As we've learnt from Stephæn's review, Konstantinos had originally aimed to produce a flagship phono stage. Finding a domestic metal shop that could supply an enclosure of appropriate ambition for such a designation simply proved vexing. Being pragmatic, our man went with a basic enclosure, focused on the sound-producing bits and priced it modestly. Hifi veterans know that the costliest parts of most electronics are the enclosures. Luxo finishing like bead blasting can get more expensive than you'd think and involve untold rejects. This is followed by the transformers. Whilst there is super ambitious hifi coming out of Greece today like Ypsilon, Black Pearls Audio on price position themselves in the middle of the field. That reflects in solid boxes like FirstWatt. Neither marquee would win extra points on luxurious finishing. For trophy cosmetics one goes elsewhere. Where such brands get marked out by savvy shoppers is for sound quality that transcends sticker perception. Subaru, not Lexus.

Exicon Mosfets as used in some of my favorite transistor gear by Bakoon.

As we've learnt from my Birth 100 review, Konstantinos has "an Msc in controls engineering and the theoretical knowledge required for power circuits and stability. However audio electronics follow their own rules. It takes a lot of trial and error to understand what works and most importantly, why it does. It requires a lot of reading, Internet research and practical implementation of many circuits and topologies." He is also a musician who plays in a band. Unlike designers who reference playback, he references live music and from the perspective of a performer, not the audience. "I must admit that when it comes to audio, I am not a big fan of measurements. I prefer to implement an initial idea, listen to how it sounds, then take it step by step until I get the desired result. This is because there doesn’t seem to be much correlation between measurements and audio-quality parameters. Hence my criteria are strictly musical. I am a musician, not pro but heavily involved on tenor sax in quartets which play modal/modern jazz. At 13 I started on guitar but switched to saxophone at 25 and attended the conservatory where I also learnt to play a bit of Jazz piano and compose on it. Hence I wanted my amplifier to sound as close as possible to the real thing. Of course everyone wants that but what I do is a comparison between the sound I have in mind from my own live performances and the sound that comes from the amplifier. Then I try to alter my circuits to produce a closer match. I pay particular attention to the timbre of instruments, natural dynamics, imaging, musicality and timing. When the music is right, it touches my soul. That's when I know everything is as it should be. The difficult part is trying to identify the source of something that sounds wrong to then correct it. I don’t mind that my integrated amplifier has a damping factor of only 17. I’ve heard amplifiers with a damping factor of 100 or 500 that sounded horrible. Sadly a damping factor of 500 is good for marketing. What to say of a damping factor of 17?"


Since we're in Greece, this reminds me of a story on Psyche and Pragmatos as told by Helen Noakes which you can read here. It illustrates two very different mind sets and views on the world personified and how they tend to be in eternal conflict with one another. For a taste, consider this quote. "One Spring day, in the deep wood, when Gaia had shed her blanket of snow and bared her verdant breast to the warm breeze of summer’s promise, Psyche dashed out from behind a green oleander and stayed Pragmatos’ hand as he was about to shoot a boar. "Can you not see that she’s a mother and that, with her death, her sucklings too will die?” cried Psyche. Enraged, Pragmatos pushed Psyche’s hand away from the taut arch of his bow, saying, "I see only that we shall not sup on meat for many days! Sometimes, you go too far!” "Must you kill to eat? Must we take lives to live? All creatures have a right to life. By what right do you deprive them of it?” "You’re a fool, Psyche! A dreamer! And dreams don’t feed a family.” "They feed their spirits, their imaginations..."


In hifi design as well as listening, one can focus solely on pragmatic measurements; solely on how the sound impacts one's spirit and imagination; or somewhere in-between. Why measurements should have any bearings on a listener whose imagination is fired up by a particular sound is a very good question. And it's not answered as categorically as one might think. Many serious folks—or who at least think of themselves as serious audiophiles—refuse to even lend an ear unless measurements first convince them that it'll be worthwhile to do so. Doesn't it seem clear which side of that discussion Konstantinos comes down on who is shown at left in front of the entry of Munich's MOC during HighEnd 2014? And isn't true pragmatism as it relates to our subject squarely on the side of Psyche who stands in for us as the haver of, not observer or thinker on, the actual playback experience?


As former Polish contributor Wojciech Pacula put it in his Munich 2014 show report on the Black Pears Audio exhibit, "a system that made a huge impression on me. It included speakers from PMC and Black Pearls electronics: the Virgo CD/file transport, Aries DAC and the Birth 100 integrated amp. The company is from Greece." Often the less one knows about a given exhibit, the fewer secondary considerations or beliefs will interfere with our instinctive perception of the final result. We've not pre-rigged the game by factoring in price, design philosophy, class of operation, choice of output devices and any of the many quasi-religious aspects which divide audiophiles into so many camps. Should we subsequently discover that a favorite system relied on design decisions we usually consider inferior or plagued by issues; or whose price was far lower than expected... then we must remain vigilant that such discoveries don't influence our actual experience and auditory perception. After all, Psyche enjoys her own way of experiencing the world just fine without having it distorted and trampled on by Pragmatos.