Gordon Lightfoot. As I learnt, it takes a very light foot indeed to navigate this terrain undetected. I started more leadfooted to get the effect's hang. Soon I spotted my overdrive errors. Then I honed in on a deceptively simple Azeri tune which proved most telling for my final values. This duet between Shahriyar Imanov and Etibar Asadu on a 16/44.1 file helped me dig into the tonality of the Roland keyboard without belittling the tar's metallic glitter. A tilt resulting in a just 0.6dB shift at its far end would seem far too marginal to matter. Yet added to a 1dB bass lift it turned the corner. Now I could loop back to more complex fare for confirmation. The Bel Canto still didn't acquire the particular midrange magic of the discrete R2R Denafrips combo which after a few years of hardware trials really dovetails with our speakers. Nonetheless, it made the American's leaner demeanor that's more tuned for raw resolution a better fit with my expectations. Upstairs the Dynaudio sub's anchor and black injection had counteracted any onset of leanness. Downstairs the absence of an equivalent sub still preferred the stop gap of mild but effective EQ. That didn't pull even with but closer to our Denafrips tuning. The take-home message repeats itself. The central portion of this DAC Control Preamp shouldn't be underestimated. It's the Minnesotan not usual Swiss army knife of this equation.

Switching over to headfi and reverting to 'pure' with all EQ nixed, I checked whether the e1X might flaunt enough gain for voltage guzzlers like Susvara. At max I had just enough output for hotter tunes, not for those recorded lower. Knowing what these truly piggish HifiMan will do on already Kinki Studio's THR-1 never mind Bakoon's AMP-13R, you'd give the e1X a pass. No shame in that. Here many dedicated headfi amps stumble. Meze's new Elite with nearly 20dB higher voltage sensitivity met the Bel Canto smack at happy hour. Ditto my desktop regulars, Final's D8000.

Those darker bassier planarmagnetics usually run off a COS Engineering H1 DAC/pre/head box. That made for a virtual sonic stand-in. Headfonistas asking what the Bel Canto sounds like to their kind should imagine a lower-power COS. It'll set their expectations true north. It's about clarity from very low noise and a very well-lit stage to minimize shadows.

Thinking about my different listening stations, I returned upstairs. That was my favorite setting for the e1X. Given my tastes and hardware configs, here it bedded in best, added functionality and eliminated the usual preamp and outboard fixed lo/hi-pass box. Doing more with less has its very own appeal. For a final movie quote, "there's always an Arquillian battle cruiser or Corillian death ray or intergalactic plague about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they don’t know about it!" As I learnt, with the e1X one needn't know what threats to good sound are. One just needs a reverberating carbonizer with mutate capacities. My wording is deliberately playful. It reflects actual use. Only puritans disguised as purists get rigid about hifi and how to do it. As tech develops, more adventurous souls broaden their horizons. They change gears if and where it does the business.

It's why I didn't describe the sound of the e1X. It morphs. It puts a useful amount of steering into our hands. That influences overall tonal balance. With it, our perception of substance vs speed or fullness vs resolution shifts. It's rare that high-end kit even acknowledges this matter which is so central to the notion of system tuning. It's even rarer to add real or virtual knobs 'n' sliders, then make the lot so easy to operate. Just tilt it. Forget parametric EQs. By limiting the scope of his adjustments, John Stronczer tethers us to reason not excess. Simple 'off' commands for each adjustment defeat it. We can't get lost on a progressively worsening fool's errand which requires an eventual audiophile visitor to point out. Then there's perfect subwoofer integration. It's something the high-end sector remains frustratingly evasive about. Meanwhile the e1X handles it most thoughtfully. How I covered this machine thus revolved around its menu features. Really, D/A converters are like mushrooms or rabbits. They proliferate, everywhere. Truly smart ones are few and far between. Bel Canto's e1X is one of those.

"1'500 years ago everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago everybody knew that the Earth was flat. 15 minutes ago you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow." – Agent K.