Headed by Fried Reim, Violectric specialises in a wide number of reputable amplifiers which have caught the attention of many in the avid world of personal audio such as the Violectric V281 Amp under review here. Being the trademark and product line of German firm Lake People, the company develops and manufactures products for exhibition, private, professional and broadcast use. With over 20 years of experience in the field, the team of developers over at Lake People have produced some outstanding artifacts which have traversed the globe in the pro-audio domain.
This review shall focus on one of their more recent creations—the V281, a $2299 headphone amp which sports the same German engineering that have earned the company their loyal fan-base. On the website, there are a plethora of options to choose the end set-up including an internal DAC, volume control options, choice of digital inputs and even the colour of the unit. With such a list, the overall experience is much more tailored to the end customer which is an important factor as this could potentially be a big investment in the realm of hi-fi.
Box and design
The V281 comes well packaged in a medium sized cardboard box with foam inserts in between. Though there is no particular effort to show off Violectric as a brand, the material of the packaging is more utilitarian than thrill-ridden.
The same can be said for the design of the amp itself. While not the most appealing of designs, the V281 is very practical with all of the buttons situated on the front plate. Build quality is phenomenal as each unit is handcrafted with precision and detail in German soil. This is reflected in the chassis which is made from a durable grade of aluminium with Nextel coating. The choice of colors for the front plate are limited to black or silver and for the feet include an addition gold option. Together with the chassis and back-plate, the V281 is the product of great workmanship and looks to be an amp that can last for many years to come.
Build & Features
The V281 hosts two silver-plated single-ended headphone outs and a single balanced gold plated 4-pin XLR output. At the center, there is a 'high-grade' ALPS RK 27 pot with a large metal rotary knob to indicate various volume levels. The control feels very smooth to the touch with tactile resistance and weight, something which signifies a very well made product. Next to this is the balance control which allows users to tilt the sound from left to right staging and vice versa. Finally, there are various LED buttons which allow the XLR, RCA and digital inputs to be selected with power button indicated on the far right hand side.
On the rear of the V281 amp, there are two sets of balanced and unbalanced outputs as well as two sets of balanced and unbalanced inputs. The connection to the power cord can be found on the left hand side of the device with pre-gain settings found on the right.
The V281 hosts a discrete design which features four times the famous 8 transistors per channel topology that was employed in the V200 for its true balanced headphone output. The max output is 5.6 W per channel in a 100 Ohm load which is powered by two large toroidal transformers of 15 and 25 watts respectively. Coupled to this is a filter capacitor of 36,000 microfarads which although not as large as the Schiit Ragnarok's 100,000 is still ample enough to deliver high quality signals without unnecessary distortions. The V281 incorporates the use of a high damping factor owing to its low output impedance along with its low noise and high output power. The formula has been used in many generations of Violectric's line-up and one which as undoubtedly won them fans in the toughest of critics.
While the base V281 amp is in my opinion a brilliant and well thought product, there are several perks which can be added for better practicality and convenience.
For an extra $290, users can get a motorized version of the volume pot with access to a remote control. This enables speaker listeners to automatically alter volume levels from a preamp viewpoint. This can be replaced by a 128-step relay-based unit for $580, which delivers 0.75dB incremental shifts in volume; an addition which is said to minimise distortion and aid in an overall better channel balance.
As if that was not enough, users can also opt for an in-line DAC for a complete set-up. The DAC varies in price from $239 to $295 depending on the interface options. What is common between all of the options, however, is that they are capable of playing up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution.
The Violectric V281 runs with an impressively low noise floor that is a hallmark feature of any great amp. With this, tracks are presented with a wide and deep stereo image which is akin to tube-based amps. However, unlike many of these, the V281 abandons euphonic distortions for a transparent and revealing sound signature. Moreover, the amp does this while imparting some subtle warmth to prevent tracks from ever sounding clinical or dry. In fact, the tonality can best be described as pleasantly smooth yet still managing to capture detail and nuances from tracks allowing headphones and IEMs to shine to the best of their ability.
The Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors, for example, are able to be driven with a lack of perceptible hiss or background noise. In the same way, the Rock-it Sounds R-50s project music amidst a dark black background without unnecessary interference and hum. Both IEMs scale incredibly well with the V281 presenting an expansive soundstage with good dimensionality and layering. Technical aspects of this amp are equally refined; the V281 is adept at delivering taut and intelligible low frequencies with good levels of resolution, transients and attack.
Compared to the MicroZOTL 2.0 tube amp, the treble of the V281 is less extensive next to the former's high-frequencies. However, the solid-state amp is still able to keep up with the MicroZOTL 2.0 with regards to air and expanse. The slightly mid-recessed character of the MicroZOTL 2.0 does give it the edge, though, in perceived soundstage relative to the V281's spatial imaging. Having said that, the V281 has a more agreeable signature with a well-behaved treble response permitting greater levels of versatility.
By way of contrast, the Violectric V281 has a wider soundstage than the Schiit Mjolnir 2 (LISST tubes) as well as a quieter background. The two amps extract a good amount of details from tracks with the Mjolnir 2 sounding slightly less full and round than the V281 in its solid-state configuration. With the application of tubes such as the Telefunkens, however, the Mjolnir picks up more air and space around instruments while sacrificing some detail and speed.
Taking up a step up into Schiit Ragnarok territory, the V281 does well to compete with the former's flagship offering. While the Ragnarok possesses more low-end heft than the V281, the V281 has a slightly thicker note presentation. Both have excellent detail retrieval with the Ragnarok possessing better micro-dynamics and macro-dynamic impact. In terms of frequency response, the Ragnarok has a slightly upper mid forward signature compared to that of the V281's relatively more neutral one.
The headphones used in this portion of the listening evaluation were HiFiMAN's HE-400S, Edition X, Sennheiser's HD800/S and the Fostex TH500RP. All of which were easily able to be driven with plenty of headroom to spare.
Even though the Violectric V281 amp comes with 2 single-ended outputs, it performs best in its balanced mode configuration. The staging becomes wider and three-dimensional with better layering and separation. While the SE output is not average per se, it just lacks a bit of the technical proficiencies that the balanced output adopts. It would therefore be advised to use headphones with an XLR termination to fully capitalise on this amp's potential.
Overall then, the Violectric V281 has achieved the status of a great reference amplifier. It allows transducers to shine with minimal coloration and instil a sound which is spacious, detailed and pleasurable. The German quality engineering is a sight to behold and the product feels great to the touch with its well implemented potentiometer and switch controls. The ability to customise the amp is also an excellent addition to the Violectric line-up as users have the choice to include a DAC, motor or relay remote control and further fine tune the color of the faceplate and footers. While $2299 is a lot to ask, consumers are paying for a product which has culminated from the hard workings from top engineers and hence is built to last. Together with its sonic charm and plethora of customisability, the V281 should be a worthy consideration for anyone wishing to build an end-game system.
Violectric V281 Amp
Base prices: $2299 (US) / €1900 (inside EU – 19% VAT), €1596.64 (outside EU)
http://www.lake-people.de/ (Outside US)