Viva Solista MkII Review Keene NH
Hampton Falls, NH
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Viva Solista MkII Review
September 17, 2009 By Steve Guttenberg
The Light Fantastic
“See me, touch me, hear me!” Those would be the Solista MkII's first words, if it could talk.
The amplifier's flowing lines and voluptuous shape couldn't be from anywhere but Italy. And it is, entirely hand-crafted in Vicenza. The chassis' undulating curves and exquisitely machined knobs show this is no ordinary high-end amplifier. Listen to your favorite tunes and it becomes clear the Solista MkII was designed to preserve, above all else, the essence of the music.
Singers sounded more flesh-and-blood human with the Viva Solista MkII hooked up to my speakers. Frank Sinatra was in the house! This amplifier is almost magical in the way it plays tunes. Music, especially acoustic music, never sounded this natural before; it moved like the real thing. It breathes!
Viva's founder Amedeo Schembri is something of a perfectionist; he's an engineer who flat-out refuses to compromise his designs. For example, instead of using printed circuit boards, the Solista MkII's innards are entirely hand-wired and soldered. Schembri makes the effort because he thinks wired amplifiers sound better than ones with printed circuit boards.
Viva amplifiers' transformers are all designed by Schembri and custom built by a local supplier. Again, that obsessive level of design is rare, even for most of today's high-end vacuum tube electronics manufacturers. Schembri's custom transformers are absolutely crucial to the Solista MkII's sound because the music signal is routed through the transformer.
Off-the-shelf transformers and printed circuit boards would dramatically improve profit margins, but at the cost of sound quality. Schembri is a good listener—he wouldn't build amps any other way.
Before founding Viva in 1996, Schembri designed and built gear for recording studios and concert sound systems. In those days he designed solid-state electronics, but he now works exclusively with vacuum tubes. He knows what solid-state can do, but it can't approach the musicality of tube designs.
You can't miss the Solista MkII's tubes as they stand proud in the chassis' "V" notch; the tubes near the front are unusually large (approximately 6.25 inches high). Upon powering up the amplifier, the front tube quartet lights in spectacular fashion, much brighter than the soft orange glow of smaller power tubes you see in more common tube designs.
The Solista MkII's four smaller rear tubes are literally overshadowed by the power and rectifier tubes' brilliant white light. The all-aluminum chassis helps dissipate some of the tubes' heat. Even so, the amplifier should be placed out of reach of small children.
The rear panel hosts four pairs of stereo RCA inputs, plus a "Direct" that bypasses the volume control and input selector. If you have a turntable you'll need to buy a separate phono preamplifier to play records over the Solista MkII. (Viva offers a matching phono preamp). The integrated am...