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'An upside to being a downsizing pensioner: I’m not buying any more gear. But if I needed a new amp, I’d be splashing out on a Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE because I simply adore it. The build, ergonomics and features leave nothing to be desired, and it was a joy to use the entire time it was in my system. I even loved just staring at it! But forget all that. Ultimately, this is about sound. And it was ‘Bellissima’. - Ken Kessler
I don't often start a blog post with a quote from a reviewer, but in this case it seemed somewhat appropriate, because for many the Vinnie Rossi L2iSE (Signature Edition) could very well be the last amplifier they will buy. Sure part of the fun of hifi is trying/owning different products but every so often you come across a piece of equipment which is so good, so appropriate, so flexible and so timeless that you may just say "That's it, I'm done." So how did Vinnie get it so right? I think it comes down to his willingness to be open minded and not focus on a single technology. Instead he allowed the tech to follow the results, not the other way around, like so many designers tend to do.
How many times have we heard the debate of tubes vs. solid state? It's almost as old as Coke vs. Pepsi, or the correct pronunciation of "tomato." Many designers warm up to a preferred architecture and spend years wringing out every last drop of performance that the architecture will allow. Of course each has its own unique set of abilities and challenges which need to both be embraced and overcome. Instead of focusing on tubes or solid state, Vinnie Rossi decided to take the best of both and apply them in a really unique way. No, he wasn’t the first to develop a hybrid integrated amp, they have been around for years, but I don't recall ever seeing a hybrid that uses 300B tubes for the preamp! Typically 300B's are used in single ended triode, low power tube power amps and work best with high efficiency speakers. They have a unique ability to retrieve immense amounts of detail while not sounding harsh, which is a common issue with many solid state designs. However, connect a 300B amplifier to a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 800D3's, or Sonus Faber Guarneri, and it'll fall flat on its face. Since the 300B tube is so amazing, Vinnie felt that he simply couldn't not use it but instead of being the output, he decided to use it on the input side of things. And this is how the L2 Signature Preamp was born. A direct heated triode preamp that uses 300B's, simple genius.
Then he needed to develop an output stage which was capable of driving a wide variety of speakers to reasonable listening levels. There was no intention of using this amplifier in stadiums or to achieve ear-bleeding SPL, therefore, hundreds or thousands of watts simply weren't necessary. In fact, you would be shocked at just how little power it takes for any one of our systems to achieve a comfortable listening level. Conveniently, Vinnie had just completed the L2 Signature Mono Blocks which have to be the cutest amplifiers ever produced. When we hear "Mono Amp" we see images of giant boxes that require weight lifters to move around. Not these, however, the L2i Mono's are in separate chassis to eliminate all forms of cross-talk, simple as that. Check them out, I dare you to find a more unique pair of amplifiers.
So now we have a direct heated triode 300B preamp and a pair of compact solid state mono block amplifiers in a combination which literally gives you the best of both worlds. Immense detail and warmth combined with the ability to drive almost any loudspeaker. Then in an almost Isaac Newton and the falling apple kind of moments, Vinnie thought "What if I combine the L2 Signature Preamp and the L2 Signature Monoblocks into a killer integrated? And that's precisely what happened. Fortunately the monoblocks are small enough so that all their insides were able to fit inside the chassis of the preamp with very little modification and the results are stunning. No the integrated isn’t quite as good as the separates but it comes so darn close that you would have to really think twice before shelling out almost double the cost for the privilege of owning separates.
As if it wasn’t enough to combine a state of the art tube preamp with a pair of monoblocks into one chassis, Vinnie said “I’m not done yet.” In the back you will see two expansion slots, just like you do on the back of the L2 Signature Preamp. These will accommodate a DAC and/or Phono modules which can be ordered as optional extras. When compared against similarly priced separate pieces, both the DAC and Phono will easily hold their own and in fact, since you have to add on the cost of casework, power supplies, control, packaging, etc. to individually packaged DAC’s or phono preamps, the value of the modules becomes even greater.
When we received our L2i Signature, everyone was blown away by the build quality, the attention to detail and just how cool the thing looks. Then we hooked it up in a demo room, and even before it had time to break in, some staff were saying that it was the best amp they had ever heard. It was one of those rare occasions when everything you had read about a product was absolutely true. After a few weeks of break-in it just got better and better. Next is tube rolling! Anyone have a spare set of Western Electric 300B’s kicking around?
And, of course, we can't forget that the L2i Signature won a hi-finews Editor's Choice Award! Click the logo to see full review.