Aesthetix Question

I am currently using a BAT VK31SE line stage and BAT VKP10 phono stage. These are a wonderful pair but I have to believe that elimination of the line stage would be a good thing for any system.

I see that Aesthetix puts an optional line input on their IO Phono stage with volume controls. This is fine for systems with only one other source such as CD or a Tuner. I happen to use both but if a significant improvement in sound can be obtained, I would be fine with one line input.

Here's the question: of the owners out there with this Aesthetix setup, how does it compare with other systems with separate line and phono stages? And for those that went with the Callisto and the IO, what made you decide on this pair vs only the IO with the above mentioned options? Surely the Callisto must add some additional noise or coloration or does it bring on other benefits that outweigh the weaknesses.

And one other question: for those that went with the Aesthetix with the options, did you also try the Manley Steelhead which has the same kind of benefits to not need a separate line stage?

Thank you for your comments/experiences.
Funny you mention the Steelhead at the end of your post that's what I as going to suggest! I am very familiar with both units and I don't know anyone who has heard a steelhead that keeps there IO. I wouldn't recommend dealing with the aesthetix they tend to be very problematic, with an Aesthetix signature IO you have 3 chassis to contend with, compared to just one with the Manley. The manley is easier to use and its adjustments can be done "on the fly" which is really helpful on initial setup. The Aesthetix sounds good, as does the steelhead, if I were making that decision(and yes I do think that would be the next- and final- step for you) I would get a steelhead.
Jafox, given the specific questions you posed, I can't directly answer any of them because I never compared an Io Signature-only setup to a combination of the Io and the Callisto. But, I did make the decision to use the Io Signature-only solution without the Callisto linestage and, for what it may be worth, I've been very satisfied with that choice.

My decision to go with the Io-only solution was a function of (a) cost, (b) desire to keep things as simple as possible, and (c) faith in Jim White's opinion that the Io Signature "straight in" would be a better alternative for a system primarily devoted to vinyl. Like you, I needed occasionally to play a CD or play the tuner, but my desire was to optimize for vinyl playback. A simple homemade A-B switchbox selects between tuner and CD.

I applied some of the savings from not purchasing the Callisto linestage to purchasing the optional second power supply for the Io. The optional second power supply does add a third chassis, but it offers the following enhancements:
.. Added space
.. Improved macro dynamics
.. Improved micro dynamics
.. Blacker backround
.. Greater ease to the sound, less strained

Hopefully Albert Porter will see this and reply because he has experimented with both the Io-only option and the Io/Callisto option and he once told me that he prefers the Io/Calliston option in his system.
Thanks Tireguy for your input.

If there is one thing I have learned from preamp and phono stage auditions is that it's all about the power supply. The BAT units made this very clear to me over other tubed units like the ARC LS and Ref series and even more so like lesser models such as the Atmasphere MP3. This is also what interests me about the Aesthetix which can start with one power supply and then go with another if the listener feels it is a worthy improvement relative to the rest of the system.

I am a very happy owner of the Manley Ref DAC. I have heard so many DACs and nothing yet comes close to this unit. It has a bass authority and midrange richness like no other I have heard. I have no doubt the Steelhead, even though it is designed by someone other than the designer of the DAC, too is a great great product. I keep a close eye on the Manley product line. But what does the Steelhead do that makes it so superior to the IO? Is the IO really that much of a pain...and unreliable...and noisy? Surely the IO has to do something extraordinary to justify its incredibly high price. The Steelhead is just a tad over the half price point of a decked out IO. So please expand on the Steelhead's advantages.....tonal balance, resolution, 3D harmonic richness, frequency extreme extension, etc., or does the IO reign supreme here? Perhaps neither of these will be that significant over my much less expensive BAT 31SE/P10....but I want to try at least one to find out.

Albert Porter really needs to be consulted about this, because he has done the comparisons that you want to know about. He has the IO Signature Dual Power Supply with the Callisto preamp. And he has compared them to a Manley Steelhead.
Thank you all....I will email Albert on this thread and hopefully he can throw in his experiences here.
I've been wanting to take my BAT VKp10se over to Albert's house to compare to his IO Sig. I did listen to a Aesthetix Rhea in my system vs the BAT phono. The Rhea was quieter, better detail, the bat better decays, fuller images, more guts I'd say. In the end it was 50/50. Just different. The IO I'm sure is in a different league...
Tireguy, I thought you have no analog ? Am i wrong ?
Jfrech: I hope you post your abservations here on the IO Sig vs the P10SE. The strengths of the BAT that you described are exactly those that I seek more than anything else, i.e, the harmonic richness, decay, 3D. Lower noise and thus resolution are also important to me, but secondary to these other issues. Also, did you compare the P10 vs the P10SE? and if so, what were the SE's strengths? I understand there is another tweak to the SE for its power supply. If it is anything like the power supply change from the 30SE to the 31SE, this could be one incredible phono stage.
Louis is a newcomer to my music group. He has been listening with us for about two months and in that time I've visited his home several times to help with improving his system.

His components when we began were the ARC Ref 2 Mk 2 preamp, Manley Steelhead, ARC Ref 600 mono blocks, Walker Proscenium turntable and Koetsu cartridge. His cables were Micro Omega power and interconnect, Silent Source and Shunyata power cables. His speakers are the Dynaudio Evidence Temptation.

The system was very good from first the moment I listened to it. The speakers are EXCELLENT, which were a pleasant surprise for me as I had not experienced these top of the line Dynaudio before.

I felt his system was not doing everything it was capable of so I adjusted and balanced the Steelhead to the Koetsu cartridge, adjusted the Walkers VTA, azimuth and tracking force to perfection, making things much better. I then replaced several isolation devices and damped the preamp with Walker's weights.

After I made the isolation changes and adjusted the table he was so pleased with the direction we were going that he ask what I would change if the system were mine.

I felt the Manley was limiting the system and that the Io would be my first choice. He purchased one that was for sale here at Audiogon (a nice guy many of you know). It had been wired for 220 volt so we had two new 240 volt 30 amp circuits added to the listening room.

When we received the Io it was improperly loaded and had all stock tubes. We replaced 8 tubes with NOS and put the Io into the system. To say the difference was big would be the understatement of the year. This DESTROYED the Steelhead.

I took several pieces of Purist Cable to his home and put them in place of the Silent Source, Shunyata and Omega Micro. Again, the upgrade was instant and undeniable. This guy is EXTREMELY happy.

As for the sound of using an Io by itself or with a preamp. I prefer Io and Callisto. At Louis's home we did a shoot out with Io alone and Io plus the ARC Ref 2 Mk 2. Both of us preferred the ARC added to the system. Greater dynamics with a sense of ease, particularly with complex music. I plan to take my Aesthetix Callisto over for an additional shoot out. Having already owned a Ref 2 Mk 2, I am confident of the outcome in advance.

Jim White who is the designer of the Aesthetix line says that if the speakers are high efficiency (Avantgarde), results favor the Io alone. Medium to low efficiency speakers such as Dynaudio and (my) Soundlab Ultimates, the Io with Callisto (or Ref 2) is better.

I will ask my friend to consider posting to this thread. I think his response to the work I've done on this system would be most favorable.

I would only add, that somehow, someday I would like to listen to his amps in my system.

Physically and cosmetically these ARC Ref 600's in black finish are the most impressive amps I have ever seen. Having owned Tube Research GT 400 that is saying a lot. Unfortunately at $40,000.00 they are presently out of my reach.
The P10SE update is a major revision. I did it about a year ago. Much bigger stage, more depth, more quiet background which brings out the decays and details. The bass and richness of the sound is really a big step forward from the p10. For 2k, it's a great deal. The new depthcharge upgrade for 2k I haven't heard.

The P10SE keeps what you like, but really, significantly, adds what your looking for. In a BAT system, it's hard to beat. I too will be considering the IO ...

Also, make sure to try power cords, dedicated lines, and symposium roller blocks with the bat pre and phono. Helps a bunch for me...
Wow! Smiling here. Thank you so much Albert for sharing your knowledge and experiences. Your thoroughness to describe the details is of great value here. And I did have to smile with "DESTROYED". I have read many great things about the Steelhead so it would be interesting to learn what the Io does so significantly over the least in the context of your system or your friend's system.

What does concern me here is that there appears to be much maintenance with the Io...all of its tubes, the necessity to change to NOS tubes to really have it play to the level you describe and that it still needs a line stage with most speakers to sound its best. I'm not sure all of these potential reliability/maintainability issues are worth the effort if only subtle improvements exist. But if it truly does "DESTROY" the Steelhead, then it might be worth it. Only one way to know and that is to hear these for myself. Your writings here have given me quite the itch to hear these very much.

Something here keeps telling me NO line stage has got to be "better" than using a line stage. So this too is something I will need to try. If the Io alone is incapable of driving an amp and speakers the same (dynamic) way as the Callisto, this sounds like a change/tweak needed to the Io. It just seems a bit odd to need another active stage to get things "right" if the output level is otherwise capable of taking the amp to full power.

Concerning those big ARC amps, I had to smile of this too. I have gone through many ARC amps over the years, the Classic 60, then the VT130 (oh such magical mids) and then back to the Classic 150s. And then I tried this little lowly Counterpoint NPS400 stereo amp with the basic Michael Elliot mod. This absolutely DESTROYED the huge ARC triode mono amps. Talk about a surprise I was unprepared for. The world of high-end audio always has a new surprise if we keep an open mind.

And thank you Jfrech for your comments on the P10SE. I like the BAT sound very much but somehow I get the feeling there is another level of phono enjoyment to be had with these other phono stages. Now if only I had a way to do a shootout with all of these!

Thank you again very much to all who contributed here.
Audio999- You are right I do not own an analog rig, how ever all of my friends do and I have spent a lot of time listening to them.

Albert- Gosh I do not know where he would have found that 240v Io ;)
From your friend that is (apparently) getting out of analog.

We were glad to get that Io. It only needed a little work to make it the best Louis has ever heard. Total cost of the magic mods, including the NOS tubes was $330.00.

Tube upgrades on my Io are pushed way beyond that, but for the small investment we made, the results were astounding. That is why after the test, the Steelhead was put up for sale here at Audiogon.
That's great I am glad someone is getting some use out of his Io- it sounded good in his system- now only if he could sell the interconnect he would be free from vinyl. I wish I had more patients because there must be a lot of tweeking that can be done to aesthetix units, how ever I am lazy :)
Albert, in your comparisons of the Io-only versus the Io-plus-Callisto, you mention using the Koetsu and I'm assuming its the .02mv output Koetsu. Have you made the comparison with a higher output cartridge in the system? Just wondering if the added gain of the Callisto is making a big difference when using an extremely low output cartridge, and wondering if a less pronounced difference would exist if a higher output cartridge were in play. Best regards,
I want to share my experiences and thank Albert Porter for spending time to help me evaluate my system and make some recommendations.

First: The Steelhead although very quiet, detailed and fast, in my system simply was not as musical as the IO Signature. Actually the difference was significant and on different types of music.

Second: Both the Steelhead and the Io have volume controls and I listened to each unit without a line stage with the notion, that I could run the unit directly into the amps and eliminate the expence of a costly line stage. No such luck, in both instances, I was forced to reinsert the Audio Research Line stage, because it added immediacy, a much larger soundstage that extended outside the perimeter of the speakers and a vitality or palpability to the music that was missing.

Third: Changing out the tubes in the IO, in my opinion was an added bonus. To be able to extract more performance from this unit at such a reasonable cost is a deal. Once again Albert's experience paid off.

When I assembled the system initially, I felt that it had the potential to sound very natural and at times a little like live music. The mods we made to the system, in my opinion advances this process.
Good question Rushton. I owned a Benz Ruby 2 before the Koetsu, it had an output of only .3 MV. Therefore, my experience is more similar than different with these two cartridges.

I have not experimented with a high output cartridge, but considering the Io is capable of (approx.) 70 DB of gain, it can easily drive every amp made to full output, without exceeding the maximum output voltage.

However, gain, dynamics and headroom combined with musical "ease of presentation" are strange phenomenons. These are as difficult to explain as why two amps with the same rated power seem to perform so differently on the same speakers.

For whatever reason, having the additional gain from a preamp stage makes the music come alive. This is true with both the ARC and the Aesthetix preamp.

We all know that when the equipment has reserve and power waiting in the wings, the ability to bring the most miniscule detail or loudest passage of music to center stage makes the difference in believability.

Having said all that, there are many fine audio systems that would be improved by inserting an Io without benefit of a preamp. The two together is ideal, the Io alone is still better than many options available.

I have a bad habit of presenting things from a point of absolute. I suppose from working at perfecting two channel sound for so many years.
I use a Aesthetix Callisto Line Stage ( Signature ), not a IO, but I can say some general:

From my experience ( digital and analog ) is the use of a line stage with a phono stage always superior than a CD/analog with vol pots.

( This is something for people who want to save money and want to believe, they have made the super deal ...).

Absolutely no problems

Tubes ( NOS )
Based on my NON experience - my Magnum Dynalab MD 108 runs with stock tubes, too - with that, I use the factory ones and the unit is superior to all I listened before.
Maybe in my country with stable voltage, the unit is not that sensitive than in USA, or my System is more carefully matched than others.
I have here 235V and all is excellent.

But when Albert Porter writes, that using NOS tubes is a step forward I believe him ( I will ask him for a recommendation ..), he is a honest and a remarkable man who does it his own way.
( When his opinion about the Manley/Aesthetix is going to a seperate direction than some reviewers, I am more interested in his explanation ).

I read lots of them and honestly I get tired of them.
I don't want to discuss that, some of you will know what I mean, but I prefer the opinion from a independent user ( here Albert, me and others ....) - who use their own money to stay independent - MUCH more than from those, who find the new sensation every month.

Well, I enjoy my Aesthetix every moment I use it and when the day will come to think about a ( additional ) Phonostage, on my top list is the IO Sign. without vol. pots.
interesting thread. i owned the original Aesthetix Io for 2 years and then had the priviledge of having an Io Signature with dual power supplies and volume controls to compare to my original Io and my Lamm LP2. i also had previously tried the Callisto Signature in my system but not with the Io Signature.

i found that in my particular system, i always preferred a passive volume control (Placette RVC) to either the volume pots in the Io Signature or the Callisto. the immediacy, inner texture and micro-dynamics were always better (and these are my personal sonic priorities). soundstage size was slightly better with the active volume controls but at a loss of detail in my system.

while i ultimately preferred the much lower noise floor of the Lamm LP2 to the Aesthetix Io Signature; i never tried rolling the tubes in the Io's so i can't say what difference this might have made (i am told it is significant). the Io's were both wonderful, and i highly recommend them.....but at least consider passive before you dismiss it. if your system conforms to it's requirements you will get a little closer to the music.

btw, i later had a BAT VK-10SE in my system for about a week to compare to my Lamm LP2. was very good, but not close to the Lamm LP2 in my system. my opinion is that the Aesthetix Io and especially the Io Signature are also quite a bit better than the BAT VK10SE.