Could I pull a classic Sean Connery? I'm referring to his Ramirez character in the cult movie Highlander who explains to the not-quite-human Connor MacLeod that "in the end, there can only be one". Looking over the gear I reviewed this year, could I apply so decisive a mandate and arrive at just one piece of kit becoming Component of the Year, no lengthy runners-up list to dilute the choice? Because, why otherwise bother? I sent a call up into my grey matter. The download came clear and concise. Of everything I'd reviewed, one component stood out as being more unique and practical than all the others: Vinnie Rossi's LIO. How so? It's a user-configurable platform based on an ultra-cap power supply. Two banks of hi-tech energy storage cycle indefinitely. One charges whilst the other powers the circuits. It's an advanced form of long-lived battery power. It decouples its signal paths from the power grid. It always sounds the same no matter what gremlins ride your AC; says good riddance to costly power cords/conditioners; and yeah to very high current and no noise. Installable modules include analog i/o, a dual-mono 384PCM DSD128 DAC with USB, BNC and Toslink, a phono stage with basic or advanced loading options, a 25wpc Mosfet amp, a single-ended or balanced headphone amp, a resistor ladder or autoformer volume with/without small-signal triodes. Volume, balance, mute, source switching and display modes are remote controlled. Cosmetic options include panel and knob colours. Upgrades/changes include trade-in credits.

This year Vinnie expanded the LIO platform with two new features. The one I reviewed is the DHT module. That's short for direct-heated triode. It's a line-level gain stage in rare grounded-grid spud minimalism. That means no driver tubes, feedback or output transformers. It can take the classic 4-pin PX4/25, 2A3/300B, 101D/205D and SV811/SV572 bottles. Without volume control, it can turn LIO into a fixed DHT DAC and/or phono stage. With volume control, LIO can become a DHT preamp with/without headfi or a DHT integrated hybrid with Mosfet outputs. The action or flavour of this ultrawide-bandwidth big triode circuit is more potent than customary 12A_7/6922/6SN7 variants. Because it isn't tasked with driving a variable impedance with back EMF but instead, the fixed input impedance of its own amp or that of an outboard equivalent, there's no speaker issue, no response interaction, no heavy lifting as there would be with SET amps. These triodes get to shine, not sweat. The few existing DHT preamps by the competition tend to use rather more complex circuits with output transformers. Those reflect in narrower bandwidth, phase shift and a dilution of LIO's DHT aroma. If one wants the fragrance of direct-heated triodes pure... I've not heard or seen anything more powerful than this.

As if that weren't enough, Vinnie's second new LIO option this year was a 4-channel amp module with analog EQ network to optimize his box of legos for Clayton Shaw's new Spatial open-baffle flagship X1 Uniwave speaker. What new abilities LIO might sprout next year is anyone's guess. Just so, the message is clear: this component gives new meaning to the term plug 'n' play. it's even more flexible and fun and useful than we knew when it first bowed. It's even more different than we suspected. In my book, all of that—and whatever might be coming down the pike for it —make it the one of 2016. LIO roars!

Vinnie Rossi website