When Seth Krinsky formed Virtue Audio in 2005, he continued the Tripath audio revolution that had hitherto forestalled at the hands of a Chapter 11 filing. The release of the original (now dubbed “Classic”) Virtue Audio ONE amplifier saw what could be done if an Ikea/Apple-type ideology were brought to bear on the aesthetics of an entry-level amplifier.
With web 2.0 nomenclature, it is readily apparent that the ONE.2 is an evolution of the Classic ONE. It retains the “EcoAudio” low power draw, the ‘propellor’ speaker posts and one pair of input RCAs. My review unit shipped with the 130W/30V switching power supply (RRP $170) which is capable of 55wpc. The stock unit ships with a smaller SPS and does 30wpc. The sub-out RCA can now be deployed in tandem with an 80hz high-pass filter (via an internal jumper) rendering the ONE.2 more powerful still.
Other new features include a soft-start circuit (no more “thump”!), a stepped volume attenuator that really does feel lovely and a revised circuit layout.
Un-boxing this amplifier was a very pleasing “consumer” experience: the shiny volume knob felt reassuringly heavy and was easily attached. The unit itself possessed sufficient heft in-hand that the initial build-quality impressions were nothing short of outstanding. Unscrewing the coloured case (yes, you have a choice) revealed a neatly-but-densely packed box – quality abounded. At 130 x 70 x140 this amplifier felt sturdy and stout and was bizarrely smaller than its own power supply. What an incongruous setup. Was this amplifier’s purpose to rule the computer desktop as its form factor suggested or was it capable of hanging with the big boys at the business end of town?Initial listening sessions took place in a computer desktop environment. The Virtue ONE.2 didn’t quite have the requisite grunt to do justice to the (84db) shelved Dayens Tizo standmounts, yet it was more than capable of driving both the Rega RS1 and the PMC DB1i – the latter also in a lounge-room environment – to satisfactory levels and with a pleasing sonic presentation.
After a day or two, the Virtue was due an innings or two in my lounge room. Hooking it up to a pair of Lenehan Audio ML-1 Signatures revealed the ONE.2 to be spacious and broad of soundstage. Playing a recent remaster of Brian Eno’s Before And After Science, the Virtue’s midrange openness was manifestly confessional. Many have commented on the ability of Tripath amplifiers to sound “tubey”. Is the ONE.2 as such? Yes and no. It has a tendency towards warmth; but think of it as more milk than butter.
Bass control on the ML-1/Virtue pairing was very good but I would have liked to have heard a little more authority in this area. The upper frequencies were nicely tempered – nothing too glaring or aggressive and nothing too smooth either. However, I did note a lack of top-end openness that diminished the ambience of some recordings – a minor complaint.The oscillating pulse of early 90s IDM pioneers B12’s sophomore album Time Tourist was delivered with a remoteness that lends itself well to this particular genre of music. Likewise, the simple acoustics of Joni Mitchell’s Blue were conveyed with exactitude. Paradoxically, this also reveals the mini Virtue’s achilles heel: an occasional lack of emotional involvement.
This flaw certainly isn’t a pronounced one and it was only exposed after many hours of listening and only with certain types of music, using certain loudspeakers – specifically those that demand a soupcon of romance or warmth. Some might damn this as inconsistency but the upside is that the ONE.2 is extremely easy to listen to and never fatiguing. This is the story of the ONE.2 amplifier, a desktop audio product being sent out to find its way in the big, bad world of high fidelity.
This minor criticism also got me thinking about the possibility of perfection leading to emotional distance; how there exists a very fine line between effortless ease and a phoned-in performance. The ONE.2 walks this tightrope. Sometimes it loses its footing, sometimes it doesn’t.
It certainly doesn’t with Omega’s XRS6. A single-driver loudspeaker that usually exposes the harshness of solid state amplification. One might call the Virtue/Omega pairing synergistic. Another Eno album – this time from his 80s ambient canon – Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks sounded beautifully nuanced when this Tripath design met with that full-ranger. A re-run of the aforementioned Joni Mitchell album took on a more three-dimensional presence that had previously eluded the Miniwatt N3 (RRP $549). Moreover, unlike the Miniwatt (3 wpc), the Virtue never once displayed evidence of strain when higher SPLs were called for.In true post-modernist fashion, context is everything. The Virtue ONE.2 is both an outstanding desktop amplifier and a more-than-competent lounge room device (once you get passed the “ooh-aah-cute” of this tiny brick driving a pair of humungous floorstanders). Perhaps this amplifier should be best thought of as a desktop device with ideas above its station. System matching is critical. With the Lenehan ML-1s Signatures the Virtue ONE.2 is a competent amplifier. Ditto PMC DB1i and Rega RS1. With the Omega XRS6, it is an excellent amplifier: almost tube-like in its transparency, but more fluorescent strip than filament-and-gas glow. What the ONE.2 lacks in snap and timing, it more than compensates for with mid-range clarity and bass control.
The ONE.2 is a more creative amplifier choice for those who have grown tired/bored of the NAD/Rotel/Marantz full-width box aesthetic – and their respective house sounds – and are seeking something more esoteric. Whilst not without its flaws in the traditional lounge room environment, the Virtue ONE.2 could be what many are looking for when putting together a second system together for a study or office. If you own single-driver loudspeakers, you are implored to audition this amplifier at your earliest opportunity. Its sound won’t annoy and it looks gorgeous. A high-fidelity audio experience with one eye on looks and one on sound quality, all for chump change – well done Seth.
- Logitech Squeezebox
- Lite DAC68
- PMC DB1i
- Omega XRS6
- Rega RS1
- Lenehan Audio ML-1 Signature
- Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)
- Brian Eno – Before And After Science (Remaster) (1977)
- B12 – Time Tourist (1996)
- Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)