Other than more advanced top-to-bottom cosmetics, over the M3 the Italians slim towers only had the minor sonic advantage of slightly goosed low bass. In trade it was also bloomier. On textural elasticity, airiness and treble sophistication, the French held the aces. On color intensity, Aptica played it cooler and more monochromatic. Its treble was harder. It lacked the lightness of being by which Alain's driver permeated the show. The Italians' overall demeanor was drier and stiffer. This didn't impact equally capacious staging or the ability to go plenty loud. It simply wasn't as generous and pliant. Given that Aptica in our finish sold for €9'380/pr seven years ago, the M3's 50% 'discount' seemed rather attractive though you will have to add proper stands. This juxtaposition confirmed Alain's superior ability to squeeze unexpected moisture from Accuton's mid/woofer. In the wrong hands it can sound more brittle and spry. We might call the M3 having high organic not techno resolution.

How would the i5 address those weaker Aptica points which the faster Bakoon had laid bare? Like interlocking fingers or dovetails. In lockstep, bass power and control grew. This firmer deeper blacker foundation acted like gravity. It settled the presentation. Tone was richer. Loussier's piano now was a more redolent tonewood less percussive string instrument. Transitions were mellower, textures chunkier. Electronica like Kayla Scintilla had unexpected crunch and infrasonic reach.

If the musical stage had before floated more ethereally, now it had landed/anchored. Audiophiles talk of electrical grounding. Music needs it too. That's what the i5 did for these speakers. It earthed them. It would do the same for our Kroma Audio Mimí. Those are intrinsically already deeply voiced according to Simon's soft-power way. They would really prefer the Bakoon's rather more quicksilvery reflexes and more exploded treble. On sheer control, over Aprica's small but expensive woofer loaded into a tapering down line fitted with two Helmholz resonators to cancel organ-pipe resonances, the i5 clearly showed advantages over the Bakoon. Of equal (in)efficiency as our Dutch monitors, the i5 once again didn't eclipse 30 on the dial when things went flying. Time for one more small upstairs speaker session plus two comparator integrates before the i5 had to show its mettle on big speakers in the big room. The upstairs combatants were my second joint Product of 2019, Martin Gateley's sound|kaos Vox 3 monitor; Kinki Studio's EX-M1 integrated [~€1'840 when reviewed]. Crayon's CFA-1.2 [€4'250 when reviewed] and Simon's older $2'500/pr Stello separates.

A few weeks prior, I'd reviewed Burson Audio's 3-in-1 Conductor 3X headphone/DAC/preamp. That also meant that I'd rolled Vivid and Classic opamps. I'd isolated the sonic signatures for orange and red to now recognize and find overdone Simon's Classic choice with the miniature Swiss 4-driver 3-way solid Walnut champs. Their timing is more languorous and elastic than the Acelec. Their tonal milieu is more wood than metal. With the orange Classic, the sound had too much 'reverb' haze for insufficient transient snap and separation. It felt too lazy and bloomy. Burson's John Delmo had kindly agreed to mail out a pair of dual Vivid. I'd revisit the Vox 3 when they arrived. Until then, I reverted to my ideal match of Model One. I'd roll amplifiers instead. That would triangulate the i5 by direct contrast.

First up was the Austrian Crayon. Its bridged current-feedback outputs see no global feedback and run off a fully shielded switching power supply. The power rating is 63/90wpc into 8/4Ω so not very different from Simon's. Pricing admittedly occupies the next league up so wasn't comparable but reviewers are limited to what's on hand.

As the obviously faster more lit-up and resolved amplifier, the Crayon's colors were also paler, its dynamics weaker. The i5 was chunkier, its color palette deeper/richer and its dynamic veracity higher. Unlike into the Vox 3, Simon's voicing now had a very clear leg up on musical satisfaction and emotional persuasiveness. With a 41% lower sticker, that made the i5 the decisively more attractive choice into these speakers. Call it a TKO in the first round. On subjective power, the Crayon operated in the final quarter of its volume range. The Simon Audio didn't leave its lower half. Though its published rating was lower, higher voltage gain got louder sooner. The smaller amp behaved more powerful.

Sonically, Kinki Studio's competitor from mainland China was far closer to the i5 even though its 0.25dB attenuator played it much fussier. For just a 3dB increase in gain—it takes 10dB for a perceived doubling of loudness—it took 12 not 3 steps. To go twice as loud took forty clicks. The 200wpc EX-M1 was texturally glossier and just a bit sharper on the leading edge but the i5 equaled it on dynamic spunk and bass prowess. Simon Audio then took the lead in color intensity. At half the size and ¼th the power, that was stout performance.

In this context of our upstairs, shoppers with today's budget would find the Kinki Studio and Simon Audio equally appealing, very similarly featured  and of quite close sonic personality. Final preference would likely shift to price, size, cosmetics and more intangible factors.