VIOLECTRIC V281: A Masterpiece

Disclaimer: Fried sent us the Violectric V281 for the purpose of this review. I was supposed to send it back… I would advise reading our earlier Violectric reviews first as some of the basics, like the gain settings, have been skipped.

box HFN Lieven round kader

 

Violectric. Again?

Long time Headfonia readers know we’re a bit of Violectric/LakePeople fans here. I myself have reviewed the V100, V200 and V800. Mike compared them against the Burson Conductor and Dave checked out the G109S. We loved them all. Violectric’s popularity has only increased in the last few years and it showed at their boot at Canjam Europe as their demo units were always hard solicited.

I first reviewed a Violectric unit back in November 2011, the V100 was so good I immediately bought it from Fried, Vio’s CEO. One and a half year later I reviewed its bigger brother the V200 and surely enough, I bought the unit. I can’t remember who I sold the V100 to but I’m convinced someone is still enjoying the hell out of it. We are now January 2015, 4 months after Canjam and the V281 hasn’t left me yet. I really should apologize to Fried for this way overdue review but what I really want to say is that I, again, have bought the review sample. Sorry for spoiling it to you already but it simply performs so well with my favorite headphones, I just couldn’t send it back to Germany. After this review I will be putting up my beloved V200 for sale so that someone else can give it the love it deserves.

The Mighty V281

The V281 with the infinity sign in the logo, is available in a couple of versions. The version I have here is the black one with silver feet and a motor Remote Control. Like with all Violectric amps you could integrate a DAC inside the amp but my version does not have that. The V281 is also available in silver and you can also choose black or gold feet. I have to admit I haven’t even unpacked the remote control as the amp is always sitting right behind or next to me when listening. I however can see where this would come in handy, especially because the V281 can also be used as a pre amp in a speaker system in example. Build quality, as usual, is superb. These things are tanks!

Going over Violectric’s “new” website we can read this: “The HPA V281 was developed with the target to enable ultimate transmission quality for low- , medium- and high-impedance headphones. Due to its specific, variable, low-noise and low-distortion circuit design especially optimized for dynamic headphones, the HPA V281 fulfills even most sophisticated demands. HPA V281 is one of the few headphones amps made in Germany offering a balanced headphone output!! Furthermore HPA V281 offers selectable inputs and an output management”.

The funny thing is that a lot of people, like me, buy Violectric amps for their excellent synergy with orthodynamic headphones. The dynamic HD650 does sound pretty good on it though, and you all know I always insist to use an OTL tube amp with those. A friend of mine really doesn’t like the HD650 and Violectric combo, but I think his issue is with the HD650 more. I told Fried, and promised myself, I wouldn’t make this review too technical but if you go over the list of specs on the site, you will understand this is not just another amplifier. (Like the large36.000 uF filtering capacitors in the power supply)

Features Anyone?

The V281 features balanced (XLR) and unbalanced inputs (RCA) but also balanced (XLR) and unbalanced outputs. Like with the V100 and V200 the gain switches are on the back but I haven’t felt the need to add or decrease gain just yet. I’ve always found the V281 to deliver more than enough power and the ALPS RK27 volume dial has more than enough margin to play with.

On the front you will find the input selectors, balance control (never used), volume dial, two silver plated SE headphone outs and one balanced gold plated 4-pin XLR output. The V281 actually uses four amplifiers to get the true balanced headphone output. So basically the V281 incorporates four times the famous 8-transistor (per channel) amps of the V200 to get that smooth and relaxed sound stage and true balanced headphone out. I’ll be telling all about the sound part in a bit but I have to say it’s especially this balanced output that makes this V281 so special.

The Mighty V281 looks like a beast. Is it beautiful? To me, not really. With its 170 x 112 x 320 mm (B x H x D) you can’t really call the V281 elegantly designed. On the other hand it has been sitting in my living room for quite a while now and neither my uninterested cat or my lovely girlfriend (or is it the other way round?) have complained about it sitting there where everyone can see it. And see it you can, it doesn’t hide as well as the V100 and V200 did. But sound before looks, right?

The Important Part

The V281 is quite powerful and in balanced mode delivers 2.8w/channel @32Ohm and even 5.6w/channel at 100Ohm. I have especially used the V281 as a dedicate headphone amp for this review (with all kind of DACS). I do plan on using it as a pre-amp for some of my tube amps once I move it up to my office and start on the Beyerdynamic A2 review (also a preamp).

The big distinction to make while talking about the V281’s sound is which output was used. Yes there is quite a difference between the balanced and the single ended output and for almost all my headphones I prefer the balanced output. Both have their advantages however. Headphones used for testing were the Audeze LCD-2, Audeze LCD-XC, Hifiman HE-400i, Hifiman HE-560, Hifiman HE-500, Sennheiser HD650, Beyerdynamic T90 and my whole collection of custom IEMs. Cables used were the stock Audeze balanced and SE cable together with Forza Audio and Charleston balanced and SE cables for the Hifiman and Audeze units. All the other used either the original cables, Effect Audio cables or Linum cables.

Single Ended Out

When I upgraded from the V100 to the V200 there was a significant change in sound. With the upgrade to the V281 there was and there wasn’t. What I mean is that if you only need a headphone amp, you already own a V200 and you won’t be using the Balanced Out: you might just be as happy with the V200. On the other hand, the V220 does have its advantages over the V200: Remote Control, switchable inputs and separately to active line – and headphone outputs. Especially these features make the amp attractive for users who want to have an amp with a sophisticated input-output architecture for line signals. It´s a very compact solution for those who want to listen to premium unbalanced headphones (AKG K812) and control their set of amp ->speakers or active speakers.

When I asked Fried which unit he wanted me to review he said: “the V281 of course, the balanced one is the one to hear”. After having listened to it for a couple of months I can only say he was right, the balanced output is sublime.

Sound is on the next page, after the click

VIOLECTRIC V281: A Masterpiece
3.7 (74.43%) 140 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

25 Comments

  • Reply February 10, 2015

    Marc

    Hi Lieven,

    Is balanced input a necessity in reaping the benefits of a balanced output? Also, how are the pairings with the Alpha Dog, Fidelio L2, and Alpha Prime (if you’ve got them) in your preferred setting (balanced or unbalanced)? Great review and the V281 really seems to be a great end-all headphone amplifier,

    Marc

    • Reply February 10, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Hi Marc, I have to say I couldn’t really hear much if any difference between the XLR and RCA input. From my experience the balanced input isn’t a necessity, but if can go fully balanced, why not.

      I haven’t tried it with the L2 because it doesn’t really need amplification. However, one of the things I have with the L2 is that I’d like it o have more bass, I think it would perform better with the SE out of the V200 or V281. I don’t have the prime or AD with me but the V281 is great for all the Hifiman and Audeze orthos I tried with it, I’m convinced it would be great too for the Fostex mods.

      And Thanks!

  • Reply February 10, 2015

    Nickjan Glas

    great review again. will listen to it next September.

  • Reply February 11, 2015

    Gabriel Ross

    L. Because it is in the Violectric line up, would the G103-S [400USD] be a no-brainer; or would the Cloud Nine be a safer bet? I only trust your reviews for point of reference. My DAC is an A4. Long time fan,Thanks always.

    • Reply February 11, 2015

      ohm image

      Gabriel, unfortunately, Lieven doesn’t have the Cloud Nine, and I don’t have the Violetric. What is it you are really keen on? I can weigh in as best I can.

    • Reply February 11, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you Gabriel. Like Nathan says, I unfortunately don’t have the Cloud Nine

    • Reply February 12, 2015

      Martinpr

      The Lake People G109-S would be a good bet with L2. I’m using the L1 with a Violectric V100 and enjoying it a lot, but on my Hifiman HE-500 the V100 does restrict the sound stage somewhat.

  • Reply February 11, 2015

    johthor

    Another stirling review Lieven and much appreciated. As I am not likely to recable a lot of my HPs for balanced operation I will probably be buying the V200. In fact if you would be willing to ship your V200 to Canada I would purchase it (at a fair price) immediately. My email johthor2000@yahoo.com

  • Reply February 12, 2015

    Gabriel Ross

    Nathan, Thanks for the response back. The Cloud Nine is the amp. I think will be a good match for my needs. I have L2’s and yes, they need a little kick in the bass.

  • Reply February 13, 2015

    damien

    Dear Lieven. If you have trouble selling the V-200 (improbable) and don’t have problems shipping the Violectric (Netherland). I’m interested in your HPA V-200! A good match for my V90 😉

    • Reply February 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Hi Damien,

      it’s as good as sold to someone in Canada. However if the deal gets cancelled, you’ll be the first on the list

      Thanks!

  • Reply December 3, 2016

    Chuck

    Excellent review! I have been following this review and some others about the V281 with lots of interest because of all the praise.

    Alot of TOTL headphones tend to sound bright. Well, I know my T1 and HD800 are definitely that way. The warmth, powerful presentation, and dynamics mentioned in the review are all things that I like. Unfortunately, I have no way to demo this in Canada.

    Is this amp still great in 2016, or would you recommend something else in this price range?
    Also, how would this compare to other flagship amps? (both solid state and tube).

    Thanks!

    • Reply December 3, 2016

      Lieven

      Thanks! It still is very great, especially the balanced output.

  • Reply December 29, 2016

    pf

    Dear L,
    How does the 281 performs as a pre amplifier ? Would you suggest it as as a pre also?

  • Reply December 29, 2016

    Lieven

    I’ve never used it as a pre amp myself but you perfectly could. I personally think it’s a bit “too good” to serve as pre amp, there might be cheaper options from Violectric or LakePeople for that such as the V100/V200 or the 1 Series.

  • Reply January 2, 2017

    Michel I

    Thanks again, Lieven, for all your nice reviews.

    You told me that you like very much the Woo Audio WA22. Wich one has your preference, this Violectric or the WA22?

    • Reply January 2, 2017

      Lieven

      That’s tough. The Vio is solid state and the woo is Tubes. For personal listening I would go for the Woo with the best tubes and the Vio for critical listening and reviewing. It also depends on the headphones used as they most likely will sound different on both of these amps.

      • Reply January 3, 2017

        Michel I

        Headphones: Senn HD800 (not S) and 650, Focal Elear, Pioneer SE-Master1, Hifiman HE-560. Mostly classical music. 60 years old, losing some “treble”. What is your advice?

  • Reply January 3, 2017

    Lieven

    For pure musical enjoyment with those series of great headphones, I’d get myself the WA22 with the best possible tube set

  • Reply January 13, 2017

    Alex

    Hi! Can’t choose the Dac:
    Yulong DA8 II
    MyST’s 1704 DAC
    WOO AUDIO WA8 ECLIPSE
    VIOLECTRIC V281
    I would be grateful!
    My equipment: PC,Grado 325e, Adam A3x

    • Reply January 15, 2017

      Lieven

      The WA8 dac isn’t the very best but it’s good. The V281 isn’t a dac and the other 2 I haven’t heard of

  • Reply March 26, 2017

    Arnas

    Hi Lieven, did you compare it with v280? For me preamp or any other useless stuff is not needed, just amp performance. Can i expect same sound performance from v280 balanced output like v281? Big thanks.

  • Reply March 27, 2017

    Jeffrey L

    Lieven-I bought the ALO CDM to pair with Ether Flows based on your review-which was spot on. I am thinking hard about Schiit Yggy + V281 + Wywires platinum (balanced-which I have) to my Ether Flows for my office/desktop setup. Love tubes in my big system (Shindo monoblocks + preamp) but also have Classe SS in another room and if its good SS, I’m ok with it. Your comments (and others) lead me to think the V281 will be a great addition-your thoughts would be much appreciated….

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