This option menu allows the buyer to arrive at a machine that's tailored to individual needs. A particular wrinkle is the €1'445 MM or MC phono module aimed at even advanced users. My loaner had the fiber-optic input and an RJ45 port for AES/EBU. Via adapters, that can also accept XLR/coax cables. Arfi-optical is Koschnicke's own solution and the recommended protocol between Mu-Se and DAC-Pre Reference. It consists of three fiber-optic legs. One carries the masterclock, the other music data which thus aren't clocked by the source/sender but DAC/receiver to eliminate potential jitter whilst optical transmission guarantees immunity against ultrasonic electromagnetic distortion. The third leg sends ID data to switch between the 44.1kHz and 48kHz oscillators and associated sample rates. The 'Arfi' designation is shorthand for 'Artistic Fidelity', Ralf Koschnicke's original company name for hifi manufacture and sales before he launched his music label and workshop Acousence. Because he views USB as sonically problematic, he omits it. To interface with a USB source, he instead offers an external €698 interface to the optical ports.

I already mentioned preamp functionality. Analog volume control is via discrete resistor ladder. All analog signal—XLR or RCA—sees quality Lundahl transformers upon both entry and exit. Aside from symmetrizing RCA and inserting galvanic isolation, these costly parts eliminate HF contamination. The obvious upshot is that all internal signal processing occurs fully balanced. That's still far from standard even in this price range. For further insight into the Acousense design approach, one best refers to their webpages. Routinely those are peppered with claims for sonic brilliance due to maximal sample-rate support or resampling to DSD1'024. "Nonsense" is Koschnicke's dry response who explains his views in the "our technical philosophy" section. Even more in-depth goes the "sample theorem applied properly" PDF. From a tone engineer's perspective, it explains the sonic reasons why user-selectable digital filters, up/resamplers, DSD and SACD are all superfluous. It's no surprise then to learn that his machine is limited to 192kHz PCM and a fixed digital filter.

The Mu-Se's server software is Linux-based Euphony OS which Acousence find particularly stable and user-friendly. Any browser-capable device like a tablet or smartphone can access/operate it. With a license, Roon Core may be installed but since I don't work with Roon, I used the onboard Stylus player instead. Compared to Roon or even the Innuos Sense app, many functions seemed quite basic but both Euphony and Stylus operated reliably and stable and though not ultra-fast, more than acceptable

As soon as the dapper duo kicked off the first bars into my DarTZeel NHB-108 and Acapella LaCampabella Mk4 system, I had to say 'good-bye' to any subliminal expectations that studio DNA would sound brutally honest but also emotionally stunted. What a silly assumption. For proof to the contrary, simply cue up the melancholy Gianmaria Testa and his "Di niente, metà" from Vitamia.

Even without comprehension of Italian, the raw sonorous voice and minimalist arrangement can touch deeply. Or take Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen's Naked Truth on ECM whose intensity reminds me of Miles Davis' best days. Need I mention that I don't get along with frigid gear? These Acousence components definitely didn't belong to that category. You won't be surprised either that my playlist included Acousence recordings particularly since I had access to not just their 44.1 or 96kHz variants but full 192kHz productions. Le Sacre du Printemps with the Duisburg Philharmonic under Jonathan Darlington is a classic Ralf Koschnicke production which represents his sonic aesthetic rather well. This means generous space, strong colors and challenging dynamic range. I've heard this Sacre a lot which helped map first differences when the Mu-Se/DAC-Pre Reference held the reins. Good virtual stage lighting facilitates a three-dimensional venue impression. My usual digital front end of €5'600 Innuos Zenith SE and ~€5'500 Rockna Wavelight emphasized depth whilst the loaners expanded width to nearly my sidewalls.

Which was more correct I couldn't tell you.