This is actually my first full sized amplifier review and I do not know what better a product to start with than the Violectric V200. It is a solid-state amplifier that is hand made in Germany made from beautiful components and offering amazing versatility. It is priced at 645 pounds and has enough power to confidently drive all the headphones I can think off and yes, that includes planar magnetic models.
The build is well, typically German with very little to fault. I really like the finish of the body; it is like a slightly rough matte and it also has these beautiful golden feet so that it stands neatly on other components (such as my DAC) and is not to close so no heating problems. The faceplate is rather simple, we have the great feeling ALPS RK27 volume pot that gives a little click with each increment and allows very accurate volume adjusting, I am someone who much prefers a stepped pot. You then have the power button that brings on a blue LED and then two ¼ inch Neutrik output jacks. Having the two output jacks can be handy but also frustrating as they both use the same volume control and I have very few headphones that need the same power so if listening with a friend, who ever has the HE-500 is listening quiet compared to who gets the HD580 or HD650.
The back panel is a bit busier and also home to some of my favourite things about the amp, in fact I want to start with my most used feature, the amazing pre gain settings. Being a big fan of hard to drive full sized headphones all the way to the most sensitive IEMs, no amp I have ever had in my possession could drive both my HE-500 and remain dead quiet when driving something as sensitive as my Lear LCM-5 Custom IEM, well the V200 can do just that and I found this not just handy but vital in enjoying it. The broad pre gain settings allow this with each channel having 4 switches, a positive and negative 6 decibels and a positive and negative 12 decibels. This means along with 0 decibels pre gain you get 4 other options with as high as 18 decibels gain and as low as -18 decibels gain (this translates into -4 decibels gain to 20 decibels gain as it is the pre gain your adjusting). This allows me to keep the amp dead quiet with whatever headphone I throw at it as well as being able to take full advantage of the ALPS volume pot to get my music to just the ideal listening volume. We have a choice of two inputs, one is an unbalanced RCA input and the other is a balanced XLR one. I have only used this with unbalanced even though I have been using it with the Rein Audio X3-DAC that does feature a balanced output. You also have the power supply socket of course; I have been using the Charleston cable company audiophile power cable with it. They do offer a small upgrade for this where you can have a 16/48kHz USB DAC added to the unit but I would not really see the point in that.
I have used this with a huge range of headphone and I have found the performance to barely ever disappoint. My best pairing as probably got to be the HiFiMAN HE-500 although the Audeze LCD-2 is no slouch with this either. With the HE-500 we get a touch of warmth added to the midrange but nothing that colours the music because we are treated some of the most details I have heard out of the HE-500. Bass depth is now endless, this shows no signs of roll off and combined with what the HE-500 is capable of we get a beautiful deep rumble. Treble is not as sharp or present as I have heard before and I certainly got more extension when pairing with the HiFiMAN EF-6 amplifier. It is still a very detailed treble and I love how smooth and unoffending it is.
Now I am going to go ahead and say this is not as neutral as solid states I have heard in the past and does lean to a slight warmth but certainly not to the level of some tube amps, the Little Dot MKVI+ for example. The Little Dot (in balanced) is one of my favourite pairings with the HE-500 but I certainly got tighter bass and more midrange detail and smoothness when listening with the V200. To get the HE-500 to sound this good it really is something special, this really brings the HE-500 to a headphone that truly compete with some of the best headphones in the world although I do find the HE-500 to upscale better than a lot of people think so I will not say this is their best, it certainly is a complete sound and properly driven and it shows off the magic the HE-500 can do, it is an amazing pairing.
My feelings with the V200 combined with the HE-500 go on to show my feelings on the overall sound of the v200 as an amplifier, tight and bottomless bass, slight warmth, beautiful detail, smooth midrange and treble and perhaps not the best treble extension in an amplifier. It also has a very quiet background that gives of no interference to the music, just what you want.
Using the V200 with my Sennheiser HD580 and I must say that although on a technical level it makes them sound superb with the best detail I have heard with them and certainly the best bass response, the smoothed down treble is less preferable to me than a brighter upper register like what you get with my Tube Amp BL-2.
Using it with three particular earphones of mine, as been perhaps my best experience with the V200 as a whole. The three earphones I am talking about are the Tralucent Audio 1plus2, Final Audio Design Piano Forte X-CC and the Rhapsodio R^2. These three are all great sounding gear, perhaps the best three things I have ever put in my ear (I have not forgot some other great sounding earphones, don’t worry) and as you may presume I use them mainly with my portable gear and get some great sound from them. However using them with the V200 along with the X3-DAC I have realized that they have an amazing upscale ability that lets them be brought to a whole new level and sound that I could not achieve while on the go. The minus 18 decibels pre gain setting allowed great use of the volume pot and a very silent background the detail levels it brought to these three earphones was really worth noting, the Piano Forte perhaps being my favourite pairing with the amp with it being a item that is not really for on the go use anyway.
At 650 pounds it is very versatile, it will drive your high impedance headphones well, your planar magnetic headphones VERY well and your IEMs will be brought to new levels if they have the upscaling potential like some of mine. It has two outputs so you can share with your friend and balanced inputs to take advantage of your DAC. I think if you want an all round desktop amplifier that can perform very well, or own a HE-500, then certainly put this on your list. I think its biggest competition is perhaps the Burson Soloist and I will be trying and reviewing that soon.
I have mentioned Item Audio before and will again here, they are the UK dealer of Violectric, Burson, Colorfly, Fostex and Audeze among others and allow people to borrow gear of theirs so they can make an impression on the stuff with their own ears and see if it is really for them, I think this is an amazing service considering there is limited places that allow you try higher end gear and these do in the comfort of your own home, which is great.