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.
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)
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