Vita Audio is a manufacturer with a very particular speciality: tabletop radios, or rather luxury tabletop radios aimed at customers who value design and performance above all - and are willing to pay princely sums for those things. The R4i is Vita Audio’s new flagship music machine.
Well, we say “new” but it isn’t 100 per cent fresh. The Vita Audio R4 was originally launched back in the summer of 2008, and the R4i is a revamped edition. Externally, the two systems are identical, but beneath that gloriously glossy lacquer shell lurk a number of significant differences: the FM/DAB/DAB+ radio receiver is more sensitive; the audio circuitry has been tweaked for better performance; the CD player has improved tracking and shock resistance, which apparently means another performance boost; and finally the power supply has been reworked in light of forthcoming EU standby regulations.
The R4i’s skill set remains broadly the same: there’s a CD player, a radio, an iPod dock on top and an MP3 and WMA-compatible USB port at the front. There’s are also a pair of inputs for external stereo sources: a 3.5mm jack up front and phono sockets at the back. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone port.
Likewise, the styling and build quality are exactly the same as the R4, which is far from a bad thing. The R4i is stunningly solid (and heavy too at 8kg), but its tank-like build doesn’t mean it’s ugly: while it’s not as slinky and curvy as, say, the B&W Zeppelin Air, it rocks a classically elegant retro style that will look good on any shelf, kitchen worktop or tabletop in the world. The high class build extends to the sockets (gold-plated, natch) and backplate, but frankly for the sort of money the R4i costs, you’d expect nothing less.
The design is rounded off (no pun intended) by the circular remote control, which docks on the top of the R4i. This remote features all the controls for the unit, so you do not want to lose it down the back of the sofa (the only button on the actual unit is the power control). There are buttons to select the source, change the info on the LED readout, skip tracks and play/pause, while a central knob controls volume. Give that a tap and it’ll also put the device into standby, or wake it up if it’s in standby.
The remote is lovely - weighty, solid and invested with a neat blue glow - but we reckon Vita has missed a trick by not making it rechargeable while docked. Instead you have to whack in a pair of regular AAA batteries.
But let’s get to the nitty gritty: performance. Does the Vita Audio R4i deliver sound worthy of six hundred pounds of your money? Well, it’s certainly a beautiful sound. The two speakers and built-in subwoofer (the volume of which can be adjusted via a dial on the backplate) produce a warm, grand sound which far exceeds the norm for such a compact device.
The bass, for starters, is far beefier than we were expecting - crank it up and you can literally feel the floorboards vibrating as the bass drum on Animal Collective’s “My Girls” kicked in. But crucially there’s no trace of distortion or wooliness there; it’s beautifully taut and controlled, while still packing that satisfying low-end punch your ears crave.
The mid and high parts of the music spectrum have not been neglected either. Vocals are clear and immediate, acoustic guitar sounds sparkle and synths shine. It’s a really assured sound that suits such a simple system well: you can put pretty much anything on here - a CD, an MP3, your iPod or BBC 6 Music - and the R4i will present it to you in a form that really tickles your eardrums.
Again, this is something you should expect from a product in this price bracket. If we had to make a criticism it’d be that the close proximity of the left and right speakers leads to fairly indistinct stereo imaging - but that’s really just a symptom of the R4i’s size. Vita has succeeded in creating a (fairly) small product that serves up a big, beautiful sound and that’s no mean feat.
The DAB tuner works like a dream, locating all stations in moments and during our time testing never once dropping a signal. You also get a healthy amount of info on the LED display, including the current song playing (where the station supports that), which is nice in a nerdy way.
The USB player isn’t quite so hot, although it’s on a level with most of its kind. It takes a long time to locate files on a USB device, and then doesn’t give you track or album names, just numbers. Likewise the iPod dock: this is one of the few we’ve come across recently which isn’t “Made for iPhone”, meaning that you’ll have to put said iPhone into airplane mode if you want to listen to music without a bunch of weird interference sounds disrupting your listening. Given the R4i’s price a proper iPhone-compatible dock (or even AirPlay) would have been appreciated.
The Vita Audio R4i doesn’t push the envelope on the features front, which is a shame in such a pricey product, but it does deliver on its promises of great audio quality from something small, easy to use and utterly gorgeous. We don’t know if we’d personally part with £600 for one, but if you’re lucky enough to have that sort of budget for a desktop music system, this definitely deserves a place on your shortlist.