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|J. Lam comments on the SL100 from a musician's point of view
With reference to Linnman's review, much has already been said about the fact that the SL100 remains the preamp of complete fluency and articulation. Written notes fail to convey my feeling of indebtedness to the Vitus SL100. Hence I shall not even attempt to do it justice. The present SL100 is a pleasing gift because it reveals the players' techniques and subsequently serves the emotional exchange between the listener and the performers. I believe this preamp reflects more than one level of musical appreciation. Let me share my feelings in accordance with different musical instruments.
Some preamps are designed in such a way as to sound especially smooth and coherent in certain frequency regions but often compromise microdynamics with, for example, the distinct vibrations of different guitar strings. It is crucial for a guitar player like me to easily distinguish the tension of individual guitar strings because variation of tension amongst them requires not only different playing techniques but also carries the musical theme between the accompaniments and as intended by the performer. Notwithstanding the prestige of the FM Acoustics 268 linestage -- heard during various occasions in Hong Kong -- which rewarded me with an exciting HiFi experience characterized by thundering macrodynamics, it also inflated the tension of guitar strings, creating a very abnormal experience in turn. The current SL100 preamp not only transfers the guitar sound with the true tension of the strings intact but also conveys the accurate sound of the pickup in connection with the player's technique. Frequency responses and sensitivity to resonances of any particular guitar are reflected honestly by the SL100.
As Linnman mentioned earlier, the SL100 provides for fantastic wooden resonances. I believe part of this stems from the correct refraction of the musician's use of the bow. Essential techniques such as staccato (rapid movement of the bow), tenuto (long and soft extension of a single note), slur (slide from one note to the next on the same string), trill (continuous finger tap on fingerboard and string) and vibrato (energized sounds) are vividly revealed when listening to Michael Rabin's interpretation of Paganini's Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major [EMI Classics]. Composers often call for flageolet harmonics on stringed instruments. The most commonly executed is the 4th. This particular sound presents a difficult task for high-end audio because the fourth harmonic has four times the fundamental frequency and is thus two octaves higher. The SL100 correctly reproduced this special hollow flageolet sound without crowding out macro performance. In my own experience, Linnman's previous Goldmund reference system couldn't handle the reproduction of such harmonic decay as eloquently as the SL100.
With reference to the Magic of Horowitz [DGG disc 2, track 3 "K511 Rondo by Mozart"], the SL100 enables me to thoroughly understand the fingering techniques of this legendary pianist. In his 1932 interview, Horowitz once said that "The finger must have a consciousness of the movement which makes the singing melody." I think what he meant was to connect the melodic note to the hand whilst every finger must feel its tone. The SL100 reproduces those crucial decisions to transcribe for the audience a lyrical experience of a highly percussion instrument in an expressive manner of stunning realism. Horowitz's skills of staccato (lifting the finger up as soon as it has struck the key) and legato (a smooth transition which is done by keeping down the first key until the next is depressed so that the strings vibrate sweetly into one another) are flawlessly revealed. The clear prolongation of the piano sounds and the accurate vibrational portrayal of the piano's strings combine for a very non-standard piano performance whose aural aesthetics are beautifully sculpted by the artist. The SL100 pays serious attention to the harmony of a musician's soul and his craft via its astonishing transparency that operates alongside vivid portrayals of microdynamics. It's all in the service of recreating numerous monumental recordings of legendary performers of the past.
Nautrally, product reviews are mere tokens of critiques or appreciation. More often than not they fall short of conveying the full extent of gratitude experienced. I believe many audiophiles know the price of HiFi but not the value of it. Linnman, you are correct - the SL100 is for real and mature music lovers.
Marvel comments from another end-user's point of view
In my comments on the SL-100, I wish to draw reference to two preamplifiers, which I have used for an extensive period of time: the Burmester 808Mk5 and the FM Acoustics 255. At least here in Hong Kong, both are regarded highly as outstanding products that are very much sought after in the used market. The Burmester 808Mk5 has superb German precision not only of craftsmanship but also in the portrayal of image outlines. Everything is neatly presented in a proper soundstage. This is particularly impressive when listening to an orchestra where positioning of musical instruments is sharply delineated, albeit somewhat lacking in communication between them. Compared to the 808Mk5, the SL-100 is capable of delivering an even more 3-dimensional soundstage. The musical shadings of those images add a lot more liveliness to the music and reveal a lot more about the timbres of different instruments to enrich the overall musical experience. Music is never quite so real in my own setup. The SL-100 adds more substance to the musical images. I could feel the air flow from the vocalist's image instead of from two speakers.
I bought the FM255 for 2 reasons: brand prestige and liveliness & naturalness. To a certain extent, I can explain the first because many a friend asked if he could come over and listen to it in my system. As for the second reason, I am not sure if I was thoroughly satisfied after testing and comparing it extensively to the Burmester 808Mk5 for 3 months. In that comparison, the FM 255 produced enormously impressive macrodynamics to the point of suggesting the 808Mk5 as being too timid and disciplined. In Chinese culture, there are four types of emotions: happiness, anger, sadness and joyfulness. I believe the 255 easily expresses the first two types while the latter two are subtler and demand more microdynamic finesse from the gear. In my subjective opinion and experience, the FM 255 fails to depict the delicacy of sadness and joyfulness while the SL-100 does both macro and microdynamics very well. It can produce the human touch to such an accurate degree that the difference in the exertion of finger pressure by various performers on their instruments can be clearly felt. This simply brings me closer to the music.
In short, the SL-100 lets the music flow forth with naturalness and no noticeable coloration of tonality or any bias for certain frequency ranges. The management of the musical energy factor is instrumental in the perfect balance between large-scale and miniature dynamics. It makes sharp turns and minute twists in tempi more distinctive than on any other preamp I have listened to. The transparency and resolution of this preamp are simply palpable.
Appendix: Technical Aspects of the SL100 from Vitus Audio
The SL100 true balanced preamplifier is the outcome of almost 8 years of dedicated efforts by designer Hans-Ole Vitus, with an aim to bring out the best in musical recordings using his experience as a musician. The SL-100 builds on a brand new circuitry that uses only matched transistors and super-precision resistors to insure optimal working conditions for the different stages of each module. The true balanced design, together with the local shunt-regulated power supply, insures excellent S/N ratio and ultralinear frequency response, making it possible to reveal every micro detail in the recordings. The result is a preamplifier capable of exposing micro-detailed dynamics never before heard without compromises in speed and macro dynamics. Since the design is truly balanced, all non-balanced signals are automatically converted to fully symmetrical right at the first input stages.
One of the challenges of true balanced preamplifiers is the volume control because even very small tolerance deviations easily translate into distortions. The current trend employed in other design is a digital volume control used in conjunction with many different topologies. Hans-Ole Vitus however is not content with fashion. The volume control of the SL100 is unique in the industry: there is always only one (1) resistor in series. Regardless of the quality of components and the method of implementation, using more resistors than actually needed only creates more distortion. The approach of simplicity yields the optimal performance for the SL-100. The result is an analog relay-based volume control with an ultra-short signal path with no sound coloration and zero limitations on dynamics.
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