Many of us have become so accustomed to hearing about or reading about CD players that cost 10K plus that players costing 6K to 8K almost seem to be reasonably priced. Given this, I was very interested to sample components that are available to real world audiophiles with real world budgets.
Virtue Audio was founded in 2005 and is a company that has created and manufactured an entire line of products targeted toward real world audiophiles. They are dedicated to producing high quality products that give the audiophile true value for the money. The Virtue Piano CD player is just one of a growing number of products from this innovative company.
Given its entry level price, ($699) the build quality of the unit is surprisingly high. However, there is much more to this player than meets the eye. According to the manufacturer, the rugged transport is mounted on a heavy aluminum and steel platform that is said to provide a vibration and jitter free digital bit- stream. The custom DAC circuit takes that stream and up-samples it to 176.4 KHz using a TDA 1543 DAC. This technique is claimed to result in a smoother, tube-like sound. The manufacturer goes on to state that the player is constructed of the finest components throughout. From the rear panel T-copper RCA jacks to the custom wound dual transformers to power the digital and analogue circuits separately. Also included are two RCA outputs along with optical and coax digital outputs. While I did not have an owner’s manual at hand, the set-up and installation straight forward, intuitive and couldn’t have been easier. The Piano is visually striking with its aluminum case and wood veneer top. This compact unit measures aprox.10.5 WX 9.5D X 4.5 H inches and therefore is very considerate of valuable shelf space. Of course, good looks and high end components are fine but, ultimately it’s the sonic performance that is the most important thing.
Right out of the box, the sound was, well, not very compelling. The treble was closed in, the bottom was quite constricted and the midrange was veiled. Keeping the Piano’s price in mind, I didn’t want to be premature or overly harsh in my judgment. After about a 150 hour burn in, the proverbial caterpillar turned into a butterfly.
I will get right to the point here. Based upon its sonic performance, the Virtue Sensation Piano CD player is a very serious contender in its price class. The proviso here is that it is absolutely necessary to give the player at least 150 hours of break in. sonically, the difference between cold, out of the box and a fully burned in unit not at all subtle and is very audible.
The treble that was closed down in the beginning was now open and extended. Cymbals now had the metallic shimmer and decay that was similar to what I hear from my reference, the SONY 777ES. In comparison to the SONY, the treble of the Piano is a tad brighter and forward but, not objectionably so.
The midrange is clear, open and surprisingly transparent. Good recordings sound very good and poor recordings are unhesitatingly revealed as such. I clearly heard this effect with the Betty Carter CD “Feed the Fire” [Verve 314 523 600 2]. This is a well recorded live performance that is served very well by the Piano. Betty Carter’s voice is clear with her distinct vocal colorations presented intact.
The soundstage is well defined from left to right and layering from front to back is quite good as well. With live recordings, I noticed a good amount of room ambiance as well. This is far better performance than I expected from a player in this price range.
Large scale orchestral works were presented quite well by the Piano as well. The scale and weight of the orchestra was evident with Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” from his Third Symphony [Reference Recording RR-93CD]. The tumbrel weight and dynamic impact were quite striking as well. The bass performance is full, extended with very good definition.
In comparison to the more than five times as expensive SONY777 ES, the Piano is somewhat brighter in the treble and a bit more forward. Good recordings sound very good but poor recordings are ruthlessly revealed as such. The Piano may gloss over some detail but in systems that it is most likely to be used, this will probably not be noticed. While I wouldn’t use super expensive top of the line cables and power cords with this unit, neither would I use bottom of the line cables either. Given the sonic capabilities of the Piano, it should be connected with decent interconnects and power cord.
Once again, I was very surprised by how good the Virtue Audio Piano M-1 CD Player performed in my system. Given its relatively modest price, it has to be considered a sonic bargain. Once again, in order to realize this performance, it is critical that you give the unit at least 150 to 200 hours of break in. Afterward, I believe the user will be pleasantly surprised.
There are a number of players at this end of the market. If you are looking for a CD player in this price range or higher, be sure that you do not overlook the Virtue Piano M1 CD player.
The Virtue Audio Piano M1 CD Player
Source: Manufacturer loan
Analog: VPI IV Mk I Classic turntable W/VPI Tone arm
Digital Source: Sony 777ES SACD Player (Modified)
Amplification: VAC Standard LE Pre Amp, NuForce P-09 Pre Amp, Gilmore Raptor Power Amps, NuForce 9SE Power Amps
Loudspeakers: Dynaudio 3.3
Cabling: Kaplan Cable GS Speaker Cables, Acoustic Zen Absolute and Siltech Interconnects, Kaplan Cable Power cords.
Accessories: P.S. Audio Power Plant Premier