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I wanted to see it strike again. Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV. The One took turns fighting the Apogee Centaur Minor, the Apogee Stage, the Mark & Daniel Ruby and Mini (Apogee specs at 3Ω/86dB, M&D 3-6Ω/82.5dB.) Each time the Virtue One put up a good fight. Each time it was a formidable display of skill and fortitude disproportionate to size. I couldn't wait to share my excitement with Seth and his chief designer Roger Sheker:

"The most incredible thing is how the One can drive these Apogees so effortlessly. I only have to dial up the volume to 12:00 to get really loud. With the other Tripath amp, I need to crank it up to 3:00. Even though these are just about the most amp-friendly Apogees made, seeing such a tiny amp weave out clean and transparent 'ribbon' sound and gushing deep tight bass drops your jaw. In fact I never have gotten such good bass from any Tripath amp. The music is spontaneously relaxed except that the Symphonic Line and NuForce yield more detail and finesse. But hey, the price difference? And this is the most humble of your Virtue amps."

When Seth suddenly had to recall the review loaners for their RMAF debut, we agreed to focus on the Two. Before I shipped back the One and Sensation, I received two Twos to accommodate tri-amping for my Mark & Daniel Diamond+ review (1 x One, 2 x Two). Roger was also kind enough to send along some Audience Conductor 'e' speaker cables, interconnects and iPod cables.

Tenacious virtue: Who are Seth Krinsky and Virtue Audio? Like everyone else in this industry, Seth started with a passion and obsession to do things his way and deliver quality, aesthetics and pricing that would appeal to all. After two false starts—"it was 20 times more expensive and took 18 months longer than anticipated"—he launched Virtue Audio.

The design for the Virtue One and Two started with four propeller posts, a subwoofer output jack and a blank sheet of paper. Seth kept nurturing and perfecting the idea for two years before the first production model shipped. The first false start was a battery-powered wireless amp called Outpost. It took an unconventional design which could be deployed wirelessly anywhere (receiving audio signals by antenna) and positioned vertically or horizontally.

One striking feature was a rotational speaker binding post assembly. It was mounted on a ball-joint that complied with any obscure angle to neutralize the tugging torque of huge speaker cables. The chassis was thick aluminum as was the chunky volume knob. In parallel with development on the Outpost amp, the propeller post™ was born.

The extra wide and sculpted binding posts are now featured on the Virtue One and Two as well as Sensation amplifiers. The propeller post drew its inspiration from the Mark Levinson terminals. Seth was so obsessed with a post of the right size and proper tactile feel of authority when tightened down that he had the propeller post professionally CAD modeled and then found a supplier to manufacture it. [The image below opens to full size in a new window.]

False start N°.2 was getting professional help on perfecting the physical design of the Outpost amp. After paying fancy designer fees and drifting off course toward ultra-hip plastic swirls with glow rings that had already fallen out of fashion, Seth rechecked his sextant and took the helm with one clear-cut objective. Form would follow function. He gave up the contemporary look for a functional check list which he recollected in one of his emails I quoted earlier. But that didn't mean he could not have a distinctive look. Insisting on must-have features like his proprietary posts, a subwoofer out, an upgradeable power supply, a big solid chrome-plated metal volume knob and a customized chassis with removable aluminum outer shell, the compact integrated stereo amp gradually took shape. Adding the final touches of blue power LED, a bright-red LED behind the volume knob to indicate thermal/overvoltage conditions and a reliable yet tactile power-on push button located upfront for ease of use got him to the One and Two we have today.

Altruistic virtue: In deciding on amplification technology, Seth left no stone unturned. "Tripath, Hypex, ICEpower®, Philips, Cirrus Logic, Analog Devices, tubes and others... Hypex was amazing but too expensive. Tubes were ideal (the soft sound and warm glow) but we saw no point in making an amp with small analytical tubes while larger tubes would have required very heavy transformers. We liked ICEpower® enough to rework the case to accommodate it but in the final analysis really wanted something ICEpower® could not deliver but Tripath could: a rabid fan base. There's no mystery as to why the T-Amp became such a viral craze. Tripath amps sound different and most people would agree better. They are warm and lush and convey low-level information that most amplifiers miss. Our lead engineer Roger Sheker calls it "toe-tapping realism". Michael Mardis calls it "that Tripath sound"."

Seth was so bullish on Tripath that by mid 2006 he purchased several thousand Tripath chips and controllers. It was insane to plunk down his life savings for a commodity whose manufacturer would soon be out of business but the sound investment started to pay dividends in a pricing policy that everyone could afford. Seth explained his company's central motto:

"Much of what you would call the high-end audio business today is a hobby. Goods are made one at a time and sold for very high prices, sometimes a fair price but still high price. The proprietor struggles along imprisoned by a dream. In that respect we're no different. Nobody on our team makes a living wage from Virtue. We all have other things going to make ends meet and Virtue remains a hobby, a labor of love. However that's where the similarities to boutique audio companies end. Virtue differs because low volume is not an option. There are plenty of companies offering fantastic mind-blowing product for a fortune and to put it plainly, I don't find producing and selling expensive products interesting. The greater challenge is to bring the sensory experience of high-end audio to the masses. That's a truly
virtuous undertaking, is it not?"