Hardware. To suss out potentially difficult-to-hear differences, I opted for a deliberately minimalist amp/speaker combo: single-stage single-ended zero feedback FirstWatt SIT1 monos and 1.5-way Zu Druid MkV augmented by the matching Submission sub. Our trusty Esoteric C-03 transistor preamp controlled SPL. Set to zero voltage gain, it acted as a passive, albeit with active buffers pre/post its attenuator for stable impedance regardless of setting. Even though the pre-->amps signal transferred via RCA regardless, I tried both the RCA and XLR paths between converters and preamp. In the Formula review, I'd noted something interesting. Despite the higher output voltage which a volume change compensated, the transformer coupling of the balanced outputs injected a viscous or 'oily' texture that was different from the drier RCA.

To be sure, this was a small matter. Still, it would appeal to different listener tastes. It made sense then to repeat the experiment when the optologic MkII had inherited the Formula's XLR implementation. After I ran the first A/B sets off the Zu Event XLR cable to get a fix on the general scene, I followed up comparing RCA/XLR first on one deck, then the other. Had anything there changed in the new version? Here it's vital to disregard propaganda. Many 'balanced' preamps run single-ended volume controls to not be balanced throughout. Certain XLR inputs are desymmetrized immediately. Etc. Whatever sounds better to you is better, period. No other explanation or justification is required. As always, trust your ears. It's only them you must please.

Light wear? How much of a difference I'd hear was my primary question. The answer was surprisingly simple. Like those two words, it also sported two 's': spatial specificity. The optologic circuit had more. It unraveled space with more exactitude. Images within the great wash of a given musical scenery were more tacit; as though the silences around and between them were deeper to increase contrast and individualization. In our audiophile lexicon, the catchphrase for it all is separation. A good visual for the effect would be to somehow punch up the value of negative space as the nothing that surrounds objects. It's the eye's equivalent for the ear's 'blacker black'. That routinely shows up in descriptions of effective powerline conditioners. Its primary playground are the spatial relationships between sounds. They organize into a three-dimensional acoustic map which we call soundstage. With it, sounds progress along the arc that transforms amorphous aural 'somewhere' clouds into precisely defined—shaped and sized—miniature events which are fixed with great certainty into given locations. Calling it holography exaggerates. Still, this progression as it is encapsulated by improved separation does move into the direction of that extreme quality. In short, the prime advance of the optologic upgrade had to do with creating more space within the tighter denser weave of the musical fabric which the tubes generate by design. Valve fanciers familiar with tube rolling could easily relate when one steps up from affordable Russian/Chinese 300B to Emission Labs or Elrog variants. Their greater refinement tightens up around the edges. Music doesn't just flow. It simultaneously shows up as a structure. This structure is very specifically organized. The more this spatial organization grows apparent, the clearer become the underlying melodic, rhythmic and harmonic patterns and their complex interactions between the various recorded contributors.

Like punctuation choices, alternation of short and long sentences, emphasis from repeat first letters and other syntax elements, none of these things must be recognized to understand general meaning. One can read Shakespeare and follow along the emotions and actions of the protagonists just fine without any further recognition of the mechanics behind the bard's craft. It's simply that once elements of his craft enter our awareness whilst, back to hifi, we're carried along music's flow, we do so with deeper perception and appreciation. It's a more conscious more illuminated experience than simple elemental drowning. It's closer to observing architecture or tasting a complex dish and simultaneously seeing how it was done. It's that extra dimension of participation which elevates our experience. And here the optologic La Scala MkII added more information to help that to happen. I could simply have written more resolution. But where's the practical upshot in that?