La Voce versus D1. On timing, this was a replay of the prior session. Again the Italian had more pep in its step, the Taiwanese the slower reflexes. Someone with different triggers to key into tonal balance instead would have noticed how the more luxurious box with the LED smile was more silvery and ethereal on top just as they would have called the South Korean of the last page slightly darker, softer and wetter, possibly due to its vacuum tube buffer. That then was the core takeaway from these A/Bs. If you were a 'rhythm first' listener, Cristian Anelli's discrete R2R would make the most persuasive argument for itself. If you were less susceptible to its timing charms, your deciders might operate in the tonal-balance or texture domains instead. You could then find one of the other machines your preferred poison. Here it's fair to reiterate that at $9'000 for the COS and €6'000 for the Fore, La Voce beat both very handily on price.

Given lengthier labour plus a higher bill of materials for discrete R2R over off-the-shelf chips—this disregards the costlier chassis for our non-AQ competitors—such a strong showing for Aqua's 'baby' DAC was rather inspiring also on the value scale. Rephrased, highly competitive did rather suggest itself.

To close out this chapter, it's fair to add that timing, from source to speakers, undergoes many potential hurdles. That's particularly coarse with speakers but with bandwidth-limited amps, phase shift too becomes an issue at the frequency extremes. Still, speakers are the greatest crappifiers of time. That obvious fact was the impetus behind Wilson's extreme Chronosonic model. Millimetre adjustments of the physical position for all of its upper drivers relative to listener distance sort out common inter-driver delay issues [right].

So a thoroughly time-confused speaker should be less transparent to La Voce's particular skill set than one which is better optimized in the time domain. Single-driver headphones or widebanders would be prime candidates for minimum damage on that count though, as always, they might have other issues to get back at the running subtext of hierarchical values. What's most important to you? What could you easily live without? What's your ideal mix of qualities; and in what particular sequence?

For Aqua Hifi's La Voce S3 DAC
, I'd call the ideal listener one who prioritizes timing; then focus applied to both leading edges and image positioning which are clearly interrelated; then high soundstage sorting as a logical outcome of precisely placed images; then perceived speed and clarity as upshots of lack of time+place confusion; finally the recreation of rich audible space if/when recorded. For the spec-conscious buyer, La Voce offers not only a native I²S input on RJ45 as standard but, with its modular input, an option for the esoteric AT&T glass fiber. That's essentially impervious to length where USB without an active repeater limits to 5 metres. DSD fans will want to remember that La Voce automatically converts to PCM. MQA adopters must know that there won't be a blue light. But with Exogal having relinquished their MQA license and McIntosh gone on record that their gear sounds better without it, such precedents could inspire others to say no. Then seeing blue could devolve into an even more minor fad than it presently is. Finally, for any buyer who views hifi purchases as long-term investments as rightly they should, Acoustic Quality's entry-level deck is fully modular like its pricier stablemates. When bona fide technical advances warrant a makeover, this converter can be retrofitted to remain au courant. That keeps spending a few thou on a DAC saner than the short-lived inebriation of eau currant aka fermented raisin juice.

Finally, there are those who always wonder about any catalogue's priciest and best. Here we recall Cristian Anelli's earlier statement about being so impressed with Lamm gear because, regardless of whether it uses tubes, transistors or both, to him it always expressed the exact same 'house sound'. He said that this mirrored his own philosophy for AQ. Comparing his pre-xHD Formula to La Voce, the latter was clearly cut from the same cloth indeed. Sure, its thread count was lower to be less suave, smooth and refined. But for many, the difference in price relative to the models' fundamental overlap should make La Voce S3 the clear favourite of this lineup. In short, don't overlook The Voice just because it sits at the bottom of the range. It drives on the same high-octane discrete R2R as its pricier siblings. That seems to be key here!

Aqua Hifi website