Springbok, if you like your Atma-Sphere amps, you probably will not care for the Mark Levinson in your system. The AS MP-1, or the Aesthetix Callisto, or the Aesthetix Calypso, or any of several other tube line stages would probably be a better match. That being said, I've never directly compared the AS MP-1 and the Mark Levinson in the same system. My thoughts are based on having heard each of them in different systems, and neither in my own system. I have the Atma-Sphere MA-2 amps and strongly considered the MP-1, but ended up going with the Aesthetix Io with volume controls instead due to my emphasis on vinyl.
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i agree with Rush. i owned the #32 for 2 years and tried the Atmasphere MA2 Mk.II.2's with it......IMHO the OTL approach is better suited to either tubed or passive pre's. the #32 didn't sound bad.....but the clarity and neutrality of an OTL will expose the limitations of any pre. when i compared the #32 with passive on OTL's the passive 'killed' the #32. i have not specifically listened to the MP-1 but would agree that either the MP-1 or the Aesthetix Callisto (which i have had in my system and liked alot) would be ideal matches for the Atmasphere OTL amps.
another tubed pre i liked with OTL's in my system was the Lamm L2.
it is too bad that these great tubed pre's don't include a remote control for input switching and volume control.
the #32 is a beautiful preamp, built like a tank and very easy to use.....but not the last word in transparency.
Thank you both very much. The ML is so user-friendly and has such incredible features that it is hard to part with - but I wont know how much better the sound could be until I try a tubed, truly balnced preamp. Is the Lamm truly balanced? Why is that I cannot find a review (other than TAS Golden ear award with the M60 - 1/4 page - on the MP-1 - could it be that it is just not as "special" as the MA 2?
It is really hard to get advice about it, which is why I especially appreciate your input. How about the BAT VK-51SE?
Springbok, if you look through the Atma-Sphere Owners Group web site, as I believe you have, you will find people there who believe the Atma-Sphere MP-1 is a superb preamp that is an exceptional fit to the A-S amps. They like the detail, transparency, neutrality and speed of this preamp. Also, they value the low impedance balanced connection that is supported between the two A-S products. Note that the key to this match is not just true balanced circuits, it is also the very low 600 ohm impedance for the connection between amp and preamp. Other preamps will have to connect at the MA-2s high input impedance setting.
That being acknowledged, other listeners have not found quite the same magic in the MP-1 when compared to other top competitors like the Lamm L2 and Aesthetix Callisto Signature. Differences I've heard commented upon are in low level detail resolution, dynamics (which is certainly not a problem for the MA-2 amps) and ultimate naturalness of reproduction of timbre (also not an issue with the MA-2s).
You ask about whether the Lamm is a truly balanced design. I don't know. But I'm not at all sure that being balanced should drive your decision. All of the Aesthetix gear is truly balanced, but I am running my Io via it's RCA outputs into my A-S MA-2s with excellent sonic results. (Of course I do want to try it on balanced interconnects, but that requires obtaining an identical interconnect cable terminated with XLRs to accomplish.)
As to the BAT, many people certainly admire this preamp, but, imo, the Lamm L2 and the Aesthetix Callisto Signature are in another league. For my listening priorities (which may not be yours!), I would consider the Aesthetix Calypso linestage before the BAT; the Calypso delivers a naturalness in rendering the timbre of instruments and harmonic overtones that the BAT simply misses to my ear. Also, the Calypso easily will give you all the flexibility and user convenience via remote control that you liked in the Mark Levinson, plus more.
As you note, what you are trying to determine is not easy; it is very difficult to be able to hear much of this gear, let alone hear it under any sort of conditions that allow one to differentiate what one is hearing from which component within the system.
Springbok10, thanks for the kind comments.....i have had others tell me to try the Indra's.....but after a few years of numerous cable comparisons.....i'm done with cable comparisons for awhile.
i have had the BAT VK50SE in my system and actually overall i preferred the #32.....i have not had the VK51SE in my room. your amps and speakers are simply at a level where you will get the benefit of the most refined gear. your 'little' Kharma's do some things better than my 'big' ones.
the Lamm L2 is not fully balanced. it has single-ended inputs and balanced outputs. i agree with Rush that balanced is way down the list of priorities unless you have very long interconnects.
i had the same challenge you are facing of wanting a no-compromise preamp but needing remote input switching and remote volume control. there are many different 'correct' approaches to solving this challenge. what i did was to use a passive Placette RVC (remote volume control), very short i.c.'s between the RVC and my amps, and then have long interconnects between the RVC and a custom passive switchbox near my sources. this give me conveinience and a 'pure' signal path. some think that passive has penalties in performance.....my experience in direct comparison with the units i have mentioned here is that i have preferred passive every time.
my approach isn't for everyone but just be open-minded to possibilities.
3 years ago i was EXACTLY where you are. i had just bought Kharmas, i owned the #32, and i was demoing the MA2's.....you can see what I did.
I will dispense with input gain controls and even a remote for the pure sonic virtues. I will look into The Aesthetix and pursue further the MP-1. Again, I appreciate this help.
Rushton, what single-ended i/cs are you running between the Io and the MA2? Unless I misunderstand him,if you read what Ralph writes and I thought I heard him say it, the true balanced attributes of the AS system are a big strength(?)and not to use it is under-using his design. Am I wrong?
In any event, I will be interested to hear how you find the sound when you try running balanced i/cs. So if you were I and you could spend close to 10K (what I hope to get for the ML)on a preamp (hopefully, used), given my requirements - balanced design and all the sonic virtues that the ML (minimally) lacks - transparency, speed, soundstaging, vibrancy and coherence as well as great strength in the upper midrange - which would you buy:)? (I dont know the cost of any of the preamps mentioned except the MP-1, BAT and Lamm)
Springbok, my choice, based on my listening priorities*, would be the Aesthetix Callisto Signature. If you do a search here in Audiogon you will find a number of posts from Albertporter praising this unit. Jonathan Valin (TAS) uses the Callisto in his reference system and has very high praise for it (Golden Ear Award). I have the Aesthetix Io Signature phonostage, with volume controls and second power supply option, running straight into my amplifiers and I continue to be amazed with it's sonic capabilities. The Callisto line stage is of the same quality: superb in all the areas you list.
The standard Aesthetix Callisto MkII lists for $9,000; the Signature version for $11,000 (a worthwhile upgrade). The second power supply option would add another $3,000 but it can be added at any time down the road. For description and pricing, see Aesthetix's web site:
...* You can read my listening priorities, to determine if they are close to yours, at the end of my review of the Walker Proscenium Gold Signature Turntable. The Aesthetix gets to all of my list.
Thanks for your reply. I printed your review, took it to bed, as it was 2 am, and half an hour later was sitting bolt-upright, staring at the blackness of night, my heart pounding and my mind filled with rue - how could I have thrown away 22 years of LPs and just listened to a shiny disc when Audio nirvana is clearly in the vinyl and can be brought out by what sounds to be a Houdini of craftmanship!
So not only did you answer my question, directly, about your preamp choice, but made me wonder about my insanity in my choice of source...........that's how compelling, reasoned and passionately articulate your review was. You wrote, IMHO, the best review I have ever read on Audiogon and furthermore gave pause to my misconception (clearly) that reality can be achieved closely by digital sources. I wait with baited breath until some A'goner takes the Walker turntable and in the same room, with the same electronics, compares it to a digital source. (But you need to be there....:) I doubt it will happen.
You are also extremely fortunate to have a partner who shares your passion so. Good luck to you and enjoy what you have indubitably earned - you sound closer to sonic happiness than anybody I have read about and that, after all, is what we are in this hobby/mania for..............
Springbok, thank you for your kind words about my comments on the Walker Proscenium turntable. Lloyd Walker has shared with us a stunning achievement.
As to the LP vs. CD (and SACD for that matter) comparison, this has been done by people whose ears I trust and who have made an investment in both high quality LP playback and high quality CD playback, among them our own Audiogon contributors Mike Levigne and Albert Porter. Here are just two comments they've posted recently on their experience. If you search the archives you'll find others.
Mike Lavigne - just yesterday in a thread about SACD versus vinyl:
Albert Porter, who has the Walker Proscenium turntable and Aesthetix Io and Callisto - see his comment to my Walker turntable post:
"Your review should help people understand why I've raved about my Walker Proscenium so many times and why digital is so difficult for me."
I continue to find vinyl playback more satisfying than the best CD systems I've heard (SACD gets closer). But, high quality vinly playback demands a commitment to get everything working well together and properly tuned, and the highest quality playback is not inexpensive (and neither is the highest quality digital playback). My tradeoff is that I don't buy some of the newer performances of works I would enjoy having because they are only available on CD and I choose to reserve that money for more LPs. :-)
Good luck in your search for a new line stage. I hope you will share with us what you decide on.
With kind regards,
Hi Rushton, Thanks for the kind words.
I thought I might point out FWIW that in the last four years or so since you heard an MP-1 a lot has changed (we got a Golden Ear Award too...), as you might expect. The Aesthetix gear continues to be fine equipment, but I recommend anyone considering such gear to do a proper comparison before making a purchase.
The regulator in the older preamps was a large variable in the sound of the unit. Despite my appreciation of tubes, we are now running a solid state regulator that has performance that is two orders of magnitude better then the older tube regulator, which could fail while the preamp would appear to be running normally. The result is that many of the older MP-1s out there (including the one you heard) may not have or may not be performing according to spec. The new regulator has eliminated that issue, and also sounds a lot better regardless. There are a host of other changes as well, in the phono section, line stage and the power supply.
Like you I find LPs to consistantly outperform SACDs and DVDAs. I am still hoping that the newer digital formats will finally bring home the bacon, but it seems that won't be happening anytime soon. Additionally the lack of new titles is hard to swallow. I have a white label promo press of Take Five (not that I listen to it much anyway), why would I want an SACD of the same recording, now 40 years old? I would be a little more convinced if the Thin Red Line soundtrack was on SACD, but far more likely to buy it if it was on LP instead. Just nothing for it!
Rushton, I was interested in Jonathan Valin's review of the Callisto in TAS in which he said that he >> ......cannot recommend either unit (Io + Callisto) as highly as I am now recommending it if you do go with a a fully balanced setup.You will get the sound I've described above when the 2 preamps and your amps are hooked together via Valhalla single-ended interconnects....... >...Switching to balanced ... makes the Callisto and Io substantially quieter, increases output, improves detail, lowers grain and brightness, enhances bass definition, but so darkens the overall sound and constricts bloom that I would no longer recommend either unit ahead of its competition (although together the Aesthetix pair would be on a par with it).<<
Any comments from you or anybody else who has used the Callisto line-stage in balanced set-up?
I am committed to a blanced set-up and certainly wont spend the kind of money a Callisto demands over an MP-1 for no benefit.......
Opinions vary. What you quote was, obviously, Jonathan's experience. I asked Jim White (the designer of Aesthetix) his opinion on the issue. He told me that results can be system dependent, but in every system he's heard a balanced configuration tested against a single-ended configuration, the balanced configuration has "won out" sonically.
This comes back to my original caution: don't buy a unit ONLY because it is has a balanced circuit design, whether Atma-Sphere, Aesthetix, BAT, conrad-johnson or other. I bought the Io because it has superlative sonics in any of its configurations.
I believe Albert Porter (who uses both the Io and the Callisto) uses the Aesthetix gear in fully balance configuration from input device (including from the cartridge) all the way through, and I believe he has said he prefers the balanced configuration. This is contray to Jonathan Valin's opinion, and I trust both of them to be very discriminating in their listening skills.
It may be a matter of the mix of other components, like interconnect and speaker cables, that influence one's reaction: the truism in this hobby, particularly at this level, is that everything affects everything. And remeber, at the time of this article, Jonathan's notion of "its competition" was a $25000 Messenger.
Albert - can you weigh in here with your experience??
Springbok, in re-reading this, I discover I need to be more succinct. Jonathan's report on his experience does not jive with other comments I've heard. There is no reason I know of that the Callisto would sound less than superb in balanced mode.
Albert Porter is one person I know of on this board who has listened to the Callisto in both single-ended and balanced mode. He runs balanced between phono to Io and Io to Callisto. He currently runs single-ended from Callisto to his VTL 750 amps, but I think that is because they are single-ended only.
But also note: the Callisto's output impendance is higher than the 600 ohm low impedance connection you could use in an A-S MP-1 to A-S MA-2 setup. That low impedance connection is standard in the recording industry, but only A-S is using it in consumer equipment. Ralph would say that this low impedance interface is the key to reducing dependance on the quality and cost of the interconnects.
I received an email concerning this topic. I was not aware it had drifted from Atma-Sphere versus Mark Levinson to Aesthetix.
I've listened to dozens of preamps including the Atma-Sphere MP-1, but not the specific Levinson mentioned in the topic.
I should begin by stating that I prefer the Aesthetix Io and Callisto Signature (dual supplies) over any other phono and line stage in the history of audio, regardless of price.
I owned Aesthetix from the very beginning. I'm responsible for corrections in the Io RIAA curve, helping with the faulty Mil spec resistors Aesthetix was shipped, and I am the person who first suggested and then implemented the concept of dual power supplies. (I must confess I was inspired by my Mike Elliott designed EASE Magnum!).
This first conversion to dual supplies was on my product shooting table in my photo studio. I soldered changes to the circuit from faxed diagrams and technical data sent by Jim White (owner of Aesthetix) while he was still employed as a designer for Theta Digital.
That was a long time ago. Jim White's fame has risen as he continued to implement multiple small but important improvements in both these flagship models.
My current pair are the absolute latest versions and after break in, I completely re tubed them with NOS Euro and USA glass. (My choices are posted here at Audiogon with link provided below.)
Now instead of just being certain that these are better than anything else, I have completely stopped wondering (or even considering) any other product as a replacement. A very difficult state for me to achieve.
Here is an old post where I discuss (no longer applicable) early technical problems the Aesthetix gear had, and full disclosure of my tube rolling ventures.
As for balanced versus single ended, there are advantages to each. My test was not linear as my previous single ended cables were Purist Dominus fluid, Rev B. The balanced cables were Purist Primus Ferox, only available to the Japanese market. I have these because I do product photography for Purist (as well as a dozen other high end companies) and having completed the photo session and listening to them, I fought to keep them.
My previous comparison was between identical (Rev B fluid) Purist Dominus in both single ended and balanced. That decision was very difficult, as I heard much of what Valin describes in his review. I refer to this as loss of bloom and space, particularly in the midrange, most obvious with well recorded LP's of solo piano and / or female voice. Like most audiophiles, I am familiar with these two instruments and it's easy to make critical judgements.
I suspect the superiority of the Primus is what tilted my decision to run balanced, so both answers are correct, depending on the cable chosen.
Here is the link to my system where you may see and read how I applied Purist cables.
As for my run from Walker Turntable to Io, it is a balanced Japanese market Primus, BUT it is wired at the source (Walker Turntable) as single ended by following the pin configuration worked out between Loyd Walker, Jim White and Jim Aud. I choose to do this because I prefer the more robust construction of balanced connectors for this application.
To achieve this I ordered a new mount plate and cryo treated tonearm wires from Loyd Walker, balanced connectors from Aesthetix and re-terminated according to instructions.
The Io is a TRUE balanced circuit, but the phono input stage is single ended internally regardless of which connector is used. My choice of connector was for quality and maintaining a solid connection in tight quarters with an extremely heavy cable (Purist) and has nothing to do with operating my Koetsu as a balanced source.
Hope this helps rather than confusing the issue. The short answer is, Aesthetix is the best there is regardless of how you terminate interconnect. It's a good problem to have in my opinion, everyone gets ultimate performance according to what pleases them.
Having CHOICE in terminations with two superb sonic signature as well as the possibility of operating single ended as true phase plus or phase minus output.
Albert, Thank you for your input. I drifted the thread from MP-1 to Aesthetix in my quest to find the best preamp for my MA-2 - Kharma 3.2 setup with Dominus Rev C I/cs - in balanced mode. So, am I reading you correctly that you agreed with Valin's view that the balanced set-up lost "bloom and space, particularly in the midrange" but you went with balanced because of the Primus?
So, if you had Dominus Rev C, as I do, would you still go balanced? (line-stage only)
Springbok10, yes you got it right. I preferred single ended until I got the Primus. Who knows if the Primus might have won had it been single ended. They are so rare and hard to come by in the USA, I will probably never know.
Valin's assessment is much the same as mine. This means we have similar ideas about what constitutes great sound on THIS particular issue. This has nothing to do with what you might experience comparing the two.
Is the Dominus Rev C your asking about have fluid or Ferox? The fluid is more like single ended, the Ferox more like balanced in sound.
I.E.; Removing bloom from the midrange, tightening up bass, blacker background at some loss of magic.
Hi Springbok10, Albert and Rushton are two very meticulous audiophiles, and you can usually count on their experiences as being bonafide.
Albert's experience with the MP-1 is from ten years ago. The MP-1 of his comments was discontinued about 8 years ago (an earlier Mk. I). Ruston's is from about 4-5 years ago as mentioned earlier.
It is a common experience that we all have had is to hear a certain component and to think that that is the only way it will ever sound. But in 5 years, not to mention ten, a lot has changes in the audio world.
I do have feedback from people who have compared the Aesthetix and other top preamps to the current MP-1 if you are interested. I can put you in contact with them so they can offer their own opinions (at least two do not post to this group so far as I know- both are industry figures and probably are less foolish then me :).
Again, you will want to make your decision based on a proper comparison (there could be a lot of money at stake too). One thing that is obvious from this is that there still exists no clear means for determining how something is going to sound in your system without trying it yourself.