Finally here is a very interesting interview with the Viva Audio. Matej Isak inquires about the company, vision, determination etc. Enjoy...
Where and how did all started for Viva Audio?
Viva Audio started in 1996 by myself and my brother Giampietro as an artisanal company after years of work in the audio industry and endless experimentation on the Sound.
Viva Audio is a company oriented towards anyone interested in Music Reproduction and not limited to just audiophiles.
Why did you choose this specific name for your company?
Viva means “Alive”. We were thinking and rethinking about a name, which somehow was related to “alive”, and finally decided to make it explicit
Does form follows function with Viva Audio?
In short - yes. Our aesthetics is derived from our technological design, which is completely functional and is geared towards the highest performance.
What led to creation of recognizing Viva Audio design?
The signature "V" shape of our tube amplifiers is a derivative of our functional design.
Is there a specific Viva Audio sound across the product range?
We do not want to make a specific "Viva Sound", as we consider any "signature" in sound to be coloration. We just try to deliver the music as we hear it in the best possible way.
You have been producing tube amplifiers for a long time. What has changed during the years?
The main principles remained the same. However we never wanted to recreate the classic “tube” sound, but to use tube designs to maximize undisputable advantages of tubes such as low distortion and dynamic range while completely avoiding tube-specific colorations no matter how euphonic they may seem. We strongly believe that configurations of our amplifiers are the best to achieve the most realistic rendering of the music while being respectful of the source. The ongoing studies and research led us to finding better materials, refinement of circuits and build quality. Over the years a lot of seemingly minor changes produced considerable improvements in sound and reliability.
Have built-in materials and their quality changed in past decades?
Yes. In the past decades we've identified and used better parts and materials. So even though the distinctive VIVA look of our gear has been maintained for some time the newer versions have been improved and do sound better than the older ones.
How do see the importance of selection of such parts?
In audio components everything, even the slightest element, influences the performance.
Esoteric parts - a myth or a need?
Without getting into a prolonged discussion about definition of esoteric parts, let's just assume that esoteric means something, which is not readily available or not commonly used. Many times it happens that the so called "esoteric" parts make the sound worse, by adding a specific signature to “ compensate” for the colorations or even to create them, resulting in the sound that is not respectful of the original music. We only choose the parts, which may or may not be "esoteric", that we think are the best in a given application, and use in the way we find to be the best for a specific purpose.
What is your view on the output transformers?
Configurations that employ output transformers lead to the best performance, but they must be carefully designed and applied cautiously to the circuits otherwise the performance can be severely compromised. We make our own transformers and we use them in our own way.
Do you build them in house?
Partially. We have an experienced artisanal winder that makes them only for us, but we assemble them mechanically in house, because how they are put together is extremely critical, and even the slight misalignment of the cores and mechanics degrades the performance
What is your approach and specific to your topology?
We try to use very “pushed” short path topologies. It may appear as a simple thing, but it turns out to be quite a challenging way to apply circuits, since even the smallest thing can harm the sound’s performance. Our amplifiers are not traditional "single ended" designs, and we find that their performance reveals it.
Can you tell us more about your Aurora amplifiers? What is so special about them and what unique approach did you implement into them?
As in all our electronics, they are designed for the “shortest path” of signal and energy. What makes the Aurora special is the degree of refinement leading to a deeper connection to the musical event. It is the result of how we designed and manufactured the audio and mains transformers, of how the power supply is implemented, both in topology, dimensioning and placement of the parts. It is also a question of how everything is combined and harmonized, that makes the difference.
What is so special about your phono preamplifier as it performs far beyond typical ones?
For the “Fono”, we've implemented the strategy of using the least possible number of active stages. This has led to a very challenging process of design and development, since signals in a phono preamplifier are very weak, and the RIAA equalization is always difficult to achieve. Making electronics with low number of active stages is complicated, because the performance of each single stage has to be at the highest level, and they have to be carefully combined with one another. But once you do everything right the results speak for themselves.
How do you see the revival of vinyl reproduction?
I think that in popular culture it is more about the "vintage" fashion and the "coolness" rather than the sound itself. On the other hand, it is interesting how the new technology did not lead to an improved way of delivering recorded music. It is a sign, though, that there is a general tiredness of bad sounding music and people are striving for the good sound.
Why did you stay with tube only products?
We do not stay with tube only products, since we are releasing a "hybrid" amplifier. We do not believe in tubes themselves. Actually, we do not like the traditional "tube sound". But, for the no-compromise products, we still think that triode tube based amplifier leads to the highest level of performance, when used in the right way
Why horn based speakers?
Back in the early sixties one of the most important conductors Sergiu Celibidache said that music reproduction technology could not "fit" all of the aspects of orchestral music. So given the inherent shortcomings of the medium "horn" speakers are the best way, we believe, to combine dynamic articulation and extension together with subtlety and tone. Of course, as with every technology, it is more a question of how you implement the technology than the technology itself.
Please tell us more about your ultimate Master Horn speaker system.
MH is the closest we could get to please Sergiu Celibidache☺ It is a true full range system that delivers the SPL with subtlety and nuance of a live musical event. It is not designed for the chamber music lovers or the rock concertgoers. It is designed to play music as realistically as it was recorded regardless of the genre. It makes it easy for the listener to understand what the musician is doing. No guessing about the instruments or the recording venue. Refinement and resolution of the highest degree is what MH is all about.
What is your take on balanced circuits?
It is an interesting fact that as of recently in "pro audio" community the balanced lines are being questioned, and the "audiophile" world is embracing them. We never found any "balanced" configuration, either in lines, or in circuits, that sound better than the "unbalanced" lines. Actually we did a lot of interesting demos with the dealers where we improved the sound by "unbalancing" connections on existing equipment of other brands, thus helping them to sell cables and modifications to "unbalance” their client's systems. Funny that it came from us just wanting to demonstrate what we were talking about and to make the point.
What sets Viva Audio products above other manufacturers?
I would prefer not to state that we are "above" other manufacturers. However I would admit that our products have what the food specialists call “umami” – the elusive fifth basic taste not recognized by most people but it plays an important role making food taste delicious. We always do our best and many times we release products because we truly think that they are about making a statement of excellence. A good sounding system lets people connect to the music and stop analyzing the frequency response or the dynamic range or whatever other technical aspect of the system itself. This is exactly what we excel at. When we do demos people start applauding and get tears in their eyes as if they were listening to a live performance.
Pure class A. A must or a myth?
When I worked at a hi-end dealer many years ago, I remember that most of what we considered to be the best amplifiers were not class-A. Again, it is how you use the technology that makes the difference, and not the technology itself. For our Single Ended Triodes 'Class-A' is the only way to go, so it is a “must”.
What is unique about your approach to power supply design?
We design circuits thinking about the quantity and quality of the energy supply required by signal and amplification sections. We use some materials that are not common for power supplies, and we pay careful attention to all the parts and topology, along with mechanical aspects, wiring, grounding and connections.
How important is power supply in your opinion?
In many ways it is even more important than the signal and amplification circuits themselves.
What do you think about silver wiring and use of silver in output transformers?
I know that this is not in the current "fashion", but, until now we did not like silver for transformers wires. We found that it is a very elegant way to "color" the sound, in a "pleasant" way. We do not like to "compensate" the character of the electronics with the property of silver; we prefer to work on the "least possible" character. We constantly test them, anyway, and if we would find a configuration and a wire implementation that fulfills our demands, we would certainly use it. For now, all tests we did with silver wire led to a colored sound.
What does state of the art high/end audio actually means for Viva Audio?
It is about delivering the musical message. Most of the time, we do not like hi-end audio "sound". For example so-called "pro-audio" products lead to a more interesting sound than many "high-end" audio ones. Pushing towards "perfection" sometimes leads to sterile sound, missing the "main point", which consider to be preservation and the outmost respect of the original musical message.
Where do you draw the line technology and musicality?
I would say that "technology" is how you make something. Stradivari, Amati, Tecchler - the musical instrument makers applied their technology to produce the best string instruments ever made. We use our technology to make best sounding audio equipment. Musicality is a non-negotiable aspect of any component that we offer.
Do you still believe in analogue supremacy?
In some ways - yes. I still get the best results listening to analogue sources although digital done in the right way is also extremely good. The gap in quality between good analogue and good digital is getting narrower.
Do you build everything in house or do you have any subcontractors?
We use subcontractors for things that we think are done better by specialists. We have a very strict and privileged interplay with them. We only use subcontractors that we can work in close contact with, who follow our demands and are happy to work with us, as they get excitement and fun, even if it is not easy...
Kindly list all of the present products from Viva Audio?
We make the “Aurora" mono block power amplifiers, the “Solista Power” stereo power amplifier, we make the “Linea” Line Preamplifier and the “LF2” preamplifier with integrated phono section. There are two phono preamplifiers, the “Fono” and the “PH-1” (new product). Integrated amplifiers are the "Solista MKIII” and the “Solistino”, and a “Hybrid” integrated amplifier which is coming very soon.
Speakers line starts with the “Master Horn”, which is sold only with it’s dedicated multi-way amplification, the “Credenza”, the “Allegro” and the “Agile”.
How do you see current high-end industry?
There are some brands that make very good products, but I think that there are too many products that are either not interesting, or oriented towards an overpriced “aesthetical” luxury objects or gadgets
Where is the borderline between hi-fi and high-end for you?
I think that this is just a name thing. For me there is no “high-end” or “hi-fi” distinction. Actually, many times, simple products that are considered to be just "hi-fi” are far better sounding than many so-called “hi-end” ones
Some are wonderful amazing products (and we are releasing something in that way too), but we still think that the tube triodes used in our way are the best performing
What is your opinion on Class D amplifiers?
I think it has potential to sound great in compact enclosures. Again, it is how you use it that makes the difference. I listened to some surprisingly good products
What is your ultimate reference when designing and testing new products?
Our sensibility allows us to know what real music sounds like without any instruments and measurements. We use instruments to get measurements as guidance while designing and testing.
How would you describe Viva Audio typical customers?
A very sensible person with a "direct" connection to the music, who, even if wisely listening to opinions of others, judges by him/herself without relying on other's “expert” advice.