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Scintilla agreeable. The late Jason Bloom's Apogee Scintilla was the amp buster of its day. It combined ultra-low impedance, gnarly phase angles, low sensitivity and a nearly insatiable appetite for current. That cocktail proved lethal to many amplifiers. If one was actually equal to the task, it meant it could drive anything.

In 2011's jam of cans where AKG's discontinued K-1000 no longer figures, the same applies to any headphone amp which excels on Fang Bian's HifiMan HE-6. The maker of these orthos himself recommends 6 watts to properly offset their 83.5dB/1mW and 50Ω specs. For standard headphone amps—never mind 6.3mm plugs on receivers—such power demands are brutish. The Apex with an industry-standard 2Vrms source had no troubles whatsoever. This also cleared any commercial headphone currently sold. The Peak drives 'em all.

Comparative upshots: Prior comparisons had determined that Dan Wright's LS-100 preamp with headphone socket was a virtual stand-in for my fully optioned-out Woo Audio Model 5 with 6SN7-driven 300Bs. If times get leaner to mandate reducing my inventories, I'd sell the Woo—strategically retaining the ModWright's oft-used preamp functionality whilst the Yamamoto A-09s would cover dedicated 300B speaker drive—without feeling cheated. The Peak meanwhile reminded me of 45, VT52 or PX4 machines like the earlier reviewed Eddie Current Balancing Act for earspeakers, Yamamoto's A-010 or A-08s models for regular speakers. Where the Woo and ModWright are richer, deeper but also slower by comparison, the Peak focused on lucidity, energy and greater speed.

A perfect CD to hone in on these lit-up speed aspects was Raphaël Faÿs' latest installment of his now flamenco triptych. It's called plainly Mi Camino con el Flamenco [Harmonia Mundi, Le Chant du Monde]. Not of the caliber of a Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, Juan Carmona, Gerardo Nuñez, Tomatito, Raphael Riqueni or Adam del Monte, Faÿs is a fully fledged member of the contemporary Jazz Manouche scene. He plays naturally in the Django Reinhardt style but also dabbles in classical guitar. His Flamenco exploits orient themselves alongside elder statesmen Ramon Montoya, Nine de Ricardo and Sabicas. He betrays his genre-alien roots with rhythmic confusion and occasionally sloppier/jazzier articulation which one never encounters with the art's true maestros. Yet his particular timbre and attack borrowing from Gipsy Jazz make him interesting even when he steps outside his comfort zone.

Switching between ModWright and Apex meant switching between gut and steel strings, between red gold and Platinum harmonics, between greater woodiness vs. higher glassiness or crystallization, between a lower center of gravity with fuller heavier bass vs. a higher center of gravity with more lightning-y blister and a leaner less saturated reading. With an inherently meaty nearly chocolaty but highly dynamic headphone like the Audez'e LCD-2, the Peak grafted on some Sennheiser HD800 or HifiMan HE-6 elements. This added illumination and sheen on top and very minor caffeine buzz in general.

With an inherently zippy can like the top-heavy HE-6 the Apex became a highly energetic incisive fast-fast-fast proposition. Transients were very incisive for upfront weighting but the inherent relaxation that comes with greater bloom had less matured richness. With languid fare like Ara Dinkjian's fabulous melodic work on his Night Ark's Treasures compilation or the lyrical numbers on Karim Baggili's equally enticing Douar, the Peak dug less deeply into the redolent aspects. This also applied less mass to the bass foundation. The peculiar chatter of sympathetic strings on sitar and sarod, the twang of an Indian slide guitar and such meanwhile became very teased out and sharply honed.

Fonel's Renaissance preamp with dedicated headphone socket runs four 6N23P (6922/E88CC family) in a dual-differential pure tube configuration. This made for an interesting juxtaposition with Apex's 6SN7 + Mosfet. For an album full of riches I reached for 30 Years' Fidelity. That's one terrific compilation from Kirkelig Kulturverksted, the label which has published much of Kari Bremnes. As the title promises, mastering quality is uniformly high. More importantly so is the purely musical level. "Månen" is a gorgeous track by Lill Lindfors and Ketil Bjørnstadt. There's also some superb Norwegian tango—yes the norse men have a real flair for this Argentine dance music—the obligatory Kari Bremnes cuts and perennial flame Lynni Treekrem is represented with "Fet Syng" from her Haugtussa album.

The core differentiator here was the 6SN7's way with tone textures. The Russian 6N23P were drier, more matter of fact and in terms of inner glow somewhat damped. Where the Fonel was highly articulate, separated and resolute, the Peak amp was more enveloping and generous to particularly benefit vocal intimacy and splendor. An image that reoccurs whenever I need to describe this particular quality is the tactile sensation of smooth versus suede leather. If you can translate the latter's very fine short hairs into a sonic texture—admittedly somewhat of a stretch but indeed relevant as these things go—you've got the essence. There's an intermingling slightly voluptuous aspect to how simultaneously arising tones interact. It's somewhat like mild water color rather than acrylic transitions. Though of different origins, the 6SN7s in the ModWright and Peak both exhibited this. The 6N23P did not. If your notions on tube virtues center on this easily recognizable textural action, I think you'd prefer the Peak over the Renaissance. Between ModWright and Apex the choice essentially comes down to 300B vs. 45 traits of density vs. speed while the textural qualities are shared.