Riviera Levante integrated amplifier Page 2

When I unpacked the Levante, I noticed two pairs of boxed ECC81 tubes and thought oh nice, they sent spares. Not so: The pairs were different brands. The Mullard boxes were empty; the JJ tube boxes were full (footnote 2). Before turning on the Levante, I removed its top cover and verified that, yes, only two tubes are required, and the Mullard pair was installed.

Patiently, gently, and mindfully, I removed the Mullards, then, even more carefully, I inserted the JJ 12AT7s. Voila, a new amp was born.

The sound-character change was significant, as Luca had predicted. The Levante integrated was no longer "too lush" or even lush; it now had some third-harmonic ping, an occasional flash of glare and stronger drive.

When I played my favorite Rollin' & Tumblin' tracks, there was still plenty of juice in Burnside's voice and lots of bendy twang in his guitar. But the Levante's sound with the JJ tubes was now overtly direct, less misty and possessed of a more sharply focused, less-granular clarity than it had been with the Mullards. Vocal intelligibility was five-star.

With Magnepan .7s
The Levante's new brighter, more starkly clear persona inspired me to see what it would do powering Magnepan's .7 quasi-ribbon panel speakers. The .7s always please me, but I was not sure a no-feedback, low–damping factor amplifier would please them.

With the Riviera Levante switched to class-A, the 4 ohm Magnepan .7s seemed pleased enough to generate a larger, more colorful but less dense Burnside than my Gold Badges. Their projected sound was quieter at its core, with blacker deep spaces and more voluminous bass. As I had anticipated, the JJ-tubed Levante vitalized the Maggie membranes, making recordings sound clearer and livelier.


On my anthem, Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" from the album Wonderful World, Beautiful People (24/96 FLAC, A&M/Qobuz), the Riviera-Maggie combo presented Cliff's music in glowing, extremely rich, detailed sound, which showed me tons of background information I'd never heard before. If you want your 4 ohm Maggies to make shin-kicking bass, you're gonna need an amp with steel-toed boots and more feedback than none.

When I switched the Levante to class-AB, I observed no change, suggesting that even when set to class-AB, it was still operating in class-A. I tried switching again with the Magnepan .7s; I did hear some change, but it was too subtle to comment on.

With DeVore O/93s
With the Levante powering the 10 ohm DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers, it took only a minute for me to change my mind about those made-in-Slovakia JJ 12AT7s. Now, playing The Four Quarters, a new release of contemporary classical music from the Solem Quartet (24/96 FLAC, Orchid Classics/Qobuz), the sound was tinfoil bright. Instruments were still luminous and clear, but now they were distinctly forward, with moments of ear-flashing brightness. I switched back to the Russian-made Mullards.


With the Mullards, the DeVore speakers did not sound too lush, or soft or fuzzy. They were just more textured and relaxed. To verify this observation and validate my final choice of tubes, I played this new LP I'm hooked on: Prince: Piano & a Microphone 1983 (LP, NPG/Warner R1 566557/603497861285). I've played this recording through enough different component groups to know it does not take much to make it squeal and glare brightly. But when it sounds right, it is a thriller and a stunner—very alive.

With the Mullards, the Prince recording sounded tamed, as a Bernie Grundman–mastered recording should. Coming off the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum and its matching Koetsu SUT, Prince's voice and piano, via the Levante, made the DeVores sound like mastering-studio monitors: the opposite of dark, and high-resolution. On "Cold Coffee & Cocaine," the Levante did a remarkable job of showing the room echo that framed Prince's voice. Supervivid sound. Inspired performances. No glare.

With the Mullard-Levante and the O/93s, I felt like I was home with Mama. The sound was sweet, round, and voluptuous. I began repeat-playing La Guitarra dels Lleons, with Xavier Diaz-Latorre (guitar) and Pedro Estevan (percussion) playing Isaac Albéniz's "Preludio: Asturias (Leyenda)" (16/44.1 FLAC, L'Auditori/Tidal). With the Levante poering the O/93s, Xavier Diaz-Latorre's artful playing felt profound and exquisitely full, super-3D, and very naturally toned. I kept staring at the image on the album's cover, thinking, "that guitar is one of the most beautiful objects I've ever seen. Is Diaz-Latorre actually playing that guitar?" This recording was the Levante's Wow! moment.

What I noticed most about the sound was the uninhibited glow and flow. Just wood and strings vibrating, very naturally.


What the Falcons can't do that the DeVore O/93s do extremely well is play cello or viola da gamba recordings in a completely satisfying way. With the Levante, reproducing Jordi Savall performing Tobias Hume's Musicall Humors (Londres, 1605) on viola da gamba (16/44.1 FLAC, AliaVox/ Qobuz), the quantity and quality of deep, rich-toned harmonics held my attention. It seemed this Riviera amp and DeVore speaker were made to reproduce Tobias Hume's worldly poetics and Jordi Savall's incredibly sonorous gamba sound.

The main treat of the O/93 + Levante show was how the Riviera amp felt naturally coupled to the DeVore speakers. Their electromagnetic dance felt intimate and just right.

Vs the Pass Labs INT-25
I've used Pass Labs' $7250 INT-25 integrated since it came out in 2019. When it arrived, it immediately became my reference for everything good about solid state: firm control of low frequencies, a strong sense of well-sortedness (or the illusion thereof), and conspicuous clarity. In my amp herd, the INT-25 remains my clearest, most brightly lit, most dynamic solid state microscope for examining the inner workings of recordings.

Powering the DeVore O/93 and the Falcon Gold Badges loudspeakers, the Riviera Levante presented itself as less water-clear and dynamically charged than the INT-25. Compared to the Pass Laboratories INT-25, the Riviera amplifier sounded thick and less sharply focused. But! The Levante "microscoped" even better than the Pass Labs did, exposing more and denser delicate sounds and nuanced tonal shadings in the depths behind and to the sides of the performers. It made the molecules of the soundspace feel juiced and activated.

With the DeVores, the Pass Labs amp got out of the way of the music by virtue of its electrical invisibility. The Levante amp disappeared because it sucked my mind extra-deep into the richness of the music.


The headphone output
I cannot remember being impressed with the headphone feature on any integrated amplifier, but the Levante impressed me immediately. With HiFiMan's Susvara playing R.L. Burnside's composition "Fireman Ring the Bell" from Rollin' & Tumblin', I heard all the spark, bite, and electric twang of R.L.'s guitar. The fearful strangeness in Burnside's voice came through explicitly. The sound was luxurious and musically effective. However, mixed with these enjoyments, I noticed a slight roundness added to the sound of every recording, meaning the Levante probably struggled a little in powering the 83dB/mW, 60 ohm Susvara.

Going to the other extreme, I connected my ZMF Vérité closed-backs, which, sonically, are on the same mountain of greatness as the Susvara, the JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, and the Stax SR-009S. Driven by the Levante, the 300 ohm, 99dB/mW Vérité sounded unusually precise and vibrant; "pretty and fast" would be a good description. The Vérité has always played best with no-feedback tube amplifiers like Ampsandsound's Bigger Ben and ZMF's Pendant (both designed by Justin Weber). But here, almost unbelievably, playing Bahaman guitarist and singer Joseph Spence's Bahaman Folk Guitar: Music of the Bahamas, Vol.1 (24/96 FLAC, Smithsonian Folkways/Qobuz), I felt like I was experiencing an avalanche of previously unnoticed microdetails. Finally, I could make out the majority of the words in Spence's vocalizations. With the Burnside recording, the lyrics became completely clear. I never imagined there'd be an integrated amplifier with a headphone amplifier of this caliber.

Every day I listened, I applauded Riviera Labs for their courage to make and market the exquisitely fashioned, extremely natural-sounding, all-analog, zero-feedback Levante integrated.

Bravo Luca Chiomenti and Silvio Delfino

Footnote 2: The JJ's come with the amplifier. The Mullards were NOS tubes that just happened to be inside the box; they're not supplied by Riviera Audio.—Jim Austin
Riviera Audio Laboratories s.r.l.
US distributor: Tone Imports
(646) 425-7800

georgehifi's picture

"Quote: This input stage is polarized not to be a perfect push-pull but to have the distortion shape of the ear"

I'd love to see how that distortion shape of the ear was measured?

Cheers George

Jack L's picture


Me too. I'm very interested to know how our ears are measured.

IMO, it is either the amp maker's trade SECRET or simply trumpet-blowing
sales pitch !

For $16,500, only JJ or Russian Mullard triodes are provided. Profiteering here goes ! Give us consumers a break, please.

Even my humble home-brew phono-preamp, I purposely used Mullard ECC82 made in U.K. for the linestage. U.K. Mullards sound better than another other makes, IMO.

Jack L

Herb Reichert's picture

Google that question?



Charles E Flynn's picture


You are all familiar with the skull and crossbones graphic used to denote poisons on product labels.

Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to design a graphic suitable for use in the reviews of audio products that indicates that the highly-experienced John Atkinson has determined that an amplifier has a "distinctive sonic character" or a loudspeaker has a "'tailored' frequency response in the treble".

Should you choose not to participate in this challenge, which your faculty acknowledges involves unusual subtlety, it will have no effect on your grade.

johnnythunder1's picture

it is imported by Tone Imports. Luscious sound and gorgeous design. Italian audio equipment is always interesting to look at and to listen to. Romantic and euphonic. Sometimes the design is excessive and a little "Gucci" but other times just beautiful like a handmade instrument.

JRT's picture

On this non-inexpensive ($16.5k) integrated amplifier, I don't much like the seemingly low budget amateurish design aesthetics. The front panel design is an inconsistent hodgepodge of text fonts, sizes, directions of orientation and marking methods on a panel with a disorganized haphazard layout of the control switchgear. The industrial design aesthetics matter, and since they obviously lack enough talent in that, they should hire or rent a skilled professional industrial design consultant. There is certainly no shortage of that talent in Italy.

Also, integrated amplifiers are a bundle of compromises. While integration does reduce manufacturing costs and simplifies consumer's system design and space claim, it comes at the expense of a major reduction in system design flexibility, reduced optimization to the requirements of a specific application, and with greatly reduced long term reliability.

Expanding on the point of reduced system reliability, consider that once this device is out of production, out of warranty, and suffering obsolescence in the internal monolithic integrated electronic components (especially in the control subsystem), when an important functionality eventually fails the entire unit becomes trash, dumpster fodder. With separates, a failed subsystem component can be replaced or upgraded when and if it fails and cannot be repaired, and only that small fraction of the whole system becomes dumpster fodder.

In comparison to this integrated amplifier, some very good separate components can be had within similar $16.5k budget.

For example, look at the US made Schiit Freya plus for $949, which includes relay switched resistor network stepped attenuation. In addition to the balanced inputs, the unit also converts single ended inputs to a differential throughput and balanced output. It includes quiet low distortion solid state gain stages and a bypassable/defeatable pair of circlotron tube stages using 6AS7 dual triodes. That allows for a choice of either clean gain or bypassable added tube based euphonic distortion effects, as desired for different various program material.

Maybe add a pair of US made Benchmark AHB2 amplifiers configured as bridged monoblocks at $3k each for high purity gain and balanced inputs.

You could also add a Schiit Modi 3E external DAC for $129, and a short pair of well made inexpensive nonesoteric low capacitance single ended interconnects (eg. under $40 for the pair of 18 inch interconnects from Blue Jeans Cable).

Also add a couple of balanced audio cables consisting of some non-esoteric and moderately priced well made low capacitance shielded twisted pair or StarQuad terminated with XLR connectors. Maybe take advantage of the low noise balanced interconnection by locatimg the amplifiers adjacent to the loudspeakers, allowing use of short loudspeaker cables. With balanced interconnection, there is no need to locate the front end near the amplifiers.

Sum total is well under half of the $16.5k budget with less noise, lower distortion (when not using tube based stages), and with use of separates providing flexibility of system modularity and with that improved reliability via the possibility of future replacement or upgrade of the separate components.

The balance of the budget could buy better loudspeakers and/or better subwoofers and/or a couple of PSI Audio AVA C20 active bass traps and/or passive room acoustics treatments. ...things that matter significantly in playback system performance.

johnnythunder1's picture

tells you how to build a watch. thank you for the filibuster reply to a simple comment about a well reviewed product (by a reviewer who's ears I trust.) I'm happy that you love Benchmark audio products. Personally I think they look like power supplies for welding or medical equipment. I'm sure they give you a lot for your money and give you musical pleasure. Thanks for telling me how we all should think and feel about reproduced music.

MatthewT's picture

"Stop liking what I don't like."

johnnythunder1's picture

that was awesome !

Govna's picture

The measurement mafia is sharpening their knives ;)

Not surprisingly Michael Lavorgna gushed over this amp as well. Look forward to hearing one.

tonykaz's picture

It sure is pretty.

It could sit nearby the LazyBoy, warming the heart, with it's Chrome & Gold.

but so could a pair of gorgeous Woo Fireflys which probably look better. ( to my vintage taste )

I'd like to see some assurances that the Silk-Screening on the Front panel will survive usage considering todays environmental limitations banning old school enamels in favour of water based inks. A safe route would have the panel laser etched instead of printed .

I'd like to discover and learn what System the Manufacturer intended for revealing this device's full potential ! ( not that I'd purchase , hmm )

Tony in Florida

JRT's picture

...is available in black, white, and various other colors, exhibits good permanency, and is well suited to applications such as silk screened printing on the front face of control panels, in filling milled or deeply engraved markings, and in ink stamping reference designations and item identifications on other surfaces.

tonykaz's picture

This stuff is pricy compared to standard Nazdar Solvent based Inks. ( x4 )

It still is Solvent based and they do promise good adhesion.

It looks like the front panel is Silk Screened which has me thinking that epoxy setup/curing would ruin the screen so batch printing involves shooting a new screen.

We have laser etchers now-a-days, at the price of this device I'd think they'd etch instead of print.

I've had the letters fall/wear off touch panels. ( funny tape labels end up on the fronts )

We could call the Manufacturer in Italy, presume English is spoken but I'd bet their Chassis provider doesn't know what ink is used or how well it's applied.

Tony in Florida

LarryRS's picture

Herb wrote: "but in the higher audiophile ranks, this type of amplifier is not common. Besides the Rogue, the only other hybrid in Stereophile's Recommended Components is the $93k/pair Ypsilon Hyperion Monoblock." The Lamm Industries M1.2 Monoblocks, PS Audio BHK Signature 300 Monoblocks and PS Audio Stellar M1200 Monobocks are also on the Recommended Components list.

Herb Reichert's picture

for the big 'catch' . . .

Now I must call Paul and Vladimir and beg forgiveness.

all hail the hybrid !


LarryRS's picture

Probably Bascom too, though Paul I'm sure can pass it along.

Glotz's picture

I miss those amps and pre's... sigh.

donnedonne's picture

Herb - Great review as always. I own and love one of these. The option to fine-tune through a couple of relatively cheap tubes is a fun feature. Seems like new-production Russian Mullards were used in the review - I'd love to try some NOS British ones.

Might be fun to read a follow-up by one of the folks who have reviewed Lamm. The Lamm gear is (even) more expensive, but it's interesting that the brains and ears behind Lamm and Riviera have seemingly similar listening/measurement theories.


Glotz's picture

Novel design and well implemented.

Glotz's picture

After this and JVS' newest darTZeel reviews, I remain convinced they are the best delivery methods.

SteveM324's picture

I really like hybrid amps and I owned a Counterpoint SA220 back around 1994 and used it to power Apogee Centaur Major speakers. I have a hybrid Audio By Van Alstine 600R power amp that uses 2 12AT7 tubes and it has a MOSFET output stage that provides 300 w/Ch. I didn't like the stock JJ tubes in this amp so I replaced them with NOS Mullard 4024 tubes. This amp is a great value at $3500. Stereophile should review Audio By Van Alstine products. TAS reviews AVA products and the 600R and the FET Valve CF preamp are on their recommended list. Since Stereophile reviews other direct from manufacturer products such as Tekton speakers, they should start reviewing AVA products. I'm not affiliated with AVA in any way. Maybe I'm unaware of the history of AVA and Stereophile. Steve Guttenberg reviewed one of their least expensive 60 w/Ch amps recently and raved about it.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Several products ago, I reviewed a 176 lb. stereo amplifier. Now a friend and I just tried to install a 90 lb. component, only to discover that it's 1/2" too wide for my rack. Art Dudley, please shine a bit of your light on this poor acolyte. As you do, please remember how much you are missed.