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:
and the following outputs:
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.