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A review of some amps on home demo: Naim v Luxman v Devialet v Vitus

Discussion in 'audio' started by duckworp, Feb 16, 2018.

  1. duckworp

    duckworp pfm Member

    The background

    I am writing this as when I was looking for amps I found very little written about some of these models I was investigating, so I thought other people might be interested in a subjective view and listening comparison between these models.

    In 2017 I decided that my Naim system required an upgrade – the power amp was a weak link and it was buzzing, it needed a service. The system consisted of the following:
    - CDS3 with XPS DR power supply
    - NAC 552 DR preamp with the NAC 552 PS
    - NAP 250 power amp
    - B&W 804 Diamond speakers

    I felt that the very old 250 needed not only servicing but upgrading too. To get the most out of the NAC 552 I felt that I really needed a NAP 300. A NAP 300 meant I would need a new rack as the 300 requires a separate power supply and I was all out of shelves. A 300 and a new rack meant a big investment. So I looked at the alternatives.

    I bought a couple of hifi magazines - what a waste of time that was. Hifi mags back in the 80s and 90s were interesting things with good writing and critical reviews. Now they are simply a sales brochure for the hardware with 5* review after 5* review. Each and every review was a testament to how brilliant and faultless each product was. And no surprise to find the same companies taking out pages of expensive ads in the magazine. But hey, that’s a debate for another day.

    So I did a bit of my own research and over the next few months I home-demoed 4 different manufacturer’s amps: Vitus, Luxman, Devialet and the Naim with a NAP300. I always home demo if I can as my room has some acoustic issues (a bass boom) and things can sound very different in there. My budget was the trade-in value of the Naim amps, so around £10k. The aim was also to reduce the number of boxes without compromising the sound. Could this be done? Throughout the home demos described below both the source and the speakers remained the same (NAIM CDS3 / XPS DR and B&W 804 Diamond speakers). I did also demo the Vitus RCD-101 as an alternative to the NAIM CDS3 but the two CD players interestingly sounded broadly similar. But then the CDS3 is known to be a fairly rounded sound for Naim, and certainly a world away from the grit of the Naim CDX. Anyway, I digress.


    Vitus Vs Naim

    Naim NAC552+PS £20k NAP 300+PS £7k = £27k
    Vitus RI-100 £10k (with on-board dac)

    An integrated amp? Back when I was at school I spent my formative years with an integrated amp (I’m looking at you NAD 3020e) longing for the day when I could separate into pre- and power amp heaven. So the idea of an integrated amp took some getting used to. But cutting down from a potential 4 to 1 box worth of amplification was tempting. This was the first non-Naim product I had listened to at home for over 20 years. To start with I was rather unimpressed. The RI-100 was running cold, the Naim sounded as PRaTy as ever and after half an hour of A/B testing I had dismissed the Vitus.

    A couple of days later, with the Vitus having been idling on heat for 48 hours, I sat and listened to some music. Now things were sounding very different. Instead of going back and forth to do A/B testing I just sat and listened. I was slowly but surely drawn into what was happening. This was different. I am no hifi poet, as the writers in the mags are, but what I can say is that for the first time familiar tracks began to sound more complete, more like music. Whereas the Naim sounded exciting and toe-tapping (the over-used but perfectly described PRaT) the Vitus sounded like music. Getting as technical as I am able: the Naim had a lower-mid and digital treble boost, this made it exciting but it had always had a tendency to grate on certain recordings, what's more I would have a fatigued ear after an hour at anything other than low volume. Not so the Vitus. And I now understand the word transparent. The music just is. And the music had depth, I mean a three-dimensionality.

    After living with the Vitus for a few evenings I went back to jump-up & sit-down A/B testing. The 552/300 combo would somehow overemphasise parts of the music. So, John Martyn’s Solid Air: the Naim throws the vocal as a distinct ‘thing’ in front of the speaker, separated form the music behind, but now I realised this was not a natural thing, and there was little more depth than that. The Vitus sat music from the plane of the speaker and behind, a long way behind, into the space. But it sounded somehow more organic. I want to be able to describe the differences but I am finding the words hard to articulate.
    So with the Vitus we are looking at a sweeter treble, a less forward sound but no less detailed, and a very transparent mid. And the bass? The B&W 804 Diamonds are light on bass, the way I like it as I have a boomy room, but the bass was tighter with the Vitus, much tighter. The Naim sometimes sounds like it has a bit of a lower mid or is it upper bass exaggeration and this was absent from the Vitus. That effect (colouration?) on the Naim yields some recordings a warmth in that register that the Vitus would sometimes lack. But that very exaggeration in those frequencies meant that on direct comparison that the Naim didn't sound quite as organically whole.

    If I was playing rock or dance/electronic or current, heavily compressed, music the Naim was initially more impressive. But with a balanced diet of music I was all-in for the Vitus. Given the price of the Vitus new is a bit over 40% of the price of the Naim new, and it is one box vs four…it all seemed too good to be true. Who’d have thought an integrated amp could sound so good. If music could sound so different I was excited to explore the other options.



    Luxman Vs Naim

    Naim NAC552+PS £20k NAP 300+PS £7k = £27k
    Luxman C700U pre £6k and M-700U Power £6k

    Next up was the Luxman two box solution. If the Vitus made things sound more natural the Luxman was a different beast altogether. The Luxman was like listening to velvet. Music enveloped you, it was SO warm and lush. There was not even a hint of the harsh treble the Naim could throw out on certain recordings. Female vocals were sumptuous, and best of all 50s and 60s swing recordings (I’m talking Sinatra et al) sounded incredible. In fact most recordings up until the mid-70s were presented beautifully by the Luxman. Even rock sounded good, or at least Dark Side by Pink Floyd did, grittier rock such as Led Zeppelin was a little soft. Where the Luxman fell down for me was the lack of excitement and detail. So when the music was simple and swinging (Sinatra), or had good rock textures (Floyd), or had a harder-edged female vocal, it was excellent, softening the edges to a sound of luxury. But if the music had a lot of detail, or a strong beat to it, then it lacked the excitement of the Naim and it lacked the natural transparency of the Vitus, and I missed these big time. Classical music, which I thought would benefit here, could sound muddy when it got complex,and lacked detail when it was simple chamber music. Daft Punk or Kraftwerk sounded soft and a little turgid. But despite that I really liked the Luxman, really liked it.

    In a few years I can see myself returning to the Luxman when I want a softer, gentler sound. It’s a return to the womb, for times to be enveloped in blurred but sumptuous music. But for now it just lacked the dynamism I wanted.


    Devialet Vs Naim

    Devialet 220 £6k
    Naim NAC552+PS £20k NAP 300+PS £7k = £27k

    This is a unfair on the Devialet as we are not comparing like with like. The Naim gear is £27k’s worth compared to a £6k Devialet. Nevertheless I will report on what I heard.

    The technology and look of the Devialet is impressive. Here is an integrated amp that looks a little like a sleek set of bathroom scales, and certainly no thicker and not much heavier, and it was up against the 4 box Naim, the 2 box Luxman and the chunky tall and exceedingly heavy Vitus. The Devialet was optimised for my speakers through the on-board software.

    But I found the sound was not to my liking. It had the brashness of the Naim without the excitement and the refinement. Whilst the 552/300 combo is exciting it really does have refinement. And when you hear the Devialet at one-quarter of the price you really notice that refinement difference. Compared to the Luxman and the Vitus (still unfair as the Devialet is an amp at around half the price) the Devialet had detail but it lacked the musicality of the Vitus and was not subtle in the way it portrayed the music. The bass was looser than the Naim. I don’t have so much to say: whereas the Vitus and the Luxman were very different to each other and to the Naim, the Devialet was broadly similar to the presentation of the Naim, but just not as good in all departments.



    CONCLUSION

    The Naim, Vitus and Luxman are all very different beasts and all have their attractive qualities. Like much high-end hi-fi some of this amplification suits some types of music and some ears better than others. For my ears right now the Vitus was the clear winner. There are types of music which sounded more impressive on the Naim, and types which just sounded better on the Luxman. But for all-round detailed, transparent, three dimensional, musical presentation the Vitus was a clear winner. And in one box, who’d have thought it?

    The Vitus did most things better than the Naim, whereas the Luxman just did things differently. So between Vitus and Naim there is no contest for me, and with the new price being £27k Naim v £10k Vitus the Naim makes no sense to me. With Vitus v Naim I would wager most extended blind testing would fall for the Vitus as it does most of what it does better and it does not fatigue at all. There is the 'Naim sound' which is very evident when you compare it to the transparency of the Vitus, and I can see there is an immediacy to that which some may prefer. But after you have heard the Vitus the Naim sound actually starts to sound wrong. It's an odd sensation. With Vitus v Luxman the difference needs to be heard as it’s warm velvet vs clear water. You have to hear the difference to know which you’ll like better.

    If only I’d known this 20 years ago I maybe would never have gone blindly for Naim. Though maybe it’s that other manufacturers have caught up with Naim, or maybe I just fell for the marketing of Naim and those lovely olive boxes back in 1998 when I finally moved my NAD 3020e on and into the basic Naim system. After that I just blindly followed the Naim upgrade path.

    I’ve been doing a fair bit of demoing of cables, speakers and sources recently. If that is of interest to people here on this forum then let me know and I’ll get around to writing them up one day.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2018
  2. Peter Stockwell

    Peter Stockwell deep fried and gone

    Nicely written! That took you some time I bet.

    The Vitus sounds like a great piece of kit, and from what I remember from the hifi press glossy photos a really nicely built piece of kit.

    There's one sentence in your essay that caught my attention, where you compare the price of naim and the Vitus and conclude that naim makes no sense. At new prices, it really doesn't. I think some of the older kit can be fun, generally you can move it on without much loss.

    Today, without going to 4 digit budgets, you can get great sound from really modest kit.

    Thanks for the write up.
     
  3. Foxman50

    Foxman50 pfm Member

    Hi Duckworp
    Very good rightup. I have not heard the Luxman, but agree with you ears on the Naim and Dev.
    I have had an RI-100 for some years now and natural is still the only way i find of describing it.
    Be careful of the Naimites though, they will be on posting comments about upgrading cables, racks, power cords, etc etc.
    Good luck with choosing.
     
  4. Rockmeister

    Rockmeister pfm Member

    Interesting stuff. I find the LUX more neutral than you...possibly it is just showing you the true nature of your source?
    Whichever, it's nice to find something you love!
     
  5. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    Great write-up, thanks for sharing.
     
  6. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    Maybe the Luxman is more neutral to your tastes? I do like a bit of warmth, albeit with speed and control. :)
     
    Rockmeister likes this.
  7. indus

    indus pfm Member

    Thanks, I found that a very enjoyable read.
     
    WillietheSquid likes this.
  8. notevenclose

    notevenclose pfm Member

    There are a lot of really interesting brands which don't seem to get much of a look-in as far as the UK goes. In the late 70s/early 80s it was basically 'Jap Crap' which suffered, most of the serious Japanese manufacturers essentially gave up trying to sell anything above their mid-range products.

    Nowadays there's a lot of really interesting stuff coming out of the Far East and a plethora of European products which would appear to be of some merit. Although some/many have UK representation/distribution in theory, in practice it's typically bloody hard to track them down for audition.

    I can understand to a certain extent that a dealer prefers a home banker and that selling Naim and B&W is a safer bet, but it'd be a bloody dull world if we all listened to the same kit.

    Admittedly my own prejudices come into it, owning a Naim/B&W system would have me considering taking up metal detecting or an allotment.
     
  9. rn82497

    rn82497 pfm Member

    I am tempted to listen to the Vitus RI-100 v.s. my Rega Osiris. But not yet (just in case).
     
  10. radamel

    radamel Music Fiend

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Truly enjoyable and interesting.
     
  11. radamel

    radamel Music Fiend

    Yes, please do.
     
  12. Foxman50

    Foxman50 pfm Member

    :D
     
  13. hifinutt

    hifinutt hifinutt

    brilliantly written and explained , especially explaining prat which many folks may not know what it is . looked at the vitus but just seems a lot seem to come on s/h market fast after folks buy them , maybe they just adore the sound and move up the tree fast which i know is the case with someone i know
     
  14. manicatel

    manicatel pfm Member

    The Vitus is up there as the best I’ve ever heard.
    I love my Graaf amp, it works better for me than my multi-box Naim system did.
    I’ve heard Linn amps & other mid-high end gear, but Vitus is #1 on the wish list if I ever could afford it.
     
  15. hifinutt

    hifinutt hifinutt

    my only beef with these high end integrateds is hardly one puts home theatre bypass on them !! i suppose the luxman 509 has it but nothing from pass , vitus , etc
     
  16. Foxman50

    Foxman50 pfm Member

    You don't need dedicated bypass. I feed my cambridge av amp into my vitus. Just fix the volume on the vitus and use the cambridge amp remote. Works a treat.
     
  17. hifinutt

    hifinutt hifinutt

    ah i read the manual and could not quite see how to do that
     
  18. Foxman50

    Foxman50 pfm Member

    You need pre outs on the AV amp, just connect these with RCA leads to an input on the stereo amp. I set the volume by ear but if fussy the AV amp setup tones still work.
     
  19. notevenclose

    notevenclose pfm Member

    Nah. That might have been the case 30, 20 or even 10 years ago where identifying 'candidate' products with roughly similar price tags was the first step in assembling a short list.

    In recent years though I increasingly find price of little relevance in identifying which products might be most inclined to get me a little moist.

    I think this is partly because everyone has a 'comfort level' which dictates maximum spend but also because the high end market is increasingly prone to what I classify as 'Premiership footballer syndrome,' ie. by the time you're paying them £3/4/ 500,000 per week or whatever it's all increasingly surreal/irrelevant/obscene/utterly detached from reality.

    I've linked to this article before, but I still think this is very elegantly expressed by Mr Dudley:

    https://www.stereophile.com/content/listening-173


    If I do have a previously unknown fabulously wealthy relative who's about to shuffle off the mortal coil and leave me a shitload of cash, my shortlist for my 'oh f*** it, one last dance' ultimate amplifier (integrated only if you please) would currently range between £8 and 20k, albeit recent experience suggests a Goldmund pricelist might be worth careful scrutiny before I finalise the candidates.
     
    duckworp, TLS and Sloop John B like this.
  20. hifinutt

    hifinutt hifinutt

    yes got all that and have a pre amp with ht bypass which is so easy but it makes it simpler if amps have ht bypass
     

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