Quad Vena II Integrated Amp

hfncommendedThe celebrated brand has given its miniature integrated amp a comprehensive update to mark its fifth anniversary. So is it still a winner in an increasingly crowded market?

We live in uncertain – and expensive – times: the average price of a flat in Greater London is currently north of half a million, which is why there's a major property building boom underway, with almost any space or building being turned over to housing. And with prices so high, it's also no surprise that space is at a premium. Even with London salaries typically higher than those outside the capital, the average income, run through the usual multipliers, doesn't get you a mortgage able to buy anything palatial.

With so much pressure on space, almost everything seems to be getting miniaturised, from the kind of dinky sofas you'll find in your nearest IKEA to tiny amps such as the Quad Vena, now available in a Mk II form for £649. That buys you the amp in its standard Lancaster Grey, or you can spend £100 extra and have it wrapped in a range of wood sleeves, in finishes encompassing Sapele Mahogany and a choice of gloss black or white.

Colonel Mustard
That's the same price as the original Vena [HFN Jan '15], which arrived in 2014 to both surprise and acclaim. At least one Quad enthusiast, somewhat of the mustard waistcoat persuasion, spluttered to me in his well-heeled tones that it was a sign the venerable British brand had sold out to the [insert offensive epithet for the Chinese people here]. No, I pointed out, that had happened almost a decade before – the Vena was more about making the company's products appeal to a wider range of buyers, not just those whose vision was rose-tinted by nostalgia.

While obviously having common parentage with Quad's revived valve amplifiers and its latest versions of the famous electrostatic speakers [HFN Jan '13], the Vena is much more of the same generation that has brought us the company's Artera range [HFN Jun '18]. However, rather than embracing the minimalist chic of that lineup, the miniature amplifier harked back to classic Quad designs, while bringing to the party thoroughly up-to-date functionality.


That thinking extends to the Vena II, though who would have thought some years back that following hi-fi fashion would include the addition to this latest version of a MM phono stage, using what Quad describes as a 'high-quality, low-noise JFET-based circuit with precise RIAA equalisation'. Things have moved on a bit from a design with an input for an iPod and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, as today's customers are as likely to want to play their newly acquired 'vinyls' as they are to stream Spotify from their phone, and in that respect the Vena II is already more on the money than the amp it replaces.

New Silicon
The Bluetooth implementation here embraces the aptX and AAC codecs, but if you want to go further the choice of digital-to-analogue conversion for the Vena II opens up much wider possibilities via its USB-B connection. The current DAC is an ESS Technology 'Sabre32' ES9018, able to handle audio at up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD256. The new DAC also brings to the party its manufacturer's HyperStream architecture and 'Time Domain Jitter Eliminator', while the following filter and preamp stages have also been tweaked to better suit the new silicon.

The upgrades are not wholly digital, so although the original Class AB power amp is retained this new model benefits from a beefed-up power supply with a bigger 200VA toroidal transformer. There are also improvements for headphone users as, instead of tapping off the main amplifier output stage, as was the case in the original Vena, the new amp's headphone output is driven by a separate preamplifier designed to better drive a wider range of cans.

Meanwhile, the Vena's main preamplifier stage, complete with its motorised, remote-controlled ALPS volume pot, has been tidied up. Close attention has been paid to isolating it from noise, with independent power supplies used for all critical areas of the amp. As for the inputs offered, these run to two line-ins as well as the MM phono stage, while on the digital side one coaxial and two optical inputs join that USB-B port and Bluetooth section.

As well as its combination of speaker terminals and headphone socket, the Vena II's outputs also run to a pair of pre-outs – perhaps to enable it to be used as a preamp, or to connect a subwoofer – plus both optical and coaxial digital outs (even though I must admit struggling to work out exactly what those would be used for).

International Audio Group
Supplied by: IAG Ltd, Cambs
01480 447700