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Da Vinci Virtu Master Reference Preamp - Report Part 1

edited June 2011
The Virtu preamplifier is a rare feat, indeed. The physical size of it is imposing from a conventional preamp standpoint. The masterpiece K10 preamplifier by Robert Koda weighs over 50 pounds for just one single chassis. The Virtu is over 90 pounds, similar in weight to the Tidal Impact Stereo amp. The sheer weight of it comes primarily from the hand-wound transformers made by Peter Brem. There are a total of six transformers inside the Virtu. It consists of two input transformers, two inter-stage transformers and 2 output transformers for both channels. The 1st stage has amplifies 10db, and the 2nd stage 14db. The power supply is a regulated between -12v and +22v. The size of it is small relative to the main chassis.

The circuit design is unconventional. The position of the volume control is located at the very end of the circuit. That literally means all incoming signals are always amplified in full amplitude as there is no disruption in the signal path until the end. With this design, the path from input to the potentiometer is always totally opened. The big volume control on the right is an attenuator determining how much signal is allowed to be amplified. The concept is equivalent to a passive amplifier but the Virtu is an active line-stage that requires a power cord.

The gigantic gain switch is used to reduce/increase should incoming gains from DAC or phono stages is too high or too low. If the gain is too large causing an overload, a small light in the color of green for left and red for right channel starts blinking.

Under the transparency of the Tidal Sunray T1 system, I have to do many preparations before formal evaluation can be properly conducted. The Virtu is moved to place atop the Ohio XL+2 platform by SRA. Even the small power supply has its own SRA board. A master reference ground wire by Tripoint was used in between the almighty Troy and the Virtu main chassis. The Argento Flow is chosen as the power cable for the Virtu. A pair of FMR RCA is used in between the Vekian dac and the input of the Virtu. The Virtu is then connected via FMR XLR to the Calysto mono amplifier by Analog Domain GmbH.

The Virtu preamp took about 30 minutes to stabilize. I speculate it will take weeks to fully mature. One thing that strikes me right at the beginning is the dynamic capability of the preamp. In fact, I had to toggle the gain switch at the back of the Vekian DAC to “low”. If not, the presentation will become too forward. This is interesting because I always listen with high gain with Tidal Prescenio. Nevertheless, the fact that the Virtu has a totally open path from input to output explains the immediate feeling of power and dynamic.

There are tremendous of things going on in the musical scene when I played Dave Brubeck’s Live Recording at Carnegie Hall. All these actions are presented in a holistic perspective. Localization of different musical objects is less precise than the Tidal flagship but all the ongoing motions inside the recording renders an atmosphere of “you are there”. The whole musical picture is uncut with a tonal balance slightly bias towards the warm side. I can detect very small details moving in motion even at the farther end of the z-axis. At the same time, the musicians at the center of the stage started playing their respective instrument with their bodies moving. At certain interval, I feel as though one guy was kicking the double bass. The revelation of extreme minute motion everywhere is quite a new experience. With the Tidal Prescenio, all the minute details are equally there but they are presented in a calmer manner. I am still adjusting to the new perspective. Put it this way, with Tidal Prescenio you can even see the edge of the soundstage or even the ventilation exits somewhere in the ceilings. With the Virtu, I could feel the "summation of all minute motions" within the recording venue that defines the virtual space. Think of it as a bottom up approach to build up the soundstage.

I don’t want to rush any statements until time allows the machine to mature further. At this level, everything is relative. Subjective preferences dictate the result in the end. Probably, I need to change cables to get a different impression first. The speaker positions also matters because the energy interaction between the speakers and the room has changed. No meaningful comparisons can be done without speaker positions adjustments.

To be continued……
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Comments

  • Very interested to know how Peter Brem got the vol pot specially designed for 600ohm-600ohm, unless its output trans is not a 600 ohm design which was used by WE in the 20's.
  • It does take time to adjust to the new perspective introduced by the Virtu. I am running out of words to describe “purity”. It is not snow-white. It is not translucent to render Monet like color palette. I somewhat feel purity of musical notes are set free from constraints imposed by electrical/electronic parameters. I recall the Grandezza series has all the color vibrancy concentrated in the mid range – an extreme poisonous sound that has taken the hostage of our Mr. DV. The Grandezza is tuned to the favor of classical music. It is extremely good on the reproduction of older recordings. Recordings that demand more speed, attack and transients resolution may sound too soft on the Grandezza. The Virtu reconciles imperfections in these areas. The vintage feelings may be gone from the perspective of Grandezza users but that does not mean musicality is lessened. Quite the contrary, a sense of musicality is founded.

    After all these years, we should understand musicality is not about the artificial thickening of the mid-range. Resolution is not about the clearness of the treble. Dynamic is not about the loudness of the bass. To me, it is all about speed. If the speed is right, the tonality is right but not vice versa (I am open to challenges on this statement). Complexity arises when energy interacts with the room. Such interactivity alters the speed of the signal to our ears. This interaction is largely unknown and requires both objective knowledge and subjective experiences to understand. Corresponding speaker position adjustment must be done to accommodate these changes.

    I had spent the week understanding the basic character of the Virtu before fine tuning the speaker positions. What I did is to push the Sunray main speakers closer to the rear wall by about 1 inch. The presentation of Virtu’s bass is different from Tidal. It is seemingly softer and yet elastic. As a result, the initial impression is slower speed in the lower mid bass area. After the main speakers are pushed backwards, the noises are cleaned up beginning from mid range and above. This is the result of faster bass response. Such diagnostic approach and speaker adjustment skills, I primarily learn from Mr. Zanden and Mr. Chik (our LP specialist).

    To be continued.....
  • After few years listen, i found out the “extreme poisonous sound” is same blood with the legendary signature sound of Western Electric. What I mean is some things other from the sound of DV cartridge.

    Argento is perfect match with DV, but I believe the pre amp will not like Flow PC….
  • edited June 2011
    A chord in music is any set of notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. The beautiful tone of piano stems from the fusion between the fundamental tone and the subsequent resonances from the strings all the way to the hammer. The balance amongst leading edge, body and decaying tails has to be under controlled. When a chord is presented by a pianist, the demand on reproduction becomes more difficult. It is because the sound of chord is usually created by two/three fingers simultaneously. The reaction of the piano to the energy variation naturally differs too. When several chords are presented in a continuously manner, the demand on speed and resolution without compromising harmony will become exponentially difficult. The designer must understand the music alongside the engineering solution to get this right. Based on my subjective experiences in the past decade, only a few pre-amplifiers can get this right. And all of them are solid state design which is unsurprising given the inherent speed required for articulation. They are: Tidal Prescenio, Tidal Preos, Da Vinci Virtu and Robert Koda Takumi K-10. The Goldmund Mimesis 20M made a decade ago is another one. The only tube design that satisfies our standard on piano reproduction is Tron Syren – Black Label top configuration version.

    The presentation of the Virtu on piano focuses on the harmonious “result” of the chord. It is extremely pure akin to
    the tone rendered by the Sweden made ultra expensive 300B amp LARs Type 1 and 2. Purity defines beautifulness. The Tidal camp, on the other hand, focuses more on the “composition process” – which is always flawlessly revealed even the extreme minute finger motion of the pianist. Assume Martha Argerich is the judge of the Int’l Chopin competition (she was when Li Yundi won that year) and she has to determine the championship via listening to reproduction CD, I beg she needs the Tidal. The Da Vinci Virtu, on the other hand, is more oriented towards a concert hall experience from the perspective of the audiences, perhaps, in the mid-row section.
  • How many Gabriel users are waiting for this?
  • Mr.DV

    Had you already auditioned the Virtu? Uncle Ray said the vintage flavor of western electric is completely gone. I presume that is no longer your cup of tea?
  • I did heard the Virtue pre amp few days ago.

    I should make it clear. I disaggree the "signature sound" is talking only about d tone colour, thick mid-range. What I mean is all about the naturalness and vitality, the inspiration in d music reproduce does touch me. I did heard twice original WE electronic and some other great WE DIY. Whatever, they sound good or not, I feel they r in same blood, but DV is doing the evolution by Peter's experience and understanding on music. ( I hope my thought is correct, because I/Peter Don't ve same language to communicate, I understand it through long time listening experience on his project.)

    Refer to my listening impression, I m not understanding d whole system enough, there are still lot of things i m not sure yet(I need 2nd visit, if only focous on pre amp). All amp and cable are very new to me, I had similar feel with Raymond's commend. Also, I feel this preamp will even perform better with analogue source, although verkien already is the craziest digital.

    Take away all hi-fi effect, only from view on music listening, I was really shocked by this system speaking same things compare with mine system. It carry every emotion and details on each note. (I don,t ve those crazy details) If the electronic is good enough, the final result are same. I feel become more difficult to analysis and commend on these lot of product. What ever, I m very enjoy listen the whole things.
  • Mr.DV,

    It is good to see you write more as PT always speaks highly of your listening skills which are wholly from the musical perspective. That is not easy for the rest of us to understand because our music preferences are all different. But we need different perspective to foster better understanding of the same subject.

    After digesting what you wrote, let me point out a few points from technical perspectives.

    1. You are essentially describing Field Coil driver experiences where the tiniest change of each note is presented in a natural way from your speakers. The Shindo Latour speakers also deliver in the same way but your have higher resolution.

    2. Field coil drivers are old technologies made back in the old days. Their primary disadvantage is vulnerable to the stability and quality of the AC. The reason why you feel the Sunray system can produce similar result to yours is because of the superb AC conditioning by Spartan, the presence of sub-bass which add another dimension to the sound field and instrument, and of course the 絕對創造.

    In short,technology evolves, just like Peter evolves the sound of the original WE school. But it is true that the first generation of his speakers - i.e. the Intonation has severe colorations in the mid range, though I understand why it is toxically seducing. The driver that Peter chosen to use at that time isn't linear enough to play all kind of music well. The extra sweetness on violin and vocal comes at the expense of lower mid bass speed, which is further covered up by a gigantic bass drivers. For orchestra, the problems can be hide. But for someone who likes Mr.Children, Led Zeppling, then I'm sorry.

    But the latest Virtu is really something else. I can't really say it is the further evolvement of the WE school of thought. I was told the preamp is especially designed for Tidal Sunray after Peter listened to the Sunray in Munich show in 2010.

    In any case, I admire all great piece of audio work. If it is not good enough, I don't think both you and I will have the chance listening to it. Standing next to the Tidal Prescenio is not an easy feat.

    Ray
  • Uncle Ray,

    We can't really say the Virtu is designed for the Sunray. Put it this way, Peter feels the Tidal Sunray can reveal the strength of his masterpiece Virtu preamp. It turns out it is the case.
  • The unique bearing of the upcoming Master Reference Virtu tonearm from Da Vinci:

    Take a look at the link:



    All Da Vinci fans are waiting eagerly for it now. The bearing is now done perfectly. They can probably proceed to the next stage in a more speedy manner.
  • The Da Vinci AAS Gabriel turntable, for 2 straight years, has received the Golden Ear Awards from The Absolute Sound.
  • All the fans of Da Vinci, especially Gabriel owner, has been waiting eagerly for the delivery of the Master Reference Virtu arm. It is beautifully made. Be patient, Peter shot me a 6.5M picture file. We are almost there. All Gabriel users have pre-ordered one. After the 1st batch is gone, I just don't know when will the next production begin!
  • I am one of those patient users for this masterpiece....

    I have a Thales arm which at the moment is left idle. I wish to throw a question to this forum on what I should do with it. I have two options in mind:

    Option (1): order a arm base from DV for using the Thales arm with Gabriel..

    pros: leverage the superb core infrastructure of Gabriel turntable. Higher ROI on Gabriel.

    Option (2): use the Thales arm on the newly launched Thales turntable

    pros: ease of setup and precision is guaranteed

    In both cases, I will use Kansui as the cartridge.

    Views from the forum are welcome!
  • Marvel,

    I am not an expert in analog. My opinion is as follows:

    1. The Thales arm must have some synergy with Micha's own turntable. Aesthetically is sleek and compact with clean lines.

    2. The Unison/Gabriel family belongs to magnetic floating platter school. The sound is very clean with such design. The lower mid bass, may not be as impactful as direct drive counterparts. Some may feel the body of vocal is not adequate. That is why the Da Vinci arm has to made by wood to compensate the thinning of tonality in the lower mid bass region. In this light, using a Thales arm with Da Vinci gabriel may not produce the intended tonality of the original design.

    2. This may also explain why Micha uses direct coupling platter with belt drive so that the lower mid bass has more body and solid. The ultra tracking ability of the Thales arm produces the cleanest analog sound anyway.

    From my perspective which weighs more on tonality, I would tend to rather get the Thales TTT rather for the sake of better integration.
  • I tend to agree with Puyi. If the tonality is off, the expensive armbase will be wasted. Or you may have to use cartridge with stronger lower mid bass character like some of the Koetsu. The sound may become too clean. Actually, I remember Marvel had some experiences with Thales/Unision, how was the tonality like?
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