In my Merrill Audio Element 114 review, its maker had advised that "if you use DACs, use solid state which is much faster and more dynamic to miss of course the romantic sound but is closer to live music as you know."

As I wrote then, "actually, I don't. In my experience of live music rather than recordings—i.e. with my ears in an audience seat not where the usual spot microphones are—tone density rules. Images are XXL sized yet lack all audiophile edge limning. Separation is far below any decent high-end hifi. The noise floor is far higher. Massed orchestral violins sound like one big heaving organism. They don't get unraveled into individual players. If they do, the orchestra is actually second-rate. Unless one sits very close to stage or suffers a poorly dialed PA system in a club, treble is always milder. That makes the live tonal balance bassier and darker than a modern hifi. Live dynamics are in another class altogether."

Unless for example a symphonic recording was done purist style like Kavi Alexander's Blumleins of the St. Petersburg Academia for his Waterlily label, it won't present us with a recognizable concert audience perspective. It'll be the result of strategic multi-track fiddling for an artificial studio-administered perspective. Most all recordings are idealized constructs. They're not attempts to replicate the live experience. They're spliced secondary creations and subsequent sets of artistic choices. They start with the performance as raw material. Then they embellish and 'improve' upon it to create what the recording/mastering engineers thought was its most favorable expression.

Audiophiles who particularly for acoustic music crave a playback perspective that's more equivalent to a common audience seat which isn't right on top of the performers are at cross purposes with the secondary creation having altered the primary. By definition, a stereo's job is to apply unconditional honesty to the recorded material you play. That's bound to reflect the studio not live perspective. Most the time, high fidelity means sounding different from live. Given the background, that's how it should be. It simply doesn't mean you must agree. Playback for personal pleasure is the third creation. You're its master of the mansion and ceremonies. If you mean to deviate from the close-mic'd studio blueprint, pick acoustic transducers whose dispersion pattern is closer to real instruments. Hello omnis. Pursue a richer bassier tonal balance, less explicit separation and bloomier images to more closely approximate your ideal. Hello Vocalis.

Its style of presentation diverged fundamentally from the just reviewed Børresen Acoustics 02. The Danes had epitomized maximum explicitness, intense separation, holographic soundstaging and crisp edge limning. They were speed demons focused on very defined transient articulation to celebrate the modern ideal of high resolution. With deliberately greater room involvement activating more of the ambient field, Vocalis didn't do laser-locked holography just like live music never does. Vocalis didn't focus on space to the same extent. Its major calling card was sonic materialism or meatiness. Its dynamic acceleration was accompanied by more mass. This suggested less speed and more displacement. A heavyweight boxer moves different from a welterweight and can strike with even more devastating force.

In that sense, Vocalis was a heavier hitter. On timbre density, the same applied. By contrast, Børresen's speed registered as leaner. Here devotees of the Danish sound could wish for some more top-end energy from the Belgians where chocolate is a national treasure. As Tom Nuyts put it, "my brother and I had endless discussions on the high-frequency performance (energy). It's the one thing we couldn't agree on so fixed it 'in-between'." With Vocalis already featuring one tuning toggle centered on 150Hz, a future revision might add one for 1'500Hz? For listeners who arrive from direct radiators with a very lit-up sparkly treble; or who come from traditional widebanders with a rather more forward presence region – that could in fact become a deal maker. It's why our household runs the German Physik HRS-120 omnis with their +4dB treble contour option engaged. It counters their fuller midband power response. It's why Franck Tchang offers his optional super tweeters. As he put it, "some audiophiles love an even spacier feel. So I offer omni super tweeters to 35kHz or 70kHz in magnesium alloy or diamond. In real recording sessions of course, the studios are filled with foam. There I don't hear any space at all. That reverb effect is only added once we do the mixing." We're back at the difference between a live performance perspective in the audience; and subsequent studio manipulations on the recording.

The above could set up a big 'gotcha' between assumptions and experience; between how one believes Ilumnia's distortion-lowering claims should translate versus how they actually do. Did you think that significantly lower distortion would reflect in a demonstrably warmer richer sound? Remember the COS Engineering D1 and Crayon CFA-1.2 from our upstairs rig? It took no warm comfort-sound electronics to make it so. Likewise downstairs. Our Pass Labs XA-30.8 class A behemoth is clearly thicker, warmer and bassier than our 1MHz class A/B LinnenberG Liszt mono cubes. No matter, the same aesthetic of the more-live-than-studio-mix balance held. It's intrinsic to Vocalis' omnipolar radiation. It's dominant. The only way for me to 'hear' less distortion would be by contrast to another omni with conventional drivers. Of course the carbon-fiber bending-wave driver of our German Physik is anything but conventional. Yet its downfiring woofer is very much a standard dynamic driver with a typical suspension. It covers the range where according to Klippel, typical woofers hit up to 30% distortion. A/Bing the two omnis wouldn't compare apples but was the closest I could manage.