Pros: Perhaps the best dynamic amps available; Power and authority vs finesse and stunning harmonic texture
Cons: Expensive, these are not small amps, the 845 runs hot
TALE OF TWO EGOISTAS
For the past 2 weeks, I have had the privilege and pleasure of auditioning not just one Viva Egoista but two. The bigger Egoista 845 as its name implies is based on 845 tubes known for their dynamic punch and linearity while the more petite but still large Egoista 2A3 is based on tubes known more for their warm and pleasing midrange tone. Since its introduction last year, somehow the Egoista 845, handcrafted by a boutique Italian manufacturer of bespoke audio products, has shot to the top of many people’s list to drive their dynamic headphones despite its summit-fi price of nearly $12,000. Since The High End show in Munich and then Newport this past May, the buzz surrounding this amp has only grown louder. One brief review by Scot Hull just a few weeks ago made the bold claim that the Egoista 845 “may well be the best-sounding amplifier on the market.” Heady words for sure from a seasoned reviewer and consistent with the opinion of others but it is what he said afterward that caught my attention. Despite the “Hulk-like grip and power” of the big Egoista, it was the smaller Egoista 2A3 that he liked better – “this is the only product that had me reaching for my wallet.” I knew I had to hear these amps for myself.
As the owner of a Stax SR-009 and HeadAmp Blue Hawaii SE (BHSE), I have enjoyed many magical evenings listening to this pairing that many have claimed as one of the best headphone systems in the world. Having recently been exposed to the revised LCD-3F, HE-1000 and Abyss 1266 after nearly a year of isolation in my cocoon of ignorant Stax bliss, I was forced to admit what was once unthinkable, that my SR-009’s reign had possibly ended. What is most intriguing to me about this trio of headphones is not that any one of these phones is better than my Stax in one area or another but rather that these dynamic headphones have different but complementary strengths and as a collective whole, this trifecta presents a formidable “no compromise” solution for just about any type of music thrown at it. Imagine having at your disposal the incomparable lush and sultry mids of the LCD-3F, the effortless transparency and airiness of the HE-1000 that rivals the SR-009 and the majestic bass presence and soundstage of the Abyss 1266. And most intriguing of all was the prospect that maybe this collection of elite headphones could conveniently be driven to brilliance by a single amp although I knew it would require a very special amp.
I have heard each of these headphones now with several fine amplifiers, specifically the Woo WA5, Liquid Gold, HeadAmp GS-X Mk2 and Ragnarok. Based on opinions enthusiastically offered on Head-Fi and elsewhere, I also placed on my “to audition list” the Auralic Taurus Mk2, Moon Neo 430HA, Woo 234, Apex Pinnacle, Eddie Current 2A3 Mk IV and 445. There are others but as I stated above, the amp that seems to have rocketed to the top of many people’s list recently is the Viva Egoista. I thought to myself “why not start at the top?”
After a few inquiries, I was directed to Dan Muzquiz, a Viva dealer in southern California who kindly directed me to Alan Fong of Syncopation in Stockton, California who now carries the Viva line and is based closer to my home nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills. He happened to have in his immediate possession the Egoista 2A3, the exact same amp that had graced the Munich show in early May and the Newport show a few weeks later. The amazing thing, perhaps due to luck and timing but more likely due to Alan just being a super nice guy, this amp was personally delivered to my home by Alan himself within 48 hours of contact. Shortly after, he also delivered the bigger Egoista 845 courtesy of Bob Clarke of Profundo based in Round Rock, TX. He further presented me with an elite assortment of headphones to audition including the LCD-2, LCD-3F and HE-1000 to go along with the Abyss 1266 that I borrowed from The Cable Co. Of course, this was all compared against my Stax SR-009/BHSE.
I will not go into the details of the topology of the Egoista 845 except to say that this SET tube amp puts out 15 watts of zero negative feedback pure class A power. For more specifics, I will refer you to Viva’s website and Frank Iacone’s excellent review here on Head-Fi. The interesting thing about the more recently released Egoista 2A3 is that it is so new there is no spec sheet available. As of this writing, there is no mention of this amp on Viva’s website. The only thing my dealers have been able to tell me is that I have a production unit and that it puts out a healthy 4 watts but at what output impedance is uncertain. I have e-mailed Viva for more information but thus far, I have not received a response. I have been told that the Egoista’s designer and Viva’s founder, Amedeo Schembri, is a perfectionist and meticulous in every way, to the extent that he has researched all possible tube combinations with his amps and that both Egoistas are already mated with their ideal complement of tubes. In other words, there is no need to tube roll. Sounds good to me.
With my time with both Egoistas and each headphone I paired with them, all listening was done in my quiet and controlled listening room and all other components of my audio chain were kept constant. My chain is as follows: Linux-based Audiophile Vortexbox with linear PS > SOtM USB card with linear PS > AudioQuest Diamond USB cable > PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Pike’s Peak firmware> Cardas Clear interconnects. Each amp was connected to the wall by a Virtual Dynamics Nite II power cord.
As for my testing methodology, I listened to the LCD-2 exclusively for the first evening while the first Egoista was settling in and while it sounded very good, as you might expect, it sounded similar to but was easily bested by the LCD-3F in resolution and transparency and so the LCD-3F was the only Audeze headphone I listened to moving forward. During my first week of listening, I listened to the Egoista 2A3 exclusively. I saved the Egoista 845 for the second week. During my time with the Egoistas, I had access to both an Auralic Taurus Mk II and Moon Neo 430HA and while I especially liked the 430HA for its warmth and dynamics, these amps only served to highlight how much I prefer the liquidity of tubes. To each his own but please pass the syrup. During this time, I also had access to a Chord Hugo and the internal DAC on the Moon Neo 430HA and while the Chord Hugo seemed a match for my DirectStream in smoothness, the DirectStream had a slight but noticeable edge in detail retrieval and resolution. Some have suggested that the Egoistas dance especially well with Viva’s Numerico DAC. The TotalDac d1, Bricasti M1and MSB Analog have also been suggested as worthy partners but that review will have to come at a later time.
With respect to the three headphones, I dedicated an exclusive evening of listening with each headphone paired with each Egoista. This turned out to be very helpful as it gave me not only a solid sense of the sonic character of each headphone but also my physical comfort level wearing each headphone for up to 4 hours at a time. After each headphone had its turn with an Egoista, I then went to direct A/B/C comparisons with the three headphones noting the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each relative to the other and which headphone I preferred best for a certain track. Once I had spent a week with each Egoista, I then began directly comparing the two amps against each other. On a few occasions, I had friends and family over for relaxed listening sessions. Not all were discerning audiophiles but all had an opinion.
EGOISTA 2A3 vs. 845
I love the tone and delicacy of 2A3 tubes and I knew I would love this Egoista. During my week with the Egoista 2A3, its seductive character quickly became apparent and was very addictive. I found it hard to stop listening and before I knew it, it was often well past my bedtime. I found I could listen to this amp for hours without fatigue regardless of genre as it was always so smooth and engaging. What surprised me is that this amp also has plenty of dynamics, well beyond what I was expecting and easily drove all three headphones authoritatively including the insensitive Abyss. I enjoyed my audition with a Woo WA5 earlier this year and it was previously my favorite amp with the Abyss. The Egoista 2A3 reminds me of the Woo except the Egoista has more kick. I expected this would be a superb amp for vocals in intimate venues but it also excelled with large orchestral works and energetic EDM and rock. Frequently I found myself thinking “why bother with the bigger 845 when this one has plenty of punch?”
As it often goes, you really don’t know what you’re missing until something else comes along and shows you what you’re missing. In March of this year at the SoCal CanJam, I was privileged to experience an SR-009 paired with a “one off” DHT tube amp designed and built by Frank Cooter. This amp was based on 845 output tubes and was my first experience with this tube on headphones. This experience was mesmerizing and took the SR-009 to heights not previously reached by my BHSE. When it came time to listen to the Egoista 845, even with all of my preconceived expectations about its power and grip, I was unable to prepare myself for the visceral onslaught that would occur and this is with the volume knob barely at the 10:00 setting. Yet this power was so masterfully controlled that whatever I listened to was palpably authoritative when it needed to be yet instantly tender and delicate when the call arose. Equally evident was the air and space it created resulting in enthralling detail and definition across its audible frequency range. I tend to get skeptical when a reviewer says they hear things they had never previously heard but I challenge you to say that this doesn’t happen with this amp after listening for even a few minutes. If you have a highly resolving DAC, it will present those details in their fullest glory yet maintain the smoothness and liquidity that even the most dynamic solid state amps can only hope for. It lacks the sultry midrange that is the calling card of the Egoista 2A3 yet the mids remain full and nuanced.
ABYSS 1266 vs HE-1000 vs LCD-3F
Which headphone is best? Despite how new the HE-1000 is, there are already many detailed opinions offered here on Head-Fi on how these 3 headphones compare but in the end, at this level of head-fi, “better or worse” comes down to nothing more than personal preference. I have found this to be no different with these headphones on the Egoistas. On any given evening that I was listening to either the LCD-3F, Abyss 1266 or HE-1000 with either of the Egoistas, I found myself not wanting for anything. Whether it was a complex orchestral piece, four string quartet, chamber choir, solo Spanish guitar, jazz ensemble, pop, rock, EDM, male or female vocals, my experience with each headphone paired with either Egoista was transfixing. Each of these components is TOTL for good reason. Does that mean each performance was perfect and that I didn’t have my preferences? It was only after I compared these headphones side by side with each Egoista that certain weaknesses became apparent and my preferences became clearer but if someone told me I had to live with any of these combinations, I would not complain. Ultimately, what my experience proved to me is that even the finest amps in the world will not significantly alter the sonic attributes of a particular headphone. The Egoista will not make you love the LCD-3F if you didn’t love it before. The Egoista will not transform a Beats Solo into an Abyss. What these amps will do is make the headphones you love sound their best while imparting a bit of their unique flavor.
Based on previous experience with each of these headphones on other amps, I was expecting a specific headphone to top the other two with each amp but I was surprised by which headphone consistently pleased me the best. With the Egoista 2A3, I was expecting the LCD-3F with its voluptuous midrange to rise to the top and with the Egoista 845, I was convinced the Abyss would be the one to stand tallest and in truth, both excelled, but for me, I have to give a slight edge to the HE-1000 as my favorite headphone for both Egoistas. It proved to be a jack of all trades and a master of enough of them that if I have to own just one of these three headphones, this one will be it.
As a Stax SR-009 owner, few would be surprised to know that I value transparency as this is the SR-009s forte and of the three dynamic headphones, the HE-1000 is the most transparent. I believed, however, that the HE-1000 is not as transparent as my SR-009 but rather a passable substitute and since this, for me, is the HE-1000’s main appeal, I looked at the HE-1000 as somewhat of step backward. What I wasn’t prepared to experience, however, was how well the HE-1000 would scale with the Egoistas and in this sense, both Egoistas are game changers.
…WITH THE EGOISTA 2A3
As expected, the LCD-3F mated to the 2A3 sounds sublime with vocals. The Fazor elements do well to enhance transparency and open up the treble while never sounding bright. The bass is full bodied with good presence and without sounding bloated although definition could be better. The LCD-3 has the reputation of being a relaxed and laid back headphone and the 2A3 only promotes this reputation further. Could this pairing sound “too tubey” for some? Yes, this pairing can sound too closed in for some types of music and can also come across as overly smooth at the expense of detail. If you are wearing your “analytical” hat while listening, you will likely prefer the other two headphones but if your intention is to “just chill,” you will probably love this combination.
With the HE-1000 on the 2A3, the mids become nicely full bodied with just enough euphonic sweetness, and while not quite as evocative as the mids on the LCD-3F, it retains all of its clarity, detail and speed. In fact, when I A/B the two, the LCD-3F sounds quite veiled in comparison. This dark nature of the LCD-3 makes for many hours of fatigue-free listening especially with this Egoista but it is this same prized attribute that makes the LCD-3F seem lackluster when compared against the other two. Every time I switch from the LCD-3F to the HE-1000 or vice versa, in almost every instance, I prefer the HE-1000. The HE-1000 has the ability to be laid back and relaxed yet also airy and detailed.
The Abyss proved to be a very close 2nd as my favorite headphone with the 2A3 and could easily be classified as my co-favorite. For classical music on the 2A3, I actually prefer it to the HE-1000 because the transients are sharper, the attack has more bite and decay seems more natural. If Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor was the only track I used to compare these headphones, the Abyss would be the runaway winner but with almost every other genre, the HE-1000’s smoother and more immersive presentation is more to my liking.
…WITH THE EGOISTA 845
The LCD-3F sounds even better on the 845 compared to the 2A3 as it benefits from the 845’s more forward attributes. This pairing sounds wonderful with no real faults and deserves to be in the discussion as an ideal headphone for the 845 but once again, under direct comparison with either the HE-1000 or Abyss, its star does not shine as brightly. Even with the Fazor enhancement, it just sounds too veiled against either the HE-1000 or Abyss. This difference becomes even starker when compared with the Stax SR-009.
The 845 and the Abyss proved to be the dynamic duo I expected it to be. Thunderous bass slam and extension. Easily the largest soundstage of the three with excellent air that leads to crisp and sparkly detail and pinpoint placement. If you’re looking to make the best first impression on someone with a headphone system, this would be the pairing to use as it can sound the grandest of the three, as thoroughly engaging as my 2-channel setup. Unfortunately, with more time spent with this combination and with more critical listening, the Abyss’ shortcomings on the 845 are exposed and become all the more apparent when you compare it side by side with the HE-1000. While the details presented by the Abyss are sharp and prominent, they are not always well resolved and can sometimes appear muddy and incoherent, especially in the upper-bass and midrange. It’s as if the Abyss fleshes out details from a track using a blunt instrument – there is plenty of meat at the compromise of texture and nuance. While this is perhaps an exaggeration, the best analogy I can think of is the Abyss will tell you that you are drinking fine Champagne while the HE-1000 will tell you very eloquently that you are drinking a rare 2002 vintage of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne. Moreover, the 845 seems to also bring out a sparkle in the treble of the Abyss that I find myself sensitive to as it can be fatiguing with certain tracks. It is not as bad as what I have more routinely experienced with the Abyss on solid state amps but it is all the more noticeable as I switch to it from either the HE-1000 or LCD-3F. My SR-009s are known to have a bright treble as well although the BHSE tames this nicely. I was hoping the 845 would do the same. I will note that this is much more attenuated on the 2A3 and one of the reasons why I really enjoy that pairing.
As for the HE-1000 on the 845, I simply was not expecting it to scale or “synergize” as well as it did with this amp. On every other amp I have heard with the HE-1000, it never quite stood out for me because I always liked my Stax better. On the 845, this pairing now surpasses my SR-009/BHSE. I believe the SR-009 is still the more transparent and neutral transducer but on the 845, the details retrieved by the HE-1000, especially in the treble, take on a pleasingly ethereal quality, similar to what I heard with the SR-009 on Frank Cooter’s 845 amp and this slight coloration for me is a more than acceptable tradeoff. Bass is the one area where I knew the HE-1000 is convincingly better than my SR-009s but on the 845, it almost approaches the levels of the Abyss and surpasses the LCD-3F. The Abyss bass has a more visceral physical presence but the HE-1000 equals it in extension and surpasses it in detail and texture. I liken it to a subwoofer with a 15 inch driver vs one with a 12 inch driver. One hits you in the gut with mass while the other with speed and finesse and while its ideal to have some measure of both, for me it is preferable to have a greater proportion of the latter. Also surprisingly, the HE-1000 matches the Abyss in dynamics providing every bit its range even though the Abyss remains the king of soundstage and air. Where it was easier to fault the attack and leading edge of the HE-1000 as too soft on the 2A3, on the 845, the bite is almost perfect although the Abyss still wins here. While the HE-1000 loses a little of that sultry midrange texture that comes with the 2A3, it remains full bodied and smooth on the 845, much more so than the Abyss. Overall, a very dynamic yet cohesive and well balanced presentation.
Another area where the HE-1000 excels is comfort and fit. Of the three headphones, it is the one I can wear with the least amount of fatigue, even for 4 hours at a time. The HD800 remains the most comfortable headphone I have ever used but this one comes close and is more comfortable than even my SR-009s. I prefer the soft velour lining on the ear pads compared to the leather on the other headphones and the weight and balance for my head (slightly larger than average) is almost perfect. I was expecting the Abyss to be the least comfortable but I actually prefer it to the LCD-3F because the clamping pressure of the Audeze against my head is too tight for my liking. Furthermore, I find the suspension system on the Abyss to be very effective which allows the weight of this headphone to distribute evenly across the top of my head. While not as comfortable as the HE-1000, I am able to wear the Abyss for prolonged periods of time without difficulty.
Do I believe these two amps represent the pinnacle of the summit? Combined, absolutely, and I wish there was some way to combine the strengths of these amps into one. I have not heard every headphone amplifier out there but as an owner or having owned a BHSE, KGSSHV and a variety of electrostatic amps and having spent time with a broad variety of top-tier dynamic amps, both tube and transistor, I cannot imagine an amp or even combination of amps that can do what both the Egoista 845 and Egoista 2A3 amps can do together. Power and authority or finesse and stunning harmonic texture, pick your poison and if one of these Egoistas is not the best at it, there’s a good chance the other is. In my book, the biggest competitor to the Egoista 845 is the Egoista 2A3 and vice versa. Which is preferable at any given moment may depend on the type of music being played or on one’s mood. Are you feeling energetic? Would you like to experience Mahler’s 8th symphony in its full glory at the Royal Albert Hall with its 1000-voice choir singing alongside that grand Mander organ? Well, then switch on the Egoista 845 and be prepared to be transported there. How about a private intimate session with Morgan James as she seduces you with her soulful and provocative rendition of “Call my name?” The Egoista 2A3 will assuredly provide you this experience. Therein lies my conundrum. Which one to choose? In truth, I would like to own both in the same way I would like to own all three of these headphones as they have unique and complementary strengths. Is this practical? No, but under what scenario would it be practical to purchase even one of these amps? The Egoista 845 lists for nearly $12,000 while the more affordable Egoista 2A3 lists for $7,500. But realistically, even those who are fortunate enough to be able to consider owning an Egoista will have to choose just one. If you insist to know that in the forest, there are tall sequoias, fragrant cedars, colorful maples and flowering dogwoods, then you should choose the 845 because it is a detail monster. If you instead prefer simply to enjoy the beauty of the forest, I suspect you will enjoy the 2A3 more. If you are looking for an end-game statement piece and you crave a “no holds barred” performance each time you slip on your headphones, then the 845 is for you. If your habits call for more intimate or relaxed and non-fatiguing listening for up to hours at a time and your preference more often is to chill rather than to be enthralled, then you owe it to yourself to seriously look at the 2A3.
As for the ultimate headphone and Egoista pairing, as before, this comes down to personal preference as each pairing will provide a tailored experience that will not suit all. I will tell you that within my household and among my friends, there is no consensus. It has been reported that Alex Rosson, CEO of Audeze, has selected the 845 to pair with his LCD-3. It has been rumored (by my Viva dealer) that Amedeo Schembri’s personal preference is the 845 with the Abyss and truth be told, before I began this exercise, I was also expecting to pair an 845 with the Abyss. As I have had time to acclimate to both Egoistas with each of these fine headphones and as my emotions from first impressions have settled, some clarity has finally set in and I have opted for the Egoista 2A3. It has just enough of the dynamics that make the 845 so special yet also that magical midrange that has become too hard to resist. As for what headphone I will pair with it, because the 2A3 comes at almost a $4,000 savings compared to the 845, I have decided to purchase both the HE-1000 and Abyss.
Pros: Transparent and Tonality Equal to None. 15W of pure class A single ended triode power
Cons: Runs Very Hot, Very heavy at 65 lbs.
Viva Egoista- Majestic Masterpiece-
While at the Newport Beach audio show I ran into Dan Muzquiz from Blackbird Audio. We were hanging out poolside with Bob Clarke from Profundo (who distributes some really special products). They both invited me to visit their room to hear a $10,000 amplifier. Naturally, my curiosity – and my love for everything headphone related – inspired me to contact another one of my fellow enthusiasts to share the
excitement of listening to such a world-class product
So, Kevin Venable (a friend and fellow scribe) came with me to listen to the Viva Egoista. This modern amplifier looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine. The black faceplate along with the automotive Porsche yellow paint finish was spectacular. And the sound produced by the Egoista was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Kevin and I spent a mystical hour listening to this amplifier and I was hooked. Soon thereafter, Bob Clarke and Dan Muzquiz arranged for a review sample to go home with me following the Capital Audiofest in Washington DC.
Viva Audio is based in Italy and has been producing world-class tube components since 1996. According to Profundo, the Amedeo Schembri, together with his brother Giampietro, wanted to develop audio systems that would reproduce music with realistic lifelike tonality. Amedeo’s career began at an early age when he started designing loudspeakers. He was also gaining experience working with various recording studios as an acoustic designer. Working alongside musicians, the special qualities of live music became embedded in Amedeo’s mind. His desire was to develop audio products for music lovers that would fully capture the lifelike realism and musicality inherent in the sound.
Amedeo likes to think “out of the box” when it comes to his designs. The pursuit of a live performance is always the ultimate goal. Viva products are designed with the goal of being able to properly recreate the live music from a recording – a few Viva employees even work for major orchestras. It’s easy to see that the main objective has never wavered since Viva first began – a product that recreates the live performance. People who go to live concerts not only want to hear the music, but to feel the music and get immersed in it. Amedeo and Giampietro want their customers to experience a live concert every time they listen to a Viva product.
Viva Audio has withstood the test of time, despite their bespoke approach (Viva components are not mass produced, these are high-end beauties). Each and every component is designed and hand built by Amedeo. He tunes each product himself to ensure that the tonality and sound reproduction is as close to perfection as possible. Amedeo utilizes many of the golden era technologies in his products and the amplifiers are built one at a time. He prefers point-to-point wiring and uses only the finest materials available.
Amedeo’s relentless pursuit of perfection is clearly evident with the design, build, and sound of the Egoista headphone amplifier. People who purchase a product such as the Egoista are buying a finely tuned musical instrument.
The Egolista is a single-ended triode design (SET). The amplifier is housed in an aluminum chassis with transformers of the highest quality. There are five RCA inputs located on the back of the amplifier. The front of the Chassis has two headphone jacks (two people can listen at the same time) and the volume selector is a smooth design (no steps). The huge transformers are capable of putting out 15 watts per channel into headphones. The feet on the amplifier are also screwed in aluminum high quality machined feet. The top of the chassis is open so the tubes breathe easily. The bottom of the chassis has ventilation. The rear uses a standard 3-prong power cord. The 65-pound single-chassis amplifier is finished in an automotive paint finish and available in a wide variety of colors.
As with all Viva products, the amplifier is built by hand. It is also entirely point-to-point wired, meaning that no circuit boards are used in the design. The tubes are two Shuguang 845 tubes, a single Russian-made 6N1P, and a single (new production) Tungsol 6SN7 driving the huge 845 triodes (rocket ship-bayonet mounted). There are two 5U4GBEH Electro Harmonic’s rectifiers used for the all tube rectification.
The day I spent in Newport Beach with Kevin Venable listening to the Egoista was truly eye (and ear) opening. The room was setup with the Egoista along with other Viva components running the Viva Monoblock’s along with The One speakers using the $10K Numerico DAC/transport as the source. The Egoista was hooked up to the $10K Numerico. The total cost for the headphone system with the Audeze LCD3’s was around $22K (without the cost of interconnects).
The two-channel system in the room was over $100K. Audeze LCD3’s was the headphone we used for the session. Listening to various different tracks of music I realized immediately that this was an incredibly special system. The sound was liquid. I could hear no artificial or electronic artifacts. The music was just flowing. The tonality of the instruments were natural and with vivid inner detail.
Vocals came to life, as if I was in the room with the vocalist. When I handed Kevin the LCD3’s, I was in awe and at a complete loss for words. The $100K system in the room had the same qualities. The room had disappeared and I could notice little difference between the $100K system and the headphone system. The differences were minute. The $22K system was performing like the $100K system, but more personal. The Egoista was definitely getting the most out of the LCD3’s. This demo made me want to listen to the Viva with many other headphones, which unfortunately, were not available to me in Newport Beach.
CanMania provided me with another opportunity to hear the Viva. Knowing beforehand that the Egoista prototype would be coming home with me caused anxiety and excitement at the same time. The impressions from people at the Capital Audiofest who heard this magnificent amplifier made me want to dig deeper and find out what it is capable of.
At CanMania, Profundo were using the Audeze LCD3’s. Astell &Kern was kind enough to lend me an HD800 to pair with the Viva as well. Profundo’s Bob Clarke helped me connect the Chord Hugo to the Egoista and the AK240 I had connected to the Hugo (optically) had a wide variety of music loaded. The Hugo provided me with familiar music to check out the system.
The HD800’s playing Elvis Presley’s Stereo ‘57 brought me to directly into the recording session itself. The details I heard were miraculous. I felt as if I had travelled through a time machine and was actually there. Presley was in the left channel and his band was in the right channel on this early binaural recording. The HD800 was sounding better than ever before. The headphone and the system simply disappeared.
The 845 triode of the Egoista was explosive. And the sound was fast and without any sluggish overtones. It was neither syrupy nor mushy. The Egoista was acting as if a musical instrument. It has a lack of signature that just let the music flow as I was engulfed in the performance itself. The tonality was impressive, but more important was the way the Egoista delivered the dynamics. It was as if I could visually see the performers in the live setting. It was spooky realistic.
Chris Botti’s Live at Boston took me to Symphony Hall. The vocal performance by Steven Tyler on “Smile” was so good that with my eyes closed I could see Tyler in the center and the band layered with real spacing between the performers. Live-recorded performances can sometimes be tricky to properly reproduce. The Egoista recreated this performance in a live setting with ease – it was hard to believe I was listening through a sound system.
Keith Urban’s album Fuse gave me more of that same feeling. Having just seen Keith live three days before CanMania, the sound of his terrific concert was still fresh in my mind. Listening to Keith on the Viva Egoista brought me right back to the Delaware Sate Fair and made me feel as if I was at the show again. The vocal performance was just as what I had experienced live at the Urban concert (it was awesome). On well-recorded discs, the sound just comes alive with the Egoista.
On that Fuse, the HD800 again let me know exactly what the Viva Egolista was capable of. The dynamics and musicality of the Egoista was clearly evident. The sound had a signature I associate only with live music. It did not sound electronic at all. The Egoista recreated the true tonality of the instruments.
The CanMania listening session made me want to listen to the Egosista more than ever in my home system. I wanted to know if it would perform as well without the $10K Numerico in the chain. I knew it performed well with the Hugo, which is part of my system, so I was really looking forward to taking it home.
John Williams, the VP of Hospitality for the Los Angeles Audiophile Society (not the film composer), was staying at my home and helped me pack and load the 65-pound amplifier into a traveling crate (60 extra pounds!) supplied by Profundo. The amplifier inside the crate was cumbersome and took the both of us to get it into the house. Once uncrated, the amplifier was placed on my top rack.
The Viva was setup in my reference system utilizing the Oppo BDP 105 as the primary source. Interconnects used in my system were WyWires Platinum Silver one meter interconnects ($1500) connecting the Egolista to the Oppo BDP 105 via single-ended connections.
The Chord Hugo was connected into the second RCA input with Nordost Blue Heaven 1-meter interconnects. The power cords used in the entire system were all Nordost Blue Heaven.
The headphones used at home would include the Audeze LCD X and XC, Mr Speaker Alpha Dog, Hifman HE560, Oppo PM-1 and the Sennheiser HD800. The cable’s used with the headphones are Wywires Red along with Nordost Heimdall on the HD800’s.
Once the system was all setup I placed Train’s California 37 into the Oppo BDP 105 and hit play.
VIVA EGOISTA AMPLIFIER “A MAJESTIC MASTERPIECE”: PART II
Train’s opening track, ‘This Will Be My Year”, aptly opens with the lyric, “maybe this will be my year” and I can’t help but think, as I listen to the Egoista – maybe this will be MY year. Maybe this is the last headphone amplifier I’ll ever want. Maybe this is the top of the mountain.
Listening to this song with the Viva Egoista was profound. The Viva prototype sounded liquid and the lead vocal was centered in the front of the soundstage, clearly defined and surrounded by the band in a defined soundstage. The drums coming from the rear of the stage were distinctive. The HD800 was performing better that I had heard it with any other amplifier used in my system. The HD800, along with the Nordost Heimdall cable, had no brightness to the sonic signature. The midrange is where most of the music lies and was realistically reproduced on the Viva here. Minute details that were in the recording were easy to pick out. The Egoista was unmasking these small nuances and digging deeper into the recording than I have yet experienced.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” open with cymbals and it is an excellent test for treble extension. The cymbals were never splashy and had full extension with terrific shimmer. And in the rear of the soundstage with air and separation you could hear the thunderous whacks of the mighty Tympani. The performer was striking the skins with uncanny realism. The sound was full and this recording had tremendous dynamic range. The Egoista and HD800 delivered a vivid and lively presentation. The conclusion of the track was all there. The speed of the amplifier became apparent and the HD800 never fell short in showcasing the Minnesota Orchestra. The system had all the speed that is required to make this recording believable. The tonality of the instruments was close to what you would hear live. The space of the recording venue was all there.
The Egoista reproduces air and space better than any amplifier that has graced my listening room. The Viva does not have any “electronic” sound. The Minnesota Orchestra playing “Appalachian Spring” was romantic and warm. The sound was layered, with each individual section apparent and vividly present. The sound coming from the system was majestic. The pinpoint focusing and layering of the orchestra was special and it felt like I was at the session in the hall with the performers. The Viva Egoista strives to recreate the live performance and listening to this piece of music, I admit that it achieved the designers’ goal. The music kept flowing and the performers were all “alive” in my mind, as if I was at the actual performance.
The texture of the music is important in reproducing or giving the illusion of a live performance. Instrument tonality also has to be correct to recreate the performance. Many amplifiers and transducers fail in allowing the listener to be engaged with the music. And the Egoista delivers the tonality of the instruments with a realistic sound not found in many other amplifiers.
Many companies make a prototype amplifier to sound exceptional when given out to a reviewer or listener. And the Egoista prototype was a majestic beast (in a good way). So much so that I when I first heard the amplifier I knew I would want to use it as my tube reference amplifier. So I called Dan Muzquiz (the dealer) and decided that I wanted to one one. Together Dan and Bob Clarke the US distributor made my dream a reality. I purchased one and Viva built the Egoista (there is no stock model of the Egoista).
The finish of the chassis is personally selected, so I decided that I wanted to go with the black faceplate and Lamborghini yellow paint. The model was then produced and manufactured to my specifications. Upon arrival of the Egoista, I saw that the paint finish was brighter than the mustard yellow of the prototype. It was more vivid and a welcome change. There were also some minor differences in the rear of the amplifier that were different than the prototype.
Amedeo had decided to add a tuning pot to allow tuning of the 845 tubes from the outside (for specific headphones). Instead of having to open up the chassis to make those adjustments, it is now easier with simply tuning screws on the back. There are instructions included with how to make the adjustments if you need to fine-tune the sound. The factory sets the settings and no adjustments were necessary to get the Egoista up and running.
The production model was not burned in completely and the hours that were put on the amplifier at the factory were to make sure everything was working properly before making the long journey from Italy to my home on New Jersey. The unboxing was easier than the prototype and the unit was well packed. FedEx was careful with this box as I seen no apparent signs on the carton of it being abused (as I have seen on other products from different shipping companies). Once removed, the amplifier was placed in the same spot the prototype had resided in my system.
Viva said that there would be differences in sound up to about 200 hours. The sound out of the box was excellent but not as “open sounding” as the prototype. The sound after about 50 hours started to open up and now the Viva sounds even better than the prototype it replaced (perhaps because it is mine). The sound differences I hear mostly concern transparency and detail retrieval.
Billie Holiday’s, Songs for a Distingue Lovers, is in my opinion, her finest work. Billie vocals were still vivid and not worn down from her addictions as it had gotten in later recordings. Billie’s storytelling was always special and the musicians on this recording were all stellar (as they always were in a Norman Granz recording). “Day in and Day Out” is a jazz standard that has been performed by many. Listening to Billie do it is unlike any other performance I have ever heard. Her magical vocal and exceptional story telling charm is indeed very unique and very special. The music coming from the band was spectacular, with air and separation rarely heard in recordings.
On “Foggy Day”, I was transported with Billy and felt the connection to the music, but more important it was if I was connected to her. It was as if she was in my listening room. The feeling was spooky because it felt so real. The involvement of the Egoista in delivering her performance was so good it made me listen deeper into the music. Hearing the muted trumpet solo in the song and then the sax player coming in for his individual solo had both separation and air around the instruments. When I closed my eyes I could visualize the sax and performer clearly.
VIVA EGOISTA AMPLIFIER “A MAJESTIC MASTERPIECE”: PART II
The thing I love most about tube amplifiers is that more often than not they out perform solid-state amplifiers with soundstage. The 845 tubes used in this amplifier are maybe the best triodes I have experienced to date, in that they can recreate the soundstage with exceptional front to back depth. The Egoista recreates air and space better than any other tube amplifier I have experienced. The exceptional rendering of tonality is as good as I have heard in any other product.
The performance on the Holliday album for me was as good as I have heard it in recreating the actual performance. The midrange was so good that I never felt there was anything missing. Billie had that magical quality that would grab hold of a listener and just consume you with her performance. She was a very special recording artist and one of my all time favorites. Breathtaking is defined in the dictionary as “astonishing or as taking one’s breath away”. With the Egoista and the Billie Holliday performance it was more than astonishing. I never felt cheated or wanting for anything more in the performance. The Egoista just got out of the way and let Billie’s voice come trough as if she was in front of me.
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” on the Audeze LCD X (and LCD XC) delivers huge bass. The Egoista is not an amp that is bass shy. The Viva has terrific extension and the dynamics are easily heard in this recording. The music on this album reminds me of the 80’s dance scene in the NY City dance clubs I frequented in days gone by.
“Lose Yourself to Dance” make me feel like I did when I went to the clubs. It transports you to the venue and you want to get up and dance. The 80’s were filled with musical excitement and the clubs were always jammed with people partying and dancing. The performance of the Egoista with this album will take you back to that time in this retro yet modern performance.
The Viva Egoista delivers no matter what headphone you use with it. The amplifier has power on tap to deliver a dynamic and very realistic performance. The Egoista never runs out of steam or power on any recording. If you need the reserve for large-scale recording the Egoista can deliver a full-scale symphony recording with precise and very fast dynamics. There is nothing sluggish or syrupy in the performance of this amplifier. The amplifier will play soft and sensual recordings from Tierney Sutton to the more fun and danceable Daft Punk. The magnificent Minnesota Orchestra delivering Copland takes you to the venue. In a word, the Egoista is versatile. The Alpha Dogs love power and the Egoista is effortless in delivering and getting the most out of the headphone.
The Egoista is a detail monster as well. I continuously hear more in the recording than with any other amplifier or system I have had in my listening room before. The Egoista will extract everything that was recorded. The subtle differences from recording to recording are all delivered in different performances. The Egoista will allow you to hear cable changes and equipment changes easily.
Using the Egoista let me hear the increased transparency of the Wywires Platinum interconnect over Nordost Blue Heaven. I could hear subtle differences. The most noticeable for me was that the platinum allowed for more inner detail to become more vivid in the soundstage. The price difference in cables is substantial, so I expected to hear differences between the two cables.
Switching to the Chord Hugo from the Oppo BDP 105 also presented easily noticeable differences. The ESS sabre DAC of the BDP105 is brighter in sound and transparent while the Hugo is more open and. The Hugo digs deeper into the recording presenting more information and thus delivers a bigger performance. Both are excellent performers and the Egoista let me hear differences in everything that was passed through it (while some differences were subtle, they were still noticeable and easily identified). Many amplifiers mask details and leave some information out.
Many listeners and readers may still wonder where the Egoista falls short. The musical performance is hard to criticize. The amplifier delivers it all. The treble is the best extension I have ever heard. The inner detail is so good that you can also hear a drum cymbal and high hat spacing with air around it and the distance of the space between the high hats. Cymbals sound as if you are in a live concert hall. The dynamics and bass extension is also first rate. The bass goes deep and hits as hard as I have heard in any amplifier. The Egoista does this all with balanced presentation.
The amplifier never calls attention to itself except in one area: The Egoista runs extremely hot. The 845 tubes are huge and it throws off lots of heat. The sides of the amplifier are hot to the touch as are the headphone jacks and the switch, but never hot enough that it would cause the user to get burned. And the footprint is huge. The 65lb beast needs a lot of space and room to breath. You definitely need to shut it down while not being used for long periods of time.
The only other amp I had in house was the Violectric solid state V281 that was equipped with a Texas instrument 24-192 digital to analog converter. The retail of the stock balanced design is $1889. And the extras (remote) took this amp to almost $2400. The amplifier is basically a balanced amplifier capable of delivering over 4 watts into 50 ohm loads and is priced substantially less than the Egoista. The V281 (review to come) does not give up much ground, but the differences were noticeable and sometimes not subtle comparing it to the much more expensive Egoista. The Egoista stepped up the soundstage width and depth and also had more body and was better with imaging. The V281 is an outstanding amplifier and priced much less and did not embarrass itself against the much higher priced Viva Egoista.
Yet the Egoista allowed me to hear the differences as it had done with the cables. The more I looked at what the Egoista was capable of doing as a review tool the more it impressed me. The difference in switching from headphone to headphone was always easily noticeable. Little differences in system changing to major sound differences in the sources – the Egoista always stepped up and delivered.
Viva products are hand built, one-at-a-time in Italy. The fit and finish of the product is astonishing. The custom painted chassis and quality of the parts used to make the Egoista are on display. The Egoista is a statement product. The two brothers – Amedeo and Giamperto Schembri – are committed to musical perfection. Amedeo has a reputation for never being satisfied with his products. He is relentless in his pursuit of being able to manufacture a product that recreates a live performance and he continues to push the boundaries.
Attention to detail is clearly evident in the performance of the Egoista. The inner detail is the best I have experienced from any amplifier. The sound of chimes or the soft tap of a vibraphone to a concert violinist moving their bow across the instrument is all well defined in a lifelike manner. The bass is clearly some of the very best quality in tube amplification available.
Dynamics and speed are also major strengths of the Egoista. Vocal recordings are lifelike and a treat to listen to. No matter what headphone that I used, the Egoista always performed brought the best out of them. The Egoista has qualities rarely found in most products and is near perfect (WOW, I finally said it).
As I said before, the shortcomings from the Egoista are mostly superficial. It weights a hefty 65 pounds and requires it’s own space and the amplifier runs hot. Users with small children will want to make sure that the amplifier is not within reach because the tubes are exposed. Other than those minor quibbles (not an issue for me), this is the best amplifier for headphones I have heard. The amplifier leaves me wanting for nothing. Thankfully, the Egoista uses all current production tubes. Amedeo advises against tube rolling as this amplifier is voiced specifically for the tubes he selected. This is a welcome relief. The cost to re-tube this amplifier would cost less that using exotic tubes or NOS RCA 845 tubes. The total for replacing tubes (if you ever need to do it) should be under $350 total.
That early visit to Newport Beach and the first listen to the Egoista prototype got me excited about this amplifier. The months spent with both the prototype and the current production model have made me realize how gifted the design truly is. The Egoista leaves the listener never wanting. It allows you to concentrate and listen to the performance. The music comes to life better than any other product I have experienced and it is now my current reference amplifier.
If you ever have a chance to listen to this magnificent amplifier, I urge you to take the opportunity and perhaps you will be as impressed as I am. Built to last a lifetime and provide years of musical enjoyment, the Egoista is an incredibly special product that merits your consideration. Of course, the Egoista’s performance does not come cheap at $10K, but musical performance like this is truly rare. The Egoista never fails to keep me smiling. The Egoista makes me feel like I have reached the top, that this is the year, my year, and this may be the last headphone amp I’ll ever desire.