The assumptions I carried into this comparison? In a nutshell, truth versus beauty. Here's the clincher. Truth can be evil. How about telling the two Nazis at your front door that yes, you did see a Jewish man run by, and you pointed out the exact barn he vanished into? Ideas of beauty can be misleading. The stockbroker answers your inquiry about your portfolio's performance with "splendid". Meanwhile, your unimaginative accountant quips that it equates to a lousy 4% annual bottom line. On the flip side of these ledgers? "The truth will set you free". It's the battle cry of all spiritual teachers. A "you look wonderful" comment to your wife despite that very rare pimple on her nose? It's more beautiful than her director's snipe. "Why did you bother coming to the shoot with that?" It liberates your paramour's radiant self-image. It's completely true - where your heartfelt perception is concerned. Still , the movie director's flippant reaction had truth behind it as well. Clearly, truth and beauty don't reside in pre-marital beds by necessity. Nor are these stagnant values.

Rather, they're perspectives that intermingle and change their relative meaning depending on who's looking, and from where.

Sonic Euphoria's passive approach might lead from truth to beauty - if beauty were intrinsic to the source material. Eastern Electric's tubes might progress from beauty to truth - if their interpretive qualities got one closer to the musical message rather than editorialized everything with a golden glow. Sonic Euphoria's passive approach might lead from truth to pain - if the recording didn't make the grade. Eastern Electric's tubes might lessen such pain while perhaps being guilty of white lies in the process. Logical ideas. Ideologies?

Regardless, I thought you should know the mind set and questions I entered this comparison with - weaving conceptually between being a reviewer (truth) and music lover (beauty). Now let's talk about what actually happened. Truth & consequence? Mere assumptions?

Act I: NOS'd MiniMax outfitted with the upgrade tubes - and PRe6, my resident paragon of neutrality. For reasons of space, I cleared the second shelf of its customary Unico/AR 2000 load to respectively accommodate today's contenders and perform on-the-fly interconnect swaps with the Bel Canto for a show'n'tell. The close-up below shows the minimum depth of the MiniMax leaving plenty of empty shelf front and aft. Like the fabulous Mini Cooper, it can park in spaces regular gear cannot. For the first traction and cornering test, I selected Eleven Love Stories/ Once Cuentos De Amor by María Márquez [Palm 2061-2], a collection of smoldering Venezuelan boleros filled with saudade and somber elegance like its cover. Accompanying the sultry singer, depending on track, are 7-string guitar, upright bass, steel drums, accordion, piano or clarinet.

I cued up the Castillo Bustamante track "Escribeme" with its clarinet/pan arrangement and hit play. Frog me! Day and night difference. Talk about octave-doubled come-hither glory when I switched to dem tubes. Their rendition was harmonically clearly more saturated, pumping up especially the vocalist's corporeality to reach-out-and-touch acuteness.

This musky seduction's clearly at the very heart of the tube debate and veritably addictive with female vocalists (hey, not for nothing had I selected this disc). I had to check that my zipper was still in its upright and closed position. Mama mia. Here was a prime example of that enhanced three-dimensional phenomenon low-power SET lovers crave. By comparison, the Bel Canto didn't sound thin -- after all, there's tubes in the Zanden DAC and AUDIOPAX monos -- but more distanced. Crystalline but more intellectual. Bach rather than Chopin. This held true for Don Gardner's clarinet as well. It acquired the extra body of a thicker reed with reduced upper but emphasized lower harmonics. This harmonic expansion wasn't capricious, as though rendering a B-flat blackwood as a longer A. It wasn't subtle, either, but certainly well on this side of Fence Excessive or Syrupy. The steel drum's signature hollowness overlaid with short-lived metallic flickers followed suit by gaining a becoming degree of rotund copperish amber.

Returning to the Bel Canto, I didn't register disappointment. It was more akin to a shift in cuisine - from French to Thai, from thicker, creamier stews to more separated, piquant yet thinner soups. Having lived with Cary's 2A3 monos for a few months some years back, I'm hear to tell you that the golden light of MiniMax wasn't an overdose but well administered even for a brainy Teutonic rather than hotblooded Latin character. This is exactly why people insert tubes into a system. The question now became how this expertly tailored saturation would behave with driven material. Bob Holroyd's new Without Within to the rescue, with the massively cresting Cuban/Funk jam of "Confluence". It begins as an ambient/electronica groove, then adds overblown Jazz flute, African chorus and builds up to a colossal rave party with Cuban brass peeling paint and brutal slam beats waking up your neighbors [Six Degrees 61085, 2003].

The Bel Canto had the edge in keeping the complex percussion and synth patterns above the bass rhythm separated - I could see deeper into the stage without tiny flutters and flurries clumping together. When the going got dense and the big beats kicked in, the PRe6 slammed harder but drier. Meanwhile, MiniMax grew wood and raised the tent on dynamics. Though starting out equally subdued and harmless at the tune's opening, its gathering output momentum shot past the Bel Canto in the end. Hard to tell whether this was a function of greater density -- subjectively translating as greater mass, hence output -- or whether the Eastern Electric clocked actual gains in dB. Regardless, the sensation of a steamroller absorbing and building energy like a reactor yet never hitting the wall was bloody exhilarating. It proved, as usual, that audio's a matter of compromises. The greater low-level resolution and lower noise floor of the PRe6 was balanced against more expansive dynamic wallop in the tube camp. Audio slut that I am, I luved 'em both. Even with the kind of high-impact, extremely rhythmic fare I fancy, little MadMax had enough badness in his bones to keep me glued to my seat. That's a mean feat when you consider how much tube gear goes all soggy on you in such trying circumstances.

I was reminded of Art Audio's Joe Fratus. He uses hothouse Techno to burn in his SET amps as part of QC. Our own John Potis' disbelieving reaction -- when Joe's 16wpc 845 Carissa amp recently stomped his 500w solid-state monos on raunchy Rock -- still puts a smile to my face. Same here. MiniMax was clearly over 23, getting himself into the most deranged of nightclubs, then down on the floor with the best. Regardless of what else I tried (Tarkan, Dulce Pontes, Balkan without Borders, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Nass Marrakesh, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Dave Grishman), this Eastern Electric piece remained instantly recognizable by its tonal fullness which detractors dub harmonic distortion and devotees harmonic glory. Should we settle for glorious distortion?

Time for Act 2, to get a fix on Sonic Euphoria versus PRe6 before I'd revisit MiniMax for some back-to-stock tube rolling, then compare it in that guise against the PLC. The latter's active grounding system is visible to the right, as an included run of generic 10-gauge twisted copper 6' speaker cable that's been split in half to be wired straight to the ground post of a three-prong power plug. It's then terminated with a banana on the other end to fit the far-right port on the rear panel - a nifty way to create a true ground reference with the chassis should you require it.