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Off the desk top. In my usual system the Vita replaced a €19.500 combo of Gryphon Athena and FirstWatt SIT1. Here I was still cruising for love. I honestly preferred the $1.400 chrome box. The separates felt quite similar to the photo below. Focus was exceptional. This ultra-wide bandwidth gear resolved not only individual French blind blades, it captured the buildings on the street's other side without blurring the room's contents. Yet tonally the color palette was washed out. Yes the treble was more refined and teased out, overall magnification power higher. But the price to pay—and for their sticker you shouldn't agree to do so—was a certain emotional staleness.

The Vita was like the next photo - stronger more vibrant colors. This produced more hereness without capturing anything outside the windows. Such visual:aural comparisons are fraught with shortcomings. In this instance the essential point seems nicely made however. (Both photos were shot with the same 14-42 nano-coated Lumix G lens). The path to ultra-fi narrows quickly to introduce many pitfalls. The essential balance is between meatiness and translucence. Enhance one, diminish the other. To increase both in tandem is the vexing aim.

The Vita's built-in balance errs on the side of meatiness if we apply far costlier ambitions to invoke any 'err' at all. That's a deliberate and very crafty design choice. In matters of listener involvement it can cut deeper than far costlier fare if the latter isn't matched just so as my own example proved. A fail-safe test at least in my book is to throttle back the volume until one's interest wanes. The lower a level you reach before that happens, the more of the relevant stuff a system has got. Anything that only sounds good loud misses. Loud is easy (very loud and still good gets very difficult again). To be involving at levels the neighbors can't hear is far tougher. Yet it's ultimately more important since it will likely make up the majority of your sessions. If not—yet?—just imagine how much more often you could listen if just that involvement barrier came crashing down like an auctioneer's 'sold' hammer. Here the Vita is quite the hammer.

Mosfets. My Bakoon is based on lateral Exicon Mosfets. When Colin Shaw's headphone amp went to plan B (silicon-carbide Jfet provider Semi-South suddenly closed doors without honoring his order) he picked IXYS IXTP1R6N50D2 Mosfets as replacement. The Gryphon Athena preamp on review meanwhile ran bipolar junction transistors. Mated to Nelson Pass' static induction transistor, that combo lacked warmth. I'd need to experiment with other amps to hit upon a more winning match (or factor more break-in for the pre).

My ModWright KWA-100SE runs Mosfets as well, the KWA-150 bipolars. I preferred and bought the former. All this to underline Simon Lee's choice for the Vita. It creates a telltale signature. Tube heads in general cotton to it far easier than BJTs. This isn't about right or wrong. It's about knowing what you like and understanding why. If you prefer a push/pull 6550 amp over a 2A3 SET—apologies for generalizing—you'd appreciate the more vivid Vita. Don't mistake its low profile and price for entry-fi. You'd be surprised what it can do with the type of speakers it will rarely encounter because the price gap is too vast. Its 50wpc power rating and high gain mean a perfect match for most conventional 89dB speakers. I'd personally think a smaller AudioSolutions or Sonus faber Venere floorstander would be a terrific choice.

Wrap. Simon Lee has an enviable track record for sonic winners that don't wipe out your bank account. With the new Aura separates he's gotten his wish to further tweak the predecessors' sonics whilst lowering the price of admission. That Aura the brand isn't better known isn't the fault of performance or build quality. The Vivid/Vita twins have all the useful features one could want; a simple user interface with displays easily legible from across the room; and the kind of attractive sound you want to return to after a bitter day's worth of trying trade show assaults. It's also the type of hifi kit one feels perfectly confident and smart about recommending to older family members and friends alike. Because the amplifier in particular strikes me as an overachiever, I single it out for a well-deserved award.
April Music Aura website