The Holy Grail for any audiophile is a proper hi-end Hi-Fi system. The sheer quality of sound and sense of immersion that you get from a top quality setup is enough to send shivers down the spine. Unfortunately, having half a dozen separates, a pair of speakers, and all the other paraphernalia that goes with such a setup is just not practical for most of us, let alone kind to the wallet.
Also, with mp3 players now able to accommodate entire music collections the need for umpteen different playback devices has pretty much disappeared. The result is the popularity of high-end all-in-one audio systems, like the Meridian F80 has sky-rocketed and the Vita Audio R4, is the latest example.
Like most of these new all-in-one devices the R4 features an iPod dock, a CD player, (which, in addition to regular music CDs, plays MP3 and WMA discs), FM and DAB radio tuners, a 2.1 speaker setup, and of course an amp to power the whole lot. In fact, about the only thing that sets this apart from its competitors is the inclusion of a USB port on the front. This allows you to plug in a USB thumb drive and playback whatever mp3s you have thereon. It's quite a useful feature but we're not sure it's really necessary and we'd prefer to have the port on the back to reduce clutter on the front.
Apart from this minor quibble though, the R4 is generally a nice looking device. It continues the same curved cubiod theme developed by the R1 and R2 and is available in the same gorgeous glossy white or walnut veneer (which only costs £499.99) finishes as its little siblings.
However, to fit in all those extra features, the R4 has had to seriously bulk up. Its foot print is a whopping 255 by 450mm, which crucially makes it too deep to fit on your average bookshelf or window sill. Obviously we wouldn't recommend you actually put a device like this on a window sill but if space on your sideboard, say, is at a premium you'll need to double check your measurements before opting for the R4.
Round the back, things are fairly barren with just an auxiliary input and output, the aerial socket, power switch, and a subwoofer level dial. As you'd imagine the latter adjusts the volume of the subwoofer enabling you to boost or reduce the R4's bass response. However, as per usual we found it sounded best left at dead centre.
The R4's screen is another feature inherited from the R1 and R2 but this is something we definitely don't welcome. Viewed straight on it's fine but, being an LCD display, it's viewing angles are mediocre at best and there's obvious backlight bleed which makes text slightly difficult to read. It's not appalling by any means but we've seen better.