Piano and ICEBlock

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virtue

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Piano and ICEBlock
« on: 23 Oct 2009, 05:35 am »
Guys,

I'd like to announce introduce ICEBlock and Piano formally.  They're here in the USA and will be making their way to our warehouse this week.   There are no reviews yet on these products.  We're soft-launching them here to give our most loyal customers the opportunity to try them first and as always, we offer a 30-day, money-back guarantee (from ship date).

So what... who cares?  Virtue is a Tripath amp company, right?  Well... in many ways, yes, and darn proud of it.  However, we created Virtue to offer more than amps and more than Tripath.  We're here to bring the sensory experience of high-end audio to the masses; people like myself who love the sound and the feel, but not sky-high prices.  We wanted to take what was great about this niche and take it up a notch.  We started by over-building the little amps; they're "swiss tanks" as one customer called them.  The design is unique and nearly every part on the chasis is custom, right down to the T-Copper RCA jacks and signature Propeller Posts.  Whether you love or hate the posts, they bring a tactile user interface to the products that has never been done before in this industry.

And if you like the build quality of the little Virtue amps, you ain't seen nothing yet...  The "Melissa" platform is a real tank.  Small enough to fit on your bed-side table, but so packed with aluminum and wood that the greens are after us.  If everyone had one of these units, there'd be no more Reynolds Wrap in the grocery store. 

But what's better than a solid feeling, great sounding piece of high-end audio equipment?  One that is built for you.  You can have your automobile any way you want it - colors, interior, finishes - why not your audio?  We've designed an enclosure that allows you to build the machine of your dreams.  Thousands of combinations of sides, tops, buttons, etc.  Get tired of the look?  No problem.  Just order a new set of parts (tops are on the site now), grab a screw driver and hex bits and go to town.  We actually have a patent on the cartridge system that allows you to slide the tops in and out of the unit.  Eventually, we'll sell a kit that allows any artisan to create their own tops in wood, stone, mosaic, you name it.  These units are a long-term investment.  Want a classic look?  Choose black or natural annodized straight sides with black or chrome buttons.  It's up to you.  Oh, PS... the wooden tops for this first batch are hand-made by Jeff Keyes in Utah.  They're gorgeous.

Now about the sound.  First Piano.  The sound is smooth and relaxed - lush even.   We spent a long time tweaking the bass.  It's got a very full sound-stage.  Guy has had Piano for more than 6 months and will hopefully share some experiences here.  For your convenience, the Piano includes optical, coaxial, and two analog L/R outputs.  The unit features the TDA1542 DAC chip with 176.4 Khz upsampling.  This is an "old school" chip - an oldie but goodie.   It's a solid unit with evident build quality inside and out.  It has has dual wound transformers to power the analog and digital circuits separately.  The remote control is full-featured and also works with Sensation (when it arrives... argh...).

Now ICEBlock.  Hey, I'm not accustomed to pitching a "me-too" product and this isn't the first amp of its kind (or the last).  We don't make the core amplifier module in these amps - Bang and Olufsen does.  And you know what?  They do a great job.  These units have an integral power supply which is strong and dynamic.  If you're shopping for an power amp and want something loud and deep and accurate, you can't beat these little units.  We're pricing them aggressively and they accept both balanced and unbalanced inputs.  ICEPower amps have changed the game in power amplifiers and these are certainly one of Michael's favorites.

If you're interested in trying ICEBlock or Piano, let's make this easy.  Here's a 15% off coupon, good only this month: "OCT09PRE".  So hurry!

You'll notice another choice goody on the site: colored wrap-arounds for your Virtue amps.  We've got every color in stock and the new ones are cut out on both sideso to make wiring easier.  Enjoy, and while you're at it, check out the cables before Jason convinces me to raise the price again ;-)  They're awesome.
« Last Edit: 24 Mar 2010, 11:35 pm by virtue »

JohnR

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #1 on: 23 Oct 2009, 07:34 am »
Awesome. What are the "granite" tops on the Piano made of (real granite?!)

srb

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #2 on: 23 Oct 2009, 07:49 am »
Seth,
 
What is the width of the Melissa enlosures?
 
Steve

Cheerwino

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #3 on: 23 Oct 2009, 11:23 am »
Seth,
 
What is the width of the Melissa enlosures?
 
Steve

Hey Steve, I've got one sitting here so I thought I'd chime in. The case is 11" w x 9 1/2" d x 5" h. My player has the optional round piers making it 11 1/2" wide. The thing is SOLID--a very nice case.

I'll post my thoughts in a bit, once I have more coffee.  :o

Best,

Guy

Wind Chaser

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #4 on: 23 Oct 2009, 11:39 am »
What is the basic difference in sound between the Tripath and ICE chip?

russtom

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Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #5 on: 23 Oct 2009, 12:38 pm »
The Melissa case/chassis is definitely the most solid that I've ever seen - no folded sheet metal or visible fasteners.  I was able to see/handle a few of them and their constituent pieces at the RMAF - solid machined aluminum pieces engineered to interlock together to very tight tolerances with interlocking registration parts designed to both perfectly align and to allow for no visible exterior fasteners, "very toit" (Austin Powers).  I remember Rod commenting how this pieces fit together like a Chinese block puzzle.   The exotic wood panels that slide into the top to complete the structure.  Definitely not just another pretty case.   Really impressive job Seth.  :thumb: :thumb: :thumb:

Russ

virtue

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Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #6 on: 23 Oct 2009, 03:51 pm »
A little more insight on the natural stone tops.  This was a real challenge for us to figure out how to mount them attractively while at the same time permitting the customer to easily remove them to reconfigure the unit.  Recognizing that we had a unique solution, we filed a patent for it.  Here's the deal.  You can cut wood precisely, you can't do the same with marble or granite.  It just can't be cut to the same tolerances and you can't put a bunch of holes in something this thick (10mm) without shattering it.  We didn't want the metal rails holding it in place to be visible from the top, so we precisely suspend the granite in glue in the rails.  Check out the arbitrarily sized gap (every piece of stone is a slightly different thickness) that needs to be filled in the picture below.



This required a custom jig which we actually tooled and extruded.  You can see the process in the following picture.



Our yield on the granite tops was really low due to shipping breakage.  I'd like to know how you like them - this will determine whether we continue to stock this item.  The stone I liked the most - which you see in the Piano picture on the site, is a white marble from Greek.  It's in the Onyx family of stones and is very soft - ultimately we decided not to stock it because it scratches easily (granite, by contrast is second to diamond in hardness).  You are welcome to ask your local marble supply depot to help make you new ones - mounting them is hard without our jigs, but wooden shims will do it.  I've posted some defective tops on the site for $9.99.  They're still beautiful but there's a warping problem.  Materially, you can salvage the rails from them if the warp gets too bad.

For the wooden tops - which you're welcome to make yourselves (13mm total height), we just screw them to the rails from holes in the sides.




Cheerwino

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #7 on: 23 Oct 2009, 03:52 pm »
Thoughts on the Piano CD Player

I haven't commented on the player until now since it wasn't available. I'm glad it will be hitting the market soon!

I've had a Virtue Piano CD Player in the house for about five months now after Seth sent it to me with instructions to "try to kill it".  I understand he wanted to see how it fared in real world use. With a little kid, wife and three cats,  :peek: I'm not sure how much our home is like the 'real world' but sure, if someone can kill a piece of electronic equipment, it would be me. So far, in this instance, I have failed.

Now, I don't have much experience with higher end CD players. I've auditioned a Rotel at the dealer and heard Jolidas at audio meet-ups. But, before the Piano CD I've had a stream of consumer-grade DVD players serving CD duty feeding an external DAC. I say a stream because they always seem to give out eventually or at least develop some kind of quirk where the tray shoots out and in like you're playing 'Hungry, Hungry Hippo' putting the disks in. I'm primed for something reliable, decent looking and hopefully not huge like my half-dead DVD players that decorate the spare room (I'll fix them some day! Maybe they'll heal!).  :scratch:

Look and Feel
I've owed a Virtue One since after they launched and thought the little T-amp was an impressive piece of engineering. Well, the "Melissa" case, as Seth calls it, housing the Piano CD M1 Player (same case as the Sensation) is ten times as impressive. It's not made from thin stamped or rolled aluminum, it feels more like it was forged--this piece is rigid, solid, thick and HEAVY.

The fit and finish is impeccable. Everything is tight and neatly finished. You could stand on this thing and it would not bend. I cannot fathom a sturdier case. It's like my Thermador stove or Bosch drill--just a real beast at what it does. I think it could take a bullet, but my testing has not progressed that far, yet. :uzi:

The one he sent for testing is in the natural aluminum color with the optional upgrade fuschia sides and the cylindrical piers with a light oak top. The fuschia is not my favorite.  :oops: I do like the piers, which add depth to the unit without really taking up much more space. The remote is apparently the upgraded Sensation model that is a solid aluminum brick like the case. It's similar to the fancy ones I've seen with Jolidas. If you lose it, get your metal detector. Very, very nice.  :thumb:

Nuts & bolts
The case with piers measures 11 1/2" w x 9 1/2" d x 4 3/4" h (more like 11" w if no piers). Front buttons include: play, open/close, prev, next, stop, pause, power, digital readout and the tray. On the back are two RCA outs, one optical out and one coax out, IEC power connection and 120/230v switch.

Like the rest of the unit, the RCAs and other connections on the back are hefty. I've had tight cables pull off cheap RCA inputs (okay, I helped :roll:) but these are beefy.


How it works, how it sounds
The short answer is: very, very nice. It is the best sound I have had in this house and the most reliable and easy-to-use player I have used. It's very simple and just works. Needless to say it trounces my DVD players in all ways in casual side-to-side tests.

It certainly works as a transport when feeding digital signals to another DAC. To my ears the Piano's internal DAC bested my NOS DAC with separate power supply that retails around $500 and was the equivalent to one with the new ESS Sabre chip at over $1k (names withheld to protect the innocent). Perhaps you have fancier DACs. I've found that the Piano is at least as good as anything I'll be able to afford.

It also sounds better than my digital iTunes files in Apple Lossless playing through one of the aforementioned DACs. So, the Virtue CD player produces the best sound I can muster in my house. This is all driven by either a Virtue One with 130w power supply or First Watt F1 current source amp using only a passive volume control to Horn Shoppe, single-driver folded horn speakers.

Sorry folks, but I'm not going to wax poetic about the sound of Norah Jones and Diana Krall in scientific A/B testing. That's fine for others and I like those artists and reading reviews by others but my listening comes in fits and starts (remember, 'real world'). This morning it was Ella Fitzgerald getting us up and off to school through the Piano CD into the First Watt F1 and out to the Horn Shoppe speakers. Last night my little boy was break dancing to Madonna "Music." We build Legos to Pink Floyd and watch Weird Al videos through the computer?I think you get the idea. When no one else is in the house, I crank Queen til the F1 is all the way open and the cats are cowering in the corner begging me to take them back to the animal shelter.  :rock:

Even with my "vintage" CDs from the '80s (yes, I was an early adopter) and those scratched from years of love, play without issue. The Cure "Disintegration" is so scratched from college (from when it came out) I put the disk aside meaning to buy a new one. The Virtue player spins it without problems (unlike my consumer DVD players). The Virtue CD Player doesn't hiccup, it doesn't pause, it just plays.

Piano CD Hits the Road
Soon after it arrived, I took the Piano CD player to Ed Schilling's Hornfest (of The Horn Shoppe) down the road in Colombia, S.C. The event is a rare and unusual combination of archaic tube fans and redneck firearms theatrics that really must be experienced to be understood. Ed said he was down a CD player and asked folks to bring one. Of course, everyone brought their players, so there were several Jolidas to choose from feeding Jim Dowdy's $30,000 GM-70 tube amp, which was the star of the show.

When I walked in Ed's infamous "Pink Room" with this little matching brick of a CD player, folks said, "fire it up, let's listen." So, out went the celebrated Jolida and in went the Piano. I held my breath, as I had barely tested the thing at my house, so sticking it in front of an amp that cost more than the car I arrived in for auditioning my a bunch of tube dudes was a bit daunting...  "Sounds good," was the consensus. Basically, it was every bit as good as the Jolida to my ears and it kept the festivities going. It didn't hurt that it matched the walls. Folks wanted to know how much it costs and when they could buy one.  :wink:


Good things come to those who wait 30 seconds?
The only downside I can find to this player is that it takes a bit longer than my patience lasts upon initial power up. When turning it on from the off position it takes about 30 seconds before it's ready. After this, the tray opens and closes and reads disks as fast as any dedicated player I've used and faster than my lumbering DVD multi-disk player. I've gotten into the habit of turning it on when I think about listening to music and then going to look for the disk I want, instead of the other way around. Not a deal breaker for me, just something I wanted you to be aware of in case you were considering one.

Conclusion
Anyone looking at a CD player beyond the entry-level consumer range should give this serious consideration. This is the kind of equipment that is built to last and is worth repairing if something should go amiss in future years. The styling is customizable from simple black to bodacious (more like the one Seth sent me).

It takes up relatively little shelf space and fits with the Virtue look. It would be a perfect mate for the Sensation and should have high WAF (although your results may vary).  aa

In its time here, the Piano CD player has rekindled my relationship with CDs and despite the advances in computer music storage, I find the CD is my format of choice with a quality player like this one.  :thumb:

--Guy

I hope Seth will make me a deal on this one. It's fuschia with a few bullet dents.


virtue

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Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #8 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:02 pm »
Guy - thanks for that write up.  Hope your wife doesn't fully understand your commitment to this fetish ;-)

panomaniac

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #9 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:14 pm »
The basic difference in the sound between the Tripath and the Ice is of neutrality.  The ICEBlock is a very straight forward amp, clean as a whistle.  The Tripath is a little more euphonic, thus its success with the tube crowd.  And the Ice has tons of power and a very high damping factor.

It's going to be a question of taste and what your system needs.

The ICEBlock is very simple.  It's a monoblock with no frills.  No volume control, the input switch on the back is simply to select either XLR or RCA in.  Power supply is built in.  So it's meant to be run with a preamp or better yet a system with active crossover. You'll need 2 for stereo.

IMO, this amp is ideal for owners of inefficient speakers and difficult loads.  If you own Magnapans, ESLs, open baffles or even stubborn bookshelf speakers, this is the amp for you.  Or if you need a really kicking subwoofer amp.  This amp has balls!  With its super low output impedance it will take hold of your speakers and not let go.  It can be rather a surprise when you put this amp on speakers you know - it can really bring them to life. Make them sound like a different speaker.

The amp is not for the faint hearted, tho.  Systems that benefit from SET amps are not the best match for this amp.  First, it has too much power, second, it's very dry, very neutral.  I am running it on my Altec woofers at the moment (98dB/W) and it does a great job.  Bass is deep and profound.  But it may be too well damped.  Very quiet tho.  Even on 98dB sensitive speakers, it runs dead quiet.  Amazing.  The Altecs don't really strain it, maybe 4 watts peak. =)

Where the ICEBlock really shines is on less efficient speakers.  It has the power to wake them up and the authority to keep them under control.  I tried the ICEBlocks on several bookshelf and floor standing speakers with small woofers (5-6").  These type speakers love this amp.

To sum it up I would say that the ICEBlock does what transistor amps do so well. Power, control, very low noise.  And it does NOT do what many transistor amps do badly.  Edgy, rough, masked, not engaging sound.  The ICEBlock is a pleasure to listen to.  Pair it with the right speakers and you'll be dancing.


Cheerwino

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #10 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:24 pm »
Here are a few shots of the Virtue Piano CD Player at Hornfest in the "Pink Room". I'll try to take some better shots of the player and post later.




Yes, those are spray-painted camo speakers in the corner.

srb

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #11 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:29 pm »
I think it's cool that you can customize the case with different colors, panel materials and other design elements, but you will have to let me know if someone actually orders the fuchsia of their own free will.
 
Steve

virtue

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Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #12 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:39 pm »
Haha... I once had this dream that women (and metro-sexuals like myself) would buy our products.  Haha... haha...  For the record, we have at least 2 female customers.  Hopefully that number goes up in time!  Don't worry, we have plenty of "classic" sides in both black and natural aluminum without columns.  In case you're wondering, "Melissa" is my girlfriend's name.  She still thinks this whole thing is nuts, but does happen to like the fuscia - bouganvillia really.  How many girlz got metal-work named after them?

panomaniac

The Melissa Platform.
« Reply #13 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:47 pm »
I was going to write up the Piano CD, but Guy has done much better than I ever could!  Big Mahalo, Brah - as we say in the islands. :D

Just to add a note.  The DAC inside is not my design, but I like it a lot.  Not generally a fan of opamp output stages for DACs (I do transformers) but this one is sweet.  It's slightly warm sounding and not edgy or tweaky sounding like so many CD players.  Very easy to live with.

The Melissa platform.
Just so that you know, the Piano CD player, the ICEBlock monoblocks and the Sensation integrated amp are all in what we call the Melissa platform.  All basically the same case.  The front and rear panels are different, of course, because of connections and controls.  But everything else is the same.  So tops and sides, feet and columns will fit any of them.

They are built like a tank, but prettier.  Picking up one of these is surprising.  They're heavy!  You might expect that in a big power amp, but not in a CD player or integrated amp.  Somewhere Seth read the saying "Nothing succeeds like Excess" and took it to heart.  He went out and spent a fortune designing and building these cases.  You can see it and feel it.

Now I've never been one to buy pretty audio gear.  I like it, but I don't buy it.  Having a few of these around the house may have changed my mind.  If you love music and want to own a nice CD player, why not have a beautiful, well made object too?  Yes, you can impress your buddies and family with it - but you'll also impress yourself ever time you use it.  That had never occurred to me before.  "Yeah, I own this and it's so cool."  I had always reserved that for cars.

shep

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #14 on: 23 Oct 2009, 04:59 pm »
  just to add my two cents worth to this discussion: I've had several versions of the Tripath amp, a la sauce Mardis, and an ICE amp (also Mardis-brew...pre "Virtue" I hasten to add.) As much as I appreciated and respected and was amazed by Tripath amps (we have gotten blase, but they were pretty amazing and totally unthinkable in the begin) I have become an ICE convert, without reservation. I have heard numerous comments such as non-musical, flat, sterile, boring etc. I refute these absolutely. I'm sure it's easy to make a rotten ICE amp, just as it would be to make a lackluster tube one. I'm also sure it takes inspiration and experience to make a great one. I'm in no way dissing T-amps and I'm sure I haven't heard the best of them, but if it's power and control you're after, then ICE is your ticket. When it's done right it is also sweet and extended and totally engaging. The best thing is try them both and hear for yourself. Obviously the guys at Virtue are on a roll and more power to them. Imagination, willingness to engage the public and a dose of risk-taking is a good ticket to success in a very difficult market. I am a fan of M's so I guess that makes me a fan-boy (even if I will NEVER let go of my very own little wonder!)

srb

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #15 on: 23 Oct 2009, 06:01 pm »
I'm sure it's easy to make a rotten ICE amp, just as it would be to make a lackluster tube one. I'm also sure it takes inspiration and experience to make a great one.
 
When it's done right it is also sweet and extended and totally engaging.

Well, is Virtue actually doing any modifications to the amps, or are they stock modules plus the integration of a great enclosure, jacks, posts, switch and perhaps better pricing than the competition?
 
If that's the case, just how exactly do you make a "rotten" one? What makes it "done right" to become "sweet, extended and totally engaging".
 
I know for example, that Wyred4Sound modifies the input circuit to make it higher impedance and that Bel Canto adds some physical damping material to some parts.
 
I'm not saying that the ICE modules need any of these, or other modifications.  I'm just trying to understand that if they are stock, exactly how those comments relate.
 
As I said, the enclosure, input/output hardware, pricing and the good guys at Virtue behind it is enough to justify the product.
 
Steve

virtue

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Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #16 on: 23 Oct 2009, 06:22 pm »


Just got this photo from Jeff at Lucid this morning.  As much as I do sincerely enjoy working with many Asian manufacturers, I just love going to a domestic source for this stuff.  THANK YOU JEFF.

panomaniac

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #17 on: 23 Oct 2009, 06:24 pm »
The ICEBlock has our own input module.  Mostly it is just to allow an unbalanced RCA input and a buffered loop out.  Works like a charm.

We have not found that it needed anything else.   If you read the reviews for the Wyred version you will get a good feel for how ours sounds.  I think they only way you could mess these up is to use a bad preamp or volume control.  Otherwise, leave it alone.

Shep, thanks for the comments.  I had almost forgotten that you had an Ice.  Glad you are liking it.  I know it took a while for it to grow on you.  Most of us are not used to an amp that neutral.   But here is the bad news.  These 250W monoblocks sound even better.  :duh:  More power,  stronger bass and cleaner through the midrange.  Quite remarkable.
But of course they are much bigger, heavier and more expensive.  That's life.

shep

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #18 on: 23 Oct 2009, 06:28 pm »
SRB,  I'm not don't want to hijack this thread to laud another product. I'm not sufficiently versed in the esoteria of ICE module modification to answer your questions, nor do I know what the fertile mind of M. Mardis has come up with. I do know, from direct before and after experience that the ICE module needs some "help" to sound its best. You cited Cullens/Wyred, with which I am familiar, and I know from first-hand that they do a great deal to make this module sing and show its potential. Michael is usually very forthcoming about these matters so you better address him directly or wait till he answers!

shep

Re: Piano and ICEBlock - Available and 15% off to try
« Reply #19 on: 23 Oct 2009, 06:32 pm »
M. I didn't need to hear that!!  :evil: I'm erasing it from my hardrive/mind. Actually J.Serento doesn't agree with you but then I don't have the third generation module (damn!) IF you remember, I have a GREAT volume control! aa