I would take a long hard look at the Aesthetix Calypso preamp. People are now discovering how good it really sounds. It has a full compliment of single ended and balanced connections, is dual mono and is truly a balanced design. It converts single ended signals to balanced. Double outs both balanced and single ended are included. It has a myriad of features and best of all, Aesthetix and Jim White stand behind their products.
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The Aesthetix Calypso line stage has a remote. The Callisto (the more expensive unit) does not, but I've heard that Jim White has been working on a remote for it as an option.
Steve5725, I know of no superior alternative to the Aesthetix Calypso at near its price level. Another worthy candidate in this same price ballpark would be the Atma-Sphere MP-3. If you are committed to having a balanced linestage, these would be my recommendations for your consideration.
Moving up from this price point there are some other good options, such as the Aesthetix Callisto, the Atma-Sphere MP-1, the BAT 51SE.
All of these are superior line stages independent of being true balanced circuits.
But, are you sure that balanced circuitry will give you superior sound thus making it a priority? In my experience, the results of balanced v. single-ended can be very system dependent and not by any means a foregone conclusion. This is even more the case where the equipment is from different manufacturers. YMMV of course.
For example, I have a balanced circuit Aesthetix Io with volume controls driving a balanced circuit Atma-Sphere MA-2 amplifiers. I use single-ended interconnects between them: the sound is marvelous. Jonathan Valin reported a similar experience with balanced circuit equipment in a review he wrote in TAS not so long ago. So, just checking in on assumptions...
Although I'm not an engineer that has technically examined this, I've anecdotally found a system whose components are ALL balanced to show slight but significantly higher performance than a system that uses a mix of balanced and single-ended components. I'm not an engineer, but I would guess that not having to deal with the voltage differences expected between balanced and single-ended inputs/outputs helps keep the overall signal from degrading as a result of need to step up/down a voltage for each respective component.
Check out Dave Davenport's line stage kit at Raleigh Audio. It is a transformer coupled balanced parallel feed differential design that has worked "magic" in my system. This kit (also available built) has been the subject of a series of articles in AudioXpress magazine. If you are interested, see it at www.kandkaudio.com
I acknowledge that what you say makes sense. Would seem so to me, too. What I've gathered, though, is that the interface for consumer balanced gear is not built to a consistent standard. As a result, you can get varying results when putting together gear from different manufacturers even if all the components are true balanced circuits. And, in some cases, one might actually prefer the sound of the single-ended connection even between two balanced components from the same manufacturer, depending on the rest of one's system, as Jonathan Valin reported as his experience with some components.
My only thought in my original post is that chosing equipment solely because it is balanced may not be the correct "critical path" to success in assembling a system.
I do appreciate your thoughts and sharing your experience.
Rushton...yep, I have heard of inconsistencies in balanced interfaces as well. Something almost to the effect that European brands and North American brands reverse the positive and negative pins, so that in many cases mixing balanced gear from Europe and North America can result in phase-inversion. Then I heard of one instance where Jeff Rowland makes input-1 on his balanced preamps match the European "standard", whereas all the other inputs match the NA standard. And then I'm sure there are many examples of manufacturers just implementing whatever they happen to be used to.
But yes, I agree that choosing equipment solely because it is balanced is not the critical path, but certainly it is a legitimate consideration IMHO, particularly if by not going balanced forces you to use adaptors and such...
Thanks for the input everyone. I am not dead set on going balanced, it's just that my other equipment all has balanced connections and I am curious as to the improvement it may (or may not) make. In particular, I have been told that my ARC CD3Mkii really steps up notably when run in a balanced system.
I will check out Aesthetix but am not familiar with the character of their gear. Any comments on what I might expect?
Steve, here's a link to a recent review by Robert Harley in TAS:
Where he says, in part:
"The Calypso and Rhea do not sound like tubed electronics. I heard no trace of the classic tube soundbillowy soundstage, soft treble, full and ill-defined bass, or musicality at the expense of resolution. Instead, the three words that best describe this duoand both components share the same qualitiesare open, transparent, and uncolored. In fact, these electronics impose the least coloration on the music of any Ive auditioned. They impart a sense of palpability and immediacy that recalls the magic of live music."And here's a link to the description on the Aesthetix web site (at Musical Surroundings, the distributor):
the Calypso is a no brainer I listened to the Hovland 200 for 10 days ,80% of the people that came over said the Hovland was a hair more detailed ,and maybe a hair more open at the top,
Other than that the sheer natural way the Calypso handles the textures of musical instruments is beyong reproach ,
and the bass weight and dynamics were incredible ,even against 10k preamps this one stand tall.
With vintage tube add 10%-Giant killer,and please read the reviews they are dead accurate, and the jan2006 TAS magazine ,has a glorous accolade on the Calypso ,
even against the Flagship Goldman, as far as balanced you cannot do any better,this is a True dual mono design ,and fully balanced, 3 transformers to totally isolate the circuits, an allstarlist of parts quality,microprocessor controlled , and No global feedback ,which means one less stage from the valves to the amplifier , that is why the music is just more natural, ONE BIG THING I would like to mention, many people never hear this preamplifiers potential,for you need over 400 hours to fully break in this unit nothing less, because of the super high grade
Rel Caps , and Nichecon Caps, they are dreadfull on breakin, give it time you will be well rewarded, that is why the many people on these forums that did not wait never heard the real deal, also the tube issue is a thing of the past! Yes I now own one.p.s just ask Jade on the forum, and with stock tubes the pre is still excellent!
thank you Paul J Letteri.