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Aesthetix delivers a huge liberated sound which reminded me also of the Ayon Audio CD-5s Special. Yet it seemed that Romulus offered superior focus. Its bass might not have been as extended or thunderous but I don't think anybody would complain. Instruments were projected quite close to the listener and very palpable. I think that was a function of a slightly emphasized lower midrange but not as some obvious coloration. It felt like a premeditated choice because it made the sound of the Romulus by creating its volume, size and dynamics.

One feature everybody liked so much about the old Wadia machines and now with the Mark Levinson No.512 and EMM Labs XDS1 Signature Edition is how three-dimensional they sound. The Romulus now joins this club by delivering not merely large but also palpable physical objects across the audible range. Even so the picture stays very clear and sharp. This is a high-end player in every aspect including resolution. To verify I listened to some commercial CDs and compared them to their copies of master tapes I had on CD-R. That's how some labels prepare their special formats like UDH (First Impression Music and T-TOC). The differences between master tape and regular stamped CD are quite significant and I always favor the CD-R copy. I think that's why formats like XRCD are so successful. Part of the recipe involves simplifying the process between recording studio and final product. But even so several stages remain and each of them might introduce distortion. Regardless, the differences were clear and the Romulus presented them without hesitation. It portrayed much better dynamics, focus and a more interesting overall presentation for CD-R. It did it in its own way though. It showed clear differences between the sizes of various instruments and the distances between them and the listener. This confirmed my early impressions. Changes in dynamics were clear too though not as significant. A stock CD had flatter dynamics, CD-R more explosive ones. These were aspects the Romulus slightly emphasized.

The performance of this machine could seem slightly limited because its selectivity was not as good as some high-end competitors. I recently had a discussion with Andrzej Kisiel, chief editor for Audio magazine, during which he asked me how I would define the difference between resolution and selectivity. He was right to point out something that I maybe subconsciously knew already. Too much or too little selectivity are always a problem. On the other hand resolution can't ever be too good. It's never good enough. If we understand selectivity like this, when talking about Romulus we should say that its selectivity isn't quite enough. This is not a perfectly clean clear sound where everything becomes perfectly visible. One could even judge this sound as being less open than what one remembers from other machines with similar sonics. And in some ways one would be right.

Strong crisp cymbals on Coltrane, Niemen's Katharsis, on electronica like Diorama's new Even Devil Doesn’t Care all were a bit too quiet and nice. If I remember correctly I used exactly the same words when I summarized my review of Devialet's D-Premier AIR. Both show the music in a slightly more beautiful way than is true. They don't allow for any harshness, brightness or graininess in the treble. Bass is gently softened at the very bottom but the rest of it is truly taut to create the impression that all of it is equally well controlled. But the impression is not fact. After some intense listening one might conclude that one would appreciate a bit more dynamics from kick drum for example. That's a trade-off and real life.

The most important thing. When reviewing a multi-purpose device like the Romulus, a reviewer must consider many things that can be skipped when dealing with other types. He has to sort out all the properties, decide which might be most important for potential buyers, which were important for its designers and which are important for the writer. The most important question I ask myself when listening to any device is: do I like it? It seems like a subjective approach but the only one that makes objective sense. Gathering experience from thousands of auditions (it's been that many years), I always try to get to the point of 'good' sound as the one that's close to what I hear at live concerts after taking into consideration one crucial correction. I must keep in mind that any recording is a totally different beast from a live performance. It can never sound the same.

In this particular case I needed to ask additional questions: how did this device perform as CD player, as D/A converter, as CD player/preamplifier and finally as DAC/preamplifier. Plus there was one more question. How did USB hold up? The answer to the first question was very simple. I never thought that a machine at this price could offer such great performance. That's a holistic assessment. Another deck I reviewed recently which performed as well was the Ayon Audio CD-3s but the Romulus still surprised with its finesse. Tonally Ayon's sound was similar and it had more functionality. Ye it was the Romulus which had me spend long nights with headphones. Of course I realized that there was a slight emphasis in the bass and I knew that definition could be better. But I still loved its sound. The Austrian player delivers a bigger more open sound which should work in systems where Romulus might seems too warm or restricted.

It was no coincidence that I compared Romulus to far more expensive players from Levinson and EMM Labs (and it might not have been a coincidence either that all three came from the US). They all shared a similar spirit or view on the music - on what's more and what's less important. All of them present instruments as 3D objects with the acoustic surrounding nicely formed but only where close to the soloist. All the rest is quickly gone. All of them are mostly about sustain and lower midrange emphasis which makes the sound even more palpable.