Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Linnenberg Vivace DAC and Unisono DC Performance Pack


Linnenberg is not a name that is familiar to me. Yet, the company has been around for more than 20 years, manufacturing their equipment wholly in Germany (a rarity in today's world of outsourced production).

The product lineup is modest, with a headamp, DAC, DAC / headamp and linear power supply.


The Vivace DAC is a half-width component which is modest only in size and weight. The heart of the Vivace is the ESS 9018 Sabre DAC chip. Other noteworthy features include a femto master clock (82 femto seconds of jitter), a galvanically isolated USB circuit and a S/PDIF jitter reduction circuit.

Passive I/V conversion is done using a zero feedback circuit utilising precision resistors and an ultra low noise transistor.

The Vivace has two coaxial inputs and an asynchronous USB input. The coaxial inputs are limited to a maximum of 192 kHz sampling rate, while the USB input accepts all sampling frequencies up to 384 kHz. Both DSD64 and DSD128 are supported. The analog outputs include both single ended and balanced outputs.

The front panel of the Vivace includes a toggle switch for the input selector, a volume knob in the centre, and a power switch. LED indicators light up to show the selected input, DSD and DXD operation, and fixed (i.e. maximum) output.

I received the optional Unisono DC Performance Pack for purposes of this review. Visually, the Unisono is a perfect match for the Vivace DAC.


A quick word about ergonomics. The DC power supply connector interface used must be the tiniest and most fiddly type known to mankind. Despite my most gentle efforts, the connector is difficult to line up, and I believe that ham-fisted users are in real danger of breaking the connector.

I also disliked the volume control knob. It reminded me very much of Pinocchio's nose, and is too lightly weighted. Volume is set in the digital domain, so it would be best to use this only as a last resort.

Other than the above, operation was bomb-proof. The Vivace played anything thrown at it without skipping a beat (including DSD and DXD files) and was glitch-free even with my Auralic Aries streamer (both S/PDIF and USB). I also liked the fact that switching between sampling rates was done with very little delay.

It is also worth noting that the Vivace has a fairly high quality USB implementation, and the performance level between the USB and coaxial inputs were quite close in quality, although I had a slight preference for the USB input.

Sound Quality

The Vivace and Unisono combo will surprise you. It has a very cohesive and put together sound, with a graceful elegance that makes it eminently listenable. 

Tonally, it has a slightly warm and laidback character, with a very refined and silky midrange. This is coupled with a very detailed top-end, which is gentle and natural sounding. The bottom-end lacks a bit of punch compared to some of it's competitors, although it is by no means lightweight sounding.

Listening to a wide range of music, I was impressed by the Vivace's soundstaging and imaging capabilities, which reproduced three dimensional space and instrument placement to a degree that is likely to be class leading at it's price bracket.

Resolving power  was also very good, with good reproduction of very fine spatial clues and microdetail except for some very slight smoothing over of detail in the midrange. The Vivace was also unflappable during complex passages, maintaining a tight grip and excellent separation of instruments at all times.


The Vivace and Unisono offer a high level of performance, although they are more suited to listeners who like a very composed and more polite presentation. The Linnenberg duo are always firmly in control, but never really quite let their hair down. Some people will prefer their music with a bit more rawness and edge.

From a cost / performance ratio, I would also be curious to see how the Linnenberg performed with it's stock switched mode power supply, or another linear power supply - especially since the Unisono DC Performance Pack bumps up the price quite a fair bit. Prospective purchasers would do well to investigate that further.

The Vivace DAC retails for S$ 4,690 (with the Unisono DC Performance Pack) or S$ 3,690 (with the Plixir Balanced DC Power Supply). 

The review unit was supplied by Sound Affairs Pte Ltd, local dealer for Linnenberg.

Sound Affairs Pte Ltd

100 Beach Road, Shaw Tower
Singapore 189702

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