Riviera AIC-10 headphones & speakers amplifier
Jul 2, 2020 at 7:29 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1,817

BPED

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This fantastic amp deserves a dedicated thread so we can exchange impressions and tips…

The Company – Riviera Audio Labs

Riviera Audio Labs is an Italian high-end company, founded in 2017 and specialized in amplifiers (headphones, line amps, power amps). Riviera may be fairly new, but the designer and mastermind behind these projects, Luca Chiomenti, has been designing amps for decades and has a very solid reputation in Italy and beyond.

For his latest enterprise, he teamed up with partners Silvio Delfino and Marco Muzio to propose super high-end, no-compromise objects entirely manufactured in Italy. I read that they are sourcing parts from the local aeronautic industry supply chain around Naples. I suspect that the name makes reference to the beautiful coast of that area.

AIC-10 headphones amplifier

The AIC-10 is a hybrid amp, pure “A” class, employing a triode valve (ECC82/12AU7 type) in the pre-amp section. It has two headphones outputs (unbalanced 6.35 and balanced 4 pin). Due to the amplifier design these two outputs will sound identical but it is nice to have the choice to match our headphones cables’ termination. On the back it has 3 line inputs and speaker outputs.

On the front, a knob allows to choose the line input, a second knob selects output (high gain headphones, low gain headphones, speakers), a third knob is for volume.

The declared power is 10W per channel at 8 ohms. I haven’t tried this function, but this amp will easily power speakers with medium sensitivity in normally sized rooms. A remote control for volume is also supplied.

Oh, and it costs approx. 15k euros in Europe, ouch! (mine is second hand, still…)

For those who would like to delve into technical details, I paste here some professional reviews and an explanation of Chiomenti about his design philosophy.


How does it look?

The AIC-10 is is quite big measuring 26×43.5×14.5h cm with a weight of 14.4 Kg. Several people mentioned to me that it looks beautiful... I don’t know, I am not particularly attracted by hi-fi gear, but it does look impeccably finished, sturdy yet polished. Mine is anthracite gray, it catches the eye but doesn’t stand out as an alien box in my sitting room. Understated class…

Listening impressions

I’ll start by saying that I really love this amp and I have the pleasant feeling that is a product that will be with me for life. I may change DAC (hopefully in many years), I may be tempted by new headphones in the future, but the Riviera will stay. I believe it will become a classic over time.

It is very versatile, it drives perfectly sensitive as well as difficult headphones. Its sound signature can be tweaked to match cans and taste. Leaving electrostatic headphones aside, I think it can beautifully drive all TOTL headphones in the market today and - I dare to say – it will do so in the future as well. (For the very peculiar Raals I read that there are limitations, others can comment).

So how does it sound? It sounds great! Yes, but how? Well, it depends on the small ECC82 which it mounts. The AIC-10 comes by default with a JJ tube manufactured in Slovakia and that is the best “modern” tube you can get today. However, it is strongly recommended, among others by Chiomenti himself, to replace it with a quality NOS to get the max out of the Riviera.

Which is how I (happily) fell into the NOS hole… 😊

I will give some specific examples with different tubes in the next post.
IMG_1311.jpg
R3.jpg
R4a.jpg
R2.jpg
 
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Jul 2, 2020 at 7:31 AM Post #2 of 1,817
Riviera AIC-10 sound tests

My equipment for the tests


  • Qobuz Hi-Res – Roon
  • Innuos Zenith mkIII streamer
  • Chord MScaler + Dave DAC
  • Abyss TC with superconductor cable
  • Focal Utopia with Danacable Lazuli Reference cable
  • Various other cables which I will spare you this time…

Going bananas

Apparently, this is one of those things you shouldn’t try at home and certainly not without parental supervision… however, curiosity was too strong and I did a little experiment which was already mentioned here by the always resourceful @simorag

Connecting the Abyss TC to the Riviera speakers’ output with banana connectors is a sure way to get to heaven! BUT BE CAREFUL NOT TO BLOW UP YOUR HEADSET BY KEEPING VOLUME DOWN.

Speakers output basically gives a larger and deeper soundstage without fundamentally impacting the transparency and overall tonal balance.


Remember that I am talking here about shades, small details and differences, and I that I need somehow to magnify my perceptions in order to describe them (that’s what hi-fi is all about right?). There are no “night and day”, earth shattering experiences in my world!

All the tests below have been done through speakers output for the Abyss TC and through 6.35 headset output for the Utopia comparing each to the Dave output, which for me is a reference of transparency and fidelity to the source.



Mullard ECC82: long plate, D getter, Blackburn, 1958

A much sought after, UK manufactured tube. This is the most euphonic tube I have.

Abyss

The Riviera paints a very big, 3D sonic landscape, with a sweet, involving, relaxing, slightly warm sound signature. But make no mistake, it remains very dynamic and impactful.

Compared to the Dave output, the Riviera has a good dynamic range, it puts a bit of emphasis on mids and lows, highs are a bit rolled off. It is a bit less transparent but still doing very well and it has more “body". The soundstage is amazing, much larger, taller and deeper.

Perfect for orchestral music, with effective, “tactile” reproduction of the different sections of instruments.

On small jazz groups or chamber music, instruments are larger, with fuller bass and more impact. The tonal balance is a touch darker. The loss of transparency is slightly more noticeable on direct comparison. Spatial clues are much better. I just love how it reproduces the tone of a bass clarinet, or the low keys of a closely mic’ed piano. Female voices are gorgeous, not hyper detailed but very engaging.

In short, if you want to be seduced by the music and forget about the rest, this is your tube.

Utopia (Lazuli reference)

The Riviera/Utopia combo is fun and decidedly tilted towards a mids-lows. Strong impactful bass, larger scene and instruments.

In short: not very accurate for acoustic music but great for pop, rock, bass heavy music types.



La Radiotechnique 12AU7WA: O getter, 14 mm plate, military use, 1950s


This is a well-balanced tube by the French subsidiary of Philips.

Abyss

The Riviera is airy, punchy, precise but never shrill, with instruments clearly placed in a large scene.

The reproduction of acoustic double bass is fantastic: I feel the vibration and slap of a big tensed string. Bass go very deep if needed, remaining structured, defined. Percussions are equally impressive, fast when appropriate, resonant. I can easily imagine the leather being hit.

Voices are very precise, less sweet than with the Mullard, more realistic (which can be good or bad depending on the recording). Strings and in particular violins are pleasantly reproduced with detailed but controlled highs.

Compared to the Dave output, the Riviera has a very similar tonality, transparency is almost on par, but it sounds more effortless, more impactful, instruments are less edgy and better defined (double bass for example). Highs are very, very slightly rolled off: I can detect that only with a careful comparison and it results in a less fatiguing listening experience. The scene is larger, taller, deeper but less than with the Mullard.

In short: if you want a pleasantly dynamic and realistic listening experience, this is your tube.

Utopia (Lazuli reference)

As many have reported here, the Utopia-Lazuli-Mscaler-Dave setup is hard to beat, which is way I was very curious to hear how the Riviera would do. And the Dave has certainly more than enough power to drive the Utopia.

Compared to the Dave, the Riviera sounds very very similar, same tonality and almost same transparency (which is rather amazing), slightly better and larger 3D effect, slightly bigger instruments, more weight to the notes and better controlled highs.

Conclusion: the Riviera in low gain makes the Dave output redundant. I would never buy it alone for the Focal but it is amazing to see how it matches and improves over this setup.


Dario / Radiotechnique 12AU7, 1956


This is the tube I am using these days and I love it. It’s another RT model, built differently. I was surprised to see how it flares up for second when turning on the amp!

It is very close to the RT above. In my notes I wrote vivid, detailed, dynamic, impactful. I think is adds a touch to the mid-range in a nice way. The Utopia benefits even more, along the lines of what I wrote above.

Conclusions: even less famed, very affordable tubes can be great finds!


NEW! Mullard CV491 k61, Blackburn, 1956


This looks identical to the Mullard ECC82 reviewed above, I cannot see the getter though. It was built for use by the UK military. I wonder whether it has different construction features, or it simply passed a more thorough quality test compared to the ECC82.

They sound the same and have the same impressive 3D scene, a great tube!



NEW! Fivre 12AU7 “412”, 1954


These two Fivre (see below) are a mystery to me and unfortunately there is very little information about codes, years, production sites etc. Their construction share many similarities (plate structure, micas, style of codes printed and etched on the bottom) but also some differences (grey and black plates, connection of the getter to the mica). Sound wise they are opposite!

The “412” is warm and dynamic, not dissimilar from a Mullard. There some small differences especially in the spatial representation but I am not able to pin them down. I would put them in the same basket. Recommended.


NEW! Fivre 12AU7 “575” 1950s

The “575” is a katana 😉, by far the most transparent and detailed tube I own.

Abyss TC

The Riviera is transformed in a super Dave: fast, detailed, transparent. Scene is a bit wider and larger via speakers line, the Dave alone seems a bit flatter. I do not notice any roll off of highs, violins are detailed, female voices are very realistic and they can present some hiss if that’s in the recording. Bass is not more present compared to the Dave but more controlled and very well defined. The overall presentation perhaps lacks a touch of “weight” that balanced tubes like the RT provide.

Conclusions: a very peculiar tube that requires careful choice of albums to be enjoyed with the TC. On well recorded, warm tracks it shines; a few times I had the weird feeling that the Riviera was more transparent than the Dave (is it actually possible?).

Utopia Danacable LR

That’s an easier pairing due to the warmer tone of the Utopia. The tonal balance is very similar to the one with the Dave, the transparency is on par. The Riviera is better especially with a slightly larger and deeper scene and bigger instruments.


More tube fun in the future 😉

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Jul 2, 2020 at 8:03 PM Post #3 of 1,817
Great write up, friend is receiving one soon and I am secretly hoping to grab off him at "used discount" if he does not like OR just buy one from dealer myself in future.

Regardless I will get to demo one very soon and am very very excited.

Thank you for the write up, hope others can share their experiences along with their tubes.

From what I gathered so far upon asking a few, NOS Mullard tubes sound warm and engaging with a wow like 3D stage and NOS Radiotechniques are the neutral all rounders.

Can compare this to the WA33 I recently sold and will report back once demoing.
 
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Jul 3, 2020 at 2:22 AM Post #4 of 1,817
I have one of the early production samples,the exact one that was reviewed by 6 moons. Only problem i have with mine is that it is quite noisy with very efficient headphones(Final audio Sonorous Viii and x). The manufacturer has told me there is a free upgrade if i send it back to Italy, but would cost me at least $400usd for freight plus customs nightmare.

This amp makes all headphones sound great!!!

I have no noise problems with Grados.
 
Jul 3, 2020 at 3:28 AM Post #5 of 1,817
Great write up, friend is receiving one soon and I am secretly hoping to grab off him at "used discount" if he does not like OR just buy one from dealer myself in future.

Regardless I will get to demo one very soon and am very very excited.

Thank you for the write up, hope others can share their experiences along with their tubes.

From what I gathered so far upon asking a few, NOS Mullard tubes sound warm and engaging with a wow like 3D stage and NOS Radiotechniques are the neutral all rounders.

Can compare this to the WA33 I recently sold and will report back once demoing.

thanks, and I hope your secret plan will work :wink:
 
Jul 3, 2020 at 3:30 AM Post #6 of 1,817
I have one of the early production samples,the exact one that was reviewed by 6 moons. Only problem i have with mine is that it is quite noisy with very efficient headphones(Final audio Sonorous Viii and x). The manufacturer has told me there is a free upgrade if i send it back to Italy, but would cost me at least $400usd for freight plus customs nightmare.

This amp makes all headphones sound great!!!

I have no noise problems with Grados.

mine is perfectly silent paired with Utopia in low gain. Probably worth the upgrade in your case but not in these difficult times..
which tubes do you prefer?
 
Jul 3, 2020 at 3:49 AM Post #7 of 1,817
I have one of the early production samples,the exact one that was reviewed by 6 moons. Only problem i have with mine is that it is quite noisy with very efficient headphones(Final audio Sonorous Viii and x). The manufacturer has told me there is a free upgrade if i send it back to Italy, but would cost me at least $400usd for freight plus customs nightmare.

This amp makes all headphones sound great!!!

I have no noise problems with Grados.
Is it confirmed that they have no service centers in USA?
 
Jul 4, 2020 at 12:22 AM Post #8 of 1,817
Do you use the Abyss on Lo Gain or High Gain on the AIC-10?
 
Jul 4, 2020 at 2:19 AM Post #10 of 1,817
Not sure myself, Leica did you recently buy yours?
 
Jul 4, 2020 at 2:32 AM Post #11 of 1,817
Yes, the German tester Musicalhead tested it and according to him the best headphone amplifier on the planet! He bought it right away and tests all headphones with this amplifier as well. Read the report. You could have it translated with DeepL.

https://musicalhead.de/2018/05/31/test-riviera-aic10/

My conclusion

Although the RIVIERA AIC10 has thus only received top ratings in all individual disciplines in the areas relevant to sound, even this rating does not fully do justice to it. For what primarily distinguishes the AIC10 from its competitors IMO is its outstanding musicality.

The AIC10 operates with an incomparable musical flow that is difficult to put into words. And no matter which of my headphone amplifiers I use for comparison, the relaxed superiority and passionate playing of the RIVIERA cannot be matched.

In combination with the HIFIMAN SUSVARA, the AIC10 thus plays at the top of the assembled world elite. And in this combination IMO certainly operates at eye level with a HIFIMAN SHANGRI LA or a SENNHEISER HE1 system.

The RIVIERA AIC10 is without a doubt an absolutely exceptional amplifier in the HIGH-END headphone segment. But at a very proud price. And as a result, probably rather unaffordable for most people.

My unrestricted recommendation to all knights of the Grail of sound who are willing and able to use this Italian wonder weapon. And who have arrived at the end of a perhaps very long journey.

Because the RIVIERA AIC10 is nothing less than an impressive statement for playback via headphones. An "End Game" amplifier which conveys "Closer to the Music" to the listener in the most authentic and at the same time incomparably emotional way. Grandiose. A masterpiece.



Here directly still translated into English!

http://gpoint-audio.com/new-riviera...ted-amplifier-test-by-fidelio-on-musicalhead/
 
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Jul 4, 2020 at 3:19 AM Post #12 of 1,817
Thanks @BPED for opening this well deserved and long overdue thread!

The AIC-10 is becoming more and more popular among the ultra-high-end headphones enthusiasts, and I have yet to know somebody who has had it or listened to it thoroughly and wasn't impressed by its sound.

Of course, its price positioning was very ambitious from Riviera Labs, and this raises the bar of expectations to the rooftop, especially considering that in the price range of the AIC-10 you can find many legendary speaker amplifier models and brands, with much more well-established reputation and resale value.

I had the chance of auditioning the AIC-10 at home during my quest for the ultimate amplifier to pair with my AB-1266 headphones, a very enjoyable journey that took me little less than one year. I decided at the time to look mostly into speaker amps because I wanted to drive my LS3/5a as well, and because auditioning at home high end headphones amplifiers here in Italy is basically impossible, and I wanted to make my choice very carefully.

I have written several posts about my auditioning adventures in the Abyss thread and will not make this post even longer than what is getting to by recalling that saga, but in summary the reason why I chose the AIC-10 to pair with the Abyss is that it delivered the best traits of the very finest tube amps and solid state amps I tried in a relatively compact and practical package.

To my ears AIC-10 has bloom, body, richness, holographic presentation one normally tends to relate to tubes and grunt, scale, transparency, speed and bass / treble extension we normally find in the best SS products. The balance between this characteristics can further be adjusted to match taste, mood, and synergy with the remaining of the chain (headphones, to begin with).

Below you find a table with the ratings I have given to the amplifiers I tried over the last year or so. The light grey columns are where I listened in a setup nearly identical to mine, but only for a few hours, while the dark grey ones are shops / friends homes auditioning where the upstream chain to the amp / AB-1266 was different from mine (hence not very reliable). White columns relate to extensive listening at home. 10 does not mean 'perfect', but 'best' among the amplifiers listed, and it is specifically in the context of driving the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC.

Of course, this ranking is very much specific to my system, subjective sound and musical genres preferences, so take it for what it is.

amp-chart.png


The bottom line is that, to me, the AIC-10 can compete at or beyond its price range for driving the Abyss.

Other headphones I tried with the AIC-10 are the SR1a (which I own), the Susvara and the MySphere 3.2.

In all cases the results have been very satisfying, where:
- for the Susvara I had best results when using the speaker taps (as with the AB-1266) and a more neutral tube like my Fivre (while for the Abyss and SR1a I still like the Mullard CV491 tonal match the most);
- for the Mysphere, which I found an exquisite combination, I was using low-gain output and, again, my Fivre;
- for the SR1a the AIC-10 is not powerful enough to make this headphone full justice, while being an extremely fine tonality match and able to bring spectacular results with some specific genres.

Coming to loudspeakers, I was skeptical at the beginning because of the renowned inefficiency of my LS3/5a, but all was cleared when I tried the AIC-10 at home.
Again, the AIC-10 gives some soul and bloom to the LS3/5a by preserving their most classical virtues as the pinpoint imaging, vocal presentation and midrange purity.
SPL levels and dynamics (within the intrinsic limitations of this BBC design) are more than adequate to my room / preferences.

In summary (sorry guys for the long post), this is my pro / cons bullet list:

Pros:
- sound
- easy sound tailoring (rolling a single, relatively cheap, tube)
- practicality (not excessive size and heat - I leave it always on, has a remote)
- versatility (low / high efficiency headphones, loudspeakers)

Cons:
- price (hard to justify, especially if you are a frequent buyer / seller)
- elegant but a little understated design for my taste (at this price, I would have preferred a statement design, like the flashy ViVa Solista)

20200704_090822-01.jpeg
 
Jul 4, 2020 at 4:25 AM Post #13 of 1,817
Thanks @BPED for opening this well deserved and long overdue thread!

The AIC-10 is becoming more and more popular among the ultra-high-end headphones enthusiasts, and I have yet to know somebody who has had it or listened to it thoroughly and wasn't impressed by its sound.

Of course, its price positioning was very ambitious from Riviera Labs, and this raises the bar of expectations to the rooftop, especially considering that in the price range of the AIC-10 you can find many legendary speaker amplifier models and brands, with much more well-established reputation and resale value.

I had the chance of auditioning the AIC-10 at home during my quest for the ultimate amplifier to pair with my AB-1266 headphones, a very enjoyable journey that took me little less than one year. I decided at the time to look mostly into speaker amps because I wanted to drive my LS3/5a as well, and because auditioning at home high end headphones amplifiers here in Italy is basically impossible, and I wanted to make my choice very carefully.

I have written several posts about my auditioning adventures in the Abyss thread and will not make this post even longer than what is getting to by recalling that saga, but in summary the reason why I chose the AIC-10 to pair with the Abyss is that it delivered the best traits of the very finest tube amps and solid state amps I tried in a relatively compact and practical package.

To my ears AIC-10 has bloom, body, richness, holographic presentation one normally tends to relate to tubes and grunt, scale, transparency, speed and bass / treble extension we normally find in the best SS products. The balance between this characteristics can further be adjusted to match taste, mood, and synergy with the remaining of the chain (headphones, to begin with).

Below you find a table with the ratings I have given to the amplifiers I tried over the last year or so. The light grey columns are where I listened in a setup nearly identical to mine, but only for a few hours, while the dark grey ones are shops / friends homes auditioning where the upstream chain to the amp / AB-1266 was different from mine (hence not very reliable). White columns relate to extensive listening at home. 10 does not mean 'perfect', but 'best' among the amplifiers listed, and it is specifically in the context of driving the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC.

Of course, this ranking is very much specific to my system, subjective sound and musical genres preferences, so take it for what it is.



The bottom line is that, to me, the AIC-10 can compete at or beyond its price range for driving the Abyss.

Other headphones I tried with the AIC-10 are the SR1a (which I own), the Susvara and the MySphere 3.2.

In all cases the results have been very satisfying, where:
- for the Susvara I had best results when using the speaker taps (as with the AB-1266) and a more neutral tube like my Fivre (while for the Abyss and SR1a I still like the Mullard CV491 tonal match the most);
- for the Mysphere, which I found an exquisite combination, I was using low-gain output and, again, my Fivre;
- for the SR1a the AIC-10 is not powerful enough to make this headphone full justice, while being an extremely fine tonality match and able to bring spectacular results with some specific genres.

Coming to loudspeakers, I was skeptical at the beginning because of the renowned inefficiency of my LS3/5a, but all was cleared when I tried the AIC-10 at home.
Again, the AIC-10 gives some soul and bloom to the LS3/5a by preserving their most classical virtues as the pinpoint imaging, vocal presentation and midrange purity.
SPL levels and dynamics (within the intrinsic limitations of this BBC design) are more than adequate to my room / preferences.

In summary (sorry guys for the long post), this is my pro / cons bullet list:

Pros:
- sound
- easy sound tailoring (rolling a single, relatively cheap, tube)
- practicality (not excessive size and heat - I leave it always on, has a remote)
- versatility (low / high efficiency headphones, loudspeakers)

Cons:
- price (hard to justify, especially if you are a frequent buyer / seller)
- elegant but a little understated design for my taste (at this price, I would have preferred a statement design, like the flashy ViVa Solista)

Beautifully written as always. It was your journey that started my journey to nudge my friend (who was deciding between HPA4/WA33/AIC-10) to purchase one so I can demo.
 
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Jul 4, 2020 at 8:30 AM Post #14 of 1,817
Mine did not come with instruction book. Does high low mean gain or high Impedance, low impedance ?

High gain is for headphones that are difficult to drive (high impedance - low sensitivity), low gain for the easy ones (low impedance - high sensitivity)
 
Jul 4, 2020 at 8:49 AM Post #15 of 1,817
Great post @simorag , thanks!
Careful with that little table guys or you may be getting a Riviera at your doorstep before you know it :wink: first hand experience...

I largely agree with your comparison of Dave vs Riviera, I would change half a point here or there by the bottom line is that there is a significant gap. I used the TC out off the Dave for months and I’d add that the Riviera provides a much more relaxing listening experience (Mullard being the best tube on this count). Zero fatigue, which I cannot say for the Dave.
We could round everything off with a “fun” parameter, on that one the Riviera would shoot through the roof :)

Finally regarding pros and cons, I agree except for the look. For me is a big plus to have such beast in a rather unassuming (yet classy) package. Enjoy!!
 

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