Review: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Preamplifer and L2 Signature Monoblock Amplifiers (Part 2)

In Part 1 of our review of the Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Preamplifer and L2 Signature Monoblock Amplifiers, we looked at and listened to the pre-power combo using the L2 Signature Preamplifer as just a preamplifier. Here, in Part 2, we’ll focus on the optional L2 DAC and L2 Phonostage modules.

L2 Phonostage ($3,495.00)

Let’s cover first things first—my every day vinyl rig consists of the Well-Tempered Amadeus Turntable, mounted with a Denon 103 cartridge, then out to the wonderful Auditorium 23 MC Step-Up Transformer ($999) into the Sugden A21SE Stage Two Phono preamp ($1095). I compared my rig going into one of the L2’s analog inputs, the L2 Phono’s Moving Coil (MC) Phono input, as well as the L2 Phono’s Moving Magnet (MM) input being fed by the wonderful A23 Step-Up.

L2 Phono Features

  • Inputs: 1 set of Moving Magnet (MM), 2 sets of Moving Coil (MC)
  • Built-in, on the fly MC remote adjustable cartridge loading (10 – 1000 ohms). Cartridge load setting viewable from L2 front panel display
  • Adjustable gain jumpers for MM and MC inputs
  • Belleson Super-Regulated split-supply voltage rails
  • Four low-noise and low distortion gain stages. Each stage has a nominal gain of 20dB, resulting in higher bandwidth per stage and lower phase shift across the audio band
  • Low output impedance design
  • DC coupled from input to output (no dc blocking capacitors added in series to the signal path)
  • DC Servo keeps output offset negligible
  • Design optimization for lowest value thin-film resistors, resulting in the least possible noise
  • High accuracy resistors and capacitors used throughout
  • 4-layer PCB with separate ground planes for analog and digital (control circuitry)
  • Cardas Audio input jacks
  • Connect up to three tone arms and switch between them via L2 front panel or the remote handset

I am a huge fan of the Denon 103 ($299 note: not the Denon 103R) when paired with the Auditorium 23 because together they make vibrant, luscious work of vinyl replay. Here’s how things shook out with that in mind—the winning-est combination was the A23 / L2 Phono pairing as it imparted more energy, punch, vim and vigor than the Sugden A21SE. In comparison, the A23 / Sugden sounded a bit sleepier and a tad duller than the L2 Phono using the same A23 step-up.

To my ears, mind, heart, body and soul, the L2 Phono when paired with the Auditorium 23/Denon 103 combo made for deep, deep listening. The kind of listening that digital rarely touches in the sense of imparting on the listener total relaxation. With much of the digital replay I’ve heard over the decades, there’s apprehension involved as if you’re waiting to get hurt—perhaps by a little pinch or a even a bigger bite. Not so with vinyl, even relatively affordable vinyl replay.

Second place was more or less a tie between my complete rig and the L2 Phono’s MC input, sans A23 step-up. The L2 offered a bit more energy and detail while the Sugden/A23 combo offered more heart and soul. Horses for courses.

L2 DAC ($3,495.00)

For this review, I used the review Auralic ARIES G1 Wireless Streaming Transporter’s USB output to feed the L2 DAC. Comparisons were completely unfair price-wise as I switched between the totaldac d1-seven and d1-direct (full review of the totaldac d1-direct coming from Alex Haldberstadt with a follow-up by yours truly), each costing more than the L2 Signature Preamplifer, using the ARIES G1’s AES output. It worth noting, I’ve listened to and reviewed a lot of DACs.

L2 DAC Features

  • Bit-perfect playback at sampling rates up to PCM 768kHz (16, 24, or 32 bit compatible), as well up to DSD512. Sample rates are viewable from front panel display.
  • Dual-mono design, with one flagship AKM AK44497EQ d/a chip per channel.
  • Fully discrete, pure Class-A JFET analog outputs stage design with cascode constant-current source biasing (no opamps).
  • On-board FPGA buffer and femto-reclocking circuitry negates effects of jitter. Isolated input stages.
  • ‘NOS’ (non-oversampling) filter mode with digital filter bypass, as well as a Minimal Phase digital filter mode (selected via the “FILTER” button on the L2 Remote).
  • Absolute polarity ‘normal’ / Absolute polarity ‘inverted’ modes (selected via the “PHASE” button on the L2 Remote).
  • Belleson Super-regulated voltage feed to numerous ultra-low noise, linear voltage regulators used throughout (for both digital and analog sections).
  • “Silent” mute ‘reed relays’ (*barely* an audible click from the board when changing tracks of a different sample rate).
  • Inputs: 1 USB, 1 Coax (75-ohm BNC, with included RCA adapter) and 1 TOSLINK (optical).
  • Connect up to three devices and switch between them via L2 front panel or the remote handset.

My preferences are NOS all-the-way so that’s how I spent the majority of my time listening to the L2 DAC. Since you can flip back and forth between filters with the push of a button on the remote, you may find you prefer NOS. Or Minimal Phase. Or both!

The L2 DAC lives in the natural, smooth world of digital replay. It does not sound overly etched or harsh, as a lot of DACs do, and I found it to be completely enjoyable for long periods of listening, i.e. apprehension-free digital. The L2 DAC is also finely controlled from bottom to top while recreating a nice sense of the space of the recording. It is, in a word, very good sounding digital.

The totaldacs simply add more of everything to the mix, as they should considering their price tag (17,450euros excl VAT out of Europe). The totaldacs (every one I’ve heard) sound better than very good sounding digital, upping the ante to simply great sounding music makers. The takeaway point here is if you already own a DAC you love, try it with the L2 Signature Preamplifer. If you like what you hear, live happily ever after. If not, you can always add the L2 DAC module.

On the other hand, if your DAC is simply OK and you find it tends to grate over listening-time, or if you haven’t jumped into digital but want to, I’d recommend adding the L2 DAC module to your order and calling off the hunt.

You can spend more and get better than the L2 modules and you can also spend more and get not-as-good as the L2 modules. Of course bargain hunters will always want to find something that costs less yet performs better so let’s just say that this is certainly a possibility. Have at it. Some manufacturers retain a house sound throughout their product line. This is the ideal. Vinnie Rossi has a house sound and that house is built upon a foundation of natural, clean, and entirely engaging music playback.

What we have with the L2 Signature Preamplifer and its DAC and Phonostage modules is a multi-tasking component that serves up music with that Vinnie Rossi house sound. If you’re considering the L2 Signature Preamplifer, I recommend the DAC and Phonostage modules because as a package they offer a one-stop, one-box solution that will not leave you wanting for anything but more music.