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Thread: Firebottle Vivant - A Review

  1. #1
    Join Date: Apr 2016

    Location: The World

    Posts: 320
    I'm Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff.

    Default Firebottle Vivant - A Review

    The Firebottle Vivant – All You’ll Ever Need?

    Amplifier – Pathos Classic Remix
    Speakers – Kef R5
    Cart – Hana SL
    Turntable – Michell Gyrodec SE HR (tweaked)
    Speaker Cable – Chord Epic Super Twin

    I was in the market for a new Phono Stage, and contacted a few companies to get units to try in my system around the price point I was looking to spend at. Some companies were great and sent out demo units, some not so much, but Alan Firebottle was one of the good ones and had a Vivant on its way to me next day. He is a man of few words, but as it emerged, one of talent.

    The first thing I noticed after dropping the needle on Jason Isbel's ‘Southeastern’ was the natural un-bloated bass that merges with the lower mid extremely naturally, no ‘harsh lines’ of resolution, just a nice harmony of the various frequencies creating an extremely rich and fulfilling sound. One of those moments that make you go “oh ok, let me get a whiskey (or a hot chocolate in my case) and sink back into this chair”.

    Even with the general ‘warmth’ of its sound signature, it does not lose the upper regions, they are still there and clear, and instrument separation is very nicely balanced and prominent, but delicate and extremely airy. There is a really nice level of accuracy but without farming the notes and stretching them into an extended concerto of indulgence which ultimately results in one of those ‘hifi’ fake sounds. This Vivant is a big bodied but humble warrior that merely shrugs off those forceful reproductions by just serving up an organic, natural soul fulfilling sound. It’s a maestro of delicacy, and a master of weight and body.

    One thing I always appreciate in a well designed and engineered phono stage is channel balance. Many I have tried have been off on one side by a DB or two which really annoys me, the Vivant isn’t. Its stereo imaging is one of the best I heard, and this for me, being one of my pet hates, was an immensely admirable trait of the unit and completely enjoyable to listen to. Its acknowledges the craftmanship of the designer and kudos to their tenacity of designing something this well balanced, even more so without the RD funding a big mainstream brand would have at their disposal.

    Tube stages, especially those more towards the budget end of the market, in my experience can tend to sound either coarse in the mid-range when ramped up and ‘old fashioned’ or muffled with over emphasis on the ‘warmth’ (distortion) which of course, some like. While I do appreciate that sound signature at times, it’s not one I can live with on a permanent basis. The Vivant does not have either of these. It has those organic earthy wooden attributes that create its natural presentation, but it still sounds clear and modern, with exceptionally low floor noise and a nice amount of dynamics that work with the instruments rather than stretch them to oblivion, It’s a bit of a class act. One thing that valve stages do well is have that ability to replicate the tonal fluctuations of say an acoustically played guitar chord or riff, the ‘after’ effect of the strum or pick, that vibrational pitch that resonates for a period of time after its immediate development. This is what ‘creates’ real music, which digital finds so hard to replicate and measubators unable to well, measure. This is, in my opinion what makes vinyl, vinyl, and the Vivant is a class leader in doing it. Listening to John Smiths ‘Headlong’ album allows it to define its accuracy in this area, the excellent production of the album, combined with Johns alternative tuning structures is portrayed as clean, and precise but with depth and gentleness, full of detail but surrounded by chocolate rather than ice.

    Popping on Lucinda Williams epic ‘The Ghosts of Highway 20’ (along with Southeastern probably one of the greatest Americana records of the 21st century) – quickly it was easily recognised that this album was made for the Vivant. In many of the tracks the drummer uses brushes, and this is portrayed with an effortless floaty ambience through the Vivant – exactly how brushes are supposed to sound. it’s all very, ‘in the room’ - with a chilled-out atmosphere, top shelf musicians, aged instruments and a few bottles of historic bourbon. The way I imagine how the record was made.

    Alice In Chains ‘Unplugged’ really shows off the more precision side of the Vivant. It’s a very well recorded live concert, and I learnt a lot of what I know on guitar from Jerry Cantrell in this concert, listening over and over again when I was a teen, playing till my fingers bled, so over twenty years I’ve become well versed to hearing it on many different stereos, environments etc so is always a good one to use as a tester, and the Vivant didn’t disappoint. At times you wonder if the romantic sound of it, is created by missing layers in the music to make it more comfortable on the ears and creating that organic ‘naturalness’, but this is one album to show you it isn’t, it’s just how it does its thing. Each guitar riff tails off with the all-inclusive fret buzzing and along with the three-dimensional presence of the live event itself portrayed through the playback, the Vivant really does grab your attention but without stamping on your feet. Each of Jerry’s solo’s, the crashing of Sean’s symbols and the rasp in Layne's voice is portrayed without any harshness or emphasis it’s just, how it’s meant to sound. It’s there, and its big, it’s smooth but it’ll wake the inner grunge kid in you when it needs too, but also allow you rest peacefully whilst engulfed by your sounds.

    I did detect some minor distortion in the vocals at times on various lp’s when the vocals where stretched on the recording and at a low volume. This may be a limitation of the Hana SL cartridge as it is essentially a budget MC cartridge, but not one I hear on the Pathos ITG. I did however hear it on multiple Icon Audio tube stages, so this may also be a characteristic of tubes. I’m no expert, I merely relate what I hear, I’ve no real interest in the technicalities or measurements other than some elementary curiosity and this was just something I picked up on, it didn’t detract from the enjoyment at all.

    The styling is actually much nicer in the flesh than photos show. I was a little dubious about the windswept logo at first, but now its installed, it looks quite classy sitting on the shelf below my Black and Silver Gyrodec. The blue LED forming part of the ‘I’ also looks nice and isn’t too bright. With my entire system being Black/Grey/Silver, it matches everything nicely and looks expensive. It’s also pretty massive and weighty. These are attributes I like when potentially spending upwards of the rrp of £1200. Cartridge loading is done by RCA sockets between the input and output, Alan provided some 166ohmn ones for my Hana SL. Ok, so the packaging was a little Heath Robinson, although I appreciate this may have just been a demo unit in its 'ship from person to person' packaging, but I think at the price point of the Vivant, a little investment in a good fitted box and inserts would definitely do a long way.

    One thing to also mention, is the ‘air’ around the microphones, it’s hardly something I have noticed before, but have read reviews mentioning similar, I’ve often thought what they ‘meant’ by this, until my time with the Vivant. It’s almost as if it is a microphone itself, sat in the room with the band, just absorbing all the energy, all the air, the breath and playing it back to you with a layer of sweet honey and hint of saffron. It’s demanding of your attention, but ultimately, a romantic at heart.

    I think in terms of valve-based phono stages; the Vivant is probably all you would ever need. I don’t see any value in spending more, or less for that matter, if you want a tube preamp, then this is the one to have. If you want a natural, detailed sound with an expansive sound stage, then this is the one to have. If you can’t afford it, save up, if you can and think you can do better, I challenge you.

    Did I buy it? Sadly not. I returned the Vivant to Alan and opted to purchase the Pathos In The Groove. With the Pathos amplifier and the Hana SL already on the more ‘laid’ back scale, the natural abilities of the Vivant blended a little too much to make it comfortable for me to permanently invest in. Having tried the Vivant on a friend’s system, which is voiced on the more neutral scale, the Vivant performed exceptionally well and was probably one of the best Phono stages we had both heard, it was merely a case of synergy on mine.

    For my setup, a solid-state phono amp just seems to work better for me and same brand synergy just seems to make more sense, at the moment. The Pathos ITG being naturally voiced on the warm side, gave enough valve like characteristics but with the resolution of solid state, although the sound was no way as floaty or three dimensional as the Vivant it just worked as a better pairing with the rest of my system, even with its solid state limitations. I still believe valves are more appropriate for vinyl reproduction and the Vivant is a class leader, it’s a beautiful phono stage, it really is.

    I want to add a big thankyou to Alan for loaning me a unit to try before purchase. Not all companies are as forthcoming when asked for demo units, so essentially my business/pound notes now and in the future will now always remain with the ones that did, I imagine one day I will purchase a Vivant, as even after wrapping it back up, I found myself actually missing it.


  2. #2
    Join Date: May 2017

    Location: West Sussex, UK

    Posts: 775
    I'm Steve.

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    Hi Michael
    Fantastic write up, I have listened to Alans
    phono stage on many occasions, the last being at Oliver's as he had it on loan while he's building his Bigbottle.
    I would agree with all you said and if it wasn't for the fact I'm building a Bigbottle myself would buy one instantly.

    I hope you find the phono stage you want but it's gonna be hard to better Alan's at that price..

    Steve...
    Turntable; Rega p8
    Cartridge; Alpheta mc
    Phono Stage; Rega Aria, Bigbottle 3 mm/mc
    Amplifier; Rega Elicit
    Speakers; Rega Rx3

  3. #3
    Join Date: Apr 2016

    Location: The World

    Posts: 320
    I'm Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff.

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    Quote Originally Posted by STD305M View Post
    Hi Michael
    Fantastic write up, I have listened to Alans
    phono stage on many occasions, the last being at Oliver's as he had it on loan while he's building his Bigbottle.
    I would agree with all you said and if it wasn't for the fact I'm building a Bigbottle myself would buy one instantly.

    I hope you find the phono stage you want but it's gonna be hard to better Alan's at that price..

    Steve...
    Thanks Steve.

    I opted for the Pathos In The Groove as I mentioned, but overall I actually preferred Alans but the Pathos just suited my setup more, the Vivant is a cracking phono stage.

    I think with some marketing and packaging, he could even get this one into mainstream stores if he wanted it's that good.

  4. #4
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Chronicals View Post
    Thanks Steve.

    I opted for the Pathos In The Groove as I mentioned, but overall I actually preferred Alans but the Pathos just suited my setup more, the Vivant is a cracking phono stage.

    I think with some marketing and packaging, he could even get this one into mainstream stores if he wanted it's that good.
    I've banged this drum repeatedly for about two years, maybe more. Unfortunately, he doesn't want the work load.

    Whist i have also said a fancy bit of packaging could make the difference, you have to understand that all these things add to the price. To keep the cost down, id rather have it in a shoe box lol.

    It's a phonostage that i always enjoy and if it were commercial, you would be looking at £2K, maybe more.

    I think had it been full of Telefunken Valves, you'd have bought it.

  5. #5
    Join Date: Apr 2016

    Location: The World

    Posts: 320
    I'm Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigman80 View Post
    I've banged this drum repeatedly for about two years, maybe more. Unfortunately, he doesn't want the work load.

    Whist i have also said a fancy bit of packaging could make the difference, you have to understand that all these things add to the price. To keep the cost down, id rather have it in a shoe box lol.

    It's a phonostage that i always enjoy and if it were commercial, you would be looking at £2K, maybe more.

    I think had it been full of Telefunken Valves, you'd have bought it.
    I think that there will always be some that are happy with the Heath Robinson approach, but for me, its not appropriate at £1200. I do expect higher levels of finishing and presentation - but its entirely horses for courses, some people wont have an issue with the shoe box approach, and if Alan is happy with that customer base, then tis all good!

    Sadly I didnt have any alternative valves to try, and also didn't want to play around with it in case I broke it But it would have been enjoyable to try a few different ones.

  6. #6
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Chronicals View Post
    I think that there will always be some that are happy with the Heath Robinson approach, but for me, its not appropriate at £1200. I do expect higher levels of finishing and presentation - but its entirely horses for courses, some people wont have an issue with the shoe box approach, and if Alan is happy with that customer base, then tis all good!

    Sadly I didnt have any alternative valves to try, and also didn't want to play around with it in case I broke it But it would have been enjoyable to try a few different ones.
    I understand your point of view.

    Yup, valve Rolling is great.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,735
    I'm Stephen.

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    I know this is an old thread but I felt the need to add my two pennies.

    I was lucky enough to be able to obtain a Vivant direct from Alan - I believe it is one of the first that has been updated over time.

    It is without doubt one of the finest bits of hifi kit I have heard/owned and has elevated my vinyl replay system to a new high.

    I was very satisfied with the performance of my Tom Evans Microgroove + and wasn't expecting the Vivant to add all that much but how wrong I was.

    The Vivant opens up the sound stage so wide and delivers detail and nuance that is hard to describe. It's almost tactile in the way it portrays music - organic is the word that comes to mind.

    My vinyl source is a Uber modified SL1210, Mission 774 tonearm and Goldbug Mr Brier. Amps are Croft 25 RSLS line stage and 7 monoblocks. As above I was very happy with the SQ using the TEAD Microgroove but the Vivant is way better in every way.

    I even like the styling as it goes with the rest of my rack.

    If you can find one don't hesitate just buy it - you will not be disappointed.

    A big thank you to Alan for producing such a superb phonostage.


    Last edited by worrasf; 14-09-2021 at 20:56.
    Always a little further

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