Why? COS. Suitably refitted and with hopes high if not eternal, Audiophilleo first wrestled the StavEssence Apricity: battery-powered filter versus expensive USB cable. I made out no difference between the two. However, both were fuller and richer than generic USB direct. The margin was still narrow but a bit wider than the Formula trials had been.

Meanwhile StavEssence's Eunoia cable was genuinely different [right]. It had less transient bite for lower rhythmic pep and energy. It acted warm, limpid and languid, not coiled and springy. It was soft, not pungent. It behaved as mood alterant. It shifted curry flavours from Madras to Korma by dialling down the heat and upping the cream. This action was surprisingly easy to hear. It proved that designer Karol Staworko really had two discrete cable flavours on tap. As a gestalt shifter, I heard from it the most pronounced change.

Between the minor cable spaghetti of Audiophilleo's hanging box* versus the simple if thick stretch of Apricity cable, I'd favour the latter. The obvious proviso must be that a DAC has to cotton to its non-standard external ground drain. More relevant to an Audiophilleo review, did I think Philip Gruebele's solution of sufficient betterment to invest in his not inconsiderable £999? Not yet. Whilst slightly more overt than on the Aqua DAC, the delta remained too narrow to allocate such funds. To tickle the soft not seedy part of my underbelly and call out more meaningful gains, I still needed a less ambitious DAC; or better perhaps, one old enough to be from the pre-decrappifier era when USB audio was simple and innocent. On said count, AURALiC's Vega was my best shot that sufficient vintage might signify relatively less experience yet with a fully optimized USB interface than far more recent efforts. That might respond more powerfully to a filter assist?

* A minor complaint one could level is the inelegance that resulted from concept conversion. It's kludgier than a blank-sheet (re)design. The original Audiophilleo was powered by USB. The battery supply came later. That converted the original box with a new port, then added another box and extra cabling between them. Audiobyte's Hydra X+ started life as a one-box design. Its battery is built in. Clean, no fuss. It makes for less clutter and a lower box count. Here Audiobyte win by design, then add AES/EBU, even I²S on HDMI and do it for €300 less.

V for Vega victory? At ~€3'500 when current, the AURALiC was a big hit of the day. It must be why its G2 replacement carries the Vega name forward. After one hour of use, a thermally stabilized circuit and sufficiently low-jitter source can set its clock to 'exact' for best technical/sonic performance. That's how I used it. The Audiophilleo swapped its BNC/BNC adaptor for the included RCA/BNC version to hang off one of Vega's coaxial inputs. Once again, Philip's generic USB cable toggled between the USB inputs of DAC and Audiophilleo to contrast pears against pears and, for once, leave the poor apples out of it. Now I had a more pronounced delta; and a curiosity. The curiosity was that with the generic cable, the Vega's 'exact' clock value caused perfectly regular dropouts about each two seconds. Dumbed down to 'fine', those intervals stretched out to perhaps every eight seconds. Dumbed down to 'coarse', they finally disappeared. I'd not used generic USB cable in years. I'd never noticed this behaviour before. With my customary red KingRex double-header, 'exact' was always joy. On raw sonics meanwhile, USB direct really was coarser, grittier and etchier. USB through the Audiophilleo— seen as S/PDIF by the Vega to bypass its own USB transceiver—was rounder, smoother and mellower. This mode of more blended transients with reduced edges and softer transitions is routinely called more 'analogue' simply to distinguish it from needlier pricklier jerkier 'digital'. Whilst such terminology is artificial and far from correct, its use is widespread enough to translate. Accordingly, the Audiophilleo even with throwaway cabling played it more analogue and stately. By the same token, it's fair to say that some listeners will be so used to 'typical' digital that such a smoothing/blending effect could translate as sex with a condom. It erases some desirable friction and intensity. Which way preference falls is unpredictable. What's more, it's tied to overall system voicing. Not up for discussion? On the 5-year old AURALiC Vega, the 2MkII with PurePower made a noticeable difference. Whilst not as pronounced, its flavour was on par with the earlier StavEssence Eunoia sighting. Another way of describing the effect is that music feels slightly slower. The other flavour expresses more drive or urgency. This is an entirely subjective sensation. It bears zero relation to clock time. It's solely connected to how leading edges punctuate timekeeping for rhythmic tension. Softer leading edges bleed out some of that rhythmic tension. Presto: a sense of more languid than rushed flow. This can't be measured but is felt and the Audiophilleo supported that feeling.