Yesterday I posted this review on the Vista Audio i34 - NY Rave tour
thread, but I thought this might be a more appropriate place. Sorry for the duplicate post, the Moderators can do what they deem appropriate.
First I'd like to thank Boris for his gracious generosity in allowing me to audition the amp for so long. He was a pleasure to deal with, and was always prompt and helpful in responding to my queries. Over the years I've had a bellyful of elitist and arrogant attitude in this hobby, so it was a refreshing change to deal with Boris.
I gotta say from the outset that Deutscherhififan pretty much nailed it in <a href="http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=45201.70
" target="_blank">his review[/url] on the NY Audio Rave board. I share his sentiments and observations 100%...so much so that when reading his review, I was startled by how aligned our impressions are.
Just this morning I posted a review over on the AG forum. What I submit here is just a fleshed-out and slightly amended version. I hope this does not violate any rules here.
I gave the i-34 a good workout on all my speakers:
DeVore Gibbons 3 + Osiris stands
Vienna Acoustic Bach
Proac Response 2.5
PBN Montana SP2 Signatures
Meadowlark Heron "i"Gear used to evaluate Vista i-34:
Sources: Metronome CD2V-Signature cdp, Cary 308-T cdp, MHDT Paradisea DAC
(Metronome as transport)
Interconnects: Wireworld Gold Eclipse, Argent Audio Jaden, Audio Art IC-3
Digital Cable: Nordost Silver Shadow
Speaker cables: Straley Reality, Analysis Plus Oval 12, Argent Audio Jaden
Power Conditioner: Shunyata Hydra (original)Other gear in main system, not used to evaluate Vista i-34:
Dodd 120 mono amps w Svetlana "winged C" el34, Tungsol 5687, GE 7044
JuicyMusic Blueberry Xtreme preamp w Cream LOMC option, and various NOS tubes
Townshend Rock tt , SME V arm, Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge
I also own a Blue Circle BC-24 hybrid amp.
Cut right to the chase: this is one amazing lil amp whose performance far far exceeds what one would expect at its $980 MSRP. I am shocked that a sub $1k amp can offer the level of refinement that I experienced with this amp. Like Deutcherhififan, I found it's performance shockingly close to separates that cost multiples more. I'm not hugely experienced with integrateds, but I have had a few, including a well regarded el34 based integrated. The i-34 is the best I have heard, and I can't think of a separate amp priced up to $2k, maybe higher, that in my experience beats it. Factor in that there is no outlay for separate linestage and interconnecting cable, and you have a serious piece of kit here.
At this point I should reveal that I am partial to tubes, but I do try to keep an open mind, and I do listen to SS offerings. Matter of fact, I own two SS integrateds, and a hybrid amp (SS output).
The i-34 excels at midrange clarity and image solidity. It maintains the beauty and musicality usually associated with el34 designs, without the usual drawbacks. The i-34 dramatically improves on transparency and does not have the typical veiling and softness normally associated with the breed. Vocals really "pop" and have nice presence. Transparency over the entire range is impressive. Soundstage is nicely developed, and images are fleshed out and neither waver nor wander. Coherency bottom to top, with a good dose of liquidity and musicality. The sound is very open, and when listening, I never got the feeling that anything was really missing, or painfully askew. The amp sounds so good with stock tubes that I had no inclination at all to roll 'em......and I am a hopelessly addicted tube roller! The i-34 is quite neutral and naturally detailed, with a slight leaning toward a warm and organic presentation. But not neutral in the dry and clinical sense. This amp has plenty of beauty and emotional appeal. The is no grit, no grain, no glare. There is a texture and a palpability to the music....harmonically rich and full with nicely saturated images. Pacing seems spot on giving the music a nice propulsive and flowing character.
For its power rating, it has astonishing control, grip and punch. On my larger floorstanders it did not have the bottom end heft and weight of some larger amps, but it drove them all seemingly without effort, never losing control or getting loosey-goosey.....my Herons being the only exception. I sense the i-34 power ratings are conservative as this amp breezed through everything without breaking a sweat, even on the big multi-driver speakers. Dynamics and punch were great. Many friends who listened were astonished at the guts, power and finesse produced by such a "tiny lil amp". The bass is beautifully articulated and detailed, even on the big speakers. Very nice sparkle, shimmer, air and decay in the treble. I rarely listen this loud, but in my largish room, the volume pot at about 1 o'clock produced 90 to 95 db with no strain, compression, stridency, or other nasties.
The noise floor is almost bottomless and the background is beautifully black. Dead quiet even with ears pressed right up to the drivers and volume pot 100% open. Very impressive! I don't think I've ever heard a tube amp this quiet, regardless of price...and I have heard quite a few. In the "silent like tomb" department, right up there with SS.
Build quality seems very very good. Dead quiet the entire time I had it....never a tic, pop, hiss, sizzle or boom, or any noise whatsoever. No transformer hum, no hum or buzz out of the speakers. In this regard, along with the noise floor, I am reminded of SS. But when listening, you know you are basking in that beautiful thermionic glow.
Apart from my Herons, a very good match on all speakers above. Especially nice on the Bachs, Proacs and Spendors.
Onto just a few nits to pick. Even though it is double boxed, I would be a bit fearful of shipping it in the provided packaging as I think the inserts and padding are too flimsy. Some may not like the cosmetics. I like the size and overall layout of the tubes and transformers. It has a retro cool look to me. And I like the simplicity of the controls, and the way it is outfitted around back is just fine with apparently good quality parts. But brushed chrome is not my favorite as it tends to pick up lots of dust, smudges, and fingerprints and it's hard to keep clean. Some friends commented that this might be a deal killer for them. I had no such reservations. The sound had such a winning personality that I could easily overlook what were in my estimation, slight visual shortcomings. Others may need other extras and niceties such as: more inputs, a balance control, and / or a remote.
If your speaks do not require an arc welder, and you seek a sound that is rich, full, organic and musical, yet still detailed, in a compact, tidy, visually appealing, and apparently well-crafted package, give this baby some serious consideration. It will have you listening to music not sounds, and it will leave some $$ in the bank!
And for you local NY guys, Boris is very local in Queens, and quite welcoming and accommodating.
Should make for reliable after-sale support.
I like it a lot.
The GF loves it.
Put my $ where my mouth is and bought it for her system, where it will be teamed with VA Bach speakers and Cary 308-T cdp. Sweet lil system! Wish my starter system way back in the day was this good! Having listened to it a lot in my main system, I'm confident the i-34 will even hold its own as you upgrade around it.
Nicely done Boris!
Great performance at a great price. Hopefully some good buzz will follow and some sales generated.
Audio land needs products like this, and good guys like Boris standing behind them.