one step ahead
Audio buffer +
Frequency range: 5Hz - 200 kHz
Input impedance: 22 kohm
Output impedance: 100 ohm
(no capacitors in the signal path)
4.2 x 2.5 x 1.4 in
(110 x 65 x 35 mm)
Weight: 0.5 lb (0.22 kg)
This product is now discontinued. It has been replaced by an improved version, Contour-21.
"Music can change the world" [Beethoven]
... and Contour can change how you enjoy the music.
The Contour audio buffer + was designed in 2012. It took us 8 years to bring it to market. That is unusually long time even for Vista Audio - it usually takes 2-4 years to develop and thoroughly test designs before committing to production. In this case, the main issue holding up release was not technical or sound quality: it was how to describe what is the Contour and what it does? Several prototypes were built as part of a tube buffer project and they were shared with audiophile friends. After lengthy discussions, there was a consensus: tube buffer part was not needed, but the part which is now the Contour everybody loved. Super, except... there were different comments about what people loved about the Contour: some reported that instruments that were "sitting on top of each other" are now clearly separated, others reported wider stereo image, more "air" in the sound, and the benefits depended on the setup, music genre and on the quality of the recorded material. It was really difficult to find commonality between different experiences, other than everyone reporting that they heard improvement and had a lot of fun!
In the end, we decided to bring the Contour to market and to price it attractively in order to make it easier to spread some good audiophile fun!
As for the original question - what is the Contour and what it does, we will try to answer it below, without too much technical mumbo-jumbo.
The simplest way to explain what the Contour does is to say that it optimizes interface between a source and an amplifier, and it improves channel separation. The Contour provides stable, high input impedance and low output impedance thus eliminating potential mismatch between a music source and an amplification stage. With gain close to 1 (0 dB) and vanishingly low distortion, the Contour does not change the system's sound quality. For that reason we call it an audio buffer.
The Contour ensures that every component in the system performs at its best.
However, there is more to the Contour than optimization of the source-amplifier interface (that is the + in the description). An active circuit has been designed to provide subtle improvements of stereo imaging. It is a technically elegant solution that helps an audio system to present a stereo image with better spatial resolution (more accurate location of instruments in the stereo field). Waveforms of the music sample shown below illustrate effects of the Contour on the stereo image: the original signals in the Left and Right channels are shown, together with their difference (L-R). The Contour increases difference between stereo channels thus minimizing issues related to poor channel separation. While this is most beneficial in analog systems, due to low channel separation of cartridges, the benefits are also noticeable in digital systems (and we should not forget that there is a poor channel separation in our rooms: we hear our right speaker also with the left ear, and vice versa) .
The factory setting of the Contour provides for a very gentle increase of the L-R signal of only 1dB - we found that this setting eliminates issues related to imperfect channel separation while still preserving original mastering of the recorded material.
The end result is clearer sound with more air and an apparent darker background free of artifacts. The Contour feels at home in all-analog systems and in high-resolution digital systems. It works well with headphones and with speakers.
In summary, the Contour:
1. optimizes electrical interface between two components in an audio reproduction chain;
2. reduces crosstalk between channels and improves stereo image, results being wider stage and accurate placement of instruments;
3. does not change sound quality by adding euphonic distortion (which is what tube buffers usually do).
Conceptualized and thoroughly evaluated years ago, this design was waiting for the right moment to emerge as a polished, well-engineered Vista Audio product. Quality components packaged in a small-sized metal chassis make the Contour an easy and unobstructive fit in any system.
The Contour's user interface is straightofrward: the rear of the unit hosts the Power Switch (On/Off), two pairs of RCA connectors with line-level inputs/outputs (Input and Output) and Power Connector (PWR).
Contour can be used in simple systems, inserted between a signal
source (CD player, streaming device, phono preamplifier,
etc.) and an integrated amplifier. In that case, one of
the amplifier's line-level inputs is used. Connections
should be made with good quality interconnects as illustrated below:
If a system consists of separate components the Contour can be inserted between a source and preamplifier. However, the Contour is more commonly inserted between the preamplifier and power amplifier, so that all music sources can benefit from the sound improvements. That scenario is shown here:
Of course, other combinations are possible, as long as the Contour's input is connected to a line-level output from the source and its output is connected to a line-level input to the downstream component.
The Contour ships with a suitable power supply and we do not recommend leaving it on 24/7 as this wastes energy and does not contribute to sound quality - the Contour warms up quickly and reaches optimum operating conditions within 5-10 minutes.
When powering up the system, it is recommended that Contour is turned on first. After that, the standard turn-on sequence can be followed.
Last, but not least - put on some good music and enjoy!
Vista Audio - a brand of Verty Technologies, Inc..