On The Khoury Project's "Revelation" from the eponymous album on the strong enja label, the same greater freedom of stepping out of metronomic time keeping strengthened my witnessing sense of seeing spontaneous solo improv being passed around from violin to oud to qanun to percussion like a shared smoke which moved inspired artistic empathy to greater depths. Attempting to express such subjective listening observations really writes between the straight lines of measure-and-analyze reviews. Whilst bound to fail, the effort is still key to exploring just what makes one hifi sound more alive or persuasive or fun than another. Beyond a core level of audiophile competency, things quickly step out of neat little boxes. If we're alert, we easily mark the difference. If we don't review, we're simply not tasked to question, explain and describe the 'why' and 'how'. Our enjoyment is its own reward. If it's repeatable, we've really assembled a superior system that plays us predictably and well.

If I took my observations out of the poetic into more customary vocabulary, I'd point at a greater/stronger range of expressions in both the dynamic and temporal domains. The first meant finer loudness gradations by way of quicker dynamic gear shifts with more instantaneous acceleration. The second meant a stronger undercurrent of fluidity in time. Combined, they made for a more powerful sense of playfulness as that spontaneous delight musicians exercise when they… well, play music.

What other professions describe their work as play? Once you think on it, that element of playfulness must translate. When things get too earnest and serious as they routinely do in audiophile discourse, the essential job description of music making is defied, defiled and defeated. Now the entire rationale for 'doing' playback goes bust. Busted! It's precisely on that subject where the C.E.C. twins stepped out to pursue greater freedom. For how this translates into something just a bit more dramatic, take Mamak Khadem's "A thousand strings" from her album The Road. Jamshied Sharifi set the "Adje Jano" folk song from Serbia to Persian Rumi lyrics. Then he arranged the melody into a heroic number with pounding big drums, the lightning guitars of Strunz & Farah and alternating chorus and solo vocals.

With C.E.C. at the steering wheel to set my digital course, the rapid guitar arpeggios over/against the standing chords with cello and hand claps had more textural difference and spice. The channel-jumping drums expressed more thunderous grandeur and gravitas. The operative word was dramaWhat is it that builds greater dramatic range for more operatic scale? The clashing contrast of more intense emotions and textures. It broadens the difference bandwidth across all our musical aspects. Beside dynamic swings, more nuanced tone modulations create greater timbre diversity. More finely-hued textures show greater variety between legato and staccato, between soft round more diffusive elements versus incisive brilliant sharp ones. Turn up the dial on this difference bandwidth. Musical drama and artistic expressivity can't fail to ratchet up in lockstep. That's what makes one hifi more interesting and captivating than another. Think of it as the operatic or Shakespearean index. Love, sex, betrayal, murder, incest and lust for power are all thrown into the same cauldron. Then the heat is turned up and the director cries "Action!". Replace heightened emotions and conflicting actions with sundry musical elements and their audiophile terms. The same happens. Now a hifi no longer plays to lukewarm audience reactions. It triggers more profound responses. Simply put, the C.E.C. front end scored higher on the operatic index than our domestic equivalent.

To arrive at my observation involved no distortion measurement, no amplitude plot or other scientific assurance. In fact, I expect that all but the most advanced of measurement readers who have learnt how to interpret complex suites of graphs for accurate sonic predictions would be at a loss where to look for measured correlation on qualities like greater temporal flexibility. The sensation itself operates in the feeling domain. Since that's where advanced playback aims, it's important to acknowledge areas which remain beyond measurements. Here only auditions and trust in our own cognitive abilities tell us what's relevant to this hobby's core mandate of individual entertainment. Of course just what entertains will differ. In Gladiator, Russel Crowe's Maximus butchers his early foes in a provincial arena in a real hurry to get no audience reaction. He lacks style, anticipation, timing. Disgusted by the deafening silence, he hurls his sword at the VIP section. "Are you not entertained?" he hollers at the crowd. "Isn't that what you're here for?" When that still prompts no reaction, he throws the second sword on the ground and spits on it. The efficient soldier hasn't yet become a gladiatorial show man who seduces his audience.

Thankfully hifi reviews aren't blood sports. Just so, the best systems are a form of full(er) contact engagement. That goes well beyond the basics of just making linear low-distortion sound. When judged in tandem, today's subjects don't specialize in one particular discipline. They turn up the volume on a whole suite of attributes which I called, rather simplistically, higher operatic drama. As such I expect that the effect will appeal to not just isolated tastes. To my mind, the only contra indicators are listeners who prioritize a very incisive presentation that hits brutally hard. By tendency, the C.E.C. aesthetic is more gentle and fluid.

Whilst the very elevated sticker particularly for the DA0.30 could easily disqualify it from consideration, as of September 2019 I must also rate it as my favorite performer in its category. I envy those who will live with one for the long haul. Relative to personal status quo, I was pleased to discover just how little separated the TL-2N from our own far more affordable Jay's Audio transport when both used standard S/PDIF transmission. Yet justification for the TL-2N's higher sticker blossomed when I availed myself of its quad-BNC SuperLink for external I²S mode. Shoppers after C.E.C.'s discrete R2R DAC who spin CD would very much shortchange themselves if they didn't partner it with a matching SuperLink transport. For C.E.C., here the TL-2N becomes a budget wonder. Should you exclusively stream of course, the DAC's USB input is all you need.

"Would Sir care to drive our Aston Martin whilst he so kindly house sits during our brief vacation?"

Sadly the vacation was over, the key due back. These loaners refreshed the truism that a superior source will elevate the entirety of one's hardware chain. It causes everything in it to give more. And it re-confirmed how, to get to the next level once one is sufficiently 'elevated', nearly always demands disproportionate fiscal resources. If from there one can stretch sufficiently, the promise of more becomes the never-ending quest even if more often, it will primarily be about cachet, build quality and trading one quality for another. But personally, today's C.E.C. components would belong into my own story's next chapter. The difference margin was decisive enough to live in a clearly higher tier. Period. Finally, my loaners demonstrated this €36'000 digital front end's being enough even on Living Voice horns which can demand upward of £500'000/pr. The Scotts could have pursued any other digital specialty brand. Given how much I've enjoyed their annual Munich show demonstrations, I view their choice of C.E.C. a very special time-saving endorsement. Why look elsewhere if they've already been there and done all that? Especially if you're a Definitive Audio customer of theirs, that's definitely how you ought to look at it. But also if you've enjoyed their show demos to know their tastes in musical playback, I don't see why you'd not trust them with their choice of digital, too.

Anyhow, time to forget my vision. Time to return to our household's terra firma. Time to be grateful for what we have. Here's a tune to celebrate that…