The bright. Understanding it is key to Bakoon's sound; and, as it happens, the Z10's. Regular readers know. For low/mid-power solid state, Bakoon's AMP-13R is a personal favorite. For them I call today's Berning its vacuum-tube alter ago and voilà, all is brilliantly clear. The end.

It just won't do for the remainder to whom the reference remains abstract or obscure.

So we cast our net backward in time when I first heard Massimo Costa's Albedo Aptica speakers with their proud slogan Brightness in Sound. Finally someone had sufficiently clanking bollocks to embrace an important term which hifi had badly ostracized. A bright treble is only bad because its brightness is isolated. It doesn't go on across the bandwidth. It's abrupt like a red neck's tan line. Below it all else is pale.

Now think on the same word applied to a kid. "He's a very bright boy." That connotes not just smarts. It means alertness, even a kind of shininess which stands out amongst the duller kids. Now apply such brightness to full-spectrum sound like a light in the dark. It becomes lit up all over. It's even, top to bottom. Now it's a virtuous descriptor. It's the opposite of a dull contained matte reticent sound. And who really wants that?

So in just one word understood correctly, brightness captures the Z10's overall signature. It's thus fast, energetic and—here's another winner from my handbook—plays things in a very lucid mode. That's the opposite of sleepy, polite, fuzzy, hesitant, cozy, shy and romantic. It's exposed and explicit. Particularly in the treble, this sort of polished crystalline brilliance is exceptionally rare from valves. So it's likely to be your first clash with tubular preconceptions, your first mental zap from Berning's all-tube circuit.

Soundaware D100Pro as SD card transport, COS Engineering D1 as DAC/pre, Z10, sound|kaos Vox3f, Ansuz Mainz8/Mainz power loom

The next could be that your apparently meager tenner of two handful of watts goes much farther than expected. Having set my loaner to time out the volume display and just leave the input LED as a quasi idiot light to show 'on'–the ticker-tape menu allows you to turn that off as well–I sat well below 40 for room-filling levels with Martin Gateley's 93dB-rated 3-way monitor. By maxing out at 99, I had hellacious headroom to burn. Getting zapped again should come from a pervasive sense of silence as a tangible absence of noise. This remained true for headphones. The Z10 is very quiet to expand dynamic range and with it, small signal resolution. It categorically defies well-earned tube biases. If that suggests essentially solid-state sound, not so fast. Whilst the Z10 is fast, there's still a difference.

The wet. In your mind's eye, see a film noir director hose down black top for a night shoot. It picks up more texture and street-light reflections. It communicates a very different feel from a Texas Western with tumble weed careening across a dry dusty ghost town of dilapidated buildings in fading colors. Transpose each scene back to a sonic gestalt. The first gives you the Z10's tubular contribution. It's not that the lateral Mosfets in the Bakoon make for a dry transistor sound. I'd really not like it then. It's only by contrast that the Berning introduces extra moisture. That's when you hear how its glowing bits go beyond or just do it different. Simply avoid sweltering humidity. Forget beaded sweat, labored breathing and Dennis Had's deep triode. That'd be excess in the extreme to tow an energetic laziness and restraint to get it all wrong. Basically, the Z10's is the wide-bandwidth direct-coupled class A/B Bakoon aesthetic with some extra moisture thrown in for good measure.

Sometimes things just aren't that complicated to describe. In this case it's the most advanced transistor sound I know injected with just enough thermionic resonance to become distinctive but not enough to take away from the core speed, extension and spring-water-fresh clarity. It's a very modern take on valve sound that won't appeal to those who've made their home with vintage tube kit. By the same token, it becomes a destination for those who are aligned to the fast 'Swiss' transistor sound of Bakoon, CH Precision, Goldmund, LinnenberG & Co. They'd consider any major deviation thereof a few steps in the wrong direction. They should, however, find just the right dose of otherness fascinating and very rewarding.

In use, the same modernity lights up with the ticker-tape display of three letters at a time. It'll start with LTA before declaring warming up. Then the volume number as last used appears as does the last-used input over on the left. Accessing the menu with the front-panel touchies not remote control is intuitive and simple. Particularly the option of disabling the volume control should be welcome by those who own a superlative preamp they mean to continue with. And to make it 150% clear: you'd be perfectly justified to buy a Z10 just for headphones. Like the Japanese/Korean/Californian AMP-13R, it's superlative at headfi and welcomes flagships like HifiMan's Susvara or Final's D8000 with open arms and headroom to spare. You'll see the readout above say 40. With Susvara, I never really got beyond 50. For once I can guarantee that even if you're a tinnitus-worshipping headbanger, unlike the Denafrips Artemis the LTA Z10 won't run out of steam before you do.

So… what other speakers can you really drive with it?