When I unboxed Vinnie Rossi’s new L2i Signature Edition integrated amplifier-DAC, two things stood out: 1) It’s good-looking and extremely well built. 2) I didn’t see how it could be worth $22,490 (as reviewed, with optional DAC module; all prices USD). It wasn’t until I’d spoken with founder-owner-designer Vinnie Rossi himself that I began to appreciate what I’d been sent. (See my profile of Rossi and his company.)
“If you’re into specs, pass on me”
Vinnie Rossi makes only four products: the L2 Signature preamplifier ($16,995), the L2 Signature monoblock ($15,995/pair), and the L2 ($13,995) and L2i Signature Edition ($18,995) integrated amplifiers. The L2i-SE weighs 50 pounds. Its case is made of CNC-machined aluminum and measures 17.25ʺW x 8.75ʺH x 14.5ʺD, that height without its two big Electro-Harmonix 300B Gold direct-heated triode (DHT) tubes installed. The L2i-SE is affixed to an isolation base supported by stainless-steel Stillpoints feet. My review sample was finished in anodized silver (black is available)—it’s attractive, and the fit and finish are superb, with fanatical attention to tolerances and detail that rival what you’d find coming out of Switzerland. The large, machined Source and Volume knobs, which rotate on ball bearings, are perhaps the most satisfying to use that I’ve found in my nine years of reviewing hi-fi gear, with a precise-sounding snick-snick courtesy of a spring-loaded glass-bead mechanism, and not the Pickering Electronics relays, which are actually silent.
The L2i-SE’s two curvaceous EH300B tubes are big and attractive, with sockets that are set in the amp’s top panel. Once the tubes are inserted in their sockets, a cylindrical mesh grille is slid down around each to protect the tube from fingers, and vice versa, and to shield it from soundwaves produced by the loudspeakers, which vibrate the tubes and can be fed back through the amp as microphonic noise. I preferred the L2i-SE’s looks without the tube grilles, and did most of my listening that way.
The L2i-SE’s remote-control handset, crafted from solid aluminum, could double as a deadly weapon: you could do serious damage to someone with this blunt object. It’s an excellent remote—it feels solid and weighty in the hand. It’s clear that Vinnie Rossi has invested serious time and effort into not only materials and build quality, but the tactility of his creations. The L2i-SE looks and feels special—that’s not always guaranteed, even when you’re paying five figures.
Before I installed the EH300B tubes, I peered inside the L2i-SE. I was fascinated with what I saw. The bright-red circuit boards were pretty simple—obviously high quality—but spartan in terms of the number of components soldered to them. Vinnie Rossi’s recipe for the L2i-SE was simple: cram an L2 Signature preamp and two L2 Signature monoblocks into a single chassis. That gets the buyer a dual-mono, class-AB power-amp section that has but a single pair of MOSFET output devices. The upside of so simple a circuit is that parts matching can be done with extreme care, to minimize noise and distortion. The downside is that the L2i-SE is not the most powerful amplifier, generating 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 170Wpc into 4 ohms. However, Vinnie Rossi told me that these figures are conservative, and that the L2i-SE is also stable into 2 ohms. The power and preamp sections each have their own toroidal transformer. This simple, short-signal-path circuit provides an exceptionally wide frequency response of 0.5Hz-150kHz, ±1dB; an output impedance of 0.1 ohm; and total harmonic distortion and noise (THD+N) of <0.5% (no frequency or output power specified) with the tubed line stage enabled, and <0.1% when DHT Bypass Mode is enabled.
Which leads me neatly into the most fascinating part of the L2i-SE: its triode-based tube input stage. Unlike the standard L2, which uses less expensive 6SN7 tubes, the SE uses exotic EH300B DHTs. A toggle switch on the rear panel lets the user change the filament voltage from the default 5V to 2.5V or 4V, so that tube rollers can try a wide range of tubes other than the pricey EH300B. The class-A, zero-feedback implementation uses Belleson Super Regulators—Belleson’s associated patent makes for interesting reading, by the way. As you’ll read below, the use of Belleson’s devices differentiates Rossi’s designs from anything else I’ve encountered.
The really interesting bit, however, is found right next to each EH300B tube’s Yamamoto Teflon socket: a toggle switch. When these are switched leftward—as shipped from Rossi’s Massachusetts shop—the preamp stage runs through the dimly glowing EH300Bs. Flip the toggles to the right and the EH300Bs are bypassed, the preamp then running in solid-state mode via a class-A JFET stage. The former route provides 32dB of voltage gain, the latter 24dB. This is very cool (see below). On the L2i-SE’s rear panel are one pair of balanced (XLR) and two pairs of unbalanced (RCA) inputs, and one pair each of balanced and unbalanced outputs.
Like the original L2 integrated and L2 Signature preamp, the L2i-SE can be ordered with Rossi’s phono stage and/or DAC modules ($3495 each). The phono stage, designed in collaboration with Brian Lowe of Belleson, has one moving-magnet and two moving-coil inputs and, via buttons on the remote control, adjustable cartridge loading (10-1000 ohms). The low-output-impedance (<100 ohms) phono stage includes four gain stages, and is DC-coupled from input to output.
My review sample lacked the optional phono stage but came with Rossi’s DAC module installed. This board includes one of AKM’s flagship AK4497 DAC chips per channel, which can accept up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and up to DSD512. The class-A analog output stage uses discrete JFETs instead of op-amps. More Belleson voltage regulators appear on the DAC board’s digital and analog sides. Interestingly, the standard filter, F2, is non-oversampling, while F1 is minimum-phase and oversampled. The digital inputs are limited to USB, BNC (RCA adapter included), and TosLink—no wireless or streaming connections.
The L2i-SE has phase and balance controls, as well as a red LED display that can indicate the volume level or the sample rate (when the DAC module is installed), or be darkened entirely. Vinnie Rossi designs all his electronics from the ground up, and personally performs the final QA check on every unit before it’s shipped. Questions? It’ll be he who answers your e-mail. And should something go awry, all Vinnie Rossi gear is supported by a ten-year warranty—unheard of for products made by low-volume boutique manufacturers. He also emphasizes the importance of quickly repairing and returning gear sent in for repair, usually within a week—refreshing. You pay a lot for the pleasure of owning something made by Vinnie Rossi, and he clearly feels that investment should also buy the confidence of knowing it will be supported over the long haul.
Setup was straightforward. I hooked up the Vinnie Rossi L2i Signature Edition to my Intel NUC music server via the USB port on the former’s optional DAC board. My server runs Roon, Tidal HiFi, and Qobuz Studio Premier. I also briefly ran Mola Mola’s Tambaqui DAC into the L2i-SE’s balanced inputs to confirm that they worked, but did most of my listening through the L2i-SE’s DAC stage, as I suspect many buyers will. The differences between the Rossi’s two digital filters were subtle; I preferred the standard, non-oversampling filter. Loudspeakers included my KEF LS50 and Dynaudio’s excellent new Contour 20i minimonitors, the latter in for review, and my KEF Reference 3 floorstanders.
On power-up, the L2i-SE produced a moderate pop through my speakers—it took me aback the first time, but I got used to it. I have been assured that this gremlin on my early production sample has been resolved for units produced from April 2020 onwards. The amp takes about 25 seconds to warm up, then mutes itself to await a command from the Volume knob or remote, after which it delivers an amplified signal to its binding posts. Here, though, it got interesting.
With the volume readout at “45”—the maximum is “63”—and the preamp section bypassing the EH300B tubes to run in solid-state, I put an ear against the tweeter of one of my Reference 3 floorstanders with no music playing. With the great majority of amps, when I do this I hear low-level white noise. With some, I’ll be able to hear the noise with my ear 6ʺ or 8ʺ from the tweeter; with others, maybe from 2ʺ or 3ʺ away. With the L2i-SE and my ear practically on the tweeter, I heard nothing. Zero. Even more impressive, when I repeated this test with the L2i-SE’s tubed input stage enabled, I heard a bit of noise, but it was still quite quiet. I’ve heard only one or two other amps that were this quiet, and each of them was exceptional. This was propitious.
I began my dance with the Vinnie Rossi L2i Signature Edition with “Crystalised,” from The xx (16/44.1 FLAC, Young Turks/Qobuz), and the L2i-SE’s input stage in solid-state mode. Even if most buyers won’t use the amp this way—the stars of this show are those big EH300Bs—it quickly became clear that the L2i-SE was no slouch even with its tubes bypassed. I was rewarded with all the sonic hallmarks of a top-flight class-AB amp. The backdrop behind Romy Madley Croft’s and Oliver Sim’s voices, which hung side by side on the soundstage, was pitch “black,” with no hint of noise or grain. The tonal balance was neutral and uncolored, just as you’d expect. The opening guitar chords had lovely presence and a pure timbre. With such nuanced music, the L2i-SE was the equal of high-end, solid-state integrateds from Simaudio and Constellation Audio that I’ve recently reviewed.
The good news continued when I presented the L2i-SE with “Without Me,” the first single from Eminem’s The Eminem Show (16/44.1 FLAC, Aftermath/Qobuz). In this track the ever-provocative Marshall Mathers unleashes his venom on nearly half a dozen targets—Dick Cheney, Moby, his own mother, etc.—and with the volume cranked, I could practically feel his outraged spittle hitting me in the face. The Vinnie Rossi sounded clean, fast, and always in control, even as I ramped up the volume. At the outer limits—when the volume readout hit “60” of a maximum “63”—the sound from my 87dB-sensitive KEF Reference 3s did begin to compress a little bit, but it turned out that this limit was also my ears’ limit. Not all watts are created equal, though; I was impressed both by how well the amp scaled, and the bottom-end grip that it exerted over my big KEFs.
More than satisfied with what I heard, I shut down the L2i-SE, inserted into their sockets those shapely Electro-Harmonix tubes, and flicked the little toggles to engage the triodes in the gain stage. I suspect that this is how most users will use the L2i-SE: the allure of marrying the magic of triodes to the linearity and power of solid-state is too good to pass up. I powered up the amp and played the Eminem track again.
The extra 8dB of gain from enabling the tubes was welcome—I suddenly had more headroom from the volume dial. More profound was the tonal difference. Gone was the starker, more crystalline solid-state sound, replaced by something altogether more supple. Eminem’s voice had more bloom and texture, and thus a more three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood feel. There was also a subtle infusion of warmth—the fringes of the track, Eminem’s voice, even the bass line sounded smoother, less attack-oriented. But there was no concession in soundstage width or depth—both remained copious. Nor was there any change at the frequency extremes. This means that every buyer of the L2i-SE will effectively have bought two integrated amps in one: one fully solid-state, and one hybrid.
Early-2000s rap is not the sandbox of music within which most prospective buyers of a Vinnie Rossi play, however. DHT mode requires more nuanced music. So I turned to “Evening Falls . . . ,” from Enya’s Watermark (16/44.1 FLAC, Reprise/Qobuz), and reveled in the Vinnie Rossi’s holographic handling of her delicate, spotlit lead vocal. I heard all of the detail and refinement that anyone would demand at this high price. And I heard more. There was greater saturation of tonal color, with no softening or rounding of the sound—due, no doubt, to the L2i-SE’s solid-state output stage. There was also an ease to the triode input stage that reminded me why so many listeners are beguiled by the glowing glass tubes of yesteryear. If I wanted a higher-contrast, recording-studio version of Enya’s music, I’d opt for the JFETs. If I wanted the lazy Saturday-afternoon, windows-open, breeze-blowing, pulse-settling version, I’d choose the tubes. The best part is that you don’t need to choose before your L2i-SE leaves the factory—you can do so in the comfort of your listening room. I expect that Vinnie Rossi’s future models will have this functionality available right on the remote control.
The L2i-SE most impressed me with its reproduction of the first movement of Vivaldi’s violin concerto Winter, from his The Four Seasons as Recomposed by Max Richter, performed by soloist Daniel Hope, accompanied by the Berlin Concert House Chamber Orchestra under the direction of André de Ridder (24/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon/Qobuz). The explosive solo part was utterly engrossing, in a most unexpected manner. I do most of my listening through solid-state class-AB integrated amps, and I’ve always adored this track for the incisive sound of Hope’s instrument as his bow attacks the strings. But through the Vinnie Rossi I found myself focusing less on the sucrose-like moments of pleasure—Hope’s instrument was revealed in very different fashion, with an exquisite sweetness that seemed to slightly slow the music, focusing my aural gaze on the track’s fundamentals rather than its dynamics.
Finding a suitable point of comparison for the L2i Signature Edition was difficult, given its uniqueness. No one will be cross-shopping the far-more-boutique Vinnie Rossi against my reference integrated amp-DAC, Hegel’s H590, with its whopping 301Wpc (8 ohms) output and its Scandinavian minimalism. The same goes for other high-priced integrateds I’ve recently reviewed, such as Simaudio’s Moon 700i V2 and Constellation Audio’s Inspiration Integrated 1.0. As good as those amps are, they’re not, well, special.
Gryphon Audio Designs’ Diablo 300 ($15,990), by contrast, is special. Like the Vinnie Rossi, this massive integrated can be ordered with an optional DAC ($5990) or phono ($2250) stage—but unlike the L2i-SE, not with both. The powerful Diablo boasts 300/600/900Wpc into 8/4/2 ohms, and is nominally class-AB but biased into class-A for the first 10W. It’s been several years since I’ve had the Gryphon in my listening room, but it made a strong impression on me. Its obvious power advantage means that it can be paired with any speakers in any room. It was a current monster, with staggering control of the bass, and its sound through its optional digital inputs was similar to the L2i-SE’s. But the Diablo’s appearance, best described as gothic noir, is the opposite of classy or elegant—it looks like an amp that demands respect, speaking more to the owner’s fight-or-flight response than does the Vinnie Rossi’s greater décor-friendliness.
The Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE is a more targeted device. Within its power limits, it’s just as linear and controlled as the Gryphon Diablo when operating in full solid-state mode, but offers audiophiles a different perspective on the sound when its triode tubes are engaged, bringing a denser tonality to the music. But few audiophiles will have narrowed their choice of ultimate integrated amplifier down to the L2i-SE and the Diablo 300. They’re two different amps for two different buyers. And that is the takeaway.
Many expensive integrated amplifiers look, feel, and sound great—I’ve reviewed a number of them, and Vinnie Rossi’s L2i Signature Edition belongs among them. But some buyers spending well into five figures on the centerpiece of a system will crave something more—something unique—and here is where Vinnie Rossi’s flagship integrated distinguishes itself from the like-priced competition. The L2i-SE offers buyers a top-flight solid-state integrated that really is dead silent, and a top-flight hybrid integrated, both built on the same chassis and housed in the same case. The optional DAC module is quite good, while the optional phono module is available for lovers of vinyl. Combine those with the outstanding tactility and fit’n’finish that should be expected at these prices, and the L2i-SE is the complete package, with no detail overlooked. Its novelty and relatively modest power output mean that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But this is a special integrated amplifier—and for the right buyer, it will be the perfect one.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 20i, KEF LS50 and Reference 3
- Integrated amplifier: Hegel Music Systems H590
- Digital-to-analog converter: Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC+
- Source: Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi, Qobuz Studio Premier
- Speaker cables: AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects: Dynamique Audio Shadow unbalanced (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS balanced (XLR)
- Digital link: DH Labs Silver Sonic (USB)
- Power conditioner: Emotiva CMX-2
Vinnie Rossi L2i Special Edition Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Price: $18,995 USD; optional MM/MC phono stage and DAC modules, add $3495 USD each.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.
800 Main Street, Suite 125
Holden, MA 01520
Phone: (703) 750-5461