AQ’s German corresponded reports on his “unforgettable” love from Italy.
My long encounter with the Viva Audio Egoista 2A3 headphone amp, Christian Bayer.
A live performance is our only referenceAmedeo Schembri
Do you remember when you met the love of your life for the first time? Looked into her eyes and felt butterflies all over your body? It may not be exactly the same with the stunning products from Viva Audio, but in audio terms, it could come really close.
Viva Audio is located in Vicenza, Italy, which itself is a hidden treasure in a region where many famous audio companies are rooted: Sonus Faber, Mastersound or Diapason to name a few. Viva is the brainchild of Amedeo Schembri and was founded in 1996 together with his brother Giampietro, who is responsible for business development and marketing. They manufacture amplifiers, a DAC and very interesting loudspeakers. One could say, there are basically two ways of engineering an audio device: the classical technical way and the one based on a musical vision. In a good product both come together. But still the direction and weighting is interesting. Amedeos direction is clear. When he founded Viva in his mid-20s he had built electronics in his teens and started to supply amplifiers to local recording studios where he worked and trained his ear to the the sound of real, non-amplified instruments. This experience was central for his designs and has been ever since, hence their claim: “A live performance is our only reference.“ He also felt, he did not want to be manipulated by academic dogmas and decided against the traditional audio engineering studies. He learned his trade by doing, but invites constant input from engineers, especially his team member Marco Peverati, who also is a professionally trained musician. With constant feedback from close friends, family and customers Amedeo always reserves the final say on the fine tuning of the products. He says: “Like when you produce good wine, whiskey or food – in the end it’s the personal touch, that counts.“ You can talk to Amedeo about many aspects of his designs but he will not reveal most of his particular technical decisions, which may now seem more understandable, given his personal approach.
So if you think about buying a Viva Audio product, you better take a closer look at the maker. If you like his ideas, there is a good chance you will also like his products.
I fell in love the first time I saw a Viva Audio amplifier at an audio show six or seven years ago. And yes, it was the Egoista 2A3 headphone amp – in orange. Since then the only review I had the chance to write was that of their integrated Solista amplifier. Amedeo liked my work so much, that he invited me to visit him, his factory and his listening room. What I did of course, but that´s another story. But I couldn’t help and mention that orange Egoista over and over again. So about a year later brother Giampietro dropped by with a sample of exactly that amp, that I have enjoyed ever since. So it was long overdue to write at least a little bit about it.
Egoista – has there ever been a more apt name for a headphone amp? To be fair, it actually has two inputs for a couple of headphones, so you can share your music with whoever you want. So it could also be called “Duetto“. Joking aside, the Egoista has a few idiosyncrasies. It only accepts 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) headphone plugs, no mini XLR. And the switch on the front needs a bit of an explanation: the middle position is “off“, down activates the pre-heating of the tubes and up means “on“. The Egoista can be ordered either with the mighty 845 or with the much more sane 2A3 and still, no one would think this is only a headphone amplifier. The 2A3 is a classic power triode which is good for 3-4 watts in single ended mode. It´s driven by a smaller power triode, the Russian 6C45Pi which is an equivalent of the legendary Western Electric 437. The transformers are made in house, any further details like core material or wire thicknesses remain hidden. Inside the amps you will find a unique mix of classical soldering techniques, tuned and damped parts. But it is not a part per se that counts, it’s all in the mix which is tuned by ear in painstakingly long processes: where the parts sit, how thick the materials are etc.
the Egoista always completely draws you into the music. It’s a stunning product that enables you to listen closer and more intimate to your music
The iconic design of the Viva amps was developed together with the architect Joelle De Jaegher. Audio may be a man´s world, but was it ever truer to say, it would be nothing without a woman or a girl? The Schembris insist their amps are no fetish – but excuse me, we don´t have to take that too seriously. Maybe this is the Italian way of communicating things which reminds me of a Marcello Mastroianni quote. The famous actor once said with a wink:“How can you expect straightforwardness from a woman when her essence is the curve?“ The chassis construction relies on a pre-treated aluminium frame with lacquers from the automative industry. They were first chosen for aesthetic reasons, but then Amedeo realized it actually sounded really good – but only with the right amount of color and the way it was applied. This shows the uniqueness of Viva´s concept: they are completely open for any idea and influence that can help because finally they can always rely on their sonic judgment.
But how does the Egoista actually sound? From the many headphones I used with the Egoista two stood out: The Focal Clear and the Grado GH2 limited edition with its Cocobolo Body. Neutrality and monitoring qualities versus flesh, guts and bones. If you ask me, if it works with your favorite headphones? I would answer: you have to try. On paper it should work with most headphones available, but specs only tell half the truth. Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention, that the Egoista loves any HiFiMAN headphones I tried with it. You may be surprised by the sheer energy and presence the Egoista delivers: it brings music really alive. Wether it was the spontaneity of Shelly Mannes´ West-Coast-Jazz extravaganzas, the shattered worlds of Mark Hollis or the breathtaking intimacy of legendary singer Andy Beys voice at his piano with his rendition of Nick Drakes River man – the Egoista always completely draws you into the music. It’s a stunning product that enables you to listen closer and more intimate to your music and that is due to the vision of a man, transcending stereotypes. I am quite confident that you will not forget your first encounter with the Viva Egoista. Mine has come to an end, but yours can last.
Thank you to IBEX AUDIO Germany for the collaboration on the report.