest Mussorgsky's The Great Gate of Kiev (from Pictures at an Exhibition, Reference Records). This orchestral number has a frantic pace, wild dynamic swings from very quiet flute passages to thunderingly loud passages where tymphani and cymbals come down a'crashin', and ends in a loud and glorious crescendo. I've never heard this track sounding so alive or more involving. And it didn't end in a soggy mass and dank wall of sound despite the loud crescendo ending. The MP-D201 also resolved staccato notes much better than I'd ever heard in my setup. Case in point - Malcolm Arnold's the Padstow Lifeboat (Jerry Jenkin conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony) has a refrain where there are a series of loud cymbal crashes. These cymbal crashes sounds like a single crash but the Vitus DAC actually made me realise that one of the crashes is not one but two staccato crashes. In other words, it has lightning fast attack.

This box (or any DAC for that matter) is certainly not my regular beat. I have been too busy concentrating on improving my analog sound and had totally neglected computer audio. And yes, this ultra high-end gear is not for me (it's way, way of out of my league), or for many of us who are happy with the modest gears that we can afford. It is for the audiophile playing the top level audio game. The idea was to find out what a very good gear can do to a modest setup. Well, it has certainly come away shining despite the lack of pedigree in the rest of the chain. Did it perform to its potential? Certainly NO. But it did raise the overall performance of a modest chain. And this is what we had set out to find out.

Are there chinks in its hefty armour? Yes, there are: for one, the front panel menu could have been more intuitive. Navigating to make changes to the setup takes some doing, but then it isn't too much of a dampener as this is usually a one-time effort. And it needs heat up time to sound its best. Further, for whom it matters, it doesn't support DSD. It also doesn't have selectable filters. And lastly, it is seriously heavy:) Do watch your back.

I don't have experience comparing this product to similarly priced products under the same environment, although I've had the opportunity to listen to some state of the art transport-DAC combos at friends' places. But my guess is it will acquit itself very well indeed in most setups (subject to the usual caveats of system matching and personal sonic choices).

I will miss it big time when it goes away. But as the saying goes, "It is better to have loved and lost that love than not to have loved at all".
 
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Nikhil

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Joshua,

Great review - enjoyed your writing immensely.
It is an interesting question always - what happens when higher level gear is placed into a system.
For me, the source is the best place for this kind of exercise.

I have heard of Vitus Audio in passing but did not know they costed that much!
Thanks for sharing the experience!

Regards.
 

rikhav

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Good review Joshua
You were able to put down in words exactly what we experienced

I happened to be with Joshua by a mere chance as I never free at that point of time in the day.

Had almost given up on listening to the dac due to issues mentioned by Joshua

The DAC brought about a phenomenal change in the sound. I am not good at words but Joshua has described everything perfectly. It was an eye opener for me

Best part was the sound was never artificial or clinical , still making us listen to so much more then before without even hint of harshness at quiet good volumes


Feel lucky to listen to it in a home environment as I am quiet sure I won't be able to afford such an equipment ever
 

prem

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I think Joshua has decided he needs to win the review of the month every month. Well written Josh. I am a great believer in putting most of my budget on the source. That's the starting point. That needs to be correct
 

jls001

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I think Joshua has decided he needs to win the review of the month every month. Well written Josh. I am a great believer in putting most of my budget on the source. That's the starting point. That needs to be correct

LoL:lol:

This thing just fell on my lap. Hence the review.
 

jls001

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I have heard of Vitus Audio in passing but did not know they costed that much!
Thanks for sharing the experience!

Thanks, Nikhil. Vitus has three product lines. The MP series is their top of the line Masterpiece series.
 

neo

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Mr Jwalkar,
With all due respect. There is no perfect or one single solution.There are many aspects to a dac then just a chip.
Regards
 

Nikhil

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listen to the Analog DAC R2R ladder dac you will go nuts... :) contact Jignesh for this he owns and MSB Discrete Ladder DAC

BablooJawalkar, welcome to the forum.

If you would like to share your enthusiasm for the Analog DAC, then you should start another thread.
Your discussion is taking this thread off topic which is unfair to the OP.

Cheers!
 

yogibear

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Joshua,

Apart from this DAC being an "Absolute" and a "Dream DAC", I doubt anyone else can put it in the words as you just DID. Superb Write !

But did it occur to you to really find out what does it really has inside to weigh a TON ? It puts many amps to shame, "gravity wise"?
 

yogibear

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If it brings any "Solace" to any one of us, their latest "Refrerence Series" offerings are cheaper:

RS-100 Stereo Power Amplifier

Rated Output Power: 2 x 300W rms in 8 ohm Class AB

Outputs: 1 set of speaker outputs

Inputs: 1 balanced (XLR), 1 unbalanced (RCA)

Dimensions (H x W x D): 180x435x430 mm

Weight: 42Kg

Price: $13,500.00



RD-100 DAC/Linestage

Digital Inputs: (2) XLR, (2) RCA, USB, TOSLINK

Analog Inputs: (2) XLR, (2) RCA

Analog Outputs: XLR, RCA

Digital Audio Input:

Resolution: 24 Bit
Sample Rate: 32-192 Khz

Volume Control: Relay controlled fixed resistor network. Gain: -99 to +12 dB

Power Consumption: 30 watts RMS (Standby/Operation)

Dimensions: (H x W x D) 100 x 435 x 377 mm

Weight: 9 Kg

Price: $14,000.00

And "back manageable" as well.
 

jls001

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If it brings any "Solace" to any one of us, their latest "Refrerence Series" offerings are cheaper:


Reference series is their entry level. Up next they have Signature series, then the Masterpiece series.
 

yogibear

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Thanks for telling me that. I did not know that. I wondered what they did to strip the weight. This explains it. Heavier is better and more expensive !
 
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