The three different things of Riviera's preamps re: to mundane mammon matters work out to €12'600 for the smallest, €28'000 for the middle and €34'000 for the top unit. Today is about the smallest. We save ourselves nearly 2/3rd down from the flagship. That's because custom or fully in-house wound balancing transformers of high bandwidth and no phase shift add serious costs. The same happens one country up in the north. Nagra of Switzerland make their own precision parts to bolt true balanced i/o onto non-differential circuits. Staying single-ended throughout is certainly simpler.

Despite the APL10's one balanced input, pure unbalanced is what we'll do today. Not having run a balance control in ages because our listening rooms laid out sufficiently symmetrical and my ears still track the same, I'd overlook the central knob, too. I'd not even miss the dual jobs of the bigger decks. That segues back to where we started: a linestage's obvious job of volume control and input selection, the former here by very minimal but FMJ remote. We also know of the less obvious gig called signal conditioning for superior current drive between source and amp. Then we know of Luca's 'error-forward' correction from a clearly defined THD profile. That promises to trigger our ear/brain into a deliberate response – the involuntary so unavoidable recognition or acceptance of natural sound. Have brain, fire away.

"The tubes in the APL-10 are ECC82/12AU7/6189. I fitted a pair of ~1960 French military-issue Radiotechnqiue with about 40 hours of play time on them. In the accessory box I added a brand-new pair of our standard gold-pin JJ ECC802S from current production." Watford Valves sell the Gallic NOS for £35 each so rolling with and in two such bulbs isn't frivolous. Hotrox in the UK do one JJ for £21. None of it is big direct-heated Elrog, Takatsuki or Western Electric-style cash though a Mullard CV4003 could demand £110. Either way, the APL-10 might just be a tube roller's dream. It uses a short pair of affordable twin triodes still widely available in current production and new-old stock. "The screws of the top cover are just tightened gently so it should come off for you easily." Exactly what real tube fiends want to hear.

Coming from preamps with numerical volume displays like all our residents, the APL10 doesn't show the current setting. Its volume knob's line marker is invisible from any distance. Adding a visible marker would embed an LED inside the knob or add a ring of lights around it. Either still wouldn't be as precise so repeatable as a numeric screen. So those ideas fall off the wagon a second after being mentioned. This all-analog preamp does it vintage analogue also with its UI. That's part of the appeal. Going a step too far in my book is the omission of a 'mute' button on both remote and fascia. Surely a sudden phone or door bell still warrant us being able to instantly cut the sound? Whilst holding the remote, I'll also say that transferring the logo engraving from the fascia would look even better than the wand's current silk-screened logo. And that's it; time out for nits. The machine was mechanically and electronically utterly quiet in operation and the only indication of it being on between tracks one small orange LED above the frontal power button.

Playing into Bakoon's AMP-13R which doubles as superlative headphone driver for HifiMan's Susvara.

Source components were Soundaware's D300Ref as SD card transport outputting I²S over HDMI into a Denafrips Terminator DAC. Speakers were sound|kaos Vox 3awf so with internal LessLoss passive filters. The rack is a HifiStay Mythology Transform X-Frame, power delivery by Furutech passive GTO 2D NCF. For this occasion I didn't run the Dynaudio 18S subwoofer or the Pál Nagy hi/lo-pass filter so the Swiss 3-way monitors played full-range. With their 36Hz port tuning, that's no euphemism though adding solid 25Hz subwoofer reach for ambient fare remains a lovely extra.

As sonic influencer, my first impressions spotted the APL10 in a few ways. First came the images. Those were a bit bigger and bloomier so closer to how they'd be in live music. When images edge-limn as though by hard chisel, their hyper focus entails shrinkage. It cuts away a diffusive area around the central meat of a tone. That's where its central physicality fades from sound to silence in a gradual halo. The ultra-focused effect—hard tonal golf balls surrounded by cubits of empty space—exists only in playback that's deliberately tuned for it. Hand in hand with this softer radiance (ear to ear?) came a more generalized impression of extra weight and density. That corporeal mass pointed in the opposite direction of any airiness that's virtually syringed into the upper mid/lower treble range. In foodie terms, I dealt with neither a crumpet trademark tunneled by hollow vertical tubes nor a fluffy souffle. I faced more of a whole-grain muffin laden with coarsely chopped nuts. Think solid, heavy and extra nutritious, with plenty of crunchy bits. It wasn't about injected airiness, elongated decays or more lit-up spaciousness. All of that highlights negative space around objects. One can focus either on the space or that which occupies it. The Italian preamp did the latter. It was about the 'they're here' perspective. It wasn't the 'I'm there' projection of the listener into a virtual recording venue. That was non-spectacular. It wasn't about whiz-bang audiophile effects which alter the experience of live sound to make up for the loss of sight that factors when we're not watching a concert video. The Riviera experience was about a few extra clicks on the materializer. It was all about the here/now which is unconcerned about the there/after. The latter sums up all the less material attributes a hifi might focus on because that's what its owner has groomed it to do.

As I heard it, the APL10 celebrated tonal chunkiness and bodily substance. It simply didn't entail any slowing down of the musical progression through time. That I think of as a virtual wade-through-water drag. Extra mass creates its own resistance to somehow feel slower. The APL10's insertion into the signal path didn't cause that common subliminal reluctance. I'd have to listen more to understand why. For now I suspected that it compensated by upping microdynamic fluctuations; or dosed its extra density just right to stay clear of its shadow. Either way I was off to a splendid start.