Violectric HPA V281 - Reviews
Pros: Power, Resolution, Natural sound, transparency
Cons: Looks a bit industrial (not really a con)
Firstly I would like to thank Violectic USA for sorting out a loan unit for me to review.

*disclaimer: This sample was provided on loan for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.

Gear Used: HP Laptop / Audio Opus #2 > JDS Labs EL DAC > HPA V281 > HiFiMan Susvara / HE-6, German Maestro GMP400 and Grado SR60e Wood cups.

DSC_8697.jpg

Tech Specs:
http://violectric-usa.com/hpa-v281
MSRP: $2,349.95 (basic version without DAC or upgraded volume pot)

Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
Well the HPA-V281 comes in quite a boring card box; it is very well packaged though and well protected during shipping. The box really isn’t anything special here but I really don’t mind as the money has gone into designing an incredible amp and not on luxurious extras.

The build quality is quintessentially German, very robust and definitely substance over style. It is an industrial looking amp that feels like it will survive forever. A hefty all metal build, with excellent quality sockets and a stepped volume knob finishes off this excellent amplifier. Nothing on it feels like a second thought, or feels cheap, everything has weight to it. No issues at all with the build quality here, but the looks may divide opinion.

Accessory wise all you get is a power lead, nothing else. Again this is a high end amplifier so I am guessing you already have interconnects for this amp.

DSC_8703.jpg

Features:
The V281 is fully balanced with XLR input and a 4-pin XLR headphone output, along with 2 6.3mm single ended outputs. This version is the amp only version but it can be ordered with a DAC module too, along with upgraded volume pots.
There are multiple inputs which you select with a button on the front panel; there is a Mute button and a Head button which allows you to toggle between headphone amp and pre-amp for other devices. On the top right you have a balance knob, which is sure to help those with imbalanced hearing.
There is a pair of XLR and RCA outputs for using the V281 as a pre-amp, and some gain DIP switches (-12, -6, 0, +6, +12).
Feature packed and easy to use, I found myself using it with the gain set at 0dB.

DSC_8701.jpg

Sound:
This amp is actually very hard to sum up as it does what it is built to do. You get what it says on the tin, it amplifies the signal with minimal change to my ears, it does not have an upfront and aggressive sound, yet it isn’t soft and laid back. I would say there is the smallest hint of smoothness to it however this really is only slight.

What is most impressive is the driving power on tap; this thing can drive any dynamic and planar headphone out there in my opinion. Testing with the Susvara I only had it on 0dB gain and it powers them with ease. Controlling the large diaphragm and recreating a very wide and effortless sound. You cannot tune the sound like you can with a tube amp, but you get the assurance that you are pretty much getting all you can out of a set of headphones.

Equally at home driving easier to drive headphones, Grados have never sounded better due to the low output impedance not messing with the sound like a tube amp can.
I am very impressed with this amp, it may not have the features of the iFi Audio Pro iCan, but it is simple sturdy and has insane amounts of power on tap for all headphones out there.

DSC_8700.jpg

As I said, it is very hard to sum this amp up, as unfortunately I don’t have any high end amps on hand to compare it to. It just does what it sets out to do with excellent results, detailed, airy yet smooth without any artificial tone to it. Everything you put into this amp comes out with a natural tonality and superb layering, nothing sounds strained or grainy.

Conclusion: This is one of those products that gets out of the way and lets you enjoy the music, it doesn’t throw details at you, and yet it doesn’t veil them either. It is superbly transparent, with a smooth and natural delivery. This amp can power any headphone you throw at it and bring out the best in them without the hassle of having to try and find synergistic tube combinations.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy tubes for tuning the sound, however the V281 just works and is natural and neutral allowing you to hear the tone of your headphones and not the amp.

Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (A true TOTL amp, natural sound and powerful output)

DSC_8699.jpg
  • Like
Reactions: Fegefeuer
Pros: Power, Versatility, Transparency
Cons: None yet
prod_violectric_V281_3.jpg
VIOLECTRIC V281     THE SEARCH IS OVER!
INTRO
After listening to my V281 for a few months with a variety of different headphones and reading the V281 thread, I decided to write a review of the V281’s versatility. Several Headfi members wanted to know how the V281 sounds with a certain headphone, if it has enough power for headphones like the HE-6, or if it’s overkill for headphones like the LCD-X.  I will do my best to answer those questions. First I will fill you in on how I decided to use the V281 as my reference amp.
Over the years I’ve upgraded, downgraded, and sidegraded my headphone gear. (See my profile for a list) I still enjoy/enjoyed the other amp/dacs that I’ve had in the past but I’ve always craved more, I wanted an end-game one and done setup. I started reading every review I could find on amps and DACs. As for the DACs the Schiit Yggdrasil seemed like an obvious choice but it wasn’t out yet and seemed over hyped. I also didn’t want to leave it on 24/7 which seems to give the Yggy the best results. Instead I went for the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. The difference after a short burn-in was night and day over all of my other DACs, as it should be based on price. To say a veil was lifted is an understatement. As for the amps I wanted a versatile solid state that would play well with all of my current and future headphones. (I have 3 and 5 y.o. kids so no tube amps for a while.) I auditioned the Bryston BHA-1, HiFiman EF-6, Schiit Ragnarok, Cavallia Liquid Crimson and the Violectric V281. In a perfect world the DAC and Amp should be totally transparent letting you hear the music as it was recorded. Having said that, I personally like a little warmth to my music. I chose the V281 because it gave me better transparency, power, and a slight tube like warmth when compared to the competition. With all of my headphones, with the exception of the HE-6 and sometimes the HE-560, I kept the pre gain at 0db. Most of my headphone can get crazy loud at   -6db but there is pitch black background at 0db so I just keep it there for my constant headphone swapping.
SETUP
IMG_2561.jpg
 
MacMini using iTunes/BitPerfect ->Cardas Clear USB->PS Audio DirectStram DAC->Bellatone Reference Series XLRs-> Violectric V-281 using stock (or my DIY) 4 pin XLR cables to the headphones. Mac, DAC, and Amp plugged into PS Audio Dectet Power Center. All music was lossless. I used albums I’ve heard over and over with a range of genres. I will list all of the artist at the end. I just wanted to focus on the V281 so I decided to only use the PS Audio DAC for my testing due to its transparency.
Unless you are using the exact source and DAC there will be different input levels being amplified. The DirectStream DAC I used outputs 2.81 Vrms (+8dBV)/5.3 Vrms (+12dBV) if its set to MAX. If I set the DAC to Low I would probably have to keep the V281 on +6 to +12db. With other DAC's I've used if I have the V281 at the below levels my ears would bleed so YMMV. The only reason I posted the db and volume setting was strictly to compare the different volume levels vs the other headphones on my setup. Keep in mind I listen to my headphones at a rather high volume. It's also to give you guys an idea how much power is needed vs headphones you may already own or at thinking about buying.
Here are the Headphones I tested in alphabetical order.
 
AUDEZE LCD-2.2 pre-fazor
AUDEZE LCD-3
AUDEZE LCD-X
AUDIOQUEST Nighthawk (Missed the photo shoot due to the late arrival.)
DENON AH-D7100
HiFiMAN HE-6
HiFiMAN HE-560
HiFiMAN HE-1000
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime
MrSpeakers ETHER
SENNHEISER HD800
LWG_3774.jpg
 
AUDEZE LCD-2.2 pre fazor
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2 to 3 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The LCD 2.2s where my first good set of headphones, the fuel to my headphone addiction. Simply put the 2.2’s are fantastic on the V281. The mids/vocals sound better than any other amp I’ve hear them on, putting them very close to the sound of the LCD-3’s. I’m going to sound like a broken record with this amp but the soundstage widens, separation, and clarity are noticeably better. One of the things I like about the 2.2 is the Bass and Mid-bass. On some amps it can get a tad bloated with some spill-over into the mids. The V281 hits hard and fast but keeps everything reined in. The Bass on The Piano Guys - Cello Wars made my ears tickle. A fun song with fun headphones that made me smile. That’s what it’s all about!
 
AUDEZE LCD-3
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
I loved my LCD-3’s but sold them after I bought the LCD-X’s. The LCD-X edged them out ever so slightly for my taste in music. I want to thank Ray Samuels for letting me use his. The first song I tried was Fiona Apple’s - O’Sailer. The Bass was “holy crap” strong in a good way. Even better, the vocals. The Lushness of her voice made me regret selling the LCD-3’s in the first place. The LCD-2.2 and 3 love the power the V281 has on tap. I feel the reason the amp never strains with the 3’s helps the soundstage adding a tad more size. The treble is pretty much on par with the other higher end amps I’ve heard the 3’s with. The treble laid back, never fatiguing. The V281 pretty much leaves the treble alone on the Audezes. The warm tilt to the V281 accentuates the dark Audeze sound I like, so if you like the Audeze house sound you will love the V281 pairing.
 
AUDEZE LCD-X
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
As I already mentioned, I replaced my LCD-3 with these. The LCD-X has a better balance than the LCD-3’s. The soundstage and separation on songs like Coldplay’s Don’t Panic Make the LCD-X stand out. The bass on the LCD-x is fast and tight. Try NIN The Fragile – Somewhat damaged and you’ll see what I mean. Do you need the power of the V281 to drive the LCD-X? I’ve seen that question more than once on Head-fi. The answer is NO, not even close. You can buy a less powerful amp but it’s unlikely to sound as good as the V281. If you own headphones in this price range the odds are you have or will have more than one pair. A lot of high current headphone amps will have some audible hiss on a sensitive headphone, not the V281. I love this pairing! Think of the V281 like a Bugatti, you may never use the 1000 hp but the rest of the car is better, performance wise, than the car that only has the power you need. I’m trying to decide what my favorite headphone is on the V281 LCD-X or the HE-1000……Such decisions are tough, guess I’ll have to keep listening!
 
AUDIOQUEST Nighthawk
IMG_2604-2.jpg
 
With the V281 set to 0db and the Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The Nighthawks, due to their recent release, have the least amount of ear time compared to the rest of the headphones tested. With the newness of the Nighthawks I will talk about the pairing with the V281 but I can’t relate to how it sounds vs other amps. I will however integrate a mini review of the Nighthawks. I burned them in for 150 hours with the balanced cables per the manufactures recommendations. The real world sensitivity of the Nighthawks is close to the LCD-X, they both sound moderately loud on my iPhone 6+. That puts these in the “they don’t need the power the V281 has” category. The first thing I noticed about the Nighthawks was the warmth. I just came off of an extended listening session with the LCD-X and Nighthawks made the LCD-X seem super bright. The V281 has a slight tube like warmth to start, the Nighthawks are a warm sounding headphone. The touch of warmth helps the HD800 but I don’t think the Nighthawks need added warmth. The Nighthawks paired with the V281 sound really good, much better than the abundance of warmth and claustrophobia the more expensive Denons have. I would put the Nighthawks in the same class as the HE-560 but polar opposites as far as sound signature. For a $599 headphone nothing can touch these including, in my opinion, the closed back EL-8. (I’ve auditioned the open-back and was supposed to test one but they never arrived.) The Nighthawk is very comfortable headphone with a very nice suspension system for sizing. I would like to thank Skylar for sending me these headphone and the balanced cable to try. I really wanted to put these up against the Audeze open-back EL-8’s but that will be a different review. (On a side note, a friend of mine who knows nothing about all of these headphones but put a lot of time listening, picked the Nighthawks and LCD-X as his favorites.)
 
 
DENON AH-D7100
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
“The Denon AH-D7100! What the heck did he test these for?” Back in the day, when these were released, my buddy worked for Denon. He got me a pair and I still have them. The Denons and the Alpha Primes are the only closed-backs tested. The good news is they are REALLY comfortable on my head. The bad news, they make me think I’m listening to a high end pair of Beats.  They are so damn dark that everything has bass, they are claustrophobic, and sound very unnatural. But hey, if you love Hip Hop, the D7100 and the V281 make Ludacris – Chicken and Beer sound pretty damn good. Actually NIN -Pretty Hate Machine sounds damn good too! It reminds me of the 90’s when I had 2 MTX Terminator 15” subs in the entire back seats of my Camaro!!
 
HiFiMAN HE-6
With the V281 set to +12db and Volume at 1 to 2 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
“Does the V281 have enough power to drive the HE-6?” I’ve seen this question many times. The simple answer is YES. Grabbing the HE-6 is the only time I have to turn the V281 off, move the L and R gain switches to +12, and turn the amp back on. Takes 10 seconds not a big deal. I have the habit of turning the volume down anytime I switch headphones. A good idea if you forget your going from the HE-6 at +12 and plugging in the LCD-X. I enjoy the HE-6 but they don’t get as much ear time as they used to. I’ve heard the HE-6 on speaker amps and on headphone amps like the Dark Star and Ragnarok. The speaker amps have too much background noise for critical listening. The Dark Star and Rag have the power and sound fantastic with the HE-6. If you only ever own the HE-6, which is unlikely, The Dark Star or Rag would be great choices. The V281 has both the power and quiet background to make the HE-6 sound great. The HE-6 is more neutral than most of the headphones here but the warm tilt of the V281 gives them a sound more to my liking. This pairing just proves the V281’s versatility.
 
HiFiMAN HE-560
With the V281 set to 0db and the Volume at 4-5 o’clock (close to max volume) or 1-2 o’clock at +6db, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise. This is the only other headphone of the group, along with the HE-6, where I took the amp off of 0db.
 I like the HE-560, especially at its price point. In my opinion the HE-560 shares a lot of the same sound characteristics as the Sennheiser HD 800. It should go without saying then that the HE-560 has awesome detail and soundstage, however with several amps, the HE-560 is a tad bright for me with weak low end punch. The HE-560 is also a demanding headphone power wise to make the HE-560 shine. The V281 with its transparency, power, and slight tube like warmth makes this a perfect pairing for me. It give an extremely detailed wide open sound. The bass is fast and accurate. The treble is bright but not overly so or fatiguing. The HE-560 loves the power of the V281 and turns a headphone I didn’t use that often into one that I really enjoy.
HiFiMAN HE-1000
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 2-3 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
 
The HE-1000 is a headphone I picked up from RazorDog Audio as soon as they were released. They are easy to drive as far as HiFiman headphones go but you won’t be using them with your iPhone. The V281 drives them with ease at 0db gain. The HE-1000 and the LCD-X are my favorite on the V281 and most other amps as well. The HE-1000 bass on the V281 is fantastic! Mids are just good and there is just the right amount of treble. Soundstage is also top notch. I would be happy with the V281 paired with the HE-1000 and sell the rest but the LCD-X has more detail and crispness. Compared to the LCD-X and LCD-3 the HE-1000 sounds a tad artificial because of how well they flow through the frequency changes. I think because of this the separation is not a good as the LCD-X. It’s a unique sound that I like but I also like the LDC-X with the crispness. That’s what is great about this hobby mixing things up. The HE-1000 with the V281 is a great “get lost in the music” combo and if you crank it up the HE-1000s slam!
 
MrSpeakers ETHER
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 12 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise. 
The ETHER is MrSpeakers new flagship. Dan and his team spent 2 years in the making of this open-backed Planar Headphone. The first thing you notice when you put these on is the comfort and lack of weight 370 grams. They feel like the HE-560’s on my head but with better ear pads. The second thing you notice out of the V281 is the very wide Soundstage with a natural crisp, clean sound. I found the vocals forward and crystal clear. The bass is fast with good impact, no spill-over or bloat. Mid-bass is controlled and not as pronounced as the Audeze’s so the ETHER’s don’t sound dark. The closest headphone for comparison would be the HD800 only the ETHER has less fatiguing treble and better bass. The only issue I’ve had with the headphones is finding the sweet spot on my head to get a proper seal. Without it, like with all planars, you lose all of the bass. The MrSpeakers ETHER pair with the V281 is a winner and this combo continues to grow on me. Time to sell the HD800’s.
MrSpeakers Alpha Primes
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 1 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The Alpha Primes were the Flagship headphones for MrSpeakers until the ETHER was born. They still are a fantastic closed-back headphone that takes the Fostex T50 driver to its limits. I’ve enjoyed listening to these with but the V281 really opens these up. Sometimes I find myself reaching up double checking to see if I still have closed-backs on. I never did that with any of my other amps. I love the bass on the Primes. The V281 makes them pound, so do my other amps, but the bass is faster and more controlled with the V281. Vocals are a tad more forward, my preference, than I’m used to with the Primes. There is a noticeable improvement with separation which is a reoccurring theme with the V281.
SENNHEISER HD800
With the V281 set to 0db and Volume at 10 to 11 o’clock, most recordings are at a high volume. At this volume level there is no audible background noise.
The HD800s and I have always had a love hate relationship. The first time I hear them was in Ray Samuels shop on his Emmeline II B-52 which is a $5000 tube amp/pre amp. They sounded fantastic! I love how they feel on the head and how they sound with the right song and setup. The hate comes anytime I hear them on a solid state amp. The brightness makes me squint at times and they are very fatiguing. I was hoping the V281 with its slight tube like warmth would be a perfect match. The truth is the V281 helps take the edge off but it’s not enough to make me want to listen to the HD800 for an extended amount of time. For me a tube amp is the only way I can enjoy the HD800. With that being said, if you have a HD800 and love how they sound on a SS amp the V281 will be a great pairing. You will hear every detail of every recording. It will give the HD800 the warmth it needs and your ears won’t bleed from the brightness. To sum up the pairing, if you love your HD800 on a SS amp you will love it even more on the V281.
CONCLUSION
To me an amplifiers job is pretty straight forward, take the incoming information and amplify it with total transparency.  The problem is most amplifiers change the information. Some amps change the equalization, add distortion, background noise, or just don’t have to power bring out your headphones potential. The V281 is the most versatile and capable amp I’ve used. It’s now my reference amp and will be for a long time. The V281 paired with a good DAC will let you hear what you’re supposed to hear out of any headphone or earphone you can throw at it. (Except electrostatics)  To answer the questions in the intro. It can handle the HE-6 with ease and is overkill power wise for the LCD-X and most other headphones for that matter but the sound quality is unmatched at this price point. It’s a good feeling to know that if a new flagship headphone comes out the V281 will bring out its best. I am so impressed with the V281 that I will buy their new V850 DAC as soon as it’s released to pair up with this Beast. The Lake People did their homework and knocked one out of the park with the V281. If you are in the US and have any questions call Arthur. He runs the show for Violectric in the states. Thanks for reading!!
 
Violectric has a site wide 15% off sale going! The sale is ending September 22.
 
ARTISTS AND ALBUMS USED
Radiohead - Amnesiac
Bjork - Bastards
Donald Runnicles - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Beethoven: Symphony #9
Ludacris – Chicken & Beer
Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks & Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster
The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys
Mezzanine – Massive Attack
Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No.3
Coldplay - Parachutes
Badas
Badas
Excellent review. I'm getting a V281 today and will be pairing it up with the NightHawks and the classic LCD-3. Glad to see that these HP's should sound good with the V281.
sanjeewasam
sanjeewasam
Thanks for the great review and details
I got the V281 and also V850 Vio Dac. I am waiting for my balanced cable for HD800. For me HD800 is a winner. I have not heard extensive gear like you but had K712, LCD 2/f, AKG k3003i and have X2, Focal Elear, HD800 and AKG K812. Once I got HD800 then I know I found my dream. I have had Bursoon conductor wilth 9018 DAc and have mojo and Luxman P-200 (nice laid back sound with HD800)
 
I noted that you have sold Schiit Mjolnir and Bryston BHA-1. These were two amps I was considering to get for my HD800 but decided otherwise (never heard them of course). V281 was decided only looking at the voltage and wattage it has from 16ohom to over 600ohms and I have not seen anything like it on paper and my interpretation was that on paper Schitt products loose its might at 600ohm-700ohms required to drive HD800 to give enough to show its strength in base slam..
 
Could you kindly provide your impression of HD800 paired with Schiit Mjolnir and Bryston BHA-1 and V281 in balanced mode
 
Thanks in advance
 
 
Pharmaboy
Pharmaboy
Got a used V281 4-5 weeks ago w/the 128-step remote controlled pot. Borrowed a balanced cable & finally heard balanced for the 1st time on my ZMF Omni/Ori (so fine!).
 
This review is excellent--detailed, comprehensive, very informative. It's one of the best reviews I've seen of the V281. I especially appreciate the efort you spend addressing input voltage variations, DAC-to-DAC (people forget this & lay everything on the amp, as if it was the only electrical component in the chain).
 
I never heard most of the headphones you mention here, but find myself agreeing with everything you say about this rock-solid, unfazable amp/preamp (and it is a spectacular preamp as well as HP amp). IMO the V281 is a revelation of just how good solid state can get. It will take me quite awhile to fully understand what V281. This week I'll hear the new ZMF flagship HP, the Eikon, on it. Is there any headphone anywhere that wouldn't shine on the V281?
Pros: Very Transparent amplifier
Cons: DAC section is not the best solution for this transparent amplifier
 

 
 


Konsatnzy is located at the western part of Lake Constance in Germany. The area is better known as University City. It is here where a company has been designing high-end audio products since 1986 and releasing them under the brand names: Lake People and Violectric.
Fried Reim began Lake People by designing products for the pro audio market. Lake People products are used in television studios, recording studios, and even airports. Fried attributed much of the success and survival of Lake People due to manufacturing headphone amplifiers. My first experience with Violectric started in 2010 with the V200 headphone amplifier. The V200 is a single ended class AB design that uses two operational amplifiers in the signal path and designed with discrete transistors. The design is quite popular in the headphone community today and remains in the current product lineup. The retail price for the V200 is $1000 USD.
The V200 is a quiet sounding amplifier. Perhaps the most silent design I have ever encountered in a solid-state amplifier. The V200 is a warm sounding amplifier and reminiscent of many tube designs. The amplifier also has enough power to drive practically any headphone. There are not many amplifiers available in its price category that can compete with the V200. The only minor quibble I had during my time with the V200 was that the soundstage felt restricted, as if it could use more depth and was lacking in air and space. The amplifier was musical and had super tonality but the soundstage was constricting and needed to be improved upon for large-scale recordings.
Being a tube amplifier aficionado, the V200 put a smile on my face with the tonality and warmish (colored) sound signature but was always musical and never fatiguing as I had found with many other analytical designs. The V200 had excellent detail retrieval and was so quiet you could hear explosive recordings with startling clarity.
Fried Reim is an avid listener and is directly involved within the headphone community. Many people were asking for a true balanced design and for over two years Fried went to work on designing one. The challenge was to design an amplifier to have a more extended soundstage while maintaining the same black background that V200 was so well known for. The challenge was also to produce an amplifier that could be powerful and dynamic. The amplifier would also have to be fully balanced with its inputs and outputs and have upgraded protection circuitry. After two years of research and development the V281 was born.

 

Design:

The main design principal Violectric employed in the V281 was low internal gain. According to Fried, the amplifier needed to operate under stable conditions without unwanted oscillation. Gain reduces the dynamic range of an amplifier and adds noise. The V281, with low gain of 8db, is a stable design. The results are a black background of pure silence and free from any noise or grain.
Pre-Gain settings on the rear of the amplifier are as follows: -12 / -6 / 0 / +6 / +12 dB (factor ¼ / ½ / 1 / 2 / 4). The settings are user adjustable and can be changed by adjusting the switches in the rear of the unit. The pre-gain setting will allow users to tune their headphones to their liking (the amplifier must be turned off to make these adjustments). The stock setting is referred to as “Unity Gain” and the setting I actually preferred most.
The V200 employs a 25-Watt toroidal transformer. The V281 has a high supply voltage and offers more than 40 Veff (RMS) into a 600 ohm load (making it a world record, according to Freid). Inside the chassis of the V281 you will find two Violectric V200 amplifiers, thus, a true balanced design.

HPA V281 Features:
Code:
[color=black] - Balanced inputs with gold-plated Neutrik XLR connectors - Unbalanced inputs with gold-plated RCA connectors - Balanced line outputs with gold plated XLR connectors - Unbalanced line outputs with gold plated RCA connectors - Line outputs assignable to be with fixed or variable level - 6 optional digital audio inputs 24 Bit / 96 or 192 kHz - 3 switchable inputs with dedicated buttons on the front - PRE[b]-GAIN[/b] = switchable input gain in five steps - Independent channel design - ALPS RK27 High-Grade motorized volume control - ALPS RK27 High Grade balance control - High-Quality op-amps in the signal path - High-quality MKP capacitors in the signal path - 0.1 and 1% metal film resistors throughout the unit - [b]Discrete-design power amp[/b] [b]with 8 transistors per channel[/b] [b]- 4 amplifiers for true balanced headphone output[/b] - 2 silver-plated Neutrik headphone outputs - 1 gold plated Neutrik 4-pin XLR output - Relay-based headphone output cut- off with delayed switch-on - output management with dedicated buttons on the front: line outputs active, headphone outputs active, both active, both off (Mute) - 2 x Large toroidal transformer (15 + 25 W) - Large filtering capacitors in the power supply (36.000 uF) - Switchable ground lift - Rugged aluminum case with Nextel coating - Solid, laser-engraved front panel [/color]
 
For more technical information and compete specifications, check out this link:http://www.violectric.de/home.html. The V281 has two XLR and one single ended RCA input jacks located on the front. The V281 can also be used as a high quality pre-amplifier in a home system. The base price is $1889 USD. There are three different DAC options available using the PCM 1798 chip and adds $249 USD to the base price of the amplifier. You have a choice of optical, USB or coaxial for the DAC. You can add a remote control (handy for two-channel systems) for an additional $289 USD.
The unit that was sent for review had the remote control and USB DAC option. There is also a stepped volume control option available for additional cost.

 

Sound:

I have found that the HD800 paired with the Nordost Heimdall balanced cable to be incredibly revealing. The V281 used at the factory default gain setting was extremely neutral as there was no tipped presence in either the midrange or treble. The V281 actually has a similar sound signature to the V200. The character of the amplifier was smooth and the background was silent. There was definitely no unwanted noise or grunge coming from the V281.
Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man on the Reference Recording label is a revealing test for any amplifier. The first thing I noticed was a wide and deep soundstage that had the Minnesota Orchestra spread out an layered in a well focused stage. The explosive start and stop of this recording was very special on the V281. The transparency of the recording was very notable. Clarity of the instruments with space and air were admirable.
Lang Lang’s excellent “The Mozart Album” highlighted the inner detail of the V281. The sound was detailed with the sweet and yet delicate sound of Lang Lang striking the piano keys. The HD800 let me hear deep into the recording and the V281 did not mask any of the delicacy or beauty of this recording. I could hear the orchestra layered and each section of this wonderful recoding was so romantic but never fatiguing. The piano came to life and stood out in front of the orchestra slightly to the left in its own space with air and pinpoint imaging.

Both the Audeze LCD X and XC both like power. When I moved the gain setting to +12db the X and XC both felt like they had an infusion of power. The additional setting was noise free and made large scale recording felt as if they had more headroom with additional speed and dynamics. Listening to Chrissie Hynde’s excellent Stockholm Album with either the LCD x or XC revealed more of the same. The sound was always very open and on tracks like “You or No One” Hynde’s vocal was articulate yet still had her trademark clarity. The V281 had terrific dynamics while still being delicate and made her voice come to life.
Comparing the same recording on the Viva Egoista($10K) increased the transparency and added a wider and more focused soundstage with more air an space in the recording. The 15W amp really was explosive in dynamics. Surprisingly the V281 kept pace with the big Egoista and was never embarrassed. The treble extension on the V281 was exceptional. There was never any tinny sound on drum cymbals. The shimmer and delicacy of the cymbals was portrayed in a realistic non-electronic way. There never was any harshness in the recording and the drums were excellent on “Dark Sunglasses”.
The Alpha Dog closed headphone by Mr Speakers is harder to drive than many other headphones and once again the V281 was up to the task. The MrSpeakers headphone is also very revealing. Hotel California from the Eagles Hell Freezes Over, is a reference disc for bass. The track opens with guitar and when the kick drum comes in it is explosive. When properly reproduced it can be felt and at times rattle you head when listening with headphones. The V281 and the Alpha Dog came through with a big bite. The sound was very detailed. I could hear the guitar strings snapping and the bongos in the rear and that head banging kick drum. The V281 was very convincing and transported me to the concert. I could hear the shimmer in the treble and was never disappointed with the bass performance using the V281. Henley’s vocal was transparent and the vocal was crystal clear and not disappointing. The track sounded as it should, live and believable.   Breathtaking was the word that kept coming to my mind while listening to the track and the performance. The Eagles never sounded better than on this recording. The combination of the V281 and the Alpha Dog kept me listening late into the evening.
When using single ended headphones it was reminiscent of times when I had used the V200. The soundstage was neither as wide nor as deep in dimension as the balanced section of the V281. The Hifiman HE560 on Take It Easy” (The Eagles) was enjoyable. The volume control was pushed higher than it was when using balanced headphones, but while it was still fun, the V281 clearly performed better with balanced headphones.

Using my two of my custom in ear monitor, the Roxanne’s by JH Audio and the Ultimate Ears UE18 was great. Both IEM’s were quiet and had no hiss or identifiable noise on any of the tracks I heard while using CDs or recordings off my computer library. The black background of the V281 is apparent. Often, I would get startled at hearing the dead silence and then the start of dynamics in a recording would make me come to life and sometimes make me jump from the realism. Switching to the internal DAC in the stock unit was a different sound than I had heard while using the ESS Sabre DACs in the Oppo. The transparency and dynamics were considerably improved.
Most of the magic I had been hearing prior with the Oppo was missing. The DAC had less detail and was not as lively. The V281 stellar amplifier section was so transparent and switching back to the Oppo BDP 105 brought all the magic back. Considering that the DAC option is $249 some people may want to use this internal DAC until they could afford a better external one. The reference quality V281 amplifier deserves the best source you can afford to give it.

 
 

Conclusion:

 
 
When listening to amplifiers I usually look for a product that I can listen to for long hours that has dynamics and is non-fatiguing. Cold solid state and overly analytical amplifiers lose my interest quickly. Tube amplifiers are my preference as they typically deliver more of what I hear in live performances. The V281 is not an amplifier that creates any issues for me though. The amplifier section of this balanced beauty is transparent. It is dynamic, musical and one of the quietest amplifiers I have experienced, regardless of price. The musicality and delivery of music with V281never disappointed me. I listened extensively to all types of music during some long listening sessions. During those sessions I was never tempted to turn the amplifier off. I always felt and enjoyed the music. More importantly the amplifier had me totally involved and focused.
 
There was never anything in the performance of this amplifier that called attention. The battleship build quality and features of the product are special. Attention to detail with the V281 is easily noticed from the quality jacks to the laser engraved faceplates. The sturdy chassis is designed for years of use. Violectric obviously addressed the shortcoming of the V200. Gone is the smaller soundstage for a wider and deeper soundstage with more air and space between instruments.
 
 
The V281 performed much better using external DACs, which is a testament to the transparency of the amplifier. Using the best source you could afford with the V281 will pay big dividends in musicality. The Violectric V281 has everything I look for in a reference product. If you’re looking for a high-end solid state all-in-one unit, the V281 could be exactly what you’re looking for.
 

Frank I
Frank I
The unit I had was a smooth volume control and had no issues with any of the volume. There is a new stepped volume control. The soundstage is a huge improvement over the V200. There are lot of bell and whisltes you cna order. Glad you liked the review.
Kramer01
Kramer01
Hi Frank
Very good review.
 
How does this compare to the Burson conductor virtuoso or the new virtuoso V2? I know different price points but still...
sanjeewasam
sanjeewasam
Just curious- you mentioned in your review this one does not fall behind a $10k unit and this is only <$2k. As such why you have given about 7/10 for value? I thought that it should have been rated high in this case?
Pros: Powerful, multiple inputs and outputs, balanced mode, dedicated relay buttons to change sources and outputs, super black background, just works
Cons: Non in regards to sound or operation, the only issue is the large volume knob comes loose in shipping and you tighten it with supplied allen key
This review is going to be updated once I receive a balanced cable and use this amp in balanced operation. I figured this amp needed a proper review on here, and there is a lot of good stuff to say that does not require me to hear it balanced. once I do though, I will add it to here.
 
Edit: finally got a balanced cable, will add balanced usage impressions/review at the very end.
 
So I bought this amp as an end game amp that will last many years and be able to power anything I could potentially buy in the future/currently own. It needed to sound amazing, be solid state, have plenty of power for planars, and be built super tough. This amp fits that criteria better than I could have even imagined an amp would. Its built like a tank, and I really do mean that. it weighs around 13 pounds, is built out of aluminum, and every button/knob is just firmly in place (with the one exception of the very large volume knob which can come loose in shipping, but they give you an allen key to retighten the knob and then its rock solid forever after that). This is amp has both balanced and single ended inputs and outputs, has pre-amp/line outputs, can have a dac put inside it, and drive 3 headphones connected to it at once without issue. The pre-gain dip switches on the back make for fantastic adjustment of volume for harder to drive headphones without inducing any kind of noise.
 
It can pretty much connect and power anything you can think of in regards to headphones and associated equipment.
 
So how does it sound? Well honestly it sounds like nothing. Sure it has smoothness, resolution, a bit of fullness, and is definitely not bright or thin, but in general this amp does not really have its own sound signature that it imparts on the sound. Its neutral and transparent in the sense that it makes audio sound unfiltered, whatever comes out of the dac is what you hear come out of the amp. It doesnt add brightness, or warmth, no sibilance or thickness, it doesnt add or take away anything. It really is neutral in the fullest definition, with like the slightest bit of extra fullness and smoothness to the sound that ensures anything playing through it will sound its best. Otherwise it literally sounds like nothing, there is overall tone to this amp, it just sounds like whatever you're playing through it.
 
This is the biggest point I want to make. This amp simply works. Like it just does exactly what you want it to do. It powers every headphone regardless of sensitivity or impedance, it has a completely black background no matter what, and just easily plays whatever you feed to it. It gets out of the way and makes sound played through it, be its very best. Thats why this an endgame amp to me, it doesnt even remotely make you feel like something could be missing, or done better, or differently. Everything with amp is just done in the best way it could, and in generally some of the simplest and most straightforward. With this amp you can absolutely feel confident that when you buy it, you will like the sound it makes and not have any synergy issues.
 
There are volume control upgrades, and such but thats only if you have the extra money to spend. It already comes standard with an amazing volume pot, two of them actually because this amp also has a balance control knob. Also inside this amp are essentially two improved V200 boards stacked on top of each other to achieve balanced operation. The V220 just has the bottom board. You literally have two 1000 dollar amps inside one chassis for less than 2000 dollars. and that has many more features.
 
Theres tiny specifics other people may mention they hear, which is all fine, but I just want to really drive home the message that this amp will do its job, and do it with absolute precision and correctness, for a very long time, and with great ease. As of right now there are really only two other popular amps in this price range (auralic taurus mkII and schiit ragnarok). I'm sure those amps are also great, and I think they each have their own unique traits that some people may want specifically, but if you're like me and just want an end game amp that can do everything and be a master of it all, (except for powering speakers like the ragnarok) then the V281 is the best choice to go with it. I have yet to see anybody say they dont like it, and I hear why. At the very least you wont be feeling any buyers remorse or upgraditis if you get this amp, not until Violectric makes something better 2-4 years from now. Its just really good.product.
 
And if you buy from the USA store you get the pleasure of dealing with Arthur. Who is the nicest guy to do business with ever. He will personally make sure everything goes well for you, and responds within a couple hours almost anytime of the day or week. He told me I was the first person in North America to own a V281, which is why I felt I should be the first to write a review on here too.
 
 
If you have any specific questions about something I did not mention, please leave a comment or PM me and I'll try to answer it as best I can.
 
 
So it has been a few months now, and i finally got a balanced cable to use with the amp. And honestly to be brief about it, this is how the amp should be used. Immediately I noticed better cohesiveness in the sound, better air and separation, overall a more rock solid detailed sound. There is also twice the output power and it's very obvious even on my harder to drive headphones. I think a better way to word this, is to look at the engineering itself. There are two whole single ended amps stacked on top of each other inside the unit. One is producing an in-phase signal, the other a 180 degree phase signal. each amp outputs to one single ended 1/4 in. jack. So when you listen to the single ended jacks, it sounds like listening to one full single ended amp. when you listen to this balanced, it sounds exactly what you would think having two full amps combined in unison to sound like. it just sounds more whole. Again these aren't major improvements or anything, but it changes enough to definitely prefer one over the other. I think in general too going from what the other owners have said, that going balanced is the preferred connection, aside from a few specific headphones. All in all, get this amp only if you intend to use it balanced, or need both single ended and balanced connections, otherwise if you dont have balanced connections now, and dont plan on it in the near future, and want to save a few hundred bucks, just get the V220 instead. but if balanced is your thing, and having the flexibility to use any headphone, with any major connection type, then the V281 is right for you.
 
Also as another update in regards to how it holds up so far after a few months, the amp has been running flawlessly. there is no burn in at all as far as I can tell, there is no warm up period, there is no break in, literally aside from a little dust here and there, you would never be able to tell this has been in daily use for many months, it might as well be fresh out of the box. So still built like a tank. Also I've thrown multiple types of headphones at it, of varying impedances, and sensitivities, and no matter what the amp just runs them as if it was built specifically for that headphone. This is definitely the do it all amp. Getting anything more expensive than this, or in general anything other than this, would be purely for personal taste reasons, if you wanted a specific kind of sound from a different amp, or you like tubes :p
 
So thats it for now, I dont think I'll be updating this anytime soon, probably if something happens, and if not, then just some much later date to really show off the longevity of the amp.
 
Thank you for reading, and I hope this amp brings anyone who owns it many years of beautiful sounds :)
saxelrod92
saxelrod92
This amp will sound great with any type of headphone. I've tested the hd800 on it, the denon d5000, the he-560, the lcd-2, and now the alpha prime. They all sound amazing on it. the amp somehow always feels like it was built specifically for whatever headphone you plug into it. And those that have heard other amps in the same price range or higher said the V281 is right up there with stuff like the Auralic Taurus. So its very good. As for dac I just use a schiit bifrost uber, and it has worked great so far. but I haven't really tried any other dacs yet, so I cant compare how it holds up against other options.
Lillee
Lillee
Thanks for your review. I have a V200 V800 stack and have been tossing up moving from V200 to V281...
saxelrod92
saxelrod92
I was actually going to get a V200 before they announced the V281's release, and I'm glad I did. but considering that, I dont know how much you are willing to pay to get whatever improvement there is over your V200. I mean I can definitely say you wont regret it, you just might not need it, unless you want to go balanced. having spent even more time using it balanced I noticed you really do need to use that output to get the best out of this amp, otherwise the single ended jacks aren't enough of an improvement over something like the V200. They are better (from what other people who've heard both have said) but the balanced output is by far the accurate representation of what all this money is going towards.
Top