OK - lemme see:
I think perhaps it was that I was coming from years of Benz Micros, which (at least at this lower price tier) are more “romantic sounding”. The MIMC required the NPC be turned up so high that some small hum was audible in silence. Not terrible, but you can hear that it’s cranked.
I’m running analog in and out of the DEQX with no processing on (2 XLR in from DSJ and 4 out to speakers/subs, all full range). So, pretty sure it’s not going digital. One of the issues I have with it (at least this model) is the chip is 24/96. The digital section/conversion is audible. And I still ultimately don’t like room correction (which might more properly be called “speaker output correction to suit the room”). So - dumb that I’m still using the thing at all, but it is a very transparent gain stage, which suits my setup, and provides a (koff, koff) Remote Control. I realize the same can be accomplished with the DSJ alone, and some swear by running it direct - usually because they can’t imagine putting anything in between could improve things - but it does. If/when I can afford a BHK Pre, I would swap them out.
I’ve been meaning to put the VTL in there for an extended time, but I don’t currently have really good long enough RCAs for the job. The VTL has a built-in phono pre. When I got the NPC, I did some quick comparative rips to digital, and the NPC sounded remarkably good/close to the VTL, but has more clean gain - which is needed with the MIMC, as noted above.
When I said the MIMC sounded “digital” it was actually that I had never had a cart that reproduced such a broad frequency range so cleanly - Peter is indeed a nice guy, and wondered why I thought that was a problem ; ). But I was having a bout of audiophilia, and was thinking if I could get that sort of performance in a HO cart, the noise would go down, and I might get some added warmth. But nope - the MIMC is clearly (haha) better than the Z3.
One of the things I think helps give the “digital” impression is the impressive channel separation. One gets used to carts giving you a “solid center image”, which sometimes is audio hype for “poor channel separation”. I also liked that, rather than doing a painful, drawn out process to determine proper azimuth with lots of math and so on, was he said (I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “just measure the output voltage on each side (with pink noise tracks) until it gets as low as possible - not necessarily the SAME. It may be a bit more in one side or the other, but you’ll have the greatest separation.”
Actually - see this for his explanation: