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Unlike our reviews from in Germany and in Poland which are shared via translation, John Darko's Australian website is in English already to not warrant any syndication. The following review thus appears exclusively on 6moons. For those curious about John's latest writings on, the below banner links directly to it. - Ed.

Reviewer: John Darko
Source: 2010 Mac Mini, Audiophilleo1, Audio-gd Reference 7.1, Anedio D1
Amplifiers:  Exposure 2010s2, Weston Acoustics Troubadour, Dayens Ampino,
Loudspeakers: Hoyt Bedford Type 1, Hoyt Bedford Type 2
Cables: QED A-B USB, Black Cat Veloce digital interconnect, WLM Lyros interconnect, WLM Stratos speaker cable
Australian retail pricing: AU$1600 + $140 for remote control + $60 for optional piano white lacquer

The brief
: To evaluate Serb Sasa Cokic's EL34 integrated in the context of its intended tango partner, the Hoyt Bedford as crafted stateside by Louis Chochos. 

The background
: Tony Schmidt of Audio Addiction, Australia's distributor for both brands, specifically commissioned the Aries for the HB range. Schmidt wants to keep purchasers of the Bedford Babes "away from Chinese amps". Not all Chinese amplifiers are bad eggs but there's sufficient quality disparity between brands imported directly to Oz to cause many a momentary heart flutter. It's the uncertainty principle that hounds Australian consumers: Will a 220VAC rated amplifier run without issue down under? The answer as always "depends".

Trafomatic engineers products of certainty. Hand-wound transformers—"quality iron" as Cokic calls it—form the spinal column of the design axis. My only previous Trafomatic exposure was a six-month period with the more seductive Experience Two (AU$4000). That 300B SET exhaled thicker air like a private gentleman's club of an integrated where politeness and protocol immediately quash any thoughts of a drunken shindig. A sublime experience for light vocal and less demanding fare but you wouldn't want to throw anything too complex its way and then expect it to respond with appropriate fervour. Not that kinda gal.

The Experience Two experience was pure Merchant Ivory, a classic 300B period piece with stiff upper-lip romance and deep-seated upper class intrigue. It might be from the same studio but the Aries is an altogether different proposition in both price and sound. It nudges Guy Ritchie territory for a real RocknRolla that packs a load of Revolver's chess games. 

I've been trawling my FLAC collection recently for songs that could steer common audiophile music selection away from more traditional girl 'n' guitar simplicity—for which the 300B Experience Two is perfect—toward Aries ebullience. Donald Fagen solo debut The Nightfly seemed an appropriate starting point. It's impeccably recorded and mastered.

Hooked into the Hoyt Bedford Type 2 floorstanders, the Aries air kisses with moist soft lips. If you're troubled by full-ranger paper dryness (a sheet not a ream), Sasa Cokic's budget bed of tubes makes for a better balance between wet and dry. Fagen's electric piano sounds are a slight breeze on a summer morn and musical sunshine that's both bright and vivid.

The apparent simplicity of "The Goodbye Look" is handled such that heady intoxication and merriment are not surrendered for buoyancy. The Aries rarely gets too heavy or serious but neither is it lightweight or trivial. It's a spirited game of lawn tennis or a quick dash for the bus. Rather than the usual overtly sensual SET disposition, the Aries convinces with a swifter blood rush to the head. Languid it is not. Clarity and openness of midrange restrain the muted reluctance of traditional single-endeds. This Trafomatic serves up songs with self-assured confidence. It's forward but not too forward, allowing the listener to make the connection willingly. Forced it is not. Those rounded corners tenderise exuberance and prevent it from becoming overbearing or arrogant. Tom Waits' drunken nighthawk-at-the-diner piano is caressed into life. HB/Aries is a pairing that'll tango till they're sore.

It’a all in the pep
. The bounce married to a single-ended heart means that musical body never becomes weighed down by heart. There are no 300B smokey flavours. The Aries doesn't work with the fug of low-hanging cigar cloud in the Garrick Club. It cuts right through it. There's similar verve to be found in the Weston Acoustics Troubadour (AU$999). This is Earle Weston's entry-level integrated, a push-pull that also sports hand-wound iron to—once again—steer Australian consumers away from Chinese options. That’s not jingoism but pragmatism.

Our Serb nudges the Aussie on softness and quiet confidence. Under Aries command, John Tejada's Parabolas electronic kick drums pack a squid-gy bounce that suggests superior elasticity. The Troubadour has more obvious punch and heft, pushing singers' noses against a glassy midrange shell. The Aries steps back one pace from that front window to cleave more space around Donald Fagen's NYC nasal delivery. What separates the two more clearly is the Trafomatic's more deliberate way with finesse - a tinge here, a lilt there. It does so without sounding overtly lush or syrup drenched. (The Troubadour is preferred over the Aries with 47Labs’ Lens mini monitors).