Threesum. My all-in strategy proved solid. Anything less and I'd have chased my tail. Forget about grading models. What I did hear was very subtle even on good 24/96 files. I felt drawn to the top end. It gained in polish and sheen as though skin oils on a steel watch came off to really hit that 'stainless' mark. This on/off luster following in/out swaps was fine but traceable. Even though I soon knew where to look, scaling back to two then just one Sortz fell below my noticing threshold. So did the entire exercise on the Schiit amp. Mixed digital/analog circuitry seemed more sensitive to this than pure analog. At €3'080 for very subtle treble refinement, my accountant would stop talking to me. I had to look for sunnier returns. Given that I'd expected this to be our most telling stack, I wondered. Would Ireland's famously elusive sun stay gone? I had a few easy ways to check.

The first involved just a 180° so the same room but its far end. This rig starts with Soundaware's D100Pro SD transport clock-slaved to a Denafrips Terminator +. That feeds an icOn 4Pro SE with integral 4th-order 40Hz hi/lo-pass. The high pass sees a Goldmund/Job 225 amp on sound|kaos Vox 3awf monitors, the low pass a Dynaudio 18S dual 9½"subwoofer. With the DAC outputting XLR, I had two open RCA outputs for the Sortz. A 3rd open RCA sat on the transport because I used its BNC output to the DAC.

No matter the music, no matter the combination/number of Sortz in my available sockets, I was left holding a 'maybe' bag. In it were three options: 1/ my system was of insufficiently high resolution; 2/ my hearing wasn't good enough; 3/ I didn't suffer the disease the Sortz meant to cure. Which one didn't matter. I couldn't tell a difference. It was time to move on. Perhaps being in really close proximity to the fiber-optic modem/router and HP workstation of my work desk produced sufficient ultrasonic noise to give my samples proper work? With my Fram Midi 120 active DSP speakers, I use the coaxial input off an Audiobyte Hydra X+ USB bridge to leave the analog RCA inputs open. On my Final D8000 headphones, the COS H1 DAC/amp feeds off the Audiobyte's second coaxial output to likewise leave two analog output RCA open. Would the sun come out now?

Just then Ireland braced for storm Eunice which had recorded 172km/h speeds off the Cork coast and still made 130km/h upon landfall. Did I feel lucky? How old was Clint Eastwood?

I struck sun once I hit upon exposed female vocals backed by the wiry attacks of the Turkish qanun zither. The close-mic'd mastering make this voice's high registers quite down-the-throat explicit so energetic. Little offsets in sharpness, grain and fire right at the edges parlay well. And that's where stuffing the left master speaker's analog inputs made a difference. It diminished what I'll call rust for its metallic suggestion of wear damage; of something that shouldn't be there. This was no artificial smoothing or padded-down energy. It just took away a certain grit. With my undivided attention now fixed on the apparent payback zone, I made out related improvements for Andy Narell's clanging steel drums ripe with oscillating metal warbles; and especially the shorter strings of Andreas Vollenweider's amplified concert harp. Crisp transients from plucked/picked strings or struck metal were my entry into the Sortz realm of subtle HF polishing. I found it most apparent in the higher frequencies. For illustration's sake, I'll call it the equivalent of a slightly better tweeter; emphasis on 'slightly'.

The moden/router sits right behind the left speaker and DAC/head-amp on the window sill.

Even in my presumably 'worst-case' noise scenario, the best Sortz action I could hear was rather marginal. It's likely that our remote location caused insufficient airborne noise exposure to give these fixers any real work to do. I had one more scenario to try.