Vita Audio's R4 is a high-end CD/DAB system aimed at the bedrooms of high-end audio-lovers -- and by that we mean it's not for anyone who thinks the earphones that ship with iPods are anything but utter crud. With a crucial iPod dock and all-in-one design, this luxurious stereo setup wants to be as convenient as it is high-performing. And for £500, it's going to have to be. It's on sale now.
Unboxing the weighty R4 is like walking into a brand new country kitchen. Its style lies in its clean shapes and beautiful real wood, which makes the whole thing feel so elegant. The wooden enclosure is gorgeous, and emanating the right amount of class you'd expect from an expensive bookshelf speaker. Vita Audio offers a glossy lacquer finish if you prefer.
Its simple face features a two-line dot matrix display, a few attractive knobs and a slot-loading CD bay. And back up on top lives an unusual circular remote control that sits snuggly in an equally circular hole when not being used. Stylish, yes. Particularly easy to use, not so much. But it works and it fits in with the overall style of the R4.
There's also DAB and FM radio, with a decent and detachable telescopic aerial included in the box, which gave decent reception in our tests. MP3s and WMA files can be read from USB sticks via a front-mounted socket, or from CD-Rs pushed into the CD drive.
Two stereo speakers feature at either side of the front face, partnered with a down-firing sub woofer underneath the system. Together they deliver 80W of power from a Class A-B amplifier, which was unusually developed in-house by Vita Audio, with the aim of delivering a more hi-fi-like sound experience. Admirable sentiments, but it will certainly have pushed up the cost and that's a dangerous game when you're also looking to appeal to iPod-users.
But it was probably a move well-made, because the R4 really does sound excellent -- leaps, bounds and enormous great strides better than the vast majority of systems of this ilk on the market, in fact. It offers a fairly neutral sound, backed up by a lusciously smooth, rich bass with a warmth that makes acoustic music sound superb.
Clarity and a full-bodied sound are equally present in the mid-range too, helping bring out life and detail in voices and instrumentation. While songs by Ingrid Michaelson, Jenny Owen Youngs and KT Tunstall sounded particularly good, we actually found electronic music to be noticeably enjoyable, too. It's partly to do with the capable low end, which gave pop and dance a clean, lively sound in a bedroom environment.
The other strength -- listen here under 'weaknesses' for a reason than will become clear -- is the tone of certain frequency bands. The treble is remarkable bright and glistening with detail, but with certain types of music it negates its sweet tendencies with a fairly fatiguing sound.
This was most noticeable with cymbals in modern rock and metal. In many recordings the sounds of cymbals dominated just a little too much, and didn't help the R4 handle pounding, complex recordings. More classically recorded rock sounds much better, but it's not a system we'd push to the Meshuggah or System Of A Down audience.
Other than that, the only things that really stood out as weaknesses were the sound 'enhancement' settings, which, like most, take more away than they add. In fact, when we first tested the system's audio, we thought there was something wrong with our unit. We didn't believe it should sound the way it did. We then realised these 'enhancements' were switched on by default, and when deactivated, sound becomes beautiful and deep.
The R4 is a fine example of what can be built for radio-loving, CD-hoarding iPod-fans, but it's definitely best aimed at light rock, classical, country, folk, acoustic, pop and dance fans most of all.
With a generally superb sound quality and one of the classiest builds ever made, only the high price tag and questionable performance with heavier music would put us off snapping one up.
Edited by Marian Smith