Optologic tussle. Juxtaposing Formula to new LaScala MkII remained on the very same course but pushed closer to holographic lock. The sense of being (able to be) inside the music rather than watch it from just the outside was stronger still. At the extreme, it has us become a quasi performer like the actual musicians. Our participation is so immersive that for the duration, we nearly are a player ourselves. Because there's more micro data to grab hold of and ride a tune with full involvement, our engagement is active, not passive. Not mere consumers, we become co-creators of our experience. A tech head calls it higher resolution and leaves it at that. He fails at explaining the benefits. And it's not as though any machine could trigger or guarantee such depth. One still must show up for the experience with all one's senses on high alert. If one does, this increased access to the musical innards then makes it easier, hence more likely to go deep. That's the rationale for bona fide high-end gear. It's also its curse. Because it makes access to music's inner dimension easier, it quickly trains us to contribute less and less sensory intensity from our end. Soon our depth of experience diminishes. We become turned-off consumers who expect 'do me' magic with the push of a button. When magic refuses us, we blame soulless machinery and shop for still higher pixel count. After the initial hit of more raw data which supports easier engagement, we get lazy again. So endless upgraditis feeds upon itself like the Ouroboros.

But that's separate from the machines. Where those go, the progression of LaScala MkII --> MkII optologic --> Formula was one of higher magnification. Whilst primarily about ambient recovery, hence audible space, there were the usual associated benefits for tonal sophistication relative to its decay action. Trailing fades get more and more 'micro' in a bleeding hurry. Obviously increased micro resolution pursues such fades with greater vigor. When such fades aren't prematurely clipped off, the quality of timbre enriches and the progression of tones over time becomes more elastic and fluid, less choppy and metronomic. Though it'd be natural to presume that the MkII's valve buffer had timbral advantages, in truth its primary quality versus the tube-less Formula was greater thickness. In a direct A/B, this manifested as minor opacity by contrast on the minus ledger; and as a perception of weightier dynamic transitions on the plus side. The nimbler flagship DAC exhibited the ripplier tiny waves called microdynamics. The 'lesser' optologic converter created the heftier macro contrasts. Viewed from a perspective of subjective speed, the Formula was a tad quicker, the LaScala more leisurely. None of it impacted actual clocking. The same tunes played back at exactly the same length of time. Still, a heavier denser less micro-concerned reading often feels just a mite slower.

Balance the balanced. Perhaps not surprisingly, the transformer-coupled XLR of the new LaScala followed in the footsteps of the Formula. They created a small textural difference to the RCA feed. This asserted itself independent of the subsequent signal path where our single-ended preamp desymmetrizes things internally. Users are thus encouraged to try both outputs regardless of voltage and theoretical correctness. If you can hear the difference, chances are you'll prefer one flavour over the other.

Judgment juggle. As always, resolution enhancements in one stage of the hifi chain rely on sufficient downstream resolution to manifest fully. It's an alternate meaning of balancing the balance. Put primitively, if out of 100 transparency points, one applied 80 to the source, 20 to the integrated amp and 0 to the speakers, the shiniest most capable new DAC wouldn't really shine. Anyone upgrading from MkII to MkII Optologic must insure that the associated hardware is translucent enough to upstream improvements. Now the increased visibility of recorded space—that often subtle domain of gossamer reflections/reverb—and its influence on sophisticated tone with more generous decays will be obvious and well worth the conversion fee. Ditto for the more obvious organization of music into three-dimensional mapping, particularly so as music gets architecturally more complex. It's testament to Cristian Anelli's customer support ethos that the now middle model in their converter line benefited so rapidly from the R&D behind the flagship Formula and its FPGA-controlled discrete resistor ladders. It's a very concrete benefit of Aqua's modular approach. Existing owners get to enjoy the company's IP advances without the usual sell/buy routine. Keep what you already have; bolt on real not cosmetic go-faster mods as they release. Anti obsolescence protects your valuable hifi investment with more current tech. Especially with fast-moving digital, the Joneses relocate a lot. Keeping up with them requires eyes glued on the ball. Aqua's policy doesn't drop it. That deserves applause. An already widely accoladed converter just became even better. It's a most excellent place to invest your next upgrade grand into!

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