The TotalDAC wasn't that kind of player. Instead one gets something more laid back. For once this wasn't about a round sound versus precision sound or brighter versus darker. In terms of tonal balance and saturation, things were quite even. Still, the differences were rather huge. It's safe to start by saying that the d1-integral-headphone was mellow and relaxed whereas the Golden Gate was undoubtedly the more direct. It involves the listener with a directness that's very close yet not necessarily intimate. The TotalDAC was less jumpy and feisty but at the same time kept me involved with its calmness and overall balance. Incidentally, my Golden Gate is equipped with four WE101D-L DHT and an amazing very punchy KR Audio 5U4G rectifier made for Łukasz Fikus exclusively. The outcome is greatly different with Psvane 274B and 300B.

With my preferred tubes, this LampizatOr is the most direct and open source I know. By comparison, Vincent's product achieved perfect balance without any standout aspect. It was neither too fast nor slow, too sharp, dull, meaty, lifeless or hollow. To my ears, everything was present at just the right dose. Such a universal appeal became one of its trading cards. Of course many sources sound 'right' and are plain good at less coin. But these two have several things in common which remain reserved for very special products. That includes smoothness, marvelous soundstaging and exceptional finishing touches in the high frequencies. Neither is capable of sounding sharp or overly thin. This grouping of qualities simply isn't part of competitors in the lower reaches. That's key. With our Polish and French products operating at this level, the listener feels no urge to change a thing. One simply feels drawn into the music and has a blast. At least that's how things looked from my perspective.

It's actually quite liberating to sit down, have a listen and not bother with any improvements to be made shortly after the music is off, even subconsciously. That's quite an achievement and both Vincent and Łukasz pulled it off. The d1-integral-headphone just sounded right whereas the Golden Gate was the direct one. But that's just part of the story. Such statements don't answer which of these two an undecided listener should go after. Which were the biggest differences? That's very simple and was heard in a heartbeat. LampizatOr's flagship painted a much bigger picture. Because of that, it sounded more impressive. The TotalDAC cast a generously wide soundstage but mostly focused it between the speakers where the Golden Gate covered literally every inch of wall behind them in an impressive distinctive way. Exceptionally effortlessly, it differentiated distances between instruments and listener to easily show off layer after layer. The TotalDAC didn't emphasize this aspect. Its soundstage was the addition, not main focus. By contrast, it thus sounded less spectacular at first. It came a few minutes later that the notion of every musical bit being there was delivered in a different but still very engaging and appealing way.

No question, Vincent's machine too handled layering like a champ but after switching to the Polish DAC, things became more invigorating. In terms of smoothness, there was a very slight difference but the soundstage presentation was completely different. Not only did the Golden Gate move the first row closer, it made the instruments placed there bigger. It also sketched them in slightly edgier fashion for that sense of being here; and hit harder at the bottom of the audible spectrum. The d1-integral-headphone lacked zero clarity yet handled the same tasks with a rounder approach and at the same time drew me deeply into the soundstage more often. It had this "I'll take you to my place" attitude. If I had to put things bluntly, I'd say that the Golden Gate filled the room with greater ease and was airier whereas Vincent's device painted it smaller, more romantic and tender. Apples and oranges. All things considered, not one but most individuals would agree that this was a case of two completely different presentations. To a degree, they'd be right. After my Polish to French switch and after duly acclimating to it, I had zero problems with the d1-integral-headphone's sound. Au contraire. It delivered lots of analogue and quite joyful romance. The more time I spent with it, the clearer it became how this was one very refined performer; not as obviously punchy and expansive as my Golden Gate but with enough power to show things in proper fashion. It also had meat on the bones, a brilliant soundstage depth with all of its layers intact, then sounded very lifelike thanks to great texturing and realistic density.

Vincent's DAC showed all detail with ease thanks to a fantastic blackground that was one of the best I've had the pleasure to witness. I could go on but the point is made. This would be a darn fine source to have. Yet despite all of it, I personally still had a hard time letting go of what the Golden Gate did with the music. This was a case of one journalist's personal preferences. Just so, I'd see a place for Vincent's device in my big rig regardless, just for the sake of having such a vastly different presentation on hand. Now I switched two machines. The FirstWatt F7 replaced the English 925 integrated and Sven's W8 floorstanders became Xavian's Perla monitors. The F7 model brought sweetness and clarity to the table whilst the Czech boxes are all about midrange saturation and involvement. Theoretically speaking, their combination should be overly dense but isn't. Elevated temperatures make things extremely cozy and pleasant but the F7's transparency makes it all work. The Golden Gate fit in because it delivered air and speed without reducing anything in exchange. It all clicked. After I switched DACs, the picture in front of me became slightly darker, thicker and smaller. I expected that it would be less transparent but detail retrieval was actually the same. With the d1-headphone-integral, the sound gained additional intimacy and the density of the Xavian plus FirstWatt pairing was more obvious. The Swiss W8 speakers create exceptional soundstaging and the Golden Gate showed that off without any restraint. With the second setup, it was all about preferences more than anything else. The listener decides whether she'd like more air and attitude; or more intimacy and warmth.

A word about TotalDAC's volume control. It was good. I think usage depends on the effect one would like to achieve. To check on that, I referenced a Sanders Sound Systems preamplifier and matching Magtech amp. This is a happily married couple. Thus far I have been unable to find a solution that'd work better than this American company's preamplifier. Neither the TotalDAC nor the Golden Gate changed my mind. Volume regulation of these two works similar. With the Magtech amp, the Polish DAC's TAIV VC-03 module made things less saturated in exchange for elevated contour and stiffness. The same went for the French, albeit to a lesser extent. I had less precision and rigidity but with a smaller textural takeaway. In regard to what was lost and gained, the TotalDAC was the safer bet by causing smaller changes. I think that for any built-in volume, that's actually the goal - to simply adjust it with all else intact; unless one were after specific sound tuning in quid pro quo scenarios as described above. In any case, similar things happened with the FirstWatt F7 instead of the Magtech. The American preamplifier added more colour and dynamics without crippling transparency, detail or soundstaging. It's fair to say that these changes weren't big this time; audible but not night and day. To conclude, the Sanders Sound Systems preamplifier carries a hefty $4'500 price tag. With the F7 used to evaluate the volume control implementations on both DACs, I'd say this money is better spent elsewhere. I'd stick to what both TotalDAC and LampizatOr products are equipped with, at least to the point where there's no room for improvement anywhere else and an additional puzzle piece needs buying to avoid big components swaps. Maybe then it's time to consider a separate preamplifier. The Magtech power amp greatly benefits from its stable mate, too much so in fact to not give it a go. Whether it's generally worth the asking price is a different matter. In this particular scenario, it simply works splendidly.