Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 2.04, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, COS Engineering D1, Lindemann Audio music:book 15 [on review]
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8, FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier & Vita; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan], 2 x Lindemann Audio music:book 55 [on review]
Loudspeakers: EnigmAcoustics M1; Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stand with Krion platform [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: $4'870 or $5'375 as reviewed

What's so wrong with modern hifi?
That depends on whom you ask. Vinnie Rossi has very specific misgivings. In no particular sequence, those are built-in obsolescence; paying for features you don't need; variable performance depending on the state of your AC power; and a snowballing box count that necessitates more and more lossy but costly cabling. I imagine he's also keenly aware that today's distributor/dealer margins often balloon what a customer pays out of proportion with the add-on value which many dealers—oops—no longer offer. If punters are better informed than the so-called specialists serving them; if the latter don't inventory, don't deliver, don't set up, don't optimize - then it's hard to blame shoppers who prefer to deal directly. It's the designer and maker who knows the most about the product, can answer all their questions and usually can ship from stock after all. Why not give him the business directly?

Like Mark Levinson had before him, Vinnie Rossi the man has now become Vinnie Rossi the brand. With it he means to address this status quo. Addressing built-in obsolescence is handled with a fully modular plug'n'play build. It allows the end user to configure and reconfigure the machine at will and indefinitely with snap-in boards. This even includes cosmetic bits to change the colour of the knobs and certain panels. Picking from an à-la-carte option menu stops you from paying for stuff you don't need. A new power supply embraces Bakoon's concept of power-cycling multiple banks of batteries for uninterrupted 24/7 play but executes it with ultracapacitors instead. This again eliminates performance dependency on power-line conditions, nixes 'audiophile' power cords, AC conditioners and big noisy heavy expensive transformers but also says no to battery memory effects, limited recharge cycles and eventual replacement. Consolidating a plethora of functions in one box optimizes and shortens the signal paths between modules without external cables and power cords. That improves performance. But it also tidies up your box count and rack. Selling direct through an interactive website with a user blog creates direct buyer access to owner feedback; can make requests for new features; interacts with the designer and the brand's growing community; and deflates puffed-up middle-men margins for higher value.

The brand's maiden product is called LIO. Depending on configuration, it can be a 32/384 PCM DSD 128 DAC with fixed and variable outputs, dual-mono DAC chips and optical, BNC and asynchronous USB sockets; a headphone amp with standard or balanced outputs; a passive linestage with stepped resistor or autoformer volume/balance control in 1dB steps; an active tube linestage around 2 x 6922-type dual triodes with extensive rolling options; an MM/MC phono stage with manual or from-the-seat loading options; an input switcher for three line-level RCA sources; a 25wpc Mosfet integrated amp; most any combination thereof; or nearly all of it together. The case can be silver, black or two-tone as can the buttons and controls. Besides the metal wand, there's also an iOS/Android remote app for Bluetooth control from mobile devices.

The LIO platform architects are Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio; and John Chapman of Bent Audio who contributed firmware coding for the ultracapacitor power/charge cycling, the dual-mono volume/balance control execution for the resistive and magnetic options, display functionality, app code writing, prototyping and more. Via a small 24VDC/5A external power wart, LIO's banks of hi-tech ultracapacitors get power without complications. As Ioxus Inc, US maker of ultracapacitors explains, "our cells weigh only a fifth of a comparable battery but are capable of more than one million cycles. An ultracapacitor’s energy storage mechanism is a highly reversible process, relying on the movement of ions within an electrolyte. However, it does not make or break chemical bonds as a battery does, enabling very fast responses with the capability to deliver those responses hundreds of thousands of cycles with a minimal change in performance. They are able to perform in a wide range of operating temperatures, from -40 to +65° Celsius. One of the best things about our ultracapacitors is that they are completely maintenance free, with a long shelf life at temperatures up to 70° Celsius. These unique characteristics enable the design engineer to improve the energy efficiency for demanding power applications. Ultracapacitors allow for the replacement of existing energy storage systems but can also be paired with additional energy storage devices for more highly efficient systems. They are used to extend the charge time on hand-held electronics and to power hybrid vehicles, wind farms, material handling equipment and other green energy technologies which are enormously important today."

Given LIO's size and intended multi-tasking, it goes without saying. Despite its unusually high energy density and ultra-low internal resistance of <0.003 ohms, Vinnie's patent-pending new PURE DC-4-EVR power supply can't support a 100-watt power-amp stage. Folks looking for such or higher ratings will have to wait for a new platform which is reserved solely to power modules so there's room to scale up the capacitor banks. With 25/45/65wpc into 8/4/2 ohms, the LIO Mosfet amp is tailored for normal not hearnia-inducing speaker lifting tasks. For some, it could be the ultimate all-in-one desktop or nightstand solution.

Screen shots of the remote app for the preamp and phono views. Metal remote wand in the middle.

As a prototype, the Vinnie Rossi LIO premiered at the September 26-28th NYC hifi show 2014. "The first few units are reserved for reviewers. I'd be honoured to send you one loaded in the finish and with the exact features you want just as a customer would." As an early fan of Vinnie's work, I felt equally honoured to now be on his LIO list. As homo digitalus without the vinyl gene, I'd opt out of the phono stage and analog input selector board. As homo headfilius, I'd definitely request the headphone module. As an owner and lover of John Chapman's TAP-X with the trick Slageformer autoformer volume control, I might want to try that. As an owner of $10'000 10-watt single-ended transistor amps, 25 Mosfet watts would be plenty for my needs. Adding the speaker output stage would be a must. Off the top of my head, for my review unit I'd thus opt for the DAC, headfi and Mosfet boards; and then either the RVC+tube combo or the AVC board. And I'd ask for silver with black knobs. For further details, consider our industry feature on this brand launch.