Country of Origin
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn 80Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 mono, Enleum AMP-23R; Headamp: Kinki Studio THR-1, Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf + sound|kaos DSUB15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; 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: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport clock-slaved to Denafrips Terminator +; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro SE; Amplifier: Goldmund Job 225; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; 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; Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
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
"May I frisk you, sir?" The comely tall triode in her impeccable German uniform looks me over coolly. I can read her thoughts. Aged white audiophile. Diana Krall. Where have all the real men gone? I show her my best face of feigned disdain. "Sure." From frisk to frisky is just one tiny letter. But boy does it add itself quick as a prick. How did we get here? Let's rewind a day. I'm on my desktop. My favorite Swiss/German logi keyboard freezes up. I probably hit some weird key combo by accident again. 'cept this time I can't get unstuck. None of my usual tricks do the trick. Time for my wired fallback clunker of a keyboard to reboot the workstation with its password input. As I pull out that nasty bit of generic HP hardware from behind the curtain of the office corner armoire, I spy a small alu attaché. It tucks way behind against the wall. Impossible to see unless you kneel. Aha. That's where my twin stack of Elrog DHT has disappeared to since our last move. I'd completely forgotten. Il professore. The reboot resurrects the logi keyboard. All is stable again in my little world. Or so it seems.
Time to cart up Métronome's Le Player 4+ for first upstairs auditions. I've spun a CD on endless repeat for inaudible break-in already. That bell just tolled. Come out of the oven. Served. As I hit play, I'm hit by—cliché incoming!—early Sabre sound. There really is an ESS 9026 involved. Not that I or anyone else could possibly point the finger and isolate that silicon postage stamp as culprit. The sound is simply too metallic and brittle. Though I wasn't at the recording, I've played in numerous orchestras and with string quartets during my clarinet days. Violins never sounded this strident and glassy. Granted, they weren't that pale kid on Galway's Shop Street sawing out jigs and reels on a cheap-ass fiddle. How had I gotten here? Let's rewind a few weeks.
A retiree in Galway buys my Aurai Lieutenant speakers. In their stead install my sound|kaos Vox 3awf monitors I'd previously had upstairs. I had finally decided to walk my 2.1 stereo talk with application-appropriate monitors also in the main system. Why promote floorstanders only to chop 'em off below the belt with an 80Hz high-pass? It's not a message I want to broadcast in regular room pix. Mon and Raidho compacts play their upstairs musical review chairs fronted by a Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC which reclocks a preceding SD card transport which spits out I²S over HDMI for extra rez. Once those monitors clear out, Acelec's Model One become the resident anchors. Whilst the Swiss woodies owned that spot, I deliberately leaned out my hardware with the Goldmund/Job 225 amp. Its slightly brusk very lit-up Autobahn demeanor played ideal Bach counterpoint to the AlNiCo/bronze tone maestros from Martin Gateley. Now the more incisive dynamically charged Mundorf AMT of the Acelec overcooks the stew when Métronome's digital replaces the Denafrips. My tale is nearing its conclusion.
Hello silvery attaché in the lost 'n' found of my office. It's 22:00 hours by now. Here comes the night-time raid on the boiler room where Vinnie Rossi's DHT preamp benches with its valve chimneys empty. Out it comes, in go my favorite Elrog ER50 set to 5V. Out goes the passive-magnetic icOn 4Pro SE linestage in the bedroom system, in comes active direct-coupled DHT gain. So let's try that again.
"May I frisk you, sir?"
"May I frisk you, madame?"
We'll keep to PG13. The gestalt change is immediate. Stridency and brittleness replace with viscosity. Wiriness relaxes like shoulders that finally forget to remain bunched up. It's not that resolution took a hit. The key change is more textural generosity. More harmonics in the harmony. There's more horizontal fluidity in how tunes move from bar to bar. There's a total curfew on rust as that earlier grit 'n' glint which had attached itself particularly to higher bowed strings exposed by cruel close-mic'ing. I'd not trysted with direct-heated power triodes in over a year. Now I set them to endless repeat. On raw quantity, the difference is quite small. On quality, it's a very different game altogether.
The upshot is as basic as it is true. The more finely tuned our systems become, the greater the likelihood that one change sets off a small chain reaction of subsequent counter changes. Ten kilograms on a classic tilt scale's two halves balance out as perfectly as 2kg or just a few grams. Balance remains. What it holds grows or shrinks. If we're lucky, whenever we risk upsetting our hifi's balance with new hardware then find our reset button, our scale now supports more. That would indicate true progress not a mere sideways move. As for my new Acelec upstairs, I'm back in the advanced triode business. Today's brief tale of second winds thus ends as another shout-out for Vinnie's L2 Signature since replaced by this Brahma version. Allowing us to dial in percentages of DHT vs passive operation, it makes my point still more poignant. It italicizes fine in fine-tuning. Once we breach the inner circle of our personal bull's eye, to hit the 'x' where the lines cross can be a real game of micro percentages. Being able to roll 2.5/4/5V specimens in our L2 still does that for me without Vinnie's radical new feature of actually mixing two different operational modes by BT remote.
What will our man in the colonies think of next?