Vita Audio hit the jackpot with its all-in-one R4 music system. It masterfully married retro modern design with sound to rival a quality mini-system, all wrapped up in a convenient hi-fi amp-sized cabinet. Now after three years, Vita Audio has rolled out its successor, the R4i.
Curiously, the company has resisted temptation to tinker with the original design or feature set. There’s the option of a limited edition sparkling graphite model (£630) but otherwise the changes have all been made under the hood. As before there’s a CD player, iPod dock and DAB/FM tuner, but with retooled audio circuitry and an improved DAB receiver they’re now better than ever.
Apart from an overly plastic iPod dock and loosely fitted power button, the build quality of the R4i feels suitable high-end. The slot CD mechanism is slick and sturdy while the walnut wood finish has a fine grain and luxury feel. If this natural veneer doesn’t fit in with you interior design scheme then high gloss black or white (£600) options are available.
The top located RotoDial control panel remains the system’s centrepiece and cannily doubles as an infrared remote when lifted from its deep well. Its circular design is certainly a refreshing departure from traditional remote handsets and it feels weighty in the palm.
However, its chunky frame isn’t ergonomically geared for one-handed operation. Although a quick flick of the large spring loaded volume dial with the thumb is easy enough, you have to stretch to reach the top buttons. In some cases, two-handed feels more comfortable.
Changes to the electronics inside have had a significant effect on the audio performance. Play a CD and the soundstage is broader and more expansive compared to the R4.
Approach the Loudness control with caution, especially in a small room, as it ramps up the low-end rumble a few notches. However, the bass is never overbearing or boomy, but perfectly pitched and neatly integrated for a coherent sound. Similarly, the detailed top end is noticeably livelier than on its predecessor.
As with CD playback, lossless files from an iPod sound warm and involving while our 320/256kbps songs were cut through with more clarity this time round. Play songs compressed around the128kbps mark and the audio is still certainly listenable but less defined and articulate.
It’s also disappointing to still find the R4i doesn’t work fully with iPhone, although you can still dock Apple’s smartphone in flight mode to avoid the any signal interference.
As expected, FM broadcasts with a strong signal deliver rich audio but DAB still sounds clear and voluminous with DJ voices having that ‘in the room’ presence. Pleasingly, the DAB signal didn’t drop once during tests and it’s reassuring to see the newly fitted digital receiver is also futureproofed for DAB+ (just in case this alternative transmission format ever takes over in the UK).
You could argue that, in a hi-fi world currently dominated by Apple AirPlay and music streaming, the R4i’s sonic evolution seems a bit underwhelming. But, for now, we can forgive this music tabletopper anything when it looks and sounds as good as this.