Lake People/Violectric

Surprised these don’t get much love, but then again, their products are a bit on the pricey side relative to how they perform— CEO Fried Reim boasts that they “pay very very resonable wages so non (sic) of [our] employees is (sic) forced to look for a second or third job.”, which I find to be a beautiful sentiment, albeit one that leaves end consumer in a bit of a poor spot.

I’ve had the Lake People G109A at home for the last few days on loan from a friend. The G109A is the [Mass]Drop limited version of the G109S commissioned to celebrate LP/Vio’s 30th anniversary back in 2016; I got to demo a modded HD800 out of this particular amplifier some time ago, which is what re-ignited my interest in audio some years back, after happily spending preceding years listening to the first-gen AKG K550s straight out of my phone and PC.

I’m in the middle of writing more detailed impressions, but here’re some quick photos to start off. I’m obligated to say that LP/V’s admitted propensity for overcharging wasn’t much mitigated by the [Mass]Drop discount, but there are some things I really like about it. Comparisons will be to a G1217 Sunrise III with a third-party LPS out of an older Schiit Bifrost. Headphones are all varying degrees of weird in the treble.

The amp has a remarkably “clean” design, many would say boring, but in true Deutsch fashion it’s built like an absolute tank and feels like it’ll last for many years to come. It’s also surprisingly compact, fitting easily in a messenger bag for transport. My fave part absolutely has to be the volume knob— very satisfying clicks, and bonkers-good channel balance all the way down to near-zero, which is a Godsend considering most of my headphones are crazy efficient. One massive improvement over the non-anniversary edition is the bigger, gold feet, which besides looking much more impressive feel more secure than the little nubs on the production G109 series.

Haha yes big feet and impressive knobs. Very funny (I actually chuckled).

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I think part of the reason they don’t get much love is precisely because their price/performance level (value) is far enough out of whack to be a problem. And when a ~$500 unit is objectively, and subjectively for me, out-performed by a $100 unit then that perception of value is probably not going to change for the better.

Yes, there’s a definite market for things that are built more nicely than, say, the JDS Labs Atom. But this unit is a standard CoTS extruded project case, with custom-drilled end-plates and some feet stuck on, and it wouldn’t take $50, let alone $400, for JDS Labs to do that to the Atom.

Also, I get why they used a detented volume control, but doing so with an analog pot is a bit silly as you get the worst of both worlds (potential low-level channel imbalance, with much more limited ability to avoid it, and less flexibility in choosing a volume level) in any scenario that doesn’t require repeatable volume positioning.

Finally, IF their value proposition (and cost structure) derives mostly from the, admittedly laudable, stance on employee compensation, then it’s not the customer that’s in a tough spot. It’s the employee. At least in the long term.

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Haha, that’s what I was getting at (in usual roundabout fashion). I think part of why they’re so popular still is sheer force of brand prestige thanks to products like the V281, as well as other alternatives (given the price point… presumably of the faecal variety? :p) simply not being an easy option in certain markets.

Not to mention there’s that whole contingent of "oh it’s more expensive so it must be better— it’s not untrue, but it’s also kinda bosh’tet.

A detented volume control! Knew there was another phrase I was looking for, that was it. I will say that I have a very limited sample size (maybe two amplifiers, hah!), but channel balance doesn’t seem to be a concern with LP/Vio amps, which is small enough consolation given how much more one is paying for these. I do find it useful, being able to figure out exactly how many “steps” in I need to go to get the exact same volume level, but I will admit wishing there were more granularity— quick on the fly measurements show ~4dB steps from 6:30 (zero volume) to about 9:00, with ~2dB per click thereafter. Not horrible, but could be better.

I will say about the sound that it’s a very Amir-friendly presentation. I was looking for measurements trying to figure out how much power this thing was drawing (apologies, I am honestly completely ignorant about electronics, so have no idea how to compute even if the necessary data were available) when I came across measurements and a “review” on ASR. Suffice to say he loved it.

In my defence I didn’t notice the url until it was too late.

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Those are pretty coarse volume adjustments. Especially for what should be effectively near-infinitely adjustable. The 22-step stepped attenuator on the GSX-II was too coarse for me as well … 1 dB steps or less please, at least above -20 dB.

Aside … if you ever want/need a REALLY excellent passive attenuator/pre-amp, the Schiit “Saga S” is a great choice, even if you never run it in active mode … source switching and a 64-step relay-switched stepped attenuator volume control for what it costs is, as far as I’m aware, the least expensive option by at least a factor of 2, maybe more.

Analog pots are funny. You can have a bunch of cheapies that’ll give damn near no audible channel balanced, then some will be so far off as to unstable. And then you can step up in price significantly and may get … the exact same thing. QC/measuring individual components before assembly can avoid that of course as you can simply discard the poorly-matched units.

What URL is an issue? The link to Head-Fi? That isn’t a problem.

Totally agree that the volume control could use more finesse— the fact that this has adjustable gain sort of makes up for it, but I wish you could access that without opening the chassis up.

Just based on MSRP, I’m thinking it is the quality control that’s primarily to thank for the excellent channel balance, yup. I’m certainly hoping you get something more than satisfied employees for what you’re paying them.

Saga’s been on the to-get list! Just been meaning to get a better amp first because as much as I enjoy the 1217 Sunrise (especially with the HD650— damn that’s a nice match), it’s not the last word in control and resolution, not to mention the noise floor isn’t low enough for my liking. Latter’s not as much a bother to me as it would be for most others I feel since I’m a “detail in the grain” kinda guy with photography, and that attitude extends to building my audio rig, but I’m still hoping to pinch pennies for a Big Boy™ tube amp some time down the line just to see what all the fuss is about.

Or an Aeolus. So very tempting.

And no, the URL thing was a joke about my having accidentally gone to ASR while looking for measurements, specifically power consumption, haha.

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The Lake People G109A (purchased directly from Violectric, USA) was my first serious headphone amp. It made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the headphones I had 3 1/2+ yrs ago. Since then I also picked up a V281.

These 2 have sonic similarities…I mean that in entirely good ways: slight warmth, strong dynamics, lots of power, impact/reach/detail in the bass; neutral mids; non-shrieky/peak treble. Every headphone I have sounds good on either one. The worst I can say about the G109A is that the soundstage is average to above average…not a world-beater that way (the V281 is better).

I never thought twice about the price, which was $440 at the time, incl. their “Spring Discount.” I’d make that deal again in a heartbeat. I listen less the G109A now that most of headphones are balanced; but I have a 4-pin XLR to 1/4" pigtail adapter from ForzaAudioWorks, and even my best headphones sound great on this amp.

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Whaaaaaat the fuck you can do that? Huh :))

Anyway it’s actually kinda funny you raised those points because the short version of my impressions is that the amp is certainly warm, but lacking in extension both up high and down low. Bass hits hard but is actually somewhat less textured coming off the G1217 Sunrise and the treble, while “hard” and intrusive (ha-ha-ha that was unintentional) with my headphones actually sounds like it lacks a bit of upper air. Midrange is tonally grand, I’ll give it that, and macrodetail whoops the Sunrise six ways to Sunday, but micro-stuff just seems dead.

Best illustration I’ve come up with so far: those massive drums at the very start of Rage Against the Machine’s Take the Power Back hit like a brick but “breathe” a bit after, like you get a sense of exhalation from the air moving around the room immediately following those gargantuan THUMPS. I can hear that with the Sunrise, with a bit of concentration, but not at all on the Lake People amp at my usual listening volumes or even a bit past that.

My headphones are certainly weird though so that’s a factor to consider. I don’t have HD650s on hand but I imagine the more aggressive upper midrange on the LP amp (relative to the Sunrise) might suit it well.

I will say, however, that I’ve been using the G109A extensively lately both for music and just dicking around on YouTube, just to give my brain a chance to adapt to it. I’m enjoying the fact that I needn’t worry about tube longevity, and for all that the knob could use a bit more finesse (as Torq pointed out) it’s very satisfying to play with*

*This one was on purpose.

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A while back I purchased a used Violectric V280 (sister of the V281, more or less the same amp but without the preamp and other features) for $900, which I thought was worth the price but I am not sure I would have bought it for retail - around $1700.

From the balanced output, the V280 is powerful and has a lot of heft and body as well as good grip in the lower octaves. I also found it to have a very nice midrange that wasn’t in your face, very good definition and detail in the higher registers, which never sounded shrill or harsh. Imaging and soundstage were also very well done with no issues of crowding or congestion at all. In fact it was spacious.

My only two complaints are that:

  1. Perhaps because the notes were full and round , thus giving the amp a warm, lush sound (in my view anyway), I perceived it as being rather slow especially when compared to the THX 789, which I owned at the same time.

  2. As mentioned by others, I also found it ridiculous that such an expensive amp would have an attenuator with only 21 steps. I also had the Schiit Saga for a while and it’s 64 stepped attenuator was far better and it came with a remote! (for the price, the Saga is a great preamp).

Personally, I preferred the V280 to the THX 789, which I found created fatigue quite quickly compared to the V280. The THX 789, in comparison, also seemed to lack the heft, body and the effortlessness of the V280 but it is much more nimble and at a quarter of the price, the THX - without a doubt - offers much better value.

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I think the general consensus surrounding the entire company’s lineup (I speak of Lexus and Toyota as a single entity because that’s what they are… I mean, Lake People and Violectric, whoops) is comprised of products that perform well but are costlier than they have any right to be given how their peers, by which I mean products that trade blows evenly with them, are significantly less costly.

That does seem to be their house sound, yes, and areas of specialisation (bass grip, channel separation, midrange balance, and lack of congestion— I don’t think the G109A does imaging and soundstage extremely well, but this is a much more affordable product, haha). To that end I can see why they’re somewhat popular: these are aspects of sonic reproduction that many people who are “into” audio tend to focus on, less the micro-stuff and sense of air that I’m fixated on just now. I mentioned in a profile post over on SBAF that the amp is excellent for anime and background listening, and I meant it— its strengths are well-suited to the former because audio in loads of JP dubs are shrill as heck with waaaay too much upper end sparkle, and the latter because the macrodetail performance is such that you get detail thrown in your face even when you’re passively hearing things and not actively digging through recordings. I’ll own up to it being a bit of a backhanded compliment, though :stuck_out_tongue:

Looking forward to getting a V281 in the house one of these days! I eventually plan to have one great tube amp and one “good” SS one so I needn’t worry (as much) about component longevity. That’s a long ways off though, I’m happy in hybrid land for now.

For the record, I just checked and the G109A has 40 steps. Nice, but why the heck hasn’t this been rolled out to the rest of the LP or even Vio lineup?

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Well, when I got the V281, it was such a paradigm shift in every way, sonically & operationally, that I find myself not comparing my other SS amps (including the G109A) to it in any real way. The V281 has sensational bass (depth, impact, detail/texture); also the best soundstaging of any SS amp I’ve heard; and the best dynamics I’ve ever heard from any SS device. Admittedly, I haven’t bothered spending time w/mega-$$ SS amps said to be way better…amps I can’t afford & don’t have space for.

Back to the G109A. the volume pot has 40 or 41 steps (hard to be sure). That’s plenty for my needs.

But these posts have me thinking about my listening pattern. I rarely listen super-critically (usually when I’m about to post a review or sonic impressions in some detail). I never really did heavy comparative listening w/the G109A.

What I do most often is cycle between my 6 amps (5 X SS; 1 OTL tube) & different combinations w/various headphones. I’m looking for synergies that let me hear new things. It’s not inherently critical listening–more subjective. I’m in this for the music, honestly.

Nevertheless, my impression is none of my 4 other SS amps really match the V281 overall, though each has a sound signature I appreciate & sought out. The G109 is probably “the best of the rest.”

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3 and 1/2 years ago, when I bought the G109A, it was their “Anniversary” model, issued in honor of an anniversary of Lake People or Violectric, not sure which. It has some small but meaningful upgrades vs the regular SE G109 model. But that was then. You can no longer buy this model from them.

I’m kinda shocked to hear it was on Massdrop (uh, I meant “Drop”), for 2 reasons: 1st, I get alerts from them every day and never saw this particular listing; and 2nd, I never dreamed a Lake People or Violectric product would end up orphaned, a candidate for the Drop treatment. Live & learn…

I have spent the last few months thinking I needed at least one “normal” sounding headphone around, hahaha. The DT880 is that save for a bit of a broad mid-treble peak, and to my ears it sounds a better tonal match for the amp than does the Klipsch, lacking as it is in finer nuances etc.

[several minutes later]
Okay I got distracted by a water delivery (tap water not safe to consume in my neck of the woods) and lost my train of thought, so whoops. I think the above paragraph was leading up to my saying that as much as I’m trying to gain experience listening to various components and learn how to identify subtler elements of the audio reproduction process than “oh this has moar bass, this is a bit sharper-sounding”, my impressions merely constitute a single data point. I’ve not even heard very much gear compared to loads of others here, which is why I end up reading a lot about gear I do own or have heard. It’s just kinda sad that there’s relatively less chatter about my main headphones, haha.

So yeah, I’m speaking as someone who has limited access to nice gear and whose best on-hand amp is a DIY-friendly piece of kit that can be had for not very much at all. True, the fact that I think the LP fails to categorically surpass the Sunrise doesn’t speak well of the G109’s virtues, but that’s where my having weird headphones becomes a factor.

This drop took place back in 2016 so I don’t know whether it was before you signed up for [Mass]Drop or whether the email just got caught in your spam filter, but either way I’m as surprised that it was offered direct from LP/Vio as you are that it was on Massdrop because I somehow had it in mind that this was another [Mass]Drop x Brand collaboration, haha. Looked it up, I was in the wrong :stuck_out_tongue:

Just for the record I don’t necessarily think that a brand’s releasing an item with [Mass]Drop reflects very poorly on them. It’s a distribution platform like any other, albeit one with an atypical flow.

Just for the record I still hate the rebrand. The fancy D (hah) logo is beginning to grow on me, but the stupid name can take a Drop in a filthy public restroom for all I care.

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P.S.

I tried being a bit useful and mapped how many dB each “click” of the knob adds. Turns out it actually goes down to about 1dB per click higher up (I was using far more sensitive headphones last I checked, have the DT880 250ohms plugged in now so less scared of breaking em). REW, 300Hz sine dBZ. I tried my best to do one click per second with the aid of an online metronome but probably bollixed that a bit. Eh, you can see from the jumps where I clicked, haha.

Some moderate noise just outside so I wouldn’t trust the stuff lower down myself, but you can more or less see the general trend.

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I wonder if there’s any experience with their Violectric V850 DAC here and how this keeps up against things?

Violectric has always had clever a marketing strategy, especially objectivists are willing to pay these prices in the hopes to get a “technically” 100% amp. Looking at the measurements I’m actually suprised this isn’t very exeptional.

Another contender in the pricerange of the G109 is the Meier Corda Jazz, which I have and which is a very good amp. A bit on the warm side, fast, detailed and engaging. I prefer this over Vali 2 mostly.

(Edit: That’s a bit overenthusiastic, I like to listen to it as much as I like to listen to Vali 2)

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The Violectric stack drives the HE6se very well. I’d put the v850 on the same level as the RME ADI2 Dac which I also owned and sold in favor of keeping the v850. Sonically I couldn’t really decide on a preferred or notable sound difference and wanted to keep the aesthetics.

combo

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I’ve spent time with the Violectric V850 and thought it was extremely over-priced for what it is.

ANd if you’re an objectivist, there are better measuring DACs for <1/8th the V850’s asking price.

They used a cheap, lower-performing, DAC IC just, as far as I can tell, either to be able to claim “32-bits” or to reduce the parts cost by at most $10 (maybe both). The 32-bit part of the PCM1795 (~$3 each in lots of one) is just the reconstruction filter, and otherwise it does not match the performance or spec of the PCM1792 (~$8 each in lots of one). Not very appealing in a $1,695 converter.

Sound wise, it’s very close to the iFi Nano and Micro iDSD Black Label units, though they have way more features, including proper headphone amplifiers, but then they lack balanced output (which is mostly a FOMO thing in consumer desktop audio anyway, at least between components that are sitting on top of each other … having a headphone output with proper balanced/differential output is another matter).

It’s a bit on the loose/rich side on the bottom end, with an overall relatively laid-back delivery and lacks a bit in terms of air/space and sparkle. It’s quite forgiving of marginal material. Doesn’t draw attention to itself … and would only stand out in a similarly-priced crowd for being extraordinarily ordinary.

It’s one of those products where most of the price has gone into things other than the sonic end-result, and it shows quite readily when put side by side with things costing much less. By the time you’re around $1,000 mark, never mind the $1,695 asked for the V850, you’re up against vastly better performing units with way more functionality, much better measurements and far more accurate replay.

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I seldom post complete noise so beg clemency here:

Oof.

and at night the local airport uses my office for approach lighting…

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One persons audio trash is another’s audio treasure. My other dac in main my stereo setup is an SMSL SU8 v2 which sounds great, solid build, has those solid distortion numbers, is cheap, but I don’t love it with my He6se headphone setup. I definitely think the v850 is a good paring on the v281. By the numbers it should have been worse than the RME but to my ears it wasn’t better or worse. Personally I’m not after ruler flat response or perfect distortion numbers, probably why I like tubes. I also buy most gear used which saves you a lot in this case.

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Indeed.

I don’t generally question why someone likes what they like. As long as people are enjoying their music, and their systems, how/what/why they do it a certain way is largely immaterial and really no concern of mine.

As ever, when commenting on any product, it’s always just my opinion, which has to be tempered with personal preferences, perceptions and biases (anyone claiming they have no biases is either blissfully deluded, or lying to themselves/others).

Despite being an engineer, I’m certainly not a hardcore objectivist.

I only brought up measurements since the post I was responding referred to objectivists potentially seeking Violectric products in pursuit of technical perfection. And if they are, that would suggest they either can’t read a spec sheet and/or don’t understand the measurements - because it’s easy to find better technical performance for substantially less money.

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