Vinnie & LIO
“Which sound system would you most like to take home with you? This question came to me after I had listened to over 15 minutes of Vinni Rossi’s setup. The reason the question came to mind was that I already knew the answer, as I was listening to it. His battery and switched-mega-capacitor equipment sounded so quaffable, so pain-free, so pleasing that I didn’t want it to end. This is rare, all too rare. Hi-Fi sound often dazzles and fatigues at the same time. The sound in Rossi’s room was different. It was involving, inviting, and compelling. Vinni is certainly on to something important in his severed connection to the wall socket.”
Quote from John Broskie (designer of the Aikido preamp) at RMAF 2105
How and Why I Recommend Vinnie Rossi (LIO) & Fidelis A/V (Harbeth Speakers)
Several decades ago I owned a pair of Roger LS3/5A speakers with a Naim power amp and preamp and a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable. I really loved that system at the time and thinking about it only brings back fond memories of the tremendous enjoyment I received whenever listening to that setup. However, time moves on, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and memories somewhat fade and cause us to forget things that really “worked” in our lives.
Since that time, I’ve explored most every basic speaker design, huge number of tube and solid state systems, and over the number of years, have gravitated back to an all digital audio system with the Vinnie Rossi LIO as my “front-end” plus my MacPro computer as the server. Prior to my recent purchase of the LIO, I was using my own custom built Aum Acoustics 2A3 tube amp. My current system consists of a LIO and a pair of Harbeth HL5+ speakers. My memories of that Roger’s system have come back in spades (thanks to the LIO/Harbeth combination) and I’m totally in love with listening to my audio system once again. I couldn’t be happier!
3 Key Reasons to Purchase a LIO
I’ve Owned a Ton of DAC’s
I’ve owned both the Metrum Pavane and HEX DACs (both my favorites), the Auralic Vega DAC, the AMR DAC, the Chord Hugo, and a ton of other digital front ends. I hate to admit that I’ve now owned approximately 30 DACs over just the last 3 years. Yes . . . I’ve been chasing and looking for the best digital sound quality that I can find within a “reasonable” price range. Is over $5,000 for a Pavane reasonable? No. But hey, this is a hobby right? Why not explore for a while if you can? The LIO DAC’s sound quality is somewhere between the Metrum HEX and Pavane and the Auralic Vega – kind of the best of both ends of the spectrum. I’ve never come across a DAC that only costs $895 and that can keep up with DAC’s in the $3,500 to $5,000 price range. This is an incredible bargain for the audio quality provided. So far, the LIO’s DAC is my #1 favorite! Previously, it was the Metrum Pavane.
The Power Supply is the Foundation For Any Great Audio System
I good friend of mine knows Vinnie Rossi and I’ve been hearing about Vinnie’s progress as he developed his new LIO concept – an extremely unique ultra capacitor power supply approach and a modular system that allows for module swapping and helps to reduce or eliminate obsolescence. In his previous Red Wine audio components, Vinnie was using battery power supplies. The ultra capacitors, however, really caught my attention since they are an optimum approach for power supply design vastly outperforming typical tube and solid state approaches. I’m an OEM and build my own amps and power supplies and I’ve found that a super clean power supply design is really the foundation to build a super high-end system upon. Everything else either gets out of the way or it doesn’t.
Selling My Cables Almost Paid for My LIO
When I added up the re-sale value of all of my power cables (7 in total), my two power conditioners, and my interconnects, I found that I was sitting on over $5,000 in cables and conditioners. All of a sudden, Vinnie’s new LIO (for not much more in cost) became really attractive since I could buy one outright from just selling my cables that wouldn’t be needed if I owned a LIO. In addition, I was sitting on a $5,000 (parts cost alone) 2A3 amp, an LDR pre ($2,000 parts cost), and a $5,000 Metrum Pavane DAC. When I added up my re-sale value, I was amazed that if I sold all of this stuff, I could purchase 2 Vinnie Rossi LIO’s and have money left over and that is exactly what I did.
I Purchased 2 LIO’s Without Ever Hearing One
I had no idea what a LIO would sound like and I had no way to listen to one before placing my order. But, I suspected that the ultra capacitor power supply in the LIO would make a vast improvement along with eliminating all of the connections and wire length that a ton of cables present. Wait time was 7 weeks at that time and I just did it. 2 LIO’s were ordered! Done! Meanwhile, I began selling off all of my high-end personal equipment and ended up with a temporary listening system using all of my old cast offs ad prototypes. Quickly, I ended up with more cash than the 2 LIO’s cost and all that I needed to do is wait a little longer – for that day when one of the LIO’s would arrive. I love creating vacuums and space for new things to appear and this time, the end result was really worth the wait.
The two items I kept were my Rethm speakers and my custom Aum Acoustics speaker cables. That was all that I needed to connect a LIO and begin listening to music again. Everything else was sold.
Matching the LIO to Speakers
The 7 weeks passed and one day, one of my LIO’s was delivered. I connected it and quickly was amazed at how good this new system sounded. However, because my full range high efficiency driver system was “voiced” for a tube amp (preferring a full mid range spectrum that 2nd order harmonic power amp tube distortion provided), the mid range sounded a little thin. I let the LIO burn in for a week and had already been collecting and ordering tubes for my tube stage.
I eventually discovered a tube for the tube stage module in the LIO that made the system sound almost perfect – the NOS Mullard CV2492. I couldn’t find any of these tubes at Upscale Audio or Brent Jesse and after searching for over a week, I finally stumbled upon a rare stash of NOS Mullard CV2492’s in the UK. These were the last that this dealer had and I purchased all of them (all 10 matched pairs). These tubes are getting really scarce and of course expensive (over $100 per single tube) but I now have a reasonable stash. When a tube is this good, you can’t let a NOS stash get away or at least I couldn’t. I bought all 10 pair (20 tubes). Previously, I had acquired a used pair of these Mullard tubes from a friend and I already knew how good they were when used in Vinnie’s tube stage.
Vinnie’s Incredible Customer Service & My Coupling Cap & Tube Stage Tuning Adventure
I shared my discovery with Vinnie and he offered to send me a 2nd MOSFET amp with Russian paper in oil coupling capacitors instead of his stock caps. He felt that I should compare using the Mullard CV2492 solution to using a paper in oil coupling capacitor. Neither he nor I knew which approach would sound better but we agreed it was worth finding out.
When I received the modified mosfet module, I found that the mid range was WAY too fat and I had to EQ the 600HZ range by about -6db to even listen to the PIO coupling cap modified mosfet amp. The sound quality was good when EQ’d but the EQ at that high level overloaded my system so it really wasn’t a good solution. I found that the Mullard CV2492 tubes provided better results for my Rethm’s but before giving up, I decided to try one more shot at coupling caps and ordered a pair of super matched Mundorf Silver in Oil .22uF coupling caps to replace the Russian caps that Vinnie had installed.
Once I had come up with a way to mount these larger caps (since there wasn’t room on the pcb) and had them solidly soldered in, I found that the Mundorf caps sounded really nice – much better than the Russian PIO’s. However, Mundorf’s SIO typically take at least 400 hours to break in and I never used that MOSFET amp long enough to know how they would end up.
Instead, I decided to stick with the Mullard CV2492 approach and put the original mosfet amp module back in my LIO. This tube made my Rethm speakers sound really nice. I also began to consider that maybe, I should purchase another pair of speakers that are more suited for the LIO MOSFET amp without having to use tubes to tune it.
The LIO Works With Many Speakers Systems
Meanwhile, I took my LIO over to a friends house and we connected the LIO to his pair of NOLA Contenders and I found that this was a nice combination. The Contenders midrange was fatter than the Rethm’s so it sounded right but sound quality wasn’t as sophisticated and mature so this definitely was not an ideal combination and one I couldn’t live with. Those Contenders weren’t super high end even though they sounded good (but weren’t a solution), they did show me that a change of speakers could yield an even better match for the LIO and this revelation started me off on a new journey.
The LIO is a Perfect Match for Harbeth Speakers
I began to realize that Vinnie had “voiced” his LIO (and probably his Red Wine Audio components that preceded the LIO) for a lower efficiency crossover designed 2 or 3 way speaker system rather than a full range driver system. I began reading old forum postings and found that end users were super happy with many different speaker designs paired with Vinnie’s equipment. However, the Harbeth speakers seemed to stand out as the ultimate choice.
While realizing that the LIO would be an excellent match with most speaker designs (using tubes for fine tuning via the tube stage module), I asked Vinnie what speakers he listens to and what his listening room is like. When he told me that he listens near field just like I do and that he absolutely loves his Harbeth 40.1 speakers, I quickly became interested in Harbeth. That was the push that I needed to consider adding another speaker line to my sales approach.
Vinnie had been using Harbeth speakers with his Red Wine components and consequently was probably motivated to tune his MOSFET amp for those speakers – he had them, used them at his shows, and he listened to them every day – so why not? It makes sense. I’m sure he could have voiced his components for any speaker system but for whatever reason, he chose Harbeth and obviously this choice has created a synergetic match that is an ultimate combination.
I began searching all of the internet forums (including Harbeth’s) and quickly found that there were a huge number of audiophiles that absolutely loved their Harbeth speakers. Some had sold their first pair and after experimenting with other manufacturers designs, came back to purchasing Harbeth again. The most frequent comment was that Harbeth was so easy to listen to long-term that they couldn’t imagine ever wanting to purchase another pair of speakers (whatever model of Harbeth they owned). It appears that all Harbeth models sound similar yet are voiced for specific applications (large rooms, small rooms, more bass, more detail, home use, pro audio use). However, all received rave recommendations from a considerably large group of people. I never knew this about Harbeth until I started doing some research and I was impressed at the positive acceptance for these speakers.
Harbeth Speakers are a Substantial Improvement Over My Old Rogers LS3/5A System That I Owned & Enjoyed Many Years Ago
I also discovered that Harbeth is an extension of and substantial improvement of the BBC Roger’s speaker designs so here we go again for another round of BBC style speaker ownership and anticipated super happy listening sessions. I decided (before I even heard them) that if the Harbeth’s were a really good match with the LIO that I might become a Harbeth owner and even possibly a Harbeth dealer. I started getting excited about this potential and eventually set up an appointment with Fidelis in New Hampshire to audition their Harbeth line (of course with a LIO). Fidelis is the US distributor for Harbeth and a first class audio company so I felt comfortable making the trip to find out what Harbeth (and Fidelis) was all about.
Vinnie, Alexis, Stephanie, and I Visited Fidelis in New Hampshire
When I shared my interest with Vinnie, he offered to join me and we met at Fidelis for a fun day of LIO listening using the Harbeth speaker line. My daughter Stephanie lives in Boston and Nashua is only about 40 minutes from her home so I flew in from Michigan to visit her and she and I met Vinnie and his wife Alexis for breakfast in Nashua and after went to Fidelis for the auditioning.
Fidelis has a number of super high-quality listening rooms and I first made my way into a super high end room that consisted of a single $250,000 system. It had large Wilson speakers and the Fidelis rep put on an LP on an expensive vinyl rig and wanted me to spend a little time listening. After just a few minutes, I wasn’t impressed and decided instead to head toward another listening room where Vinnie had already set up an audition for my daughter and they were already playing music.
Heaven Opened It’s Door And I Fell In Love
I opened the door and walked in and – SUPER WOW! – that was my kind of audio sound quality. The music was full and beautiful and had visceral impact with plenty of detail. It sounded much like live music that I was used to in my early days when I was a professional piano player in a jazz quartet. I was immediately excited and impressed. Stephanie was a violinist (and is a guitar player) and she was enjoying the audition immensely, particularly knowing that she could take one of the speaker systems home that same day if she liked it. She already had received her new LIO (my 2nd LIO order) and was waiting for for us to decide on a new pair of speakers to set up her audio system.
The speakers playing at the time I walked in? The Harbeth Super HL5+ with a Vinnie Rossi LIO (with resistor volume control and not the new transformer volume control tube stage module that I had installed in my 2 LIO’s I had already purchased) and Vinnie playing music using his Apple laptop with only iTunes as the music player and not a 3rd party audiophile music player. He was even playing mp3 music at times. What? How could something so simple sound so good? I have no idea but it did? SOLD! I could only imagine how this system would sound with my transformer volume control / tube stage module and Jriver as my audio player.
Bigger Is Not Necessarily Better
Before visiting Fidelis I had already made my mind up to purchase several pair of the new Harbeth 40.2 speakers assuming that the Harbeth speaker line would sound great and of course, thinking that bigger must be better. It’s a guy thing isn’t it? If the Harbeth’s didn’t sound great, I planned on just walking away and not purchasing anything. However, when I heard the HL5+ paired with a LIO in a fairly good sized listening room, I quickly abandoned the thought of the larger and much more expensive 40.2 speakers. I was shocked at how clean, how loud, how full, and how beautiful the HL5+ speakers sounded. When first hearing them after walking into that Fidelis listening room, “THEY WERE MINE” and is what I’m listening to right now as I type these words.
Vinnie kept removing the HL5+ and replacing them with a pair of 30.1 (one step down in price and size) and those speakers sounded great too. However, and this is really important for me, the visceral impact just wasn’t there. More apparent detail? Yes. Does that mean the HL5+ doesn’t have the detail the 30.1’s do? No! Rather, the lower mid range and the bass spectrums were slightly more recessed in the 30.1 due to the smaller speaker cabinet.
The Super HL5+ Are “My Speakers”
Which sounded more like real music for me? The HL5+ without a doubt. Could I live with and enjoy the 30.1. Absolutely! However, when compared side by side (with only a few minutes time to re-wire speaker cables and move the stands for each swap so a good comparison could be made) the HL5+ ended up being my favorite speakers particularly with the LIO as the front end. Piano was more realistic than through any other speakers I’ve ever heard. String instruments were right on (cello, violin, bass, guitar, you name it). Vocals? Stunning.
I purchased all 3 pair of HL5+ in the tiger ebony finish (also my favorite) that Fidelis had in stock that day and immediately became a Harbeth dealer. No, I’m not a listed dealer on the Fidelis website since I didn’t purchase one of every Harbeth model to demo in my studio and thus become listed on their dealer page. My approach isn’t to stock everything a company offers – just what I’m intensely interested in and provides way above average value.
I’m A Very Unique Audio Dealer (And Previous OEM)
I’m extremely selective about everything that I represent and try to offer only what I personally would use myself and what I consider is the best of the best for the money spent. My budget is large but I don’t waste money. Whatever I represent typically is the best of what it represents but never is a foolish waste of money for the sake of “bragging rights”. Instead, the sound quality must be of the highest caliber possible and the design approached in a unique and world class manner that would satisfy an anal perfectionist like me who builds his own equipment when commercial offerings aren’t good enough.
I was pleasantly surprised and even shocked at how much I liked Harbeth speakers (all models). For whatever reason, I never listened to Harbeth speakers before because they looked like simple and ordinary looking boxes that needed stands and didn’t appear exotic enough for my tastes. Boy was I wrong on that assumption! I was into sexy looking floor standing speakers and just didn’t consider Harbeth was an option for me. What a mistake.
I’m now in love with my personal pair of Harbeth’s and see no need to ever replace my HL5+. Even though I know that I would love to own the 40.2 model, I’m so pleased with the HL5+ that I’m not motivated to spend the money for Harbeth’s flagship speakers. In all honesty, the 40.2 is too big and heavy for me to move around and experiment as I sometimes like to do. I’d rather not have a pair of speakers where you need 2 people to move them and also risk damaging them if not moved carefully. The HL5+ is a perfect size physically, visually, and sonically, and it’s 1/2 the price of the 40.2.
I also realize that anyone could purchase a pair of Harbeth speakers and enjoy them just as much as I love mine. So why would someone purchase the entry level Harbeth P3ESR rather than the more expensive HL5+ or the flagship 40.2? The answer is quite simple – price versus room size requirements and the depth and quality of the bass frequencies.
Most Audio Fans Can Afford a Harbeth & Save Up For a LIO – So Don’t Let the Cost Throw You – Both Are Reasonably Affordable!
If you can’t afford a pair of HL5+ (my favorites), you more than likely can work your way into owning a pair of P3ESR. Once you do, you can either settle into just listening to music or, you can also begin saving for an eventual upgrade to a more expensive model later on but no rush. Remember, it’s the adventure that counts not just the getting there so please don’t lose sight of the enjoyment that can be had by taking your time to assemble a truly world class audio system like the LIO and a pair of Harbeth speakers. I can assure you that this combination is truly one of the best audio investments you could ever make and well worth the time it might take to raise the money to purchase these incredible music reproduction items.
Any one of the Harbeth models could realistically fully satisfy anyone. In fact, many Harbeth owners are totally happy with their smaller Harbeth speakers and have little desire to upgrade. It’s a strange fact but true and I now understand why, particularly when combined with a system as superb as Vinnie’s LIO. There’s nothing else like it and it truly IS a unique high-end audio solution that could satisfy the most demanding audiophile.
Vinnie Rossi’s LIO has changed my entire approach to audio listening. I cannot imagine needing or wanting another audio system particularly when the LIO is paired with the Harbeth Super HL5 plus speakers that I own.