I haven't had any experience with the Io. I have had both the Lamm L-1 preamp and the LP-2, which I still have. Although "dark" is a gross over-simplification, that MIGHT be applied to the L-1, but absolutely not to the LP-2, which is extraordinarily neutral to my ears.
I would call the LP2 neutral as well, and dead quiet to boot, quieter than the IO's I've heard (and they're no slouches in that department either). I have not heard the IO in my system, but would put the Lamm on the same sonic playing field based on my experience in my system and my hearing both units in other systems. You really should find a dealer willing to lend you a Lamm to try out in your system, but I'd say they're both superb units, I chose the Lamm in good part for practical considerations involving available space for my front end components and the number of tubes in the IO.
Standard or Signature version... For those commenting, it would be very helpful if you would specify whether you are comparing the standard version or the Signature version of the Io. There is a very material sound quality difference between the two.
Actually, Rich, which one do you have in your system? I've only heard the original two-box version of the IO, not the one with the two power supplies, which I'd imagine is better (but still too many tubes to take care of!).
Thank you for the replies.
My Io is about 3 years old. When I purchased it, the Signature version was not available. It is the Standard with 1 power supply.
Rich: One thing you didn't mention in your post is the cartridge you're using. The Lamm has 57 db of gain, which is sufficient for my low output (.2mv) Koetsu RSP, but I really have to turn up the volume on the Jadis JP200 I use as a line stage to get decent volume on some records (contrast that to the Jadis' phono stage, which has between 70 and 80 db of gain, since the unit as a whole has 100 db of gain). Don't know how much gain the IO gives you, both by itself and with your preamp. My bottom line on the Lamm vs. IO question is that every now and then you hear a product that you know gets the music right and is something special--my Jadis preamp is one of those, so was the IO when I first heard it 5-6 years ago and so is the Lamm equipment. Judging from your reaction (offline in an e-mail to me) to having to deal with all the IO's tubes and its size, the Lamm is a good alternative--it may be a lateral step or slightly up from the original IO, but there's very little, if anything, really, better out there, just different.
Gladstone, I like your explicit reasoning. Next thing ya know, you'll be giving us some ridiculous advice like "Buy Maggies and have them modded" or "get an HR-X with a Colibri" or, worse yet, "have Rives design you a room!" Sheesh!!!! :-) Hey Jacob, I will let you know soon about getting out to hear your system!
On the Io issue, Rich, as you may remember, I have owned and reviewed the original Io. I have also owned the Lamm and the Signature Io but that was in my former system. I currently have a Manley Steelehead with another Io Signature (already broken in) arriving tomorrow. I can let you know my impressions of that Io Sig in a few days. My memory of both the Lamm and Io coincides with Rcprince's advice, they are BOTH world class phono stages and most likely lateral moves and your preference will be dependent on a number of things including, room, system synergy (including table and arm), your listening preferences, and, as you know, your ability or desire to tube roll with the Io. I can tell you that the Signature is better than the Io and has Roderstein resistors which, IMHO, outperform the Mills from the original Io and provide greater reliability (see the Aesthetix site to read about Jim's lawsuit with Mills and how defective resistors may have been the cause of some Io owners' concerns over its reliability). Moreover, with the upgraded caps in the Sig it seemed to provide better space, dynamics, subtle detail and extension over the ooriginal Io when I had it in my former system.
OTOH, I really liked the finesse, delicacy and refinement of the Lamm and, over the original Io, lowered noise floor(not to mention the single chassis and lower amount of tubes in the Lamm). However, as people have noted, the single gain setting and single loading setting can be a problem in some systems.
Hope this helps.
Please post the URL to the page where Jim White disusses the Mills resistor issue.
Note I am disclosing from the start that I have a Steelhead on the market for sale. That said, my opinion of phono stages - I had the IO Signature, the LP 2 Deluxe, the Groove, and the Steelhead at the same time for comparison and could A/B each without depending on memory or a dealer's system with which I was not familiar in order to make an opinion. I had a Lamm L2 and a Tom Evans Vibe with the Pulse power supply to use as line stages in the comparisons.
The IO had good dynamics and a tube presence that is quite enjoyable. It, however, was the noisest of the group and the most prone to RF problems. Hum was a constant battle and the more boxes it has the more prone. It lost out to the marked reduction of background noise of the others. The number of tubes to replace or to upgrade to NOS is staggering and almost doubles the price of the unit.
The Groove was clean, clean clean. It had neither tube coloration nor solid state sterility. It has a phase correctness that is not equaled by any other component I have heard except the Vibe. It had a bit of a haze over it in comparason to the Steelhead. Most are loaded improperly for most systems and the higher loaded units CANNOT be reduced to low loading in a simple manner. As I understand other components (op amps) are of a different characteristic so the boards themselves are different and need to be changed. It lost a bit of fullness and dynamic to the others. It performs best with the Vibe.
The LP 2 Deluxe was a wonderful unit with a low end that was dynamic and thrilling. It gave the music a foundation and realism that made most others sound a bit bare and anemic. It was the low end champion. It also is a fixed loading that is not optimum for many systems. It also had a bit of a haze over it in comparison to the Steelhead. It was overall a bit more congested than the Groove or the Steelhead.
Of the group I ultimately prefered the Steelhead. I found I could "tune" it to get the best from my system. It is more transparent than the others. This took some listening time to adapt to, but the others became somewhat subdued and congested in comparison. At the same time it is not thin and has excellent dynamics. It can be used as a line stage and eliminate another component and set of cables.
I could find specific records to synergize with the characteristics of each unit and make the choice more confusing (or fun).
Short answer to your original question IMO I would prefer the Lamm to the IO or the IO Signature if the Lamm is the LP 2 Deluxe version. I would probably prefer the IO Signature to the LP1. I have not had the LP1, but base my thoughts on the relative comparison of the IO and the LP 2 Deluxe.
Why, then am I selling the Steelhead? I want to try something else - it is a hobby. I have been thinking about the Boulder or Connoisseur and certainly cannot have number of units at the same time if I go with one of them. The new Groove with the beefed up power supply would be another possibility, tho little is known about it at this time.
Take this as you may from someone selling, but that was my experience. Each of the above are excellent and would make a good long term choice with many years of enjoyment. I think this entire group is a good step up from many other popular units that I have tried.
My system - Rockport Serius ll table and arm, VdH Colibri, Steelhead, Vibe, Wavelength Venus and Tenor amps, Avantgard Trio horns with bass mods driven by Krell. Cables are all Jena Labs.
Hello, I just received my Aesthetix Io signature w/ volume controls about one month ago.I'm still breaking it in. I have not compared it to the Lamm. I have compared it to the Steelhead.I have no problems with RF or excessive tube noise. Although, I am accustom to tube "rush" with systems I've had in the past. The Aesthetix is a liability in terms of shelf space and tube complement. The naturalness of presentation on my system with the Aesthetix edged out the Steelhead. I was willing to take the risk with the number of tubes based on performance.
Sounds like the Io, Lamm, Groove are all about being on a similiar plain with different trade offs..
Well, Rich, you have a lot of info. I think you would like either the Lamm or Steelhead; I suspect the IO is not up to either, at least in its original iteration.
Frank--glad to see you're using Audiogon as your travel advisory! Now hustle on down...so you can hear real speakers.
Come on, Frank. Don't be shy. What's your take on the Io signature?
Just got home at midnight from a concert and too pooped to pop right now (yeah, I know, I'm gettin old!). Will report back tomorrow!
One thing about the IO--I'm sure it's performance, like the Manley's, can be improved with better tubes. The Manley went up about 30 percent in performance. But think of the cost on the Io!
Well Jacob, usual disclaimers apply. This opinion is based on MY tastes, MY system, MY preferences and in MY room!
That said, the Io Signature has restored my love of vinyl (which as you know, has been waning of late). For MY money the Io Sig bested the Manley quite convincingly. Yes, there are some negatives, but hey are quite easy to live with - tube rush, size and heat.
Sorry, I am getting dragged away and will add more in an hour or two.
My only caveat here is that you never rolled the tubes in the Manley which made a significant difference in quality of sound--bigger, faster, more explosive, and much less tizzy.
This is true. But I wanted to first compare them head to head with stock tubes. I also know tube rolling can benefit the Io albeit at a much higher price. I'll call ya.
Frank, your experience is similar to other reports I've heard. I wonder if Albert Porter will share his experience comparing the two phono stages, also. Seems to me he has had the Manley in his system for a listen.
Frank, I'm sure you're right. For one reason. The Manley is a hybrid. The Io is not. Having all the step-up performed by tubes is simply superior. But then you run into all the tube problems, of course...
Jacob, here is what I posted in a response to Rayhall about my impressions of the Manley versus the Io Signature:
Rayhall, I do not know if you are still following this thread but here are my initial impressions of the Aesthetix Io Signature versus the Manley Steelhead (both the latest versions).
First, my usual disclaimers: my opinions are simply that, they are based on MY tastes, with MY system, in MY room, based on MY past experiences and MY preferences as heard through MY ears!!
That said, I let the Io warm up for a few hours before listening. I also used both units with stock tubes (even though I KNOW that they can both be changed/improved/tuned to individual tastes with NOS tubes. I also set both at or near the same impedance usuing the exact same system and ICs and power cords to ensure nothing else new contributed to the sound.
For my money, the Io restored my faith in vinyl which had begun to wane. The Io Sig, IN MY SYSTEM, bettered the Manly fairly convincingly for what I value. It was much more dynamic, it had better transient attack, better image focus, bigger soundstage (both height and width) and was, to my ears, truer to the timbre and tonality of instruments. The music just seemed more effortless and less congested. Now I am told by friends I trust that you can drastically improve the Manley with some esoteric tube rolling (especially to improve dynamics) but I will leave that to Gladstone to fill you in on.
I am now going to tube roll with the Io but at a MUCH higher price due to the sheer number of tubes and will report the results (thanks Bruce and Albert for the tips!).
Down sides? Yup. The Manley is $1,700 less than the Io, the Manley is smaller and the Io produces more heat. Also, there is that old tube rush at highder volumes with the Io that some people do not like. For me, I don't hear the tube rush when the music is playing and the real estate and heat issues disappear when that cartridge hits the LP!!
My good friend Brian who is as sick as I am put it best when he said "it just sounds right!" I have felt like an Audio Goldilocks the last two years - "this phono stage is TOOOO this and that phono stage is TOOO that and this cartridge is TOOO this and that cartridge is TOOO that."
Well, this combo (Dynavector XV-1s and Io Signature) is JUUUUUST right for me!