First up were Kroma's Mimí, a sterling example of the super monitor class. That makes it a justifiably expensive compact 2-way which is capable of a potent 40Hz. With a top-shelf cellulose ScanSpeak mid/woofer, ¾" Hiquphon soft-dome tweeter, front-firing port turned from solid Cedar wood, potted crossover in its own wooden sub chamber all of it in a chemically welded Krion cabinet—Porcelanosa's synthetic marble answer to DuPont's Corian—Mimí is voiced for a materially robust sound. That points it in the opposite direction of a Scansonic/Raidho stand mount with ribbon tweeter. Those Vikings are tuned for max air and detail. They emphasize speed and resolution. With Mimí fronted by Hestia & Hyperion for a like meets like meets like confabulation cubed, any closed-eyes audition would never betray that the sound producers were shoebox-sized speakers. This combo magnified all the elements which contribute to sonic weight. Think enhanced black values, image density, juicy textures and dynamic willingness. These were Harbeth sonics on push/pull EL34. Some sub 40Hz augmentation via short RCA link from Hestia to Zu Submission compensated for the larger air volume which these compacts were tasked to energize.

Given Mimí's showing of 'we may be petite but are fully grown up so to hell with a small-room curfew', instinct told me that our hard-hung Zu Druid VI should take the same attributes to the next level. With their 10.3" widebander augmented by a wave-guided premium compression tweeter, Druid VI's 16Ω load has most solid-staters deliver just half their 8Ω power. Additionally, Druid's load value which is twice or four times higher than normal magnifies its pronounced saddle-shaped impedance fluctuations by the same degree. That makes amplifier performance notoriously unpredictable. As luck would have it, the Denafrips amp was so completely in its element that I fell in love with Druid all over again. Whilst mirroring Mimi's innate richness, it moved far more air. This injected serious elemental violence. Thinking on how best to describe the effect, I imagined a stampede of baby elephants which crack and careen through splintering bamboo for the sheer spectacle of shove, impact and gravitas. To add to these visuals the necessary aspects of control and speed, I next thought of a comic strip having the same elephants pirouette on ice skates. It's an outré image but between stampede and ice rink, rather fitting. Where our 200-watt LinnenberG Liszt monos maximize Druid's resolution, the Hesta/Hyperion combo honed in on what I'll call the thunder-and-lightning aspects. Drums and electric bass cracked and snapped like very big very powerful things. The overall element of tone wasn't a pale Brad Pitt but a Wesley Snipes in full-on black-leather Blade mode: dark and scary and of flawless complexion. Of all our resident electronics, this Denafrips duo jumped to the very top of our Zu keeper list. For massive big-boned sinewy sound, this would be my new go-to setup.

With the top end of high-performance audio spiraling out of control on price, it's easy to overlook that the other end is far from dead. What one sees is just a matter of focus. With Denafrips, there are no full-page ads in the major print mags to make noise and build brand awareness. With quasi direct marketing, they can't fulfill review requirements of pre-existing dealers. Instead it's social media where users spread the word, where listening tours of samples are organized. If that's where you look, you'll find that Denafrips D/A converters enjoy a very solid rep and strong following. Given sufficient time, word on their first pure analog components should mirror those very same reactions. From build quality, finish and featurization to performance and price, these new Denafrips pups run with the big dogs on everything but name recognition and visibility on the High Street. Now careful shoppers make reviews like mine a starting point, then surf the web for additional feedback and opinions. There I predict considerable noise throughout 2019. In fact, these very review loaners trekked onward to Italy where Alvin's established Denafrips sample program would move them in two-week intervals from household to household to let registered users hear them in their own systems.

To recap and very much like the flagship Denafrips Terminator DAC, the Hestia preamp and Hyperion amplifier emphasize rich tone, macrodynamic swing and organic textures over extreme detail, explicit treble and speed. As such, they pack things which have some people look at tubes. Here you also get absentee noise, real drive into reactive loads and excellent bass control to be less limited in your selection of loudspeakers.

If you value 6SN7-type big tone to prefer material opulence over see-through transparency; if three inputs (2 x XLR, 1 x RCA) have you covered; if non-standard ¾th widths won't ruin your matching with bigger sources; if sleek looks without screw heads and a big red display have your number; if €2'400/pr delivered or less (depends on your VAT) suit your budget even though you could spend twice or more; if 'coming from China' won't trigger all the wrong reactions… then today's two 'H' of Hestia and Hyperion absolutely belong on your short list. Because the remote wand wasn't yet ready, I didn't get to use or photograph it. It'll control volume, inputs, mute and display brightness including black-out.