As I'd put it in my Living Voice review, "even before the static-induction transistors had fully checked in—they do like 30 minutes before lift-off—I knew I was made. Like a pair of Lucchese boots worn for years, the sound was that comfortable familiar fit. Driven from the COS Engineering D1's single-ended 2V outputs with purist analog volume, the FirstWatt Sit-3 had sufficient gain for my needs but no excess."

"However, after I'd been there and done that for a bit, the sonic fit proved a bit too comfy. Think well-worn 2nd-hand boots like I used to try in Santa Fe's posh vintage shoppe. Nothing chafes or binds but the supple vamp leather is too loose. And whilst you pronate, the original wearer supinated. At minimum you'd have to resole the pre-loved goods, perhaps even use some insoles to regain tightness. In hifi terms, I had insufficient resolution, speed and grip. What dominated instead were relaxation, softness and textural looseness. For this smaller room, the extent of these aspects was overdone and woolly. Looking for hardware alternates, I eventually returned to the Crayon CFA-1.2 where I'd begun but now preceded by CanEver's ZeroUno HPA. A quick highly resolved amp now amplified more suave developed input signal to give me a closer semblance of the memory from my visit to Living Voice than the original COS/Crayon pairing had. Sold!"

Supplied with a loom of Kondo bi-wire copper to connect the big external crossovers, I'd heard the OBX-RW3 at their maker's with Kondo 211 monos and matching Kondo valve preamp. Attempting to recreate that flavor in our smaller upstairs room, I'd lazily started with a COS Engineering D1 DAC/pre into a Crayon integrated as the setup that was still in place from a preceding assignment. With now too much emphasis on speed and resolution, I'd replaced the Austrian wide-bandwidth amp with the class A Pass of bona-fide triode curves, thinking it a good stand-in for Kevin Scott's Japanese tubes. For my tastes, that combo had simply gone too soft, thick and diffuse. Perhaps the Kondo wiring I had no experience with was the culprit? Still, I had no familiar replacements What I did know was wanting sonics to be somewhere between those two setups.

Enter as above as below. Versus the quicksilvery energetic COS with a very airy treble and incisive grip, the CanEver slowed down the show and fattened it up just right. That confirmed my first take on the HifiMan planar earspeakers. Having explored the four possible combinations between COS, CanEver, Crayon and Pass, this last one was clearly best for these speakers and their aesthetic. Any reviewer who expects short-term loaners to bed in just so without adjustments—one's reference system in particular tends to have been curated and tuned over many years of trial'n'error, buy'n'sell—expects too much. Now one needs a more expanded tool box of alternate gear to mix a lot before proclaiming any ideal match. It's fair to paraphrase my strategic choice of HPA in this context as being based on its "tube-like" contributions.

Having already pre-qualified just what type of tube sonics, there should be no confusion. Whilst voicing leeway in the solid-state DAC game tends to be quite narrow, Mario's had sufficient potency to steer the overall system sound in the desired direction.

With a review pair of Børresen Acoustics 02 speakers already past the main downstairs system, I had unique opportunity to apply next-level resolution between D1 and HPA. Versus the Living Voice soft-dome tweeter and doped-paper mid/woofers, the super-light Danish ribbon and carbon-composite mid/woofers with iron-less motors banish common energy storage to increase pistonic behavior and speed. I've attempted to suggest this difference with the exposure settings of the last two photos. The Taiwanese and Italian decks would be displaced by exactly twice the coin for the former, analog vs. digital volume control, added analog vs. pure digital inputs, true balanced vs. single-ended operation and no headfi vs. headfi.