Top digital transports excel at musical ease, textural complexity, smoothness and detail delivered naturally from within a black backdrop. These features discard tension, harshness, artificial tint, blur and brightness. They flesh out liveliness and that refinement many aficionados recognize. It's the direct result of solid engineering on power supplies, OS optimization and mechanical grounding. It's what sets audiophile digital transports apart from mainstream equivalents. Here the ZENith Mk3 had been no less potent than my twice costlier reference though their voicing differed. My transport was mellow, rich, suave and somewhat sweet, the ZENith Mk3 more mechanical, powerful, fit and fast. The fidata was calm, generously saturated, a tad distant, dark and with a lower center of gravity. The Innuos was feistier, more invigorating, direct, contoured, shiny, snappy and outlined images more firmly whilst projecting them a bit closer. I took these transitions as major mood swings and although both contestants were so different, they scored equally high on maturity and cohesion. I quickly forgot all about the rather substantial price gap between them.

Although to my ears ZENith Mk3 and fidata played on the same level, the latter's more organic, expressive, sweeter, earthlier and deeper aroma got my final vote but this was of no major importance. The Innuos' upper hand on agility, clarity, openness, adrenaline and snap led to a quite even-handed exchange. Here the Statement's similar voicing won't come as a surprise, just that if now I had to pick between it and my fidata, I'd go with the former without hesitation and am certain so would most seasoned enthusiasts. Here's why. Although the Statement instantly showed itself as the more agile, open, expansive and propulsive, it didn't feel mechanical at all. More importantly, my own transport no longer felt expressive, rich, calm and dense. It struck me instead as lazier, a bit veiled, thick, round and less solid in the bass. The skirmish no longer involved two distinctive but matched performers. This pitched two different classes against each other. The Innuos struck me as better balanced than the rounder mellower fidata and for the first time I recognized just how biased the latter is and how significantly it affects my downstream components.

Audio reviewers aren't immune to being blindsided. We get used to our hardware like everyone else and at times so much so that we miss the big picture. In this context the Statement swiftly revealed extra power in my Boenicke W11 SE+ and how much more agile, lively and engaging they could still sound. Today's transport then made these Swiss boxes less problematic in my room which neither my DAC, line stage nor amps do this effectively. Or perhaps they could all along but my fidata was the showstopper? Having the earlier ZENith Mk3 in mind, I imagined that fidata's treble should be the more sublime, smooth and weighty and not that of the more lit up and airy Innuos but it wasn't. That too caught me off guard. For the first time since buying it, the HFAS1-S10U emerged as the itchier more nervous specimen. After a while it became clear why. Despite the opposition's tonal balance being set a fair bit higher, its quieter darker background implied more thorough noise attenuation for extra smoothness, differentiation and treble weight. Such traits are common for machines like the fidata but were news to me with the next-level Innuos voicing. Bravo!

Back when, my fidata had aced tracks with acoustic instruments and vocals whilst the ZENith Mk3 had the upper hand on synth bass, guitar arpeggios and raw power. So it was fair to expect the Statement's fondness for the same repertoire but in practice it simply wasn't picky thus equally fit for any genre on my playlist. For example, Eivør Pálsdóttir's calm romantic "Verð Mín" features a high-pitched vocal line that can easily become excessively sharp. My fidata portrayed this as picturesque and dreamy while the Statement preserved the same original character then made it all still clearer, more soothing and smooth then a touch slower. With these traits Eivor's voice became more believable, balanced and I think closer to her recorded intention.