The deck in the review queue just ahead of the Elyse was Labtek's Oppo 105D Elle tube mod. Unlike Dan's, the Italian mod runs a compact custom SMPS to power its valves. Its review included comparisons to the Fore Audio DAISY1, Aqua Hifi LaScala MkII and Elyse. There the ModWright stood separate from the other three: "It was overall plumper. It was fatter in the bass, softer on top and bloomier/bigger with its outlines, thus less separated and sorted. Its overall tint was a bit more autumn hued, its performance perspective stronger on the performers, less on the surrounding space: they're here versus you are there. The ModWright was also the chewier and chunkier. In trade it was less resolved and astute. Higher warmth meant mild blending. The cooler Labtek drew stricter lines for superior three-dimensional mapping; for more firmly defined recorded ambience." Describing the Aqua, "it embraces R2R silicon and eschews digital filtering for a tube-enhanced Metrum Hex/Pavane aesthetic. Like the Fore Audio and Labtek machines, its designers worship at the altar of speed. Whatever contributions the tubes make, they aren't allowed to overshadow jump factor and transient vigor as they do in the differently tuned/voiced ModWright."

To unbox the above, the other three began life with the solid-state virtues of speed and leading-edge articulation. Subsequently they mixed in tone and dimensionality values from the valve camp. By calling out a sequence, I point at what communicated itself as their sonic foundation. The Elyse starts with classical tube virtues. It grants them more space to develop. To find a comparator from its side of the divide which would view the game from the same perspective, I needed the €6'000 S.A. Lab Lilt DAC/pre from Moscow. That combines a discrete R2R network with direct-heated Russian 4П1Л/4P1L pentodes which are operated in triode and coupled by transformers. There's even remote-controlled resistor-ladder volume. For my best apples-to-apples approximation, I linked the Elyse to Vinnie Rossi's LIO operated as AVC with remote. The Russian DAC with full preamp functionality ran direct into the Pass Labs XA30.8. Now I had two valve converters with remote volume which shared a tube designer's world view on digital; but still approached the task differently to net more flavours and contrast to the above three.

To understand how I apply these terms, transistors are better at transients, tubes better at decays. Solid state can maximize resolution, rhythmic drive, control, speed and separation, hollow state can maximize tone density, textural elasticity and dimensional layering. Most components cross these lines to varying degrees. Talking about two camps is quite artificial. Really, it's black and white when the truth is fifty shades of grey. My talk is really about easy descriptors for more accurate meaning. Some components prioritize speed and timing to go paler on colour, leaner on mass and lighter on weight. Others emphasize density, softness, intermeshing lines and a deeply saturated palette which in trade gets fatter, slower and less teased out. Again, calling the first transistors, the second tubes is artifice. There are many exceptions. Still, to locate where on the map a component lives, it serves the purpose fine. Using this scheme, the Labtek, Fore Audio and Aqua Hifi machines had more of the first, less of the second. The Labtek dipped lightest into the tube drawer. Between DAISY1 and LaScala MkII, it was a matter of more energy intensity for the former, greater rhythmic ease for the latter. With that turf staked out, where did the Elyse and Lilt land?

Over the Elyse, the Russian DHP bottles with discrete R2R DAC were even softer on the uptake, more lingering on the fades. They appeared to increase the recorded ambiance's reverb time. This enhanced elasticity of timing but made for more blurred lines and watercolour transitions. Such a degree of bloom was more akin to an underdamped SET. As such it was more selective about intimate simple music playing to it rather than complex vigorous fare working against it. The Elyse applied a firmer grip. With it even edgy music retained sufficient tension and grit to come off intact whilst admittedly sounding a bit prettier and rounder than normal. The Lilt was too overtly voiced by a classical music lover. It was decidedly less at home with harder modern music. That said, either deck was gentler and less striated on the attack than the earlier mentions. Temporally, their feel was more midfield blend and atmosphere (with the Lilt entering the far field) than front-row spice and dryness. This more fluid gestalt is what distinguished the Elyse and Lilt from the pack. It's what justified calling theirs a perspective where tubes dominate. If you need your bass slapped ultimately wiry and popping, you'd call the Lilt entirely unsuitable, the Elyse still too soft. If you want to hear massed violins heave and billow on the ebb and flow of giant lungs expanding and contracting, none of the earlier three decks would equal the S.A. Lab as followed by the Elyse.

With ElectroHarmonix gold-pin 6922 and Sovtek 5AR4.

Now we get heretical if you love to trash talk current Soviet glass as though only costly new-old stock from Europe or the US made you a serious listener. That's ugly hifi racism. In fact, if you mean to dial down the give of your musical shocks for a sportier tauter ride, the stock glass is far better. This mimics an earlier experiment I made with posh designer glass for my LaScala. I acquired some premium gold-pin Mullard 6201 that were promoted as the ultimate of their kind. Really? I reverted to the stock Russkies in a hurry and never looked back. That doesn't mean you would. It simply means that rolling tubes can tighten the reins of this fluffy behaviour and step on the gas. You're in control. Tube swaps also affect whether your tone is more full fat or lean; whether the top end is crisper or mellower, the midband fuller. The two rectifiers I had showed how bass damping and grip can be altered without touching the two signal bottles.

With compact rectifiers, the metal perf remains in place. Hit the 4th button from the left and all LEDs plus logo back light extinguish.

If that suggests a moving target, quite. It's the allure of tube gear, the bane of one-truth reviews. Those unfamiliar with valve kit tend to think that tube rolling operates primarily in the amplitude domain. They expect more or less bass, mids and treble. Some of it applies. Just as much if not more goes to subjective damping: how dry or wet the virtual acoustics sound, how tight or loose the music feels. Adjustable feedback can shift those value. With the Elyse, it's simply pure tube rolling. Here participation in owner's circles can solicit feedback on suitable recommendations if your inquiry about what you want more or less of is very specific.

No matter what, things with the Elyse should never be needly, edgy, unduly driven, speedy, crisp, thin or pale. Those things aren't written to her DNA. Because these tubes aren't a buffer tacked onto a conventional transistor circuit but instead a bona-fide valve circuit, their sonic impact is deeper than a makeup job. It's more about body than space. The feel is relaxed and at ease, not pushy or forward. The tonal palette has more black than white. Textures aren't front-of-seat transient dominant but more centred on minor bloom with a laid-back emphasis on the trailing edges. In headfi terms, Elyse is not a Sennheiser HD800 or HifiMan HE1000 but a MrSpeakers Ether C or EnigmAcoustics D1000. In amplifier terms, it's not a Job 225 but Vinnie Rossi LIO. In speaker terms, it's not a Gallo but more of a classic Sonus faber.
For listeners desirous of valve virtues but reluctant to embrace power tubes—perhaps it's about heat, expense, insufficient speaker grip—ModWright's all-tube converter is an ideal choice. Without altering the back end of the amp/speaker interface, the flavour injection happens at the source. It means small-signal tubes of extended life expectancy, no heat, no exorbitant fees but many plug'n'play options. The tube rectifier and sizeable opening add more seasoning potential. Other ideal target customers are digiphobes. I mean those who relate to common playback of 1s and 0s as too sharp, crisp, nervous and... well, jittery. For them, the smooth fluid unhurried Elyse should be the perfect antidote.

By implication, it's just a bit retro like Heco's Direkt speakers which marry a 30mm hornloaded soft tweeter with 280mm paper mid/woofer in a cab twice as wide as it is deep, then add a vintage speed stripe to complete the look. Just as you wouldn't expect that to sound like your ubiquitous 5.25" 2-way mini monitor, so the Elyse doesn't sound like the average D/A converter. We have far too many of those already. Vive la difference!
Flip the virtual page for Dawid Grzyb's 2nd opinion.

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