The back panel shows the comprehensive socketry including a ground post, phase toggles, a ground lift and the 8-pin power input. The externally accessible 115/230V switch of the PSU unit makes for convenient power conversion and one global model.

For tubular contrast, I had our Nagra Jazz preamp, for transistors the Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II.

About truly balanced, "the input transformers' primary windings become the balanced input (for unbalanced the low end is grounded), the two secondaries act as phase splitter. The potentiometer is a four-gang unit on one shaft, so one stereo pot per channel. The output uses each 6N30 in push/pull and the output transformers are push/pull as well. For XLR out, the secondary windings aren't grounded but one is again for RCA. This is a very simple configuration and truly i/o balanced." With Trafomatic, these things are exactly as advertised. Many competitors are less punctilious when calling a circuit 'balanced'. With perfectly matched impedance, true balanced signal processing exploits common-mode rejection aka CMMR to lower distortion. Here precision execution of the phase splitter, transformer windings and four-gang motorized Alps Blue potentiometer plus close tolerance of each triode's halves become vital factors. Lara's clean/dirty-box architecture exploits another trick. It segregates the noise-sensitive signal path from the grimier power supply magnetics. The dirty laundry goes into the lower box, the neatly folded starched lot ends up in the upper box. A short umbilical connects the two.

Those in need of even more socketry have the Reference One model.

Diligent shoppers will want to know how the Lara and Trafomatic's own Reference One models compare at the ear. Putting this question to designer Sasa Cokic forced him to judge two of his own kids. Here's how he danced that jig. "Our Reference One is similar in using the same tube for voltage gain but it then uses a tube as phase splitter and 3dB of negative feedback to address the 2nd harmonic. The Lara uses zero NFB and as a consequence, is more detailed and less coloured. Transients too are quicker because there are no coupling caps in the Lara as there are in the Ref One."

Expertly danced! Direct-coupled tube preamps are quite rare. So are true balanced ones. On those two counts, lady Lara from Mladenovac already stood apart. With her simple circuitry relying on top-quality parts for counter-phase precision, how would she play it sonically between the Aqua Hifi Formula DAC's balanced output and the fully balanced LinnenberG Allegro mono amplifiers?

A black Lara on the assembly bench, one of the two chokes prior to potting in the insert.

By way of preview, at the Munich HighEnd 2017 show, Trafomatic had collaborated with Audiobyte, Rockna, Skogrand Cables and Tune Audio. Sasa's amp contributions there were obviously his office system Elysium monos. Having heard this room at previous shows with Engström and ModWright electronics, this year's showing with the big Avaton was my favourite yet especially after the system had settled in over two days.

The Lara preamp held down the preamp fort, showing herself in quite elite company.