Vitus RI-101 Mk.II streaming integrated amplifier

Six years after Hans-Ole Vitus, the founder of Danish company Vitus Audio, visited the United States to premier his first three products at CES 2004, Michael Fremer went gaga over the company's top-line MP-P201 Masterpiece Series phono preamplifier. Thirteen years later, at AXPONA 2023, it was my turn to be blown away, this time by the sound of a $385,000 Vitus Audio top-of-the-line Masterpiece series front-end and amplifiers that sang through price-commensurate Estelon Extreme Mk II loudspeakers.

In between—and not for want of trying—Vitus's presence in these pages has been limited to show reports. It's time to change that.

Enter the "entry-level" ($20,000) Vitus RI-101 Mk.II, an attractive integrated amplifier that can be outfitted with an optional DAC/streamer board for an extra $5000. The Vitus RI-101 Mk.II is part of the company's Reference series; paradoxical though it may seem, above it sit the Signature and Masterpiece series.

A fully balanced class-AB integrated capable of putting out an impressive 300Wpc into 8 ohms and 600Wpc into 4 ohms, the RI-101 Mk.II boasts an aluminum chassis, fully discrete output stage, and a relay-based fixed-resistor stepped volume control that allows for 1dB volume changes between –80dB and +8dB. Through its RJ45 Ethernet port, the optional DAC/streamer board supports streaming up to 32/384kHz PCM and DSD128 (via DoP, which is to say, converted to PCM). The unit's S/PDIF and AES3 ports support up to 24/192 PCM and do not transmit DSD.

The original Vitus RI-101 was released in 2017, replacing the RI-100. The Mk.II dates to 2020, with optimizations to the power supply, the optional streamer/DAC, and the preamplifier stage. The Mk.II received a new streaming module at the end of 2023. On the amplifier side, the upgrade included output-stage optimization to allow a bit more class-A current, an update to the power supply that allows for significantly more headroom, transformer optimization, and board-layout optimizations with shorter signal paths, thicker and wider supply tracks, and better grounding. The new DAC/streamer board update delivered Roon-ready functionality, upgrades to certain digital power supply lines, a new streaming module that supports higher bit and sample rates, and the top-line ESS Sabre ES9038PRO DAC chip. The Mk.II DAC/streamer supports, in addition to Roon, UPnP/DLNA (via MConnect and similar apps), Tidal Connect, Spotify connect, V-tuner, Qobuz, and more (footnote 1).

Hans-Ole Vitus & the RI-101 Mk.II
All this represents another achievement by Hans-Ole Vitus, the engineer, audio enthusiast, and hobbyist who began playing snare drum in a marching band when he was 12 years old. The die was cast when he got his first all-Pioneer hi-fi system, even before he joined his first rock band at age 15.

At 18, Hans-Ole faced a potential apocalypse when he was seduced by the sound of Gryphon Audio Designs equipment that he could not afford. So he began to study engineering so that he could roll his own. In 1995, at age 27, he began to build his own amplifiers while working as a sales manager for Texas Instruments. When fellow enthusiasts began to request his components, Vitus considered going commercial. His first products—big mono amplifiers and battery-driven phono and line stages that were soon discontinued due to EU restrictions on shipping large battery packs—debuted at the Stockholm audio show in 2003. The design aesthetic that visually distinguished the first Vitus components from their contemporaries continues to this day.

Because only the most basic information about the Vitus RI-101 Mk.II integrated amplifier is available online, I Zoomed with the company's current co-owner and CEO, Alexander (Alex) Vitus Mogensen, who is Hans-Ole's son (footnote 2); COO/co-owner Lukas Birk Eriksen; and Vitus's US representative, Aldo Filippelli. Our discussion was low on specifics because, in Lukas's words, "We do not explain the technology a whole lot. We generally reference the sound instead and let the sound and product speak for themselves."

Alex told me that while the Reference series uses a less-expensive chassis, with thinner plating than products in the higher series, that cost-cutting measure has been offset by the extra attention the company has devoted to internal shielding. Vitus's approach was to "cut/optimize costs where we could without greatly affecting the sound. There is a difference, but it is not that major. We still put a lot of focus on the power from the transformer, where everything starts. It's like the engine in a car. If you lack power, it will affect sound tremendously."

The Vitus RI-101 Mk.II utilizes the same technology as the rest of the Reference series, optimized for an entry-level integrated's restraints of space and cost. According to Lukas, Reference-series technology is "mainly trickled down from the other series." Most resistors and capacitors are the same, save for some of the larger capacitors. Transformer choice is another story. While Vitus eschews the use of toroidal transformers, Reference-series transformer winds differ from those in its higher-level brethren. The Reference series uses "EI" transformers. The Signature and Masterpiece series, by contrast, use UI transformers which, Lukas said, "are more stable with high loads. ... They are even more optimized for delivering higher power without any drop in voltage. We've seen toroidal transformers drop voltage too much under heavy loads in comparison to our Danish-made transformers. Something can sound very impressive, but then you really crank up the volume and the sound quality feels like it drops off."

When queried about design goals, Alex responded, "We always aim for emotions and feeling. We want to give people a genuine emotional experience rather than 'hi-fi.'" He referenced a time at CES, perhaps a decade ago, when a woman entered the room quietly as his father played some orchestral music. After the piece had concluded, she was in tears. Asked why she had been affected so strongly, she replied that it was the first time she'd heard the piece sound like what she experienced when she was present during the recording session.

"Those are the kind of the emotions that we want to capture and convey," Alex said. "That's our end goal, and it doesn't matter whether it's the Reference series or the Signature or the Masterpiece series. Emotion's one thing we don't compromise on. If we don't feel that we can make a product that sounds right by our standards, we're not going to put it to market."

"We want to convey the music's power in the way that solid state amplifiers can, but without harshness," Lukas said. "Sound is dependent on how you design the entire product, not just the output stage. If there's something wrong in the input stage, the whole product will not sound correct."

Vitus recently changed its printed circuit board manufacturer. Slight changes in specs and thickness produced sonic improvements immediately recognized by customers and retail partners. Ditto for changes in parts and component placement. "Minor adjustments actually make a big difference," Alex said. "We're always learning and evolving."

Vitus included Stillpoints feet on some of its past units; then they learned that different customers have different preferences. "Multiple times we have used Stillpoints footers or something else, customers have taken them off and replaced them with others," Lukas said. "Rather than having them pay an extra premium for something that they might remove, we let customers decide what they want to use."

When I mentioned power conditioning, Aldo chimed in. "I'm a firm believer that the Vitus Audio power supplies do very adequate filtering internally," he said. "When I've plugged the units—especially the preamp and the amplifiers—directly into dedicated lines, that has always sounded better than [it sounds] going into any level or make of power conditioner. Dedicated lines deliver much more low-frequency energy. Bass is also faster and more dynamic, and the soundstage is bigger, wider, and deeper. What's most clearly audible is a sense of ease in the midrange and highs that I have not been able to find when I've plugged any preamp, amplifier, or integrated into any brand of power conditioner. When I do use a conditioner on amps, I hear grain in the mid to high ranges. They can work for some digital electronics, but we do not recommend using them with higher power units." (footnote 3)

What you see and get
An interactive feature on the Vitus RI-101 Mk.II's webpage (footnote 4) displays standard and "unique" chassis-color options, which you can mix and match. You can also download the manual, v1.12 at this writing, in pdf form; owners receive it on a USB stick. Much of the manual is devoted to menu explanations (see below).

The RI-101 Mk.II's simple and elegant front includes a relatively narrow, recessed central panel with a display that indicates input and volume. Framing it on each side are larger panels, available in contrasting colors. The left panel contains input, menu, and standby buttons; the right includes two up/down volume buttons—there is no volume knob—and a third button for mute. The menu button allows you to custom name inputs, set the initial volume setting for different inputs, turn the small Vitus logo and off, adjust illumination, engage auto-standby, and more. In this sense, the RI-101 Mk.II is very au courant. Once you select a menu option, the up and down buttons adjust parameters. I made my life simple by sticking to the factory default settings.

The rear panel offers three XLR inputs, two RCA inputs, XLR pre/tape out, easy-to-grasp speaker terminals, "Gnd/Earth" connector (which I did not use), and 15A IEC. It's relatively easy to replace a blown fuse or to use a custom fuse. Firmware is updatable via a USB port.

Footnote 1: Existing R1-101 owners can have units upgraded at authorized service centers.

Footnote 2: Hans-Ole Vitus has stepped down from administrative operations to focus exclusively on development.

Footnote 3: Aldo acknowledged that he had never tried a Stromtank S 4000, which is designed to handle high current power amplifiers.

Footnote 4: See

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David Harper's picture

I'm beginning to think stereophile is deliberately baiting the more rational readers with reviews that mention $385,000 front-end amplifiers or even a 20K integrated amp. But I'm not complaining. It makes for entertaining reading.

Glotz's picture

As always.

cognoscente's picture

they don't want critical thinkers here at Stereophile with a different and down-to-earth view of audio, only an applause machine and worshipers for (some of) the reviewers

Glotz's picture

What's your criticism of the amp- other than that it's too expensive?

LOL.. you have none. You said nothing but the whining crap you've always tainted these pages with- it's just too expensive- yet you have no idea of what went into the costs that built this amp.

You also haven't heard it, so you can't make a critique if you don't have any experience with it -

AND sadly, nor can you speak intelligently to why the value is a 'poor' one here.

You're a naysayer with nothing to say!! LMAO...

It has nothing to do with a differing 'opinion'. You need to actually form a valid one first.

Anton's picture

I just stack rank the gear by price and assume that's how the subjective reviews will turn out.

There are times there might be an outlier, but, like with watches, the more you pay, the better the performance.

Same goes for shoes, purses, and sunglasses.

Glotz's picture

$20k for an top integrated amp isn't really a lot. I own separate components and they have a different value set and after great cabling, it's way more than one thinks. Again, separates have a different set of plusses and minuses, all valid based on individual budgets and buying strategies.

And I do think it's valid that price suggests quality.

The market has enough companies that know what will, should and does sell and at what prices. To suggest high prices for greed or what the market will bear is childish and nearsighted.

The market is doing well shown by the increased coverage on the web, in print and in person at shows. Globally, there are more companies in the market. A savvy buyer base drives smart purchases as well. Audiophiles are informed like no other group I can think of.

JohnnyThunder2.0's picture

what you can't afford. I can assure you, that if any of the regular negative trolls here were trust fund babies, they wouldn't be criticizing the price of the equipment (or cars, or watches, or clothing, or wine, sunglasses, purses, coffee tables...)

Anton's picture

Since you are good with the price, does that make you a trust fund baby? ;-p

I was simply stating the almost iron clad rule of higher price = higher quality. Even JA1 has addressed this!

As prices float out past the event horizon of the hobby, perhaps we can all just clap and then wave!

JohnnyThunder2.0's picture

and I still enjoy reading about this stuff THE SAME WAY a Chevy owner still reads about Lamborghinis in Motor Trend. THE SAME WAY my daughter reads VOGUE for the latest in what CELINE makes. THE SAME WAY one reads Architectural Digest even if you rent a simple apartment. I am not a trust fund baby. The priciest single component in my system is a 1989 Linn LP12. I would be so bored with Stereophile if the only equipment they reviewed was all Crutchfield catalog level (not that I have an issue with that equipment or the company.) If someone wants to spend 100k on an amp, go for it. BTW My dream amp is a Jadis integrated at approx. 20k. Sadly, I doubt I will be able to get one but I still love reading about them.

cognoscente's picture

you don't know what set I have and I'm not going to brag about it. I have heard 2x or 3x and even 4x more expensive sets at dealers several times. I heard a difference. Yes I did. I admit, But barely. Okay, there was an improvement, but just only a little, not a difference that justifies the price difference. We all know the principle of diminishing marginal utility. In the beginning, every small investment provides a clear improvement, but this curve decreases to a point where you can say that every small improvement in quality requires an unreasonably large additional investment. That's what this discussion is about. My point. All these exotic components with (too) low sales numbers (in relation to development costs and production costs), are they a good buy? Isn't an integrated amplifier like in this case, where larger numbers are produced and sold, let say between 5k and 10k, not a much better buy? Isn't the price-quality ratio of this type of integrated amplifier much higher than one of 20k or more, even if the latter sounds (a small fraction) better?

Glotz's picture

Sounds like you made your mind up about this amplifier when you visited your dealer years ago listening to other gear, however random. And all other gear for that matter... Wouldn't you agree?

And you are now stating you're having a discussion about high priced amps? Lol, no, you rather said "$20k?! No way!" And that was it.

You haven't heard this amp but somehow are drawing conclusions about it.

What is your criteria to determine value at this price point? You're kind of massively vague on that point.

Anything over $10k is a 'rip-off'?

Did you hear 3 other $10-$30k components or even systems that were better than this amp (that you haven't heard)?? What were they? (You won't say I'm sure.)

How long has it been since you made this magical value formula in your head? Years? Pre-pandemic or during these past 2-3 years of inflation? 20 years ago?

How is value more important that the absolute? If I want better sound, I can't?? I have to buy high value gear only (whatever that is- you didn't bring up a single example of a $5k amp that is a better 'value'?

And what the heck is your value set? There are so many things that go into a component in terms of what people want, you've made up your mind already on what is to be in or out?

There are things that this amp adds to the mix beyond a typical integrated, and all that you didn't speak to- like the streamer and the DAC.

georgehifi's picture

For $25k usd, either a faulty unit or manufactures claims are a drawing a very long bow.

Tested by JA: "290W into 8 ohms 410W into 4ohms, (and only 360 into 2ohms "starts to wheeze" (behaves like a Class-D into 2ohm).
The wall voltage had dropped from 118.4V with the amplifier idling to 116.4V"

This is far from what the manufacture claims, and a 2v mains drop during testing would not account for it.

Cheers George

supamark's picture

With the caveat that I have not heard this integrated, it seems poorly designed.

The DAC performance genuinely boggles my mind - the ~$22k Weiss Helios DAC uses the exact same chip and gets almost 22 bit resolution vs 17 here. The undithered output is a nightmare. On the Weiss the undithered output is *almost* as good as a Holo Audio May (KTE) ladder DAC with about the same resolution (the May's a great DAC, its OS mode reconstruction filter isn't. I have one) - ladder steps with some ringing. Even my bought used for ~$1.5k Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ has better performance with an inferior (older) ESS DAC chip. The undithered output of the Vitus looks like the scribblings of a madman. How/why do you make a streaming integrated DAC module with such bad D/A conversion?!? Even JA was surprised at its poor performance. You can get an excellent streaming DAC for $5k, Vitus' module isn't one of them.

Not lying, I'd like to hear this in a NOS mode to see how weird it sounds.

I personally don't have a problem with the price, I'm sure it accurately reflects their costs of designing and building it in Denmark. I mean, it takes work to make an ESS 9038PRO measure that poorly. I do have a problem with the performance (especially the digital) at this price for a streaming integrated amp. With the ESS Sabre 9038PRO DAC chip they could have gotten near State of the Art performance out of the box with little engineering on their part, and with selectable filters, at a lower cost. It's an excellent DAC chip. Somehow they screwed that up. Bad.