We’ve lived with the Nativ Vita for just on eight weeks now – if anything we are more enthused by the Vita than at first when I wrote our introductory page. As you might expect, we have learned a lot and have also enjoyed an encouragingly positive response from clients including a surprising number of sales. It’s become obvious that Nativ are on to a winning concept with the Vita – let’s look at some aspects that add to the original assessment.
The Nativ Vita has dramatically changed our home listening for the better. The visual and tactile appeal is undeniable with every album being displayed in a way that is vastly better than shelves of records or CDs or the anonymity of black box server systems. The upright form and solid wood stand combine with the touchscreen display to give a degree of personality that makes you want to touch, then explore the music and features. Yet there is a lot more to the Nativ Vita than good looks – the sound quality and technology behind it are every bit as special.
You could assume that because the Vita is a digital output only that there would be a less obvious warm up period, and this is what I initially thought. I was wrong – after a couple of weeks the performance improved dramatically. I can’t tell you why exactly but in comparison with our previous best digital source, the Vita is vastly better. Eight weeks down the track and things are still improving; this is consistent with the warm up period we attribute to both the NuPrime electronics and KLEI cables – ie at least 300 hours of playing.
The improvement covers several aspects: Detail is a key indication of the change – we’re simply hearing parts of the music that weren’t there before. Vocals are more intelligible, instrumental lines and individual instruments more clearly defined. The overall tonality has become more organic for want of a better word. Initially we could pick a certain signature to the sound on some tracks – Carolijn felt it was like a nightclub mix. This has smoothed off and become more natural and easy to listen to.
The sound staging has become more defined although this is a two edged sword – it’s making the 24 bit and m4a files sound much better than older MP3s and ripped CDs whose productions (especially 90’s albums) were just a bit flat in the first place.
That said, even on some ancient recordings we’ve migrated from our computers, the levels of detail are quite a revelation.
Having been a bit of an Apple victim our laptop doesn’t have conventional USB sockets and so I’ve not been able to spend much time working out how much of a contribution better USB cables make – I’ve always heard something going on but couldn’t make definitive judgements and have been happy to follow recommendations on the Kimber USB connections – they have two options – a very well constructed copper entry level cable – around $140 for a metre and their premium silver version at $360. Essentially you can’t go wrong with either.
Keith Eichmann has recently launched his own QFlow7 USB cable and given our experience of his other cables, it seemed fitting that we use the Nativ Vita as a test bed for this. If anything, having over a month to acclimatise to the Vita (and have it warm up to a stable level of performance), has enabled me to better understand what USB cables can do.
The KLEI QFlow7 really allows the Nativ to open out – the run in for the cable isn’t quite as obvious as it was for the Vita but there is an undeniable progression with both an increased sense of ease with the music and uncovering of fine detail. The combination of the Nativ and the KLEI cable has elevated my initial estimation from being on par with the Well Tempered Simplex 2 (their entry level but similarly priced turntable), to something closer to the Verslex. Which is presently sitting beside the Vita – the matching walnut plinth on the Versalex and tabletop stand on the Vita may be telling us something. You can take note that with the new Dynavector DV17DX cartridge and P75mk4 phono stage plus interconnecting cables, the analogue competition is rather more costly.
We’ve got the KLEI USB cables in stock now – these are ideal for both the Nativ Vita and any other quality system.
In absolute terms, if you are comparing the playback of 24 bit lossless files direct from the Vita’s SSD (Solid State Drive) to vinyl, the performance gap is getting embarrassingly small – much of it comes down to care of set up on the turntable side, the use of our Nitty Gritty cleaner and new LPs. All of which stands in contrast to the easy of use associated with the Vita. It doesn’t have to be an either or choice – you can be happy with both.
We’re still working towards an investigation of the Nativ Vita’s analogue inputs – They are a physical feature but the software options are still being finalised for this input. You may wonder why these are built in but here are a couple of very good reasons – firstly there are a number of very good DACs on the market that are also capable preamplifiers but work only with digital inputs – the upcoming NuPrime Evolution DAC being a case in point. The Vita will enable a cleaner, simpler system and it may well be that even with the real time digitisation of the turntables signal, the end result may better than with a dual function or separate preamplifier. There may also be a cost saving with enables the inclusions of a higher quality phono stage or cartridge which, again, may result in a better overall end sound for the same end budget.
The second advantage of the Nativ’s analogue input is that this will allow you to wirelessly stream (either by network or BlueTooth) the music from your turntable to other locations.
Which brings us to another wee surprise – the performance in relatively modest systems via Bluetooth or optical is outrageously good – I’d intended the Vita to be a server for our high end systems. But set up with a little D-Stream amp and a pair of the smallest Monitor Audio Silvers the sound quality is so much more involving and engaging than any other source I’ve heard in this context.
I’ve also been enjoying the sound of the Vita on the Vifa (the similarly named but unrelated Danish speaker designer), Stockholm in my office – again, I never expected to be able to differentiate the performance between source components on Bluetooth but my iPhone sounds like the proverbial poor relation when compared to the Nativ Vita.
How do we connect the Vita to existing systems that don’t have digital or wireless inputs? I’d started listening to the Vita with some serious Digital preamps but some of our first enquiries were from clients with older and very analogue systems such as Quad.
This seemed like a real hurdle and then it suddenly clicked – if USB is the best quality output from the Vita, that’s all we need heading into a DAC to allow connection to any analogue system. And NuPrime’s awesome little uDSD at just NZ$350 is the perfect solution. It cuts out a whole lot of features and connections that simply aren’t needed in this context. The Nuprime uDSD has a healthy fixed output via quality RCA sockets so it just tucks in behind the Vita and allows direct connection. You don’t even have to worry about power as the USB connection from the Vita takes care of this. Set up like this the uDSD is the equal of any $1000+ conventional DAC and gives full high resolution audio. Voila!
On a practical level, the menu system on the Nativ makes for very easy Bluetooth connection and management – far better than the iPhone. I did raise the question as to why I couldn’t have the output from the Nativ running to both USB and BT at the same time – turns out it’s a latency issue – the two quite different paths and processes mean that there it’s difficult to synchronise the sound between the two. Setting up and switching between other physical connections is also very easy to switch and set up via the touchscreen.
The conclusion quickly reached when listening to the Nativ Vita through these lower cost systems is that the maxim of ‘you get out what you put in’ applies in full. As a source, no matter what the connection, the Vita is a superior sounding option and you certainly don’t need a high end system to enjoy it. On the contrary it brings great user experience in both sound and operation down to a thoroughly reasonable and affordable level. While the Vita is a no-brainer for a high end system, it’s also going to be the star of the show in many more affordable systems and if anything people in this situation will appreciate it more.
So to recap, the Nativ Vita brings together multiple technologies in a easy to use, carefully built and beautifully presented package. It stores music as a server, it streams music from many other sources, both in your home and from the web, and it is a highly upgradable and effectively future proof touchscreen. The connection array, both physical cables and wireless ensures the Nativ Vita will work in almost any system, both with conventional components and wireless speaker systems. It’s also controllable from both smartphone app and it’s own IR remote.
Do you even need the storage option with the Vita?
We initially selected the 2TB SSD storage option for our own use – after 6 weeks of loading on many years of accumulated music we’ve barely used 10% of the capacity but I can certainly see we’ll be searching out much more new music – and given the construction quality of the Vita and longevity associated with SSD – no moving parts to fail – the idea of having this capacity – and a spare bay for the installation of an second drive – is making a lot more sense. I didn’t really think of the cost of drives at the time, but I can see why you might consider starting with the Vita without an installed drive. Or opting for a smaller SSD and upgrading as required – I’m investigating how best to support this at the moment.
Consequently I’ve revisited the streaming and networking side of things rather than just using the SSD and stored files – for the first time in any situation I can really enjoy streaming (we’re using both the Bandcamp and SoundCloud services). Nativ cover all the streaming services – Spotify Tidal, Apple Music, Youtube and more – there are obvious quality differences but in each case you’ll be making the most of whatever is there. I’ll also point out Vita has an HDMI output so the whole experience can also be seen on your even bigger screen.
Obviously you can do the same thing either directly though an app on your smartphone or a number of products my many of the mainstream audio manufacturers – but the Vita improves upon this big-time. The beautiful big touchscreen makes the whole process far more friendly, we seem to have much better network stability and the sound quality, especially when taken out via USB into a high quality DAC is wonderful – there is sparkle and life to the music which just makes me want to go looking for more.
But getting back to the internal storage – if you scour the Nativ specifications you will see that there is in fact 32GB of SSD memory already onboard – this is intended for tasks like caching the details of large music libraries elsewhere on your network. This makes the whole process just that much quicker than it would be otherwise.
Once set up, the Vita accessing music from my Mac is a far better solution than AirPort Express or AppleTV ever was with dramatically lower jitter – you really can hear the difference. The better physical connection between Vita and the audio system also makes a big improvement.
The advantages of onboard SSD are still obvious – access is much faster, there is no transmission loss or scope for interference or drop out. And given there is a clear audible difference even between conventional hard drives and solid state drives within the Vita if you add have a remotely located computer or HD, the quality difference is greater again.
There is also a certain inevitability that you’ll move away from a conventional desktop (or laptop) in the not to far distant future – there are already generations who have grown up with smartphones and will never consider a larger device. The Nativ Vita also allows you to separate work from the rest of your life; any system that accesses music from your computer (Sonos etc) will still require that computer to always be on and connected to the network – so not only will this shorten the system life – you literally cannot disconnect from the outside world. Vita free’s you from this constraint.
In a nutshell, you’ll love the Vita regardless of how the music is stored but I see it as inevitable that at some stage you will slot a drive in, and it may well be sooner rather than later given the continual decreases in cost and increases in capacity of SSD drives.
The arrival Nativ Vita has prompted a digital housekeeping campaign – in the first instance I just blithely transferred music files over from my old iTunes libraries – there are a few wee tricks with this that are outlined on the Nativ Website’s FAQ pages.
The beautiful big screen on the Vita really makes cover art come to life – on some albums this doesn’t automatically transfer over from iTunes at times and even then, the actual resolution can be a bit ordinary. So I’ve been working my way through and updating the cover art to better images – the Vita has become the centrepiece of our system.
I have managed to find one little playback glitch with the Vita that we’re working on resolving – it could well be something in my setup or the files used but Nativ have sent us a beta version of the next generation of operating software to see if this fixes the issue. At the time of writing 1.5.0 is current but we get to play around with 1.6.0. But already everything just seems a little slicker and there are some worthwhile improvements in there. As you’d expect from a relatively new product there has been a flurry of software updates over the last 12 months. It’s not that there are fundamental flaws but is more about responding to user requests for features – as you might imagine every system that the Vita goes into will be different so there is an almost infinite scope for building the core software into something quite special.
Nativ are going for an astonishingly broad level of compatibility – from mass market solutions such as Sonos to higher end applications like Roon.
The later is of particular interest to us – a number of better quality server and digitally inclined designers use Roon as the interface for browsing your music collection; think Meridian and Antipodes. Tie this together with Nativ’s touch screen, comprehensive connectivity and ease of set up and use, throw goodies like MQA compatibility and Tidal streaming and you have a remarkable set of possibilities to literally transform the digital listening experience.
The implementation of Roon’s Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT) protocol allows the Vita to automatically discover and connect to Roon without any configuration, and deliver bit-perfect audio to your DAC or amplifier.
I’ve had an e mail from Nativ a couple of days ago and the Roon inclusive firmware is pending final approval and just about to launch.
The remote control is a feature in itself – I didn’t even realise this until we’d got a call from a client whose new Vita didn’t have one in the box so I immediately opened our own box and there in then bottom was the remote control I’d yet to even look at.
It’s a perfectly weighted aluminium bodied handset that mirror the care and construction values of the Vita – and it’s set up to run all the Nativ components – so often the remote control is a low cost after thought and while it may seem incongruous to include something like this for a touchscreen/server that can also be controlled via smartphone I’m quickly warming to the Nativ remote – it will work when there’s no network running, it’s simple enough for anyone to understand, there are plenty of times when you may not want to actually get up off the couch and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Nativ could have so easily skimped on this but I glad they have chosen to maintain their quality standards when so many others will compromise.
Other products in the Nativ range.
The response to our e zine and my own listening made it obvious that we had to get more stock in so we now have new Nativ Vita’s ready to go here. I’m picking that they have also enjoyed a huge upswing of orders in the last few months and there have been some issues with scaling up production to match.
Given our experience so far with the physical presentation, sound quality and operation we’re going to expand from just the Vita to the full range of components. These are scheduled to arrive early in 2019.
The Wave DAC and preamp and headphone amplifier has to be the coolest looking such component on the market – initially I thought this might be a case of style over substance but having dug deeper and spent time with the Vita I’m confident that the Wave will happily stand on it’s own merits.
If you have look at the internal shots of the Wave DAC you’ll see rather beautiful layout that is both symmetrical and fully balanced. The care that has gone into this design is self evident. There are some very cool features in terms upsampling and filtering which we’ll describe in full once we have the Wave on hand.
I’m picking that the Wave will also be a rather excellent digital preamplifier – with both RCA and balanced outputs, a carefully designed output stage with switchable gain settings to allow the matching of almost any amplifier or active speakers, it’s obvious this is a serious contender.
The importance of power supply to the end sound quality you enjoy can never be underestimated. While both the Wave and Vita have a good quality inline power supply as standard, the Pulse is a dedicated unit in a matching case and stand that sits alongside both and takes the performance up to another level again.
Given the improvements we know are made by the KLEI AC cables, I expect something rather more dramatic again with the Pulse as it’s got some serious design going on inside and I’ve heard plenty of other components benefit from this approach in the past. Better isolation, screening, the separation of digital and analogue all play a part. Like the Wave DAC the physical design is also very cool with a seemingly old school display incorporated into the glass touchscreen.
If you’re looking at the Nativ website do note that the pics of the Pulse power supply show an older version – the latest version has smaller mini usb sockets which mirror those used on both the latest Wave and Vita.
The CD ripper follows the design led theme and allows users to by-pass the need for computers completely. But more to the point it automatically produces bit-perfect FLAC copies of all your CDs and transfers them directly to the storage within your Vita along with with detailed information about the album, artist and beautiful album artwork.
Having just struggled along with the ageing CD drive in my Mac desktop which seems about to expire and then still having to transfer files over to the Vita via ethernet, I’m really starting to see the attraction of this, the most affordable of all the Nativ components.
The combination of Vita and the matching CD ripper is perfect for anyone with a serious CD collection who wants to make the jump to something better without the hair-tearing levels of complication that have been a part of computer audio up until now.
With all the new models coming in you’ll also see a new option for the finish of the desktop and wall mount stand – Maple. The Vita stands are all precision engineered from solid timber and for 2019 we’ll have the choice of both Maple and Walnut in stock. There is also is a slight saving with the Maple option which is worth knowing.
The Nativ Vita is much more than many conventional components and so doesn’t fit neatly into the usual review formats – after 6 weeks I’m still uncovering features and better ways to use it – and I’m the first to acknowledge I’ve got a long way to go before I understand every single aspect of the Vita’s performance and abilities.
What really impresses me is the feedback from Nativ owners that has been posted on their website – this should be your first point of reference – have a look and be sure to keep scrolling down as there are more every day and you’ll see the systems are often pictured.
The online review site 6moons has posted a preview – this is effectively part one of their review and I regard this site as being one of the better ones in terms of their credibility. While it doesn’t actually cover the sound of the Vita, it does provide a useful overview of the features and connection of the Vita.
Here for 2019.
The Nativ Vita has opened up a whole new world for digital music – we’d underestimated both the performance and sheer enjoyment that the Vita has brought to our own system and can now see it’s going to be perfect for so many of you.
Vita cuts through all the issues we’ve had in the past with other digital systems – complication, cost and questionable performance gains. It will run within, and benefit almost any existing system. As improvements to the operating software come through it becomes even better with more abilities, smoother operation and improved sound quality.
All the matching components will be here within the couple of weeks – these will allow you to do even more with the Vita – and have an extremely cool looking system. We’ll tell you more about the performance of these shortly but if they are even half as good as the Vita we’ll all be happy!
The Nativ Vita also establishes a new benchmark for our digital sources and so will be the perfect foil for the Nuprime Evolution DAC which is due to ship to land in New Zealand within the next few days.
Best wishes for the end of this year and beyond from Carolijn & John at Totally Wired.