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Though the Funk MTX usually shows no weaknesses against more expensive machines when it comes to dimensional openness, lucidity and very taut stability (and it’s always first rate at capturing transients with proper body), versus the Renaissance it did sound a bit more homogenized, less differentiated and as though it carried less benign musical tension.

The Fonel’s effortless precision and highly infectious vocal presence lacked any underlining excess as assured by the French Christophe Demarthe’s experiments with the German tongue on Clair Obscure’s "Es War" from the 2008 album We Gave A Party For The Gods And The Gods All Came; or the very welcome realism of grand soundstaging on the piano trio E.S.T.’s Tuesday in Wonderland with their sadly departed front man Esbjörn Svensson.

This confirmed again that for all its vivaciousness the Fonel remained highly resolved and precise. This point warrants repetition. It became apparent also in the multi-layered sonic universe of Download’s Outafter. This contains a multitude of small ethereal sound elements which nonetheless are essential for this music’s effectiveness. There's plenty of humming, hissing and oscillating stuff going on particularly so in the higher registers. Rather than a sonic cumulus of ‘somehow somewhere’, these elements seemed particularly crystallized, separated and intelligible. Quite so teased out yet simultaneously easy (rather than spot-lit) I had not heard this song before over my Audionet monos and Thiel CS3.7. And those are two high resolution components without unpleasant analytical tendencies in their own right.

Though I find it fundamentally not very reliable to call upon comparisons with the past, I’m pretty confident in claiming that on treble performance and soundstaging, the Fonel Renaissance was the best preamp I’ve yet had through my own digs. So what happened when I removed my Northstar USB dac32 from the rack to rely on Fonel’s internal DAC instead as connected USB to my Foobar-streaming laptop? The fundamental Renaissance character as described above remained put of course. That said, I did prefer Northstar’s €2.000 converter (with its own Kernel driver) or even Benchmark’s €1.400 DAC1 USB (ditto). Take Clock DVA’s "North Loop" from 1981’s Thirst, a formation which in the 90s had a certain success as the electronic group Jazzkapelle.

Here the opening drum roll had more "bristle, definition and dynamics" with the external converters as my notes put it whilst the hi hat "was somewhat cleaner, more informative, less compacted and further feathered out". Particularly the Northstar managed a noticeably more open and tacit illusion of the virtual stage. On "Back From Exile" and "Fountain Avenue" from Nickel Eye’s 2009 The Time of the Assassins, the Benchmark rendered the Western guitar’s steel strings a tad more elastic and a tick less hooded. While these differences might read drastic, compared to many cross component checks they were rather minor. Still, I'd hoped that Fonel’s built-in solution would more closely approach my external DACs.