Okay I have had the Virtue 2 in house for a little over a week now. Before I start though, let me preface my feedback with some information.
I hosted this digital amp shoot out and spent time with each of these digital amps: http://www.gr-research.com/amps/amps.htm
I then co-hosted this event held at Art's:http://www.stereomojo.com/SHOOTOUT2007INTEGRATEDS.htm
And this one: http://www.stereomojo.com/AmpSHOOTOUTPowerAmps.htm
I have a pretty good feel for most of those and spent time with many of them in my own system.
I dropped the Virtue 2 into my system using my CEC as a transport, highly modded Lite DAC-60, Dodd Audio balanced power supply, Majik Buss, Electra Cables, Dodd battery tube pre-amp, and new open baffle Venue speakers.
Okay, my first thoughts upon listening to the Virtue 2 was a little mixed. It was not bad by any means. It was as good as the better units that have been through here and considering the price point its a home run. Still there was a slight roughness in the vocal range, a slight noise floor, imaging was a little flat, highs were a little dirty, and just not completely musical. It sounded a little on the fresh side, like it really needed burn in time.
I guess it wasn't really fair going to it from those big Blue Dodd Audio tube mono-blocks either.
I then burned it in for about fours days and went at it again. It was better but only by a slight margin.
I tried it without a pre-amp and with my battery powered Dodd. Adding the Dodd pre-amp definitely gave it more drive than my DAC. It opened up the sound stage too. Most importantly to me though is that I could use my remote for turning it up and down. It was still not bad at all without the pre-amp though. You can by-pass the internal pot and make this into a pure amp only if you want. It gets the pot out of the signal path and improves it a little more still. I haven't tried it yet though.
So I tried replacing the stock power cord going to the power supply. Since this is just AC going to a power supply that converts to pure DC, I wasn't expecting much. However, the difference was not subtle. This was one of the new Electra Cable power cords. Some of the roughness in the vocal area went away and the whole sound stage opened up a little. No doubt, it was more musical. I was really surprised at the difference in the power cord. It was still not blowing me away though.
I then A/Bed it to me modified T-amp. The T-amp was being powered with a 12 volt wall wart. Clearly the T-amp had smoother vocals, cleaner highs, lower noise floor and more pin point imaging. This was slightly perplexing. Both of these are Tripath based (I think). So why so different? I suspected that because the T-amp was stacked with Sonicaps and Gen.2 Sonicap by-pass caps while the Virtue was using Auricaps might be the difference. The Auricaps always had a coloring effect in the mid-range that I did not like. That could be an area of improvement for the Virtue, but that was not "it".
The problem with the T-amp is that it is only about 10 watts max. But with the 97db sensitivity of the Venue, it really wasn't an issue. Only when pushed really hard on some Jeff Beck did it run itself up against the wall and out of juice. Drum hits started to get a little spitty and without impact. Not so with the Virtue. It still had room to spare even at those levels.
I then called up Gary Dodd and ran this by him to see if he had any ideas about the issues with the Virtue. Still it was a home run for the money, but I felt like it could be more than just really good for the money. I felt like it could be really good period. He had built a couple of them for the various shoot outs and they always did really well both times.
I also always felt like the Tripath based amps were the most transparent off all the chip amps. They had little to no sonic signature about them compared to other amps. They sounded like whatever you were feeding them. Crap in crap out, or $8,000 worth of front end components ahead of it and it sounded like a world class amp. There was still something holding it back though.
Gary always has the answer too. He knows all to well that the key to how these digital amps sound is largely due to the power supply. So he says, "run it on batteries." Figures! So I scrounged around and came up with some old Ack Dac batteries. Giving them a little charge and hooking them up in series gave it a solid 24 volts. I just happen to have one of the plug ends that fit the input of the Virtue too. So I made up some cables...
I then had to call Gary back not long after and admit it was not just a little bit better. It was a lot better. The issues I had with the vocal region were gone. Noise floor was back down to a dead quiet level that I am used to. The sound stage opened up. Imaging was great. The whole thing was great. It was amazed.
The small pair of 1.5 amp hour batteries powered it for about 3 hours at a medium volume level before dying. If I would have been playing it harder it may have lastly less than 2 hours.
Then I charged them up and another pair just like them and series paralleled four of those little batteries on it. I also made a little adapter for the pre-amp charger and hooked it up to the batteries. The pre-amp charger is one of those smart type chargers and it is for charging 24 volts. It will also allow you to plug it in to 220 or 110 volts and works the same either way. It will sense when a charge is needed and shut down when fully charged.
It has now been playing all day long on those 4 little batteries. While I was listening I noticed it dropping in and out of charge mod with the charge light flicking back and forth from green to yellow, but could not detect anything in the sound. If there is some difference I couldn't tell very easily. I'd have to do some more critical listening to see if the quality drops off as the charger kicks in.
I just listened again a little bit ago. It sounded great and the charge light was solid green again. This thing could play continuously this way.
It sounds really great. In fact it sounds much better than it has any right to at that price point. That batteries solved any of the issues that I had with it completely.
So here is what I am going to do. Yes, I liked it well enough to want to offer them to my customers. I am going to offer the Virtue 1 as is for $269. I will offer the upgraded Virtue 2 for $379. The prices are the same as see on the Virtue Audio web site. See all the details here: http://store.virtueaudio.com/category-s/26.htm
I will also offer the Virtue 2 for $20 less ($359) minus the power supply that it comes with.
I will then offer a battery kit for converting it to battery power. I will be actually letting Gary Dodd provide to me his same battery system that he uses in his pre-amp and in this prototype digital amp that he built a few years ago.
The kit will include the four 12 volt batteries, the smart charger, all fittings, connectors and cables that can be made to length. All you need to do is put it in your own chassis. It can be a nice wood box, MDF, piece of plastic or nothing at all, whatever you like. The box for it is the easy part and my DIY customers can build this themselves and save that expense. Anyway the battery kit will be $199.
If you are a real DIY guy and like modifying and upgrading this thing yourself then get the Virtue 1, upgrade the coupling caps to Sonicaps, add the battery power supply, upgrade the wiring, etc and still be under $500 total. You will not be disappointed, and I challenge you to find anything better or even close in that price range.
I just checked the batteries again as it has been playing for hours with the charger connected. The charger was in an off cycle, but I disconnected it anyway. The batteries were still reading over 25 volts.
This is more than a home run. This is fun.
I can't discount these as part of my agreement in carrying them, but I might run some specials that if you order one of the Virtue amps from me, then I will discount any of our kits by 10%.