When tweaks tout transistors as ticking off tube talk, it needn't be trash. If they refer not to frequency response or noise, they likely focus on the temporal domain. Here the two polarities are the ultra damped (chiseled, taut, metronomic, machine-gun precision, hard) and the loosey-goosey (bloomy, limpid, soft, fuzzy). One is attack centric, the other decay focused. Obviously both are caricatures. They mostly set a scene, not occur to such drastic extremes in any system which more than a single listener would fancy. As one possible view on sonic behaviour, all hifis take their place somewhere along this axis. In general, it tends to be true that solid-state sits closer to the first pole where impact, slam, precision and control dominate and where the climate or atmosphere is very well lit i.e. summery and dry. An alternate take can happen with tube gear which moves the sound closer to the second pole where elasticity, give and gestalt dominate and where the climate or atmosphere is more autumny and tropical, moist and shaded. That said, good designers can move the various chess pieces of circuitry and parts around this board to deliberately counter expected tendencies. Anything too far off centre risks alienating the listening majority to appeal to only a minority. Most voicing thus occurs closer to the middle. But in actual fact, it's influenced by everything from the electronics to the cables to the transducers to room setup (with headfi only the last aspect disappears). The shopper's choices and how things are combined have the final say. This can move the needle way past neutral.

Questyle QP1R with AIFF files into AURALiC Vega via Toslink, then RCA out via silver/gold Crystal Cable into Heada and balanced-drive Audeze LCD-XC.

On this axis and with the closed-back Audeze planars, the Heada sat noticeably closer to the tube polarity than the current-mode Questyle monos. Given these planars' innate weightiness, residual darkness and minor bloom, with a top end that responds well to silver cables and fully exploded treble in the ancillaries, CMA800R drive increased overall grip, bass control, articulation and top-end illumination. Whilst the Questyle per se would rightly be called drier and more damped, in combination with the warmer more buxom Audeze, our axial meter needle sat more in the middle. With the Aurorasound, bass got bigger and bloomier and sacrificed some of the synth-happy infrasonic slam at which the Californians excel. The overall gestalt softened up, the top end toned down and transitions between images showed more bleed, less razor-drawn separation. Mind you, inter-channel allocation of sound effects (left, right, centre, in-between, far left or far right with out-of-phase elements) was with the Heada very specific. This falls under image fix. Here dual-mono drive resulted in extreme channel separation and concomitant tracking on the soundstage. Sorting and mapping were truly excellent. The softness I refer to wasn't about localization precision. It was about contrast ratio. The drier crisper even quieter Questyle amps drove up that aspect to result in stronger image pop and 3D relief work. In short, if these Audeze were my only headphones, I'd stick to the Questyle amplifiers. To my ears, their virtues better counterbalance the LCD-XC especially with as Technicolour a converter as the Vega. The Heada injected recognizable tube behaviour with lower damping and the temporal relaxation that results from it. The musical weave loosened up. If for a moment you image individual tones to be micro raisins, the Heada soaked them in water for just a bit to plump them up and get juicier and softer with all that entails. In that sense then, the Heada acted more thermionic than semiconductor.

It takes no crystal sphere to predict that the Sennheiser HD800 turned tables nearly 180°. So would the AKG-K812, Final Sonorous range and Beyerdynamic T1. Backing up the Audeze were the MrSpeakers AlphaPrime. Having called those the "poor man's Audeze" in an earlier review, this was just as predictable. I'd include the Oppo planars I reviewed though I no longer had them on hand. How about the HifiMan HE1000? In my lot that's the most electrostatic best balanced planarmagnetic. Would it split the difference to be equally eloquent with Heada and CMA800R alike? For that session, I replaced the stock ¼"-terminated leash which usually sits in the Bakoon's headphone port with the equally stock 4-pin XLR (HifiMan thoughtfully include a third 3.5mm-terminated cable as well to tick off all the boxes). I now used an adaptor which breaks out the single 4-pin XLR into two 3-pin XLR ends to suit the Questyle sockets. Since the Heada has a proper 4-pin receptacle, here the adaptor wasn't needed.

As expected, this load narrowed the flavour gap between the amps from Japan and China. Just so, the Heada's midrange was clearly fleshier and as such, the more embodied and sculpted. This also translated to more perceived warmth which made the silvery mono amps the cooler operators. On subjective detail density however, with a load as 'fast' as the HifiMan, the Questyle duo did trump the Aurorasound. In my experience, that's routinely the result when tonal weight diminishes. Whilst that gets leaner, it makes room for more micro detail to rise to the surface of our attention. This is back at electrostatic speakers which, for all their intense detail, often leave tone mass under the table. Like a seesaw, more of one tends to mean less of the other. Here I'd peg the Heada slightly more concerned with good body than the very last word in ambient retrieval. That's back at its "tube" balance. Tones are allowed to ring out more freely. This develops a bit more roundness than the no-fat result of transient-heavy readings which is more of what the current-drive Questyle monos are about. With the HE1000, personal taste could mostly go either way. Some like their partners petite and muscular. Others prefer more voluptuousness. Because of their speed, the HifiMan flagships didn't feel at all reigned it by gaining a few pounds. In the final analysis and if I owned a Heada, I'd probably marry the 1000 to Shinobu's amp. This paints the general picture. To fine tune it, we'll move into the big system to exploit my fully loaded iMac with PureMusic and the Fore Audio DAISy1 converter against the Vinnie Rossi Lio and Bakoon AMP-12.