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For context, whether or not it even matters, I am a professional musician and a native Russian speaker was asking me just now about when my love for music first manifested itself. I replied with a lengthy tirade, closing it with a

Так что любовь [к музыке] проснулась рано, а мозги позднее.

And then I read it back and started second-guessing myself. Should it not have been "позже" instead? Is "позднее" even a word? Sounds kinda strange, yet sounds kinda right. Is this a purely stylistic difference? One of register, dialect, age?

Or is this maybe even a widespread thing and there are similar pairings for other adverbs that I should be wary of but never even noticed?

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Розенталь says that some adverbs can have two synthetic comparative forms :более – больше, менее – меньше, далее – дальше, ранее – раньше, позднее – позже, where the forms with -ее are bookish or formal

Списки избирателей должны быть составлены не позднее указанного срока.

whereas those with - ше(-же) are neutral and can be used in both bookish and colloquial styles. Neutral forms are used more widely and eagerly. In reality we don't strictly obey "the rules" and most often use them interchangeably though the above-mentioned preference remains. Besides there is one more form попозже (a bit later) which is also frequently used. There's no difference in meaning позднее/позже.

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To me the sentence sounds perfectly fine.

In my opinion, and as already implied in V.V.'s response, it's a matter of style and usus.

According to my gut feeling the choice of позже and позднее affects wording of a clause and simple substitution of one with the other won't do. With позже it would sound more euphonic being worded as

Так что любовь [к музыке] проснулась рано, а (уже) позже - мозги.

OR

Так что любовь [к музыке] проснулась рано, а мозги уже/намного позже.

I could imagine the reason for uneasiness being the fact that позднее is contraposed to a simple antonym рано rather than to its comparative form раньше/ранее, which is somewhat illogical. In this case the sentence can be reworded to avoid both.

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Позже and попозже tend to express a time delay from some event or from current moment, while the version позднее is typically based on time in numbers (days, months, years, etc. - mentioned or not) and попозднее often refers to some later hours of day cycle. That is why (не) позднее is used in formal conditional clauses with numbers.

Это было позже. (Маркони позже запатентовал радио, чем его изобрёл Попов.)

Выплата зарплаты производится не позднее 25 числа каждого месяца.

Прихожи попозже (я сейчас занят).

Приходи попозднее (когда стемнеет, ближе к полуночи).

As for the example from your question, the version with позднее most likely refers to some 'older age' while the version with позже would mean 'later than my love to music did'.

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