With one hand she giveth, with the other she taketh. From the law of unintended consequence by She who must be Obeyed, the best action could seem to do nothing. Don't attract her attention. It's the myth of the gainful straight wire. Yet anything material has a fingerprint. Where competitive parts look identical to current measurements, it's up to the designer to decide by ear. No two sets of ears are alike because of the grey stuff between them. Voilà, the dark art of audio design. With preamps, one diehard question remains whether to do them active or passive. If an owner has carefully curated her systems around no preamp, adding one always does something. Even where judged positive, the law demands worship. Some aspect will have suffered. For most of us, 3 steps forwards for half a step back is happy math. But it's no advance with zero consequence. Our straight wire is kinked, curved or twisted. And so it was in my upstairs…

… and downstairs systems. On immediacy—directness, freshness, purity—the extra box and interconnect extracted a small price. Even the best autoformer passives from Lifesaver Audio and Townshend do. Theirs is simply down to a tiny infusion of cordial in pure water. Think subtle viscosity. And, we gain whisper clarity due to the magnetic conversion of voltage to current. More attenuation drives up said ratio in logarithmic logic. Without autoformer benefit, Amethyste's immediacy tax was surprisingly low. Call it my half step back. Also low were the dividends. I heard them as a small textural tinge of bluesiness and minor expansion in the tonal elasticity domain to suspect the pentode pair at play. Call it a potential step forward if you fancy these qualities. At this stage, I'm a the-best-pre-is-no-pre man who built his systems accordingly. But, Amethyste as preamp did tread very lightly indeed. In my carefully assembled hardware chains, this came quite close to the ideal of the self-effacing butler. He's unnoticeably yet always present to cater to our every whim. Here that's control over volume and no noise. Then there's superlative headphone drive where our butler does the shopping, cooking and chauffeuring. That packs more complete benefits for higher return on investment. So let's return there and call preamplitude a secondary but very legitimate usage scenario to add value.

First some salient verbiage on said value. In October I'd reviewed Mario Canever's ZeroUno Ultra Plus tube-hybrid preamp with DAC. €15'600. Just a few December days prior to writing these lines I'd published my review of Ancient Audio's Lektor Joy, a CD-Pro8 top-loading CD player with analogue, USB and coaxial inputs plus remote volume. €15'000. Like Kallyste, these brands from the Venetian lagoon and Poland's Kraków respectively are mostly single owner/operator boutiques of low production volumes, little face time in the glossies and limited to no High Street presence. Unlike big firms with large R&D and production staffs plus annual advertising budgets, such outfits convert more of our spend into hardware than salary and marketing currency. More substance, less fluff.

The flipside is lower to no brand recognition should we wish to trade up or sideways. It's why regular gear flippers prefer far more visible brands. Come classifieds time, it's easier to find buyers. Resale potential is a different metric. Amethyste seems geared at shoppers ready to settle down over the long haul. This represents value beyond turning fashions and flavour-of-the-month flings. In short, it aims at a very specific audience. Like everywhere else, there are seasons in an audiophile's life. There's initial fascination followed by many trial 'n' errors. There's self learning and maturation of personal taste. Eventually there's arriving at the steadfastness of knowing ourselves. Now we make lasting decisions. It's nothing complicated but getting there takes curiosity, money and time. Amethyste strikes me as a component for those who've put in all three. That just readied us for the conclusion.