Country of Origin


Old flame rekindled

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac late 2020 with Ventura 13.4, 40GB RAM, Audirvana Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-6 & SW-8 network switches, Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box at 100Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & EX-M7 stereo; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Qualio Audio IQ w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Vibra 68 footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Kinki Studio Earth; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Shanling M3 Ultra, Soundaware D300Ref; DAC: Sonnet Pasithea; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box at 60Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Amplifier: Crayon Audio CFA-1.2 Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini, Dynaudio S18 sub on sound|kaos Vibra 68 footers; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF + Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature; Masterclock: LHY OCK-2; Headphones: Final D-8000; Headfi/speaker amp: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: discontinued

It was an upcoming review. At €16K, the hybrid Kallyste Amethyste head/preamp from France promised to be a beast. It had me scan my hardware collection in anticipation. What worthy comparators could I rustle up? For transistors pure I had Cen.Grand's Silver Fox and Enleum's AMP-23R. For a hybrid there was iFi's Pro iDSD Signature with selectable small-signal tubes. But wouldn't it be more informative still if I could throw some direct-heated power triodes into the mix? No sooner thunk than, Kazooks, I actually had something which does just that. Enter Vinnie Rossi's long discontinued L2 Signature linestage. It sports ¼" and XLR4 out the back to be easily overlooked or forgotten. The very next thought was, why wait until November when the Amethyste was set to arrive? I could enjoy elite headfi over direct-heated triodes right now. It's why last night I rejigged my Artesanía rack to give the L2 its own shelf. Then the trusty hifi closet showed a spare set of string-suspended Hifistay isolators. For good measure and just because I could, I parked those beneath the microphony-critical German boutique triodes. HifiMan's Susvara proved well within the L2's gain/power grasp. Et voilà, my price-appropriate Amethyste challenger was ready for action to take the French visitor's temperature in both headfi and preamp mode.

Springing back into direct-heated thermionic action after years of practiced abstinence made for quite the hello. When executed to the 't' with zero bandwidth or noise issues, it really is an alternate reality. A somewhat parallel offset exists between box speakers and open baffles. Even if we had a specimen each which in our room perfectly overlaid the other on linearity and bandwidth, they'd still sound recognizably different. What the big Elrog bottles running off Vinnie's 5V tap did was make the overall sound softer, inside-out fluffier then strangely more holographic. Rediscovering their attitude or action, I thought a really fitting simile to be an intricate aural landscape that's chiselled in minute detail from dense granite vs the same scenery made from whipped egg whites. Where the stone of the transistors has no molecular gaps, the stiffened egg whites of the direct-heated triodes are filled with air bubbles. This difference isn't about the scenery per se. Nor is it about the air and space between its images. It's about what the shapes of the images themselves are made of. My transistor expressions feel more solid like granite. The DHT present as inherently airier. As such, the porous hollows of their air bubbles seem filled with light so strangely not quite as material. It simply doesn't turn the DHT landscape into a merengue like Gruyère castle in Switzerland sold as sickly sweet tourist treats right next to the fondue stands smelling like sweaty socks; and the famous Giger museum with its Aliens bar above.

The sonic structure of the power triodes isn't baked into a merengue's crisp brittleness. It remains soft and elastic like raw egg whip. The overall effect is a combination of inner airiness and outer pliancy. This imagery captures both the triodes' particular softness which is no less detailed than solid-state's stonier density; and their structural fluffiness. That resembles whipping our egg whites just until they begin to stiffen. Then we can still get them to shudder and jiggle unlike a baked merengue that's completely set. For me, today's brief feature was my pre-Amethyste morning writing exercise. I wanted to capture the DHT gestalt in that first moment of rediscovery when juxtaposed against the imprint of my favourite solid-state headphone amps. Now I can pilfer from this page when the time comes. If you have never listened to a premium DHT amp, perhaps today's brief summary on their gestalt difference could stimulate you to seek an audition just to broaden your sonic horizons? It nearly seems like a rite of audiophile passage. If we've never once experienced a single-ended tube amp—or electrostatic loudspeaker, ribbon headphone and so forth—can we really call ourselves fully versed in this hobby? To know what we like best, shouldn't we have sampled all available main flavours before making a decision? Such sampling undermines any absolute sound. It outs any notion of there being a single route of ascent as ignorant laziness. These highways and byways are many. Which to travel down on isn't just a matter of money, utility and size like buying a washing-machine appliance. There are other questions to settle. Those involve aural aesthetics and artistic expressions that aren't reflected in measurements or technical arguments. They are available only in having the experience to discover how we'll respond.

At its most successful, now a hifi plays us as though we were a musical instrument. That we might need a tune-up to insure that all our faculties work at their optimum goes without saying. All that is the domain of practice, experience, becoming more sensitized to subtleties and learning about the complex musical instrument that is our own ear/brain. There's only one of them on this planet. Expecting others to know how ours works is clearly asking the impossible.