Kicking off these filament-driven games was a signal chain of iMac ⇒ Audirvana 3 ⇒ USB ⇒ Soundaware D300Pro ⇒ I²S via HDMI ⇒ Denafrips Terminator ⇒ RCA ⇒ L2 ⇒ RCA ⇒ FirstWatt SIT-1 ⇒ Cube Audio Nenuphar. In standby sat a solid-state Wyred4Sound STP SE Stage 2 preamp and two EL84 push-pull MySound Cube tube monos from Poland to invert Vinnie's tube/transistor recipe. The next comparison would use Nagra's Classic with its small-signal triodes. At 30 on the readout, the 10-watt single-ended single-stage transistor amps pushed out standard volumes. As promised, the L2 was dead quiet on these ~93dB 10-inch widebanders with triple whizzers; and tactile feedback of the precision ball-bearing controls was first class to elicit tiny mechanical clicks in manual mode. In infrared mode, there are no clicks since these encoder knobs aren't motorized. They only turn by hand. During display defeat, volume changes don't reawaken the readout. To see not just hear a change, turn the display on first, make the change, then turn the display back off. Or simply leave the display on, period.

Coming off our Wyred4Sound status quo, what I naturally keyed into first in Takatsuki 300B mode was what had changed. Key to that was a new gestalt. Like a five-headed Hindu deity, its simultaneous aspects or attributes were

♦ relaxed
♦ fragile
♦ buoyant/floating
♦ fluffy/light-filled
♦ airy/spacious.

Most of these are self-explanatory. Only 'fragile' merits extra. It's about tacit closeness to the veil. Imagine—or remember—a close-call incident which suddenly shocked your physicality not mere mental bits into a recognition of your own mortality like a poisonous snake bite which is no abstract philosophical notion but bloody real.

"I nearly got snuffed out just now."

Acknowledge how that heightened sensitivity to the nearness of death made something in your emotional being more alive, raw and vulnerable. Voilà, fragility. On the outside, everything looks the same. Nothing changed. Trees are still trees, rocks still rocks and onions still tear jerkers. On the inside which nobody can see but you certainly feel, something's different. Back on sound, it's why a shift of gestalt is the right description. Treble, midrange and bass didn't change. The soundstage didn't change. Performers didn't move closer or farther away. Images didn't balloon or shrink.

What I keyed into next was everything which hadn't changed. Nothing had slowed down, congealed, clouded over, thickened, grown heavier or saturated euphonically. These were the really surprising bits because they're what I invariably hear with valves to varying degrees. In short, resolution, bandwidth, speed and separation were equal to our actively buffered constant-impedance reference passive transistor preamp. That was rule-breaking behaviour for a tube deck and even more so for one without feedback and filament-driven triodes. The only subtle tube-typical contribution beyond the gestalt shift was a small softening from very mild octave doubling aka the second harmonic. This didn't affect focus, localization or separation but just gave transients as the beginning of tones a tiny smoothing.

Wherein, I suspected already at this early juncture, lay the special appeal of the L2. It injects temporal elasticity, flotation, textural softness and a 'lightness of being' which play counterpoint to a more taut, driven, edgy and anchored robustness where that peculiar fragility has been snuffed out or shut down again. Yet you don't pay for that with what, coming off modern wide-bandwidth transistors, would register as compromises. "Wait" you protest. "You used no-feedback SET amps even if transistorized." [It's because they sound best on these speakers.] "Those probably exhibit some of the very same behaviour you just described. How about more typical solid-state amplifiers? What about the stock tubes? I'm not keen on an extra €1'500 for a pair of bijou designer bottles." 200-watt class A/B LinnenberG Liszt monos and 200-watt class D nCore 500 monos coming right up on different loudspeakers. Ditto ElectroHarmonix glass.