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Value Of Vena

An affordable amplifier with a quality digital section, Bluetooth and LP. Noel Keywood looks and listens.




Quad’s Vena II is purposed to give you Quad traditional quality at a price you can afford – £649. And it does it well. The new Vena II amplifier now comes with a Phono input for LP and Bluetooth for mobile phone connection, in addition to an ESS Sabre32 based digital section that is as smooth and advanced as they come. It’s a great all-in-one package that gives true hi-fi – without hassle.

   And it is small. The Vena II takes up little space and is not heavy, even though it uses a solid linear power supply rather than a noisy switch-mode. No modern tomfoolery here! No external boxes either: the mains cable plugs straight into a well built chassis weighing 5kgs and measuring just 300mm wide and 300mm deep. Height is 92mm, the Bluetooth aerial increasing this to 155mm when upright, but it can be swivelled down to horizontal.

   Inside there is a 55 Watt amplifier. It might not sound much against the 100 Watts that is all but obligatory nowadays, but it is more than enough to go extremely loud; few of us will ever use 100 Watts in real life – it’s a specs requirement. 

   Although Vena II harks back to the styling of Quad’s 33 preamplifier of 1967 – a classic I once owned and loved – it is disappointingly sombre in style to my eyes. The legends are a dull grey on a dark background where the original was more strongly defined visually with orange against brown – and legible legends. 



A toroidal mains transformer at left of the Quad's linear power supply. At middle sits the amplifier's finned alloy heat sink and at bottom right the Alps motor driven volume control.



   The horizontal line of push-buttons on the Vena II are not mechanical switches as of yore, but electrical ones that select things not known in the days of the 33. One is Bluetooth short range radio reception from mobile phone or iPad (or similar) and the obvious others are digital inputs in the form of S/PDIF that will accept the digital output of any CD player – optical (2) or electrical (1) – or the many other contraptions that output digital in this form, such as portable digital players (DAPs). 

   A USB B (printer style) input connects to a computer, allowing the Vena II’s sophisticated ESS chip to process digital audio either for headphone listening via a front panel 6.3mm (1/4in) headphone outlet, or through the loudspeakers; plugging in ‘phones mutes the ‘speakers. The USB spec has been improved from 24/192 to 32/384kHz sample rate for PCM and it also accepts DSD256 (double rate DSD).

   Vena II also has a Phono stage for a turntable with moving magnet (MM) cartridge, unlike original Vena. 

There are two analogue line inputs (Aux1 & 2) and even a preamplifier output for those who may want to hook up a bigger power amplifier at a later date. 

Whilst there are two digital outputs, optical and electrical, they are feed-throughs; there is no on-board ADC to generate digital from analogue sources such as LP. Digital inputs can be routed to a recording device through them.

   In all then, Vena II comes packed with ability, lacking only streaming from a home network. However, in that its USB connection links into a computer that will in effect (push)stream to it, this isn’t such a big issue other than you must have a computer and it must be switched on. 

   There’s no app to act as controller, instead a small lightweight remote control is provided – arguably a better way of doing things. And it was superbly easy and intuitive to use. Altering volume actuates an Alps high quality motor driven potentiometer, so the volume control turns as if moved by a ghost. Trouble is you can’t see this because there is no visible marking, so the led of the selected input flashes. And the horizontal select bar of the remote mimics the input select pattern: press left and the select sequence moves left, right and it moves right along the horizontal row. The only blip here being dull grey illegible legends on the fascia. 



I connected Vena II to our Martin Logan ESL-X hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers through Chord Signature XL loudspeaker cables. CD was spun by our Oppo BDP-205D Universal player acting as a transport, feeding the Vena’s optical input (S/PDIF) through a QED Quartz glass optical cable. I now use only preened hi-res high dynamic range CD recordings because too much on CD is awful in quality terms and misleading to me for review purposes. Good hi-fi products like this one expose quality issues in the recordings. 

   Hi-res came from an Astell&Kern AK120 portable player running on battery power, to input clean digital from S/PDIF rather than noisy from a USB computer source.

Bluetooth was used from an iPhone 6S playing DSD files from the slick Onkyo hi-fi player that translates down to 24/48 PCM for BT work.

And LP was input from a Timestep Evo Technics SL-1210 Mk2 Direct Drive upgraded turntable, with SME309 arm carrying an Audio Technica VM750SH Shibata tipped MM cartridge. 

And what a lovely sound! Very Quad. Vena II gives that big, fulsome sound you get from a well developed Class A/B amplifier backed up by a quality linear power supply: no scratchy switch-mode sound here! 




It may look bare and the 'speaker terminals basic, but there are a lot of inputs on the rear panel, from analogue turntable (MM) at left through to digital USB at right, plus an aerial for Bluetooth.


   Spinning Jan Akerman’s Am I Losing You (CD) Vena II was immediately and obviously easy in its delivery – relaxed yet pure. The bass line was firm but full, the drum kit fleshed out with detail rather than being an outline, a simple simulacrum that is not uncommon with digital. This quality of insight and rich timbral revelation played through both Rock from CD and also classical, where Nigel Kennedy’s Meditation (Massenet) glided past my ears with a lulling naturalness that was absolutely right for it: think richly patterned. This is the characteristic signature of the ES9018 DAC chip – in Quad’s excellent support circuitry. 

   Moving from CD to hi-res from our Astell&Kern AK120 portable player, the thundering kettle drum that insinuates power behind Mars made itself known in full and strong fashion in the LSO’s rendition of Holst’s The Planets (24/48). 

   Benjamin Grosvenor’s light touch on the keys playing Chopin’s Nocturne No5 was subtly but clearly conveyed. 

With Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams (24/96) Mick Fleetwood’s drumming stood out as solid and powerful, moving along with muscular confidence. Stevie Nicks vocals were easily clear centre-stage and backing harmonies nicely delineated in their own space. Again a full and powerful performance graced by an easy confidence of delivery. 


A small and simple remote control,

intuitive and easy to use.


With Bluetooth connection my iPhone was seen and connected swiftly, delivering David Bowie’s Suffragette City with pace and power (DSD 2.8MHz from an Onkyo player, sent as 24/48 PCM).  As usual with Bluetooth there is a flattening of depth perspective, obvious with Cyndee Peter’s singing House of the Rising Sun (DSD 2.8MHz), but overall Vena II came over as strong and svelte.

   With our turntable, turning volume to maximum produced slight hum. Moving earth from the terminal fitted to a phono socket ground produced silence, so it appears case ground (the terminal) and signal ground (phono socket) are different (as they can be); this is a wrinkle that needs attention. Spinning Dire Straits So Far Away (Mobile Fidelity Master Recording, 45rpm) again delivered strong, firm drum rolls and the laconic vocals of Mark Knopfler centre stage in clear fashion. Big Band Spectacular from The Syd Lawrence Orchestra (LP No2 from 30ips master tape) fairly shook our listening room playing Sing Sing Sing, fast drumming being made obvious by Vena II’s bass power. I just sat back and was impressed! OK, this is a special LP but with more ordinary cuts the Vena always managed well, retaining its sense of ease underpinned by bass power. 




Quad’s new Vena II is a wonderfully easy to use all-in-one amplifier that offers superb sound quality: think easy going – and deeply insightful with digital from its ESS Sabre32 DAC. Offering a performance up with the best at a price of £649 it strikes me as the quintessence of high fidelity – a great sound at a great price. Utterly superb! 



   OUTSTANDING - amongst the best.


A super smooth amplifier and digital section, plus LP and Bluetooth. Marvellous.



- easy powerful sound 

- facilities

- slick remote control

- small



- illegible legends

- dull styling






Measurements by Rohde&Schwarz UPV audio spectrum analyser



Quad's Vena II produced 55 Watts into 8 Ohms and 72 Watts into 4 Ohms, identical results to the first Vena – and enough to go very loud in most systems. 

Output rolled down slowly above 20kHz (-1dB at 30kHz) in Quad fashion, ensuring easy treble; low frequency output rolled down below 10Hz.

Gain from the analogue line inputs (Aux1,2) is low at 500mV (0.5V) for full output – enough for silver disc players (2V).

   The optical S/PDIF digital input worked to 192kHz sample rate, again frequency response rolled down early, to 26kHz (-1dB). The electrical input gave identical results. Vena II has an ESS9018 Sabre32 Series digital-to-analogue convertor (DAC) that gave a very high 117dB EIAJ Dynamic Range value from the loudspeaker outputs and 118dB from the Pre-out – excellent figures, well above original Vena.

   USB topped out at 24/384kHz and frequency response with 24/192 PCM was flat to 41kHz (-1dB), a tad higher than S/PDIF. EIAJ Dynamic Range remained a high 118dB, USB adding no noise – and distortion measured 0.02%, like S/PDIF.  Bluetooth had a respectable 99dB Dynamic Range – similar to CD. 

   The MM phono stage needed a normal 4.5mV for full output and overload was high at 53mV. Quad roll gain down below 20Hz to lessen loudspeaker cone flap from LP warps Noise was low at -79dB.

   The Vena II amp measures like the original but the digital inputs have stepped up to high current standards. The MM phono stage measures well too, as does Bluetooth. A fine all-round performance. NK


Power                                      55W

Frequency response               10Hz-31kHz

Distortion (10kHz, 1W)            0.02%

Separation (1kHz)                  91dB

Noise (IEC A)                         -112dB

Sensitivity                                500mV



Frequency response              4Hz-26kHz

Distortion (-60dB, 24bit)          0.02%

Dynamic range                      118dB



Frequency response              20Hz-20kHz

Distortion (1kHz, 5mV in)        0.03%

Separation (1kHz)                 68dB

Noise (IEC A)                        -79dB

Sensitivity                              4.5mV

Overload                               53mV









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