LinnenberG Vivace DAC

Disclaimer: the Vivace was loaned me by Linnenberg Audio, Germany. After discovering how much I loved the DAC, LinnenberG offered me to use it indefinitely for Headfonia reviews.

I’ve come a long way from the days of siphoning optical flows from friends’s CD players with a portable minidisc recorder. Today, enjoying a good digital signal is easier than it was back in 1999. Of course, today, good DACs are dime a dozen, though rarely do they cost less than 5.000 dimes. The Linnenberg Vivace can be had for about 20.000 dimes. It sports the ultra popular ES9018 DAC, and makes use of most of its tricks, including DSD @5,6 MHz. 

Here is Vivace’s product page.

Every file I’ve thrown at it, whether it’s plain ol’ iTunes, or the coax from an iBasso DX90, has played flawlessly. Getting Vivace to play nice with your Mac, or your HiFi requires no trickery. Windows users, I’m sorry, but you will need drivers. And Linnenberg have you covered.  

My personal software player of choice is Audirvana, which is easy to run, compatible with just about everything, and makes DSD playback a breeze. But you need a Mac.

Vivace is a breeze to operate. But given that it is both designed and made in Germany, that almost is a given. If there’s one thing Germans do better than anyone else, it’s the design and manufacture of mechanical objects that make sense. If there’s one thing they get wrong, it’s the design and coding of websites. Games? Somehow they get those right.

Starting with its LogoWriter-inspired impulse logo, and sharpened by its Discovery (2001: A Space Odyssey) styling, Vivace is unmistakably retro. It would go nicely in a Back to the Future movie (or in five years, in a Headfonia column). It is available in eight different colour schemes. My eyes tell me the version sitting on my desk is the sleekest of all.

While it isn’t a minimalist design, there’s no need to peak at the manual (again, unless you use Windows). Thank god. Every control, switches, and LED is naturally placed and makes perfect sense. Retro? Sure. Natural? Obvious? You betcha. Operating Vivace is as easy in the day as it is in the night. Unlike the nuforce DAC-80, and quite like a Leica M, you make the decisions. Want USB rather than COAX? Flip the switch on the left. 

Also unlike nuforce’s DAC, all inputs and fonts are immediately legible. One thing is certainly clear: Linnenberg design their audio boxes with fastidious attention paid to the end-user’s role in operation. 

That said, I have a couple of questions:

Firstly, where’s the optical input? Mr. Ivo Linnenberg gave me the following explanation:

“With this DAC, it is all about vanishing low jitter figures. Although the S/PDIF input features a multistage jitter eliminator, the optical transmission was the limiting factor. With heavy heart we decided to leave it out in favor of a second coax input.”

It makes enough sense to me from. But optimal or not, optical input is nice to have. For all its many technical missteps, optical is damn near ubiquitous.

Its well laid-out back panel sports the following inputs:

1: USB
2: Coaxial
3: Coaxial

and the following outputs:

1. RCA
2. 2x XLR

All are excellent.

The output volume of each is controlled by the slim attenuator on the front panel. That attenuator is super-smooth to operate, perfectly balanced, and extremely easy to read. But you must contort your fingers into a pincher-grip in order to give it a proper twiddle. I’d love a larger, stubbier, more elliptical knob. Linnenberg said they’d think about that. How novel is that?

Is Vivace well made?

Ridiculous-looking bicycles aside, German designs tend toward the stalwart. Spoilers for ladies of the night? Nope, not necessary. Toyota-like space age just for the hell of it? Nope. Linnenberg designs are as prudent and studied. Vivace, as a pretty spendy piece of gear, is, describes above, all, an ergonomic slant. It is also extremely solid. Its skeleton is tough and reinforced everywhere- well, almost. Where its extruded case meets its ass, Vivace flexes. And, its feet are simple stick-on affairs.

Its ins and outs are installed in excellently anchored pots. Fastening hardware sits flush in their wells. Even though you can, you shouldn’t plug and unplug inputs for the hell of it. But even if you did, Vivace can take it.

My wife loves Vivace’s extensive use of precise engraving and subsequent injection of chip-resistant paint. Feet aside, Linnenberg spared few expenses.

For sound impressions, click on through to the next page.

LinnenberG Vivace DAC
5 (100%) 2 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

19 Comments

  • Reply July 3, 2014

    George Lai

    I know the product is made in Germany but Bruce Springstein? You’re gonna get some flak from Windows users too I betcha. Not me. 

    • Reply July 3, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ll take that flak. Seriously, when I look at the hoops Windows users have to jump through just to listen to audio, I remember the 90’s. It’s not a pretty thing.

      • Reply July 4, 2014

        George Lai

        Jump out of Windows 😉

  • Reply July 5, 2014

    Sasmit

    Hi Nathan,

    Great review! How about some comparisons to the DAC-80? also, what is your reference DAC for your personal day to day use?

    • Reply July 6, 2014

      ohm image

      I will try to add a little to the review to give you a better idea of how it performs next to the DAC-80. However, the differences mainly are that Vivace has much lower distortion and a lusher base sound. It is much easier to use, and for the most part, build better.

      As for reference, I don’t have a reference per se. Until very recently, my favourite was the Benchmark DAC-1, which I owned for many years. Recently, however, I’ve begun preferring DACs with a less ‘reference’ sound. That said, for performance reference, I stick behind Benchmark.

      But the Vivace is a new favourite to listen to.

  • Reply July 5, 2014

    Vaibhav Pisal

    hi Nathan,

    dt880 pairs well with graham slee? or you prefer tubes?

    also I got impression that this dac is slightly lush sounding. am i right?

    • Reply July 6, 2014

      ohm image

      You are right. The Beyer phones I have are 600Ω, and so not heavily dependent on current. The Solo is a favourite of mine to pair with them. The Vivace, in slight contrast to its nomenclature has a rich sound. I haven’t found a pairing that acts so perfectly together.

  • Reply July 11, 2014

    Linnenberg Vivace

    […] like to hear if anyone has, here is a link to their product page and Headfonia's review: VIVACE Linnenberg Audio Vivace Review Reply With […]

  • Reply July 11, 2014

    Matt

    Hi Nathan,.
    the german price of the unit is 1.420€ exclusive VAT.

    • Reply July 11, 2014

      ohm image

      I was cryptic in my price, but essentially, 20.000 dimes works out (after conversion) to around that price. I think it is worth it. I do, however, wish it came with optical input.

      Thank you for the comment.

  • Reply July 11, 2014

    Matt

    Nathan,
    can you shed some light on the DSD playback with Vivace?
    BTW, a great review!

    • Reply July 11, 2014

      ohm image

      Matt, thanks again for contributing to this review. DSD files work flawlessly on my system: a 2012 iMac over USB. I used Audirvana and had all the auto detect settings activated.

      DSD playback and sound are both perfectly silky smooth. Well recommended. Because there are no hitches to report, I don’t have anything to write about. I hope this helps.

  • Reply July 11, 2014

    Matt

    BTW, I phoned with Ivo Linnenberg today. He told me he want to give VIVACE and MAESTRO, his headphone amp, the same appearance. Both have the same front plate and the same attenuator knob. So no change for the size of this knob is planned.

    • Reply July 12, 2014

      ohm image

      You are regular sleuth. When are you thinking of purchasing the Vivace or Maestro? Honestly, this IS where it is at for me, sound-wise.

      • Reply July 12, 2014

        Matt

        I need first the upcoming HQPlayer for OS X for converting RB to DSD128. The launch will be in August.

        • Reply July 13, 2014

          ohm image

          The LinnenberG Vivace does RB as well as it does DSD. There’s no reason to wait for an up sampling programme.

          • Reply July 13, 2014

            Matt

            Nathan,
            there are multiple reports on CA that converting RB to DSD128 or DSD256 is much superior and HQPlayer is the best for this task.

            • Reply July 15, 2014

              ohm image

              Ah, CA… now it all makes sense. Welcome.

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