Old hat or cool cat? My review of the STP-SE hit well before the upgrades became available. That review dates back to July 2009. It's an exhausted eternity for those hifi glossies that'd have us believe in technological breakthroughs with each passing issue. According to such hype, any 7-year old design shuffles along on a cane ready for the casket. Truly? Those around the block enough times know better. What revelations in linestage designs have reset the art over the last decade? The only thing I might invoke are advances in D/A chip parts or related FPGA coding that have driven down noise floors. Whilst most amplifiers still trail the best such figures badly out of breath, it's understandable how ambitious linestages would like to keep up. Plus, setting records sells, too. That's where I thought Stage Deux of the STP-SE might just chime in.

If we mate it to a SET with an 80dB S/N ratio; or play music in a room whose ambient noise hits 45dB to render anything below it mostly masked - it should be questionable whether we'll reap the full benefit of such resolution potential. To scope out where theory and reality meet, a standard SE would stand by for comparison. With its innards already paraded Full Monty on the previous page, let's take a look at the upgrade's posher bits. It's what you pay double for. Before we do, let's touch upon one endless debate. Say a certain preamp had us hear more tone density than a competitor. Is it adding stuff? Is the other subtractive instead? Where's neutral? Who actually knows? The moment we play back an album, it's already 'fingerprinted' by our hardware; any hardware. Playback without hardware is impossible. The same happens in the recording chain. What then of recorded truth? Could it be more than a uselessly abstract notion? Do active preamps add? Do they take away less? Are passives truer and purer? Can we just stick to what we hear, not worry over what it means? Can a cool cat wear an old hat? If it's Puss in Boots, absolutely. Phew. At least one impossible question sorted.

On how Stage 2 figures, I asked designer EJ Sarmento for some hard numbers. "The majority of upgrades improve sonics because of material parts changes. This isn't something we can measure yet. Other upgrades such as the power supply section we can measure, however. For instance, the Stage 2 preamp has about 1/3rd less noise. Most importantly, channel-to-channel balance is within +/-0.003dB. That's about 15 x better than the standard unit. S/N and crosstalk measure better than 120dB. Dynamic range as tested on the Audio Precision comes in at 122dB with a 5V in/out balanced signal." This confirms a strange hifi truth. Many parts can measure identical yet sound very different. If all a designer did was rely on measurements, he'd go after the very cheapest part of a target group, then call anything else illusory and pandering to snob appeal. Once he conducts controlled A/B and hears clear differences between parts that measure the same, one illusion is pierced but more questions arise. Now our designer must rely on his ears. Is what sounds better to him better, period? Is it just personal preference? Where do 'more pleasing' or 'better' meet 'truer to the signal'? We're right back at an objective cat losing his cool to angrily piss into his boots. Best we stick to raw sonics and let them fall where they may.
To wrap up factoids, many preamps with XLR inputs and outputs aren't balanced. They use opamps or transformers to desymmetrize/symmetrize signal coming in and going out of their single-ended circuits with matching 2-channel not 4-gang volume controls. Our €10'000-when-new Esoteric C-03 is such a type. Likewise our €14'000 Nagra Jazz with optional i/o balancing transformers. Despite price and quality—the Jazz is a terrific valve piece which won a personal match against the Octave HP300SE and Thrax Dionysos—it uses a motorized potentiometer. It's significant then how at 1/3rd to 1/4th the price of vaunted competition, the fully loaded Wyred arrives front-to-back balanced with a remote-switched discrete resistor matrix volume using top Vishay bits in the most-used positions. Heck, minus those Vishays, already the base STP-SE does all of that for just 1/8th the sticker; including being live on all four outputs simultaneously. You aren't limited to XLR or RCA as the switched Nagra does it. Calling anything priced low is relative to buying power and interest. Still, there's no doubt. Wyred4Sound's STP-SE packs enormous value. Lacking flashy cosmetics, overkill case work and a bling metal remote are natural parts of the same equation.