Viva Egoista Amplifier “A Majestic Masterpiece”: Part II
Train’s opening track, ‘This Will Be My Year”, aptly opens with the lyric, “maybe this will be my year” and I can’t help but think, as I listen to the Egoista – maybe this will be MY year. Maybe this is the last headphone amplifier I’ll ever want. Maybe this is the top of the mountain.
Listening to this song with the Viva Egoista was profound. The Viva prototype sounded liquid and the lead vocal was centered in the front of the soundstage, clearly defined and surrounded by the band in a defined soundstage. The drums coming from the rear of the stage were distinctive. The HD800 was performing better that I had heard it with any other amplifier used in my system. The HD800, along with the Nordost Heimdall cable, had no brightness to the sonic signature. The midrange is where most of the music lies and was realistically reproduced on the Viva here. Minute details that were in the recording were easy to pick out. The Egoista was unmasking these small nuances and digging deeper into the recording than I have yet experienced.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” open with cymbals and it is an excellent test for treble extension. The cymbals were never splashy and had full extension with terrific shimmer. And in the rear of the soundstage with air and separation you could hear the thunderous whacks of the mighty Tympani. The performer was striking the skins with uncanny realism. The sound was full and this recording had tremendous dynamic range. The Egoista and HD800 delivered a vivid and lively presentation. The conclusion of the track was all there. The speed of the amplifier became apparent and the HD800 never fell short in showcasing the Minnesota Orchestra. The system had all the speed that is required to make this recording believable. The tonality of the instruments was close to what you would hear live. The space of the recording venue was all there.
The Egoista reproduces air and space better than any amplifier that has graced my listening room. The Viva does not have any “electronic” sound. The Minnesota Orchestra playing “Appalachian Spring” was romantic and warm. The sound was layered, with each individual section apparent and vividly present. The sound coming from the system was majestic. The pinpoint focusing and layering of the orchestra was special and it felt like I was at the session in the hall with the performers. The Viva Egoista strives to recreate the live performance and listening to this piece of music, I admit that it achieved the designers’ goal. The music kept flowing and the performers were all “alive” in my mind, as if I was at the actual performance.
The texture of the music is important in reproducing or giving the illusion of a live performance. Instrument tonality also has to be correct to recreate the performance. Many amplifiers and transducers fail in allowing the listener to be engaged with the music. And the Egoista delivers the tonality of the instruments with a realistic sound not found in many other amplifiers.
Many companies make a prototype amplifier to sound exceptional when given out to a reviewer or listener. And the Egoista prototype was a majestic beast (in a good way). So much so that I when I first heard the amplifier I knew I would want to use it as my tube reference amplifier. So I called Dan Muzquiz (the dealer) and decided that I wanted to own one. Together Dan and Bob Clarke the US distributor made my dream a reality. I purchased one and Viva built the Egoista (there is no stock model of the Egoista).
The finish of the chassis is personally selected, so I decided that I wanted to go with the black faceplate and Lamborghini yellow paint. The model was then produced and manufactured to my specifications. Upon arrival of the Egoista, I saw that the paint finish was brighter than the mustard yellow of the prototype. It was more vivid and a welcome change. There were also some minor differences in the rear of the amplifier that were different than the prototype.
Amedeo had decided to add a tuning pot to allow tuning of the 845 tubes from the outside (for specific headphones). Instead of having to open up the chassis to make those adjustments, it is now easier with simply tuning screws on the back. There are instructions included with how to make the adjustments if you need to fine-tune the sound. The factory sets the settings and no adjustments were necessary to get the Egoista up and running.
The production model was not burned in completely and the hours that were put on the amplifier at the factory were to make sure everything was working properly before making the long journey from Italy to my home on New Jersey. The unboxing was easier than the prototype and the unit was well packed. FedEx was careful with this box as I seen no apparent signs on the carton of it being abused (as I have seen on other products from different shipping companies). Once removed, the amplifier was placed in the same spot the prototype had resided in my system.
Viva said that there would be differences in sound up to about 200 hours. The sound out of the box was excellent but not as “open sounding” as the prototype. The sound after about 50 hours started to open up and now the Viva sounds even better than the prototype it replaced (perhaps because it is mine). The sound differences I hear mostly concern transparency and detail retrieval.
Billie Holiday’s, Songs for a Distingue Lovers, is in my opinion, her finest work. Billie vocals were still vivid and not worn down from her addictions as it had gotten in later recordings. Billie’s storytelling was always special and the musicians on this recording were all stellar (as they always were in a Norman Granz recording). “Day in and Day Out” is a jazz standard that has been performed by many. Listening to Billie do it is unlike any other performance I have ever heard. Her magical vocal and exceptional story telling charm is indeed very unique and very special. The music coming from the band was spectacular, with air and separation rarely heard in recordings.
On “Foggy Day”, I was transported with Billy and felt the connection to the music, but more important it was if I was connected to her. It was as if she was in my listening room. The feeling was spooky because it felt so real. The involvement of the Egoista in delivering her performance was so good it made me listen deeper into the music. Hearing the muted trumpet solo in the song and then the sax player coming in for his individual solo had both separation and air around the instruments. When I closed my eyes I could visualize the sax and performer clearly.
The thing I love most about tube amplifiers is that more often than not they out perform solid-state amplifiers with soundstage. The 845 tubes used in this amplifier are maybe the best triodes I have experienced to date, in that they can recreate the soundstage with exceptional front to back depth. The Egoista recreates air and space better than any other tube amplifier I have experienced. The exceptional rendering of tonality is as good as I have heard in any other product.
The performance on the Holliday album for me was as good as I have heard it in recreating the actual performance. The midrange was so good that I never felt there was anything missing. Billie had that magical quality that would grab hold of a listener and just consume you with her performance. She was a very special recording artist and one of my all time favorites. Breathtaking is defined in the dictionary as “astonishing or as taking one’s breath away”. With the Egoista and the Billie Holliday performance it was more than astonishing. I never felt cheated or wanting for anything more in the performance. The Egoista just got out of the way and let Billie’s voice come trough as if she was in front of me.
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” on the Audeze LCD X (and LCD XC) delivers huge bass. The Egoista is not an amp that is bass shy. The Viva has terrific extension and the dynamics are easily heard in this recording. The music on this album reminds me of the 80’s dance scene in the NY City dance clubs I frequented in days gone by.
“Lose Yourself to Dance” make me feel like I did when I went to the clubs. It transports you to the venue and you want to get up and dance. The 80’s were filled with musical excitement and the clubs were always jammed with people partying and dancing. The performance of the Egoista with this album will take you back to that time in this retro yet modern performance.
The Viva Egoista delivers no matter what headphone you use with it. The amplifier has power on tap to deliver a dynamic and very realistic performance. The Egoista never runs out of steam or power on any recording. If you need the reserve for large-scale recording the Egoista can deliver a full-scale symphony recording with precise and very fast dynamics. There is nothing sluggish or syrupy in the performance of this amplifier. The amplifier will play soft and sensual recordings from Tierney Sutton to the more fun and danceable Daft Punk. The magnificent Minnesota Orchestra delivering Copland takes you to the venue. In a word, the Egoista is versatile. The Alpha Dogs love power and the Egoista is effortless in delivering and getting the most out of the headphone.
The Egoista is a detail monster as well. I continuously hear more in the recording than with any other amplifier or system I have had in my listening room before. The Egoista will extract everything that was recorded. The subtle differences from recording to recording are all delivered in different performances. The Egoista will allow you to hear cable changes and equipment changes easily.
Using the Egoista let me hear the increased transparency of the Wywires Platinum interconnect over Nordost Blue Heaven. I could hear subtle differences. The most noticeable for me was that the platinum allowed for more inner detail to become more vivid in the soundstage. The price difference in cables is substantial, so I expected to hear differences between the two cables.
Switching to the Chord Hugo from the Oppo BDP 105 also presented easily noticeable differences. The ESS sabre DAC of the BDP105 is brighter in sound and transparent while the Hugo is more open. The Hugo digs deeper into the recording presenting more information and thus delivers a bigger performance. Both are excellent performers and the Egoista let me hear differences in everything that was passed through it (while some differences were subtle, they were still noticeable and easily identified). Many amplifiers mask details and leave some information out.
Many listeners and readers may still wonder where the Egoista falls short. The musical performance is hard to criticize. The amplifier delivers it all. The treble is the best extension I have ever heard. The inner detail is so good that you can also hear a drum cymbal and high hat spacing with air around it and the distance of the space between the high hats. Cymbals sound as if you are in a live concert hall. The dynamics and bass extension is also first rate. The bass goes deep and hits as hard as I have heard in any amplifier. The Egoista does this all with balanced presentation.
The amplifier never calls attention to itself except in one area: The Egoista runs extremely hot. The 845 tubes are huge and it throws off lots of heat. The sides of the amplifier are hot to the touch as are the headphone jacks and the switch, but never hot enough that it would cause the user to get burned. And the footprint is huge. The 65lb beast needs a lot of space and room to breath. You definitely need to shut it down while not being used for long periods of time.
The only other amp I had in house was the Violectric solid state V281 that was equipped with a Texas instrument 24-192 digital to analog converter. The retail of the stock balanced design is $1889. And the extras (remote) took this amp to almost $2400. The amplifier is basically a balanced amplifier capable of delivering over 4 watts into 50 ohm loads and is priced substantially less than the Egoista. The V281 (review to come) does not give up much ground, but the differences were noticeable and sometimes not subtle comparing it to the much more expensive Egoista. The Egoista stepped up the soundstage width and depth and also had more body and was better with imaging. The V281 is an outstanding amplifier and priced much less and did not embarrass itself against the much higher priced Viva Egoista.
Yet the Egoista allowed me to hear the differences as it had done with the cables. The more I looked at what the Egoista was capable of doing as a review tool the more it impressed me. The difference in switching from headphone to headphone was always easily noticeable. Little differences in system changing to major sound differences in the sources – the Egoista always stepped up and delivered.
Viva products are hand built, one-at-a-time in Italy. The fit and finish of the product is astonishing. The custom painted chassis and quality of the parts used to make the Egoista are on display. The Egoista is a statement product. The two brothers – Amedeo and Giamperto Schembri – are committed to musical perfection. Amedeo has a reputation for never being satisfied with his products. He is relentless in his pursuit of being able to manufacture a product that recreates a live performance and he continues to push the boundaries.
Attention to detail is clearly evident in the performance of the Egoista. The inner detail is the best I have experienced from any amplifier. The sound of chimes or the soft tap of a vibraphone to a concert violinist moving their bow across the instrument is all well defined in a lifelike manner. The bass is clearly some of the very best quality in tube amplification available.
Dynamics and speed are also major strengths of the Egoista. Vocal recordings are lifelike and a treat to listen to. No matter what headphone that I used, the Egoista always performed brought the best out of them. The Egoista has qualities rarely found in most products and is near perfect (WOW, I finally said it).
As I said before, the shortcomings from the Egoista are mostly superficial. It weights a hefty 65 pounds and requires it’s own space and the amplifier runs hot. Users with small children will want to make sure that the amplifier is not within reach because the tubes are exposed. Other than those minor quibbles (not an issue for me), this is the best amplifier for headphones I have heard. The amplifier leaves me wanting for nothing. Thankfully, the Egoista uses all current production tubes. Amedeo advises against tube rolling as this amplifier is voiced specifically for the tubes he selected. This is a welcome relief. The cost to re-tube this amplifier would cost less that using exotic tubes or NOS RCA 845 tubes. The total for replacing tubes (if you ever need to do it) should be under $350 total.
That early visit to Newport Beach and the first listen to the Egoista prototype got me excited about this amplifier. The months spent with both the prototype and the current production model have made me realize how gifted the design truly is. The Egoista leaves the listener never wanting. It allows you to concentrate and listen to the performance. The music comes to life better than any other product I have experienced and it is now my current reference amplifier.
If you ever have a chance to listen to this magnificent amplifier, I urge you to take the opportunity and perhaps you will be as impressed as I am. Built to last a lifetime and provide years of musical enjoyment, the Egoista is an incredibly special product that merits your consideration. Of course, the Egoista’s performance does not come cheap at $10K, but musical performance like this is truly rare. The Egoista never fails to keep me smiling. The Egoista makes me feel like I have reached the top, that this is the year, my year, and this may be the last headphone amp I’ll ever desire.
Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.