"Voy" from Obras Maestras continues Diego el Cigala's love affair with Cuban son, Antonio Ramos 'Maca's "Hotel Groove" from his eponymous album parades funky bass guitar as the marquee leader on a dynamically redlined ultra-compressed production for extra tonal crunch. Xiomara Torres adds full Cuban brass to the action on "Me Quedo Contigo" from La Voz del Mar, "Lucía" with its bassy lead-in gets the soaring David Barrull makeover in Sueños Cumplidos. Like much Latin fare, this lucky Irish clover of tracks lives on slinky, saucy or steamy rhythms yet stumbles and misfires when timing gets too relaxed and loose. [Click on cover art to hear tracks.] Our two male voices also want gumption to come off in full. Amethyste as stationary headfi launch pad excelled at getting PRaT, vocal intensity and bass with proper attitude into orbit. If those are exhibitionist tendencies of superior drive, then Amethyste's bragging wasn't hollow flaunting just fine facts. I'll single out this hand of cards as the deck's primary bread winner. Anything we might correctly even erroneously ascribe to drive—a sense of forward pressure, the ability to do bass that snarls and ripples, tone body with chesty conviction, dynamics which scale—this machine does all day long.

Exactly how/where these small-signal tubes enter the picture is academic. They're clearly essential or wouldn't be here. Given widespread beliefs, what I call the main attraction could simply seem unexpected. It's where we fall back on the general hybrid concept to accept the reality that this machine culls from two different sources at once. To get precious, we might say something like 3/4th transistors, 1/4th tubes. It reiterates that in this mix, what we believe the former to do dominates. That's a sufficiently useful approximation to call it a day. For final redundancy, we might itemize what's not part of this picture: 'valve drag' as a held-back sense of wading through water; 'valve fluff' as overdrawn decays which interfere with timing; 'valve fat' as an octave-doubled 2nd-harmonic thickness which obscures the depth domain to focus mostly on the foreground; 'valve fuzz' from subliminal noise to lower resolution. If I had to single out the one quality that must be due to Pascal's pentodes, it'd be Amethyste's more 'holographic' soundstage feel.

To wrap, Mr. Curin's engineering-first approach prioritizes circuit design, layout and execution over external flash. Big brands can afford a bona fide industrial designer on staff. Kallyste prefer to spend their and our money elsewhere. It's why these €16K don't net sharper styling. But by the time we've got such funds liquid to allocate to our headphone passion, do we still care to keep up with the everything-Apple crowd and their clones? I don't think so. Hence mentioning the simpler approach just kept it honest. Over & out.

Postscript: After hearing Amethyste, I've accepted Kallyste's request to review their Quasar & Albedo One separates combo of preamp and stereo amp. If this is what they can do for on-ear speakers, what can they do for the in-room brethren? I consider that a far from academic curiosity now…