Violectric V380²

Violectric V380²

26 October 2022 0 By Petros Laskis

Der Panzer

Pros: + High End headphone amplifier
+ High End DAC
+ High End preamplifier
+ High End DAC/amp
+ Excellent sound performance under all scenarios
+ Supreme technicalities and fidelity
+ Natural timbre
+ Musical and analogue sounding signature
+ Extremely dynamic and impactful
+ Fully differential amplifier
+ Can drive every headphone on the planet
+ Three headphone outputs
+ Dead silent
+ Pre-gain adjusting system
+ Rollable op-amps
+ ALPS RK27 potentiometer
+ Excellent build quality
+ Made in Germany

Cons: – No MQA decoding (if you care)
– A balanced XLR input is really missing
– A remote control would be a much welcomed feature

The Violectric V380² was loaned to me without a deadline for the purpose of this review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The V380² price is €2299 and you can order it directly from the Violectric online shop.

About Lake People & Violectric

Lake People established the Violectric brand in 2009 to offer specialist equipment for the hi-fi market. Its goal: to offer music lovers with high standards in sound quality and design aesthetics the chance to enjoy the outstanding quality of audio circuitry engineered for the Lake People brand.

The architect behind these two brands is Fried Reim. All Violectric products are driven by real-world advances in electronics design rather than fantastical, esoteric marketing promises. “Our products are aimed at pragmatists,” he says. This approach is reflected in the aesthetics of the Violectric range and its simple yet elegant design.

The Violectric range of products includes headphone amplifiers and combo DAC/amp units, starting from the entry level and relatively affordable HPA V202, ending to the very expensive, ultra high end, NIIMBUS US 5 PRO.
There is also a portable USB DAC dongle called CHRONOS.

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All Violectric and Lake people products are made in Germany at the company’s own facilities.

I am quite familiar with the Violectric brand since I have owned the legendary headphone amplifier V280 and have already reviewed the HPA V550, the DHA V226 and the CHRONOS.

VIOLECTRIC DHA V380²

The Violectric DHA V380² is a new top-device in the Violectric range. It offers a state-of-the-art DAC, a balanced headphone amplifier and a preamp function.
The V380² is the second generation of the previous V380 with some critical improvements.

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The DAC section

The DAC board is newly developed and includes a 32-bit resampler / reclocker and two 32-bit DACs per channel.
The DAC chip used is now the 8-channel ES9026PRO, instead of the discontinued AK4490, configured for a balanced stereo output.
A newly developed algorithm is used to do the 32-bit resampling / reclocking of all the incoming samples (PCM and DSD), a procedure that cannot be switched off as was possible in the V380 where the user could select the resampling routine between on/off and best.
There are three digital inputs:
Optical and coaxial that support up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM while USB can go up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD 256.
The DAC section is housed in a dedicated board with its own power supplies, allowing for future updates when something new becomes available.

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The headphone amplifier

The headphone amplifier circuit is exactly the same with the V380, the famous differential topology (with one dedicated amplifier per phase) that was first introduced with the V280/V281 headphone amplifiers and since then has undergone some further critical improvements.
The Violectric DHA V380² offers a powerful headphone amplifier with the lowest noise through a very small amount of internal gain.
This makes the amplifier’s self-generated noise pretty inaudible while being a powerful beast with a high output voltage through the 50V internal operating voltage, therefore ideally suited for high-impedance headphones deserving high output voltage swing.
At the same time the amplifier offers a high output power thanks to the four internal powerful amplifiers that offer far more power even the most demanding headphones would need, so also suited for headphones with low impedances as well as magnetostatic headphones.
The near zero output impedance results in a high damping factor, therefore the ideal match for difficult to drive headphones without negative side effects and with the guarantee for an uncompromising frequency response.
The four internal powerful amplifiers offer 5000mW Pmax into 50 Ohm and 21V RMS into 600 Ohm, making the V380² one of the most powerful amplifiers of the market.
The whole unit is powered by a 25VA toroidal transformer with > 26.500 uF of filter capacity and separate regulators for all critical stages of the circuit.

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The famous Violectric pre-gain system

The V380² features the famous Violectric +/-18dB pre-gain adjusting system for a perfect match of the headphone amplifier between source and headphones.
The adjustment is done by the means of four dip switches (-18,-6,+6,+18), independently for the left and the right channels, that are located at the back of the unit.
Adjustment is easy to do and the system is really effective, allowing the user to use various headphones, from efficient IEMs to the HiFiMan Susvara, always having the ideal volume margin.

The amp section of the V380² is really amazing making it one of the most versatile and ultra powerful headphone amplifiers on the market.
Literally there is not a headphone in existence that cannot be driven with definite authority and surplus of headroom while the amplifier stays dead silent with the most efficient earphones.
To get a picture of what is happening, most of my usual headphones, a diverse selection like the Focal Clear Mg, Meze 109 PRO and Elite, HiFiMan Arya V3, Sennheiser HD650 and HD8XX, sounded absolutely great without even using the pre-gain while a couple of them benefited from the -6dB.
For the Susvara, I had to use +6dB to get them happy as a clam and I guess that the +18dB is reserved for driving something like the Abyss or maybe efficient speakers!

The analogue Preamplifier

The V380² features both balanced and unbalanced line outputs that can be activated/deactivated by a switch on the front so you don’t have to unplug your headphones.
This is a fully analogue, high quality, dedicated preamplifier circuit that can be bypassed by a push button at the back of the unit for a fixed line output.
So you can use the V380² either as a high quality standalone DAC or as a preamplifier for driving power amplifiers or active monitors.

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Physical appearance and build quality

The V380² has a minimalistic, classical style appearance with some modern touches and is literally built like a German tank.
The chassis is made from thick aluminum with a brushed faceplate while all surfaces have a smooth, black matte finish of the highest quality.
Specialized anti-resonance feet are attached from the factor.
The unit is quite compact and it doesn’t require too much space so you can fit it either in a dedicated rack or to your desk.

At the left side of the front face there is a massive aluminium knob that adjusts the ALPS RK27 potentiometer which offers precise step by step volume adjustment rather than the usual continuous one.
This is by far my favorite type of potentiometer only bested by a stepped relay attenuator.
Next there is the control panel where the user can use a switch to select the desired output between headphone, line and off.
Another two switches are used to select the analogue input between RCA1 and RCA2 or switch to the digital inputs and toggle between the three of them.
All functions are indicated by nine, mildly bright, white LEDs while another two indicate whether the input sample is PCM or DSD without displaying actual sampling rate.
The V380² has three headphone outputs, one 6.35mm single ended and two balanced with XLR and 4.4mm pentaconn jacks.
At the back of the unit there are located the IEC plug, the three digital inputs, the pre-gain dip switches, two RCA line inputs, XLR and RCA line outputs and the preamp bypass button.

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Associated gear

I have used a great variety of headphones but mostly the Meze Elite and 109 PRO, HiFiMan Susvara and Arya Stealth, Sennheiser HD8XX and the Focal Clear Mg.
All headphone cables are of pure silver and made by Lavricables.
The V380² was plugged into an iFi PowerStation with the Lab12 knack mk2 power cable.

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The V380² was evaluated as a standalone DAC, a headphone amplifier, preamplifier and a DAC/amp combo unit.
For the line output evaluation was plugged into a 2-channel system consisting of the Audio Physic Spark 6 speakers and the Kinki EX-M1+ integrated amplifier in a dedicated room with full acoustic treatment.
To evaluate the headphone amplifier I have mainly used two DACs, the Lab12 dac1 reference and the Gustard DAC R26.

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Listening impressions

Part the first – Standalone DAC

The DAC section of the V380² is really superb sounding and not that far behind from dedicated DACs of the same category.
Actually, it is a dedicated DAC on its own since it is designed from the scratch and then implemented into the unit by the means of a modular board.
You don’t have to listen a lot in order to appreciate the sound qualities of the DAC which competed with the much more expensive resident DACs and didn’t lose the fight that easily.
The first thing that stood out was the definite linearity, the transparency and the purity of the sound which was absolutely neutral without any tonal shifts.
A highly exposing and transparent DAC which sounded great with good quality material and totally unforgiving with poor recordings while it offered deep micro-detail retrieval and excellent macro-dynamics.
Violectric is well known for valuing pro-level fidelity and precision without sacrificing musicality and this is exactly what is happening here.
I have to admit that I am not that fond of the ES9026PRO DAC chip, it can sound very strident and unnatural when not implemented with further efforts of fine tuning it.
Thankfully the sound engineers must have spent some good time tweaking the sound signature because the V380² is not boring, unnatural or clinical at all.
The V380² is the kind of the ultra reference sounding DAC which while not warm or organic per se, manages to stay smooth and euphonic with a natural timbre and absence of digital artificiality or treble stridency.
This is a state of the art implementation, combining top level technical performance and refinement with plenty of harmonic wealth and a colorful palette of overtones while it must be said that it favors a more lean, but extremely well defined, texture rather than a visceral and more full bodied one.
Listening to the following recording of Mahler’s 5th symphony will reward you with perfect tonal accuracy and harmony, precise positioning of the performers, crystal clear sound and a wide open presentation with the most convincing communication of the inner atmosphere.

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The only things really missing when compared to more sophisticated and expensive DACs are the absence of total holography, the not so visceral texture, the relative lack of depth layering and the less than realistically sized images.

Part the second – Headphone amplifier

People familiar with the famous Violectric V280/281 will probably know that they were one of the best sounding solid state headphone amplifiers ever made, combining confident technicalities with plenty of musicality, immensely organic timbre and a touch of tubey warmth.
As an old time owner of the V280 while I always enjoyed all these characteristics, I found the overall presentation a little slow, mildly congested, not that open, with smeared details and sluggish transients.
Fast forward to 2022 and everything belongs to the past because the Violectric team have tweaked the original design to address all these issues, finally breathing new life to the legendary beast.
The V380² headphone amplifier retains the same kind of musicality, naturalness of timbre and tubey texture while it adds more inline clarity, greater definition, much faster transients and a wider soundstage.
Now the amplifier is fast and pacey with an effortless music flow and excellent tonal coherency.
This is the solid state amplifier that you can listen for hours long without ever feeling listening fatigue while there is not a single source or a headphone that cannot be a great match with it.
The V380² is a shuttering amplifier with an amazingly impactful bass response and thunderous dynamics that will make your headphones explode as when listening to some old time “Kodo” favorites.

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The soundstage is extra holographic and immersive with excellent depth layering and a spacious, precise arrangement of the instruments.
The whole presentation is on the grand scale with a superb communication of the recording ambience that results to convincingly realistic recreation of the soundscape.

Part the third – DAC/amp combo

What do we get when we combine an excellent sounding DAC with a superb headphone amplifier?
A splendid sounding combination, a hassle free, plug ‘n play solution that guarantees the maximum amount of satisfaction without the need to worry about component matching.
Let’s make it clear, the V380² DAC/amp combined performance can only be compared with dedicated desktop components of the highest quality because this is exactly what it is.
This is not the usual all-in-one DAC/amp solution since they are essentially two separate devices inside the same chassis, tailored to sonically complement each other.
The transparent, crystal clear, slightly lean and revealing nature of the DAC combined with the more full bodied, weighty, organic and analogue sounding amplifier in an equation where every single ingredient is used in the needed amount to form the perfect and most balanced sound recipe.
The V380² may be excellent as a DAC or a headphone amplifier or a preamplifier but the truth is that the DAC/amp combination is from where the actual value comes, making it easily one of the best solutions in the market and possibly an end game purchase for most of the users out there.
I have been using it for months now and it has become both my reference reviewing tool and the daily companion for casual music listening with all my headphones and my favorite classical music.

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Part the fourth – Preamplifier

Really not much to add in this section as the variable DAC line output of the V380² will transfer all the above described sonic characteristics of the DAC to your power amplifier or active monitors.
And if you are using the analogue line inputs then the preamplifier will make sure to pass the information to the output with the utmost fidelity and transparency.
Hint: The RCA line input preamplifier function will output the signal both from the balanced and unbalanced outputs.
As an example you can connect an external DAC or a phono and use the V380² as a balanced or unbalanced preamplifier.
But if you choose to set the processing button to “post” then the analogue input signals are essentially passed through without further processing.
As you can understand the preamplifier of the V380² is really versatile and can accomplish various use scenarios while the only thing really missing is a balanced XLR input which is reserved for the more expensive V590².

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The icing on the cake

As you may have already observed in the attached photos, each one of the four internal headphone amplifiers is using one op-amp per phase for driving the corresponding power amplifier.
There are the NE5534 single type op-amps and they are located in dip sockets so you can easily try your luck rolling them with something else in your quest for sound perfection.
Like I did with the discrete V6 Burson op-amps which, luckily enough, had the precise height for fitting just under the DAC board.
And the result was that the sound……but this is another tale reserved for the upcoming Burson V6 op-amp review.

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In the end

High End headphone amplifier? – Check.
High End DAC? – Check.
High End preamplifier? – Check.
High End all-in-one solution? – Check.
Excellent build quality? – Check.
Compact chassis? – Check.

With the Violectric V380² you are essentially buying a high end solid state headphone amplifier, a premium DAC and the most transparent analogue preamplifier with the option of combining them at will according to your needs for an excellent state-of-the-art performance without the single sonic compromise.
Undoubtedly a German engineering masterpiece.

Test playlist

Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.