"The amplifier's control is very tight. Soft-cone speakers won't like it." Merrill's prediction set the stage for Living Voice's OBX-RW3 with doped-paper cones and textile domes. As I wrote in their review…

… "whilst somewhat higher resolution of the Merrill did exert itself already with the live location din of Mayte Martín's opening bolero from her Cosas de Dos album, its inherent juiciness dried up. Timing hardened up into more rigidity. The fundamental ebb 'n' flow of this musical style stifled. Into this load, our LinnenberG Liszt monos preceded by the same Elrog ER50 direct-heated triodes in Vinnie Rossi's preamp were far superior at recreating the vacuum-tube audio gestalt which my wife and I had so admired in Lynn and Kevin Scott's home. That gestalt is best described as mildly autumnal and judiciously operatic. It emphasizes musical drama. It elevates transportation to elsewhere over analyzing its means."

As Merrill had written me, "if you use DACs, use solid-state which is much faster and more dynamic, missing of course the romantic sound but is closer to live music as you know." 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. As far as solid state being faster than tubes and tubes being romantic, it traditionally is but not invariably so. Strip off the usual coupling caps and output iron. Now a direct-coupled modern 50 triode or Takatsuki 300B that's only asked to drive the stable high input impedance of an amplifier will be lightning in a bottle. It'll also exceed the 114's upper bandwidth by well beyond an order of magnitude.

On the subject of tone mass, color saturation and temporal flow then, the Element 114 had opposed the aesthetic of these deliberately tube-friendly transducers. It pulled in the opposite direction and overdamped them. So the Brits packed it up and our usual Audio Physic Codex took their places.

With piano one of my top judges for tonal harmonics, I cued up "Mélodie Antique Française" from Eugen Cicero's Swinging Tchaikovsky album to begin comparing the Element 114 to our Liszt monos as the main event on this bill. The class D amp expressed a stronger emphasis on the concert grand's metallic aspects. The class A/B alternates made visible more tone wood contributions. The 114 sounded ultra close-mic'd, thus more explicit, bright and occasionally hard. The German lateral Mosfets were harmonically more luxurious and energetically more supple. On surface textures, the 114 was glossy, the challengers matte. On resolution, the Merrill was higher as though my head hovered closely above the strings. For a more believable audience rather than microphone perspective, the LinnenberG had it. This juxtaposition set the scene for the music to follow.

Pulling out a trusted low-bass demo tracks meant Mychael Danna's "Gold Dust Bacchanalia" from his soundtrack to Mira Nair's movie Kamasutra. At stout SPL, the very lowest bass pulses here should still exhibit discernible pitch definition and beat precision like smooth-skinned elephants, not woolly mammoths on magic mushrooms.

With the Codex towers capable of 25Hz, I had proper artillery for depth mining. The 114 had the edge over the LinnenberG monos on ultimate resolution, again by way of higher dynamic contrast and now even superior bass control. Such top speed across the entire audible bandwidth suggested distinct power supply advantages. Chord have used SMPS for ages. Even modern low- and high-level valve circuits from Ancient Audio to Berning, Manley and Nagra embrace them to pursue performance beyond what's achievable from slower linear supplies. Fastest stallion in the stable? From our amplifier options, the Element 114 indeed was.

If we owned the Børresen 02 as next-level resolution providers beyond our Audio Physic, I'd mildly counter-steer this particular setup. I'd replace the maximally lit-up 'super 45 triodes' of Elrog ER50 with the slightly darker mellower Western Electric 300B. That would tone down the potential of HF incisiveness, of minor steeliness on lesser program material. If you play a lot of complex dynamic fare and value maximal separation—which to me isn't the live experience but very much the experience of close-mic'd studio recordings—the Element 114 will shine a very steady bright light into all of its nooks and crannies. That makes for a most visual, dimensionally very sorted playback experience, one which your mind can step into and walk about. It's modern explicitness at an astonishingly high level. As the reader saw, I made repeat distinctions between the audience perspective of a live concert and the microphone perspective of a recording. That's because in his email to me, Merrill referenced the live experience. None of us not at the recording console know what any album ought to sound like. If the purpose of a hifi is to truthfully replicate the final mix down which after all is the classically accepted definition of high fidelity, it clearly should sound different from hall-sound audience seats if microphones were placed where no ears would be; if the studio master equalized multi-layered tracks relative to each other which our hearing wouldn't otherwise do. If a piano was recorded at extreme proximity with ceiling-suspended microphones, it will prioritize its percussive metallic aspects. Now a high-fidelity honest system should render it as such. Our trouble is that we don't know how it was recorded. So we can't know which playback version gets it most correct. If we hear one version as brighter and more close-mic'd, another as giving a bit more of a hall-sound seat perspective, it's merely an observation. It couldn't be a judgment on inherent correctness unless we were present during the recording session.