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Thread: Firebottle Vivant MC Phono Stage - Longer Review

  1. #1
    Join Date: Feb 2018

    Location: Suffolk, UK

    Posts: 24
    I'm Steve.

    Default Firebottle Vivant MC Phono Stage - Longer Review



    I’ve read a fair few reviews over the years and especially with phono gear like cartridges, turntables and stages I often wince at some of the expressions and descriptions used. How can that possibly be? Its a similar thing with wine reviews when people describe “essence of vanilla pods on a summer’s morning” and such like. So forgive me if I also start digressing into sounding like a hifi reviewer, because I’m not. This is the first time I’ve ever put finger to keyboard and attempted a review.

    Kit:

    • Inspire Elevation turntable
    • Zu Audio DL103R Mk2 MC cartridge
    • Origin Live RB250 arm
    • Quad IIs (1960s)
    • Audio Synthesis Passion passive pre
    • Decware Radial ERR speakers
    • Isotek Mini-Sub AC conditioner

    Intro

    Over the years I’ve bought & sold my audio kit, made a few quid selling my old stuff, slowly traded up and generally experimented. I’ve settled on the Decware speakers because I’ve yet to find anything that can do sound staging like them (they’re ‘omnidirectional’ apparently). Similarly I can’t see any need to change the passive Passion pre-amp because I only have one source and I don’t need a pre to do any amplification for me, just turn the volume up & down - but mostly because it’s remote control and I’m lazy. Same with the Quads - aside from E.A.R kit I haven’t found anything that serves my ears as well as they do.

    However phono stages have come & gone. Over the past 15 years or so I’ve had the pleasure of a Michell ISO / Hera, Trichord Delphini, E.A.R 834P, a Meridian something or other and a couple now forgotten. Most recent has been one of the best: a dual-mono battery powered solid state stage that came in kit form from the US (https://boozhoundlabs.com/) and was put together by a skilled friend. When combined with two Cinemag SUTs we fitted it really is an extremely impressive stage.

    But then then Firebottle Vivant arrived.

    My review material:

    • London Grammar - "Truth is a Beautiful Thing"
    • Counting Crows - "August & Everything After"
    • Cranberries - "Everybody Else Is Doing It"

    Sound:

    There is something about this phono stage that I can’t explain without using words like multi-dimensional, holographic and hypnotic. The very terms I used to smile at when reading reviews. Spend any amount of time with the Vivant and it starts to lure you into the sound - that’s the only way I can explain it. There is so much detail, in so many places; forwards, backwards, up, down, left, right, far left, far right and places that can’t actually be possible from stereo except that my ears & brain believe they can hear things there.

    The only way I can describe my experience of the sound-staging with the Vivant is to visualise a very large clock that fills up the space where your speakers are. On other phono stages I’ve been able to place instruments at the 2 o’clock position, 10 o’clock, 3 o’clock and so on. With the Vivant though, imagine that same clock and then an identical one a few feet behind it. And another one behind that. Then another couple of clocks in front.

    Instruments or vocals which on the initial clock are at the 10 o’clock position can somehow have other instruments “layered” behind them in the same position. Sticking with the layer-of-clocks analogy it’s the same coming forwards - sound can be positioned at say 3pm on our initial clock but then be ‘in front’ of that at 3pm at various depths on the other clock layers.

    I’ve never heard instruments layered at the same clock positions in front & behind each other in a 3D landscape. I must be losing my mind.

    But it’s not just about the ‘3D’ nature going backwards and forwards, somehow sound has the ability to extend far wider than the speakers are. In the case of the left-hand-speaker it sometimes goes out into next door’s driveway.

    Moving away from sound staging the Vivant has an ability to genuinely surprise. Even on tracks where I know what’s coming like the opening kick-drum and harmonica of Counting Crows’ “Omaha”. Thump! Goose bumps. Incredible. The track continues, there are bells somewhere way off and backwards into the sound which again lure you in, but then some other instrument grabs your attention in a totally different part of the soundstage and you are diverted over there. After a while of this it becomes hypnotic in a very good & relaxing way. Yesterday was not a good child day and by the end of it our 7 year-old son had given me a headache. 10 minutes into some vinyl through the Vivant and my head was no longer throbbing. I am not making this up.

    The final track on London Grammar’s Truth is a Beautiful Thing album (“Control”) uses a looped synth for large parts of the backing track, in a Philip Glass / Steve Reich style (kind of). The Vivant brings your attention to this constant presence down towards the floor and your mind begins to “lean” on its constant looping hypnotic presence. Then the lopping stops and I honestly felt myself lean forward as if my ‘support’ had been pulled away like the proverbial rug. How can sound do this?

    The Cranberries “Everybody Else Is Doing It….” album has long been a favourite. Or rather the 80% of it I now know I’d been listening to. Suddenly with the Vivant there is so much more depth where drums roll off, echo & atmosphere where there wasn’t previously and a laser-sharpness to Dolores’ much missed voice. “Dreams” is probably familiar to everyone but I’ve never been surprised by the track starting up, until now. Same for the jangly guitars and wall of strings that comes in half way through. Where had they been all these years?

    Tech:

    As I understand it the Vivant is a ‘hybrid’ valve (tube) / solid state stage. Using the best characteristics of solid state to orchestrate the very best out of the valves. In my experience valve stages often come with an almost inevitable level of hum, to varying degrees. Well, I’m damned if I can hear it on the Vivant - even with the levels up high & between tracks. I did once think there was some out-of-signal transformer noise going but of course the turned out to be the AV amp next to the TV (nice one, Sony).

    I’m not an electronics guru, I read, experiment and stick with what seems to work. All my equipment including the Vivant is fed by an Isotek Mini-Sub AC conditioner and every audio component has a single core of mains cable joining up to either its chassis or where available an earthing terminal and then back to the earthing point on the Isotek. I’m fairly sure this helps on the hum front but seriously, I’ve never heard (not heard?) a valve phono stage as quiet as the Vivant.

    Most reviews end with a summary so here’s mine:

    Pro’s: Bl@@dy everything. Even treats minor medical conditions.
    Con’s: Um…

    Hope some of that helps people and thanks again to Firebottle for a fantastic product.

    Steve
    Last edited by steveharman; 13-03-2018 at 17:20.

  2. #2
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 5,859
    I'm Oliver.

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    That's a really thorough write up. I agree with everything you wrote.

    Great isn't it lol.
    Analogue: Technics SP10 MK2 > Phonomac AT-1010 MK5 tonearm > Ortofon Kontrapunkt b > Wizard Jfet MC Valve Phonostage (Telefunken & Tesla Valves)
    Digital: NONE
    Amplification: Nelson Pass DCB1 & Monarchy Audio SM-70 Class A Amplifier
    Cables: Fisual S-Flex Speaker Cable & SPOTFIRE IC Cables & NEW SPOTFIRE Tonearm cable
    Speakers: Pioneer CS-77A

  3. #3
    Join Date: Apr 2015

    Location: london

    Posts: 112
    I'm martin.

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    Great review!

  4. #4
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: The Black Country

    Posts: 4,271
    I'm Alan.

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    Steve, that is a fabulous review. I am extremely pleased that you can appreciate the level of performance, it is the pinnacle of over 4 years of development.

    I'm probably as chuffed as you are but it is humbling to be able to share the passion

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