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I have used the Calypso and then the Calypso signature with the Aesthetix Atlas signature amp for about eight years and love the combination. I would make sure that the Calypso output impedance matches well with your amp. In addition the Calypso will not give you a lush tubey sound like a CJ preamp.
I am with @sgunther, as good as Calypso is, it just doesn’t have the lush tubey sound. With Calypso, you get a very nice balanced and neutral sound, kind of best of both SS and Tube worlds.
I end up trading Aesthetix Calypso for ARC LS28. In a highly resolve system, you just can’t underestimate the virtues of a dedicated preamp.
I have had an Aesthetix Calypso and Rhea (phono stage) for over a decade and halfway through I upgraded to the Signature version of both, and am very satisfied. They both lean toward neutrality without sounding dry or lifeless but, a perhaps better way to explain them is to say they are not overtly coloured, presenting a large, open, well detailed soundstage with plenty of air. Little bad can be said of these as I believe they punch way above their price point, are very well thought out and constructed, and Jim White and associates run a really good, customer centric organization. If needed, they will take excellent care of you.
You mentioned 'disappointment' with some other products. I too have had some of these, and they truly where awful.
I'm going to ask you two weird questions. If you answer yes to both, the Calypso or the Atma-Sphere are perfect for you.
If you answer yes to both, private message me (you are part of the 'golden ear' group). I don't want to offend anyone by having an open discussion.
1) can you parallel park easily? Yes?, or do you avoid it like the plague, no.
2) when you where younger, did you pause before printing/writing 'b's and 'd's, 'p's and 'q's, or 'm's and 'n's.?
I had and aesthetix Rhea signature with a premium tube set at the same time as a Zesto, a herron and a cheap ASL phono. In short the aesthetixs finished last in sound quality, even behind the ASL that was worth about $600 new(it did have mods). The Herron was first, which I bought new after this experience, The Zesto was second and the ASL was third, with the aesthetics bringing up a distant fourth. I was very surprised given the price tag which was by far the highest of the group and the rave reviews they have received.
I know these are phonostages where as you are talking about line stages but after that experience I would never buy anything aesthetixs.
I drove myself nuts trying to find a tube preamp that I was happy with.
Ended up realizing that I had to do the listening in my own system. So in addition to my Atma-Sphere I borrowed another three similarly priced and well regarded preamps. One was SS.
My decision. I bought an absolutely amazing SS pre called the Line One from LKV Research. Finally got the lack of distortion and noise I required and a near tube like warmth. In fact the lack of noise on this preamp is like a black hole in space. And the preamp is extremely adjustable with jumpers. Look it up. And while I liked the Atma Sphere I never found a tube combination that worked for me and I went through a least a dozen tubes trying to find quiet ones and the best sound. In the end I gave up on tubes.
Didn’t catch your budget but when I was looking for a tube preamp to warm up my room I narrowed it down to Aric Audio - two options at $950 and $2700, and Maple Tree Audio at ~$1,000 or a little more depending on your options. I decided on the lesser expensive Aric preamp but his point-to-point wiring design has allowed even a novice like me to take it to a completely different level by putting in much better capacitors and tubes. After a good burn-in period after the upgrades, I put it up against a friend’s ARC LS26 in my system and with the exception of a tad better bass, the modded Unlimited preamp sounded as good if not even with a little better air around the vocals and the instruments. YMMV depending on your system. Just something to consider if esthetics (and brand) are not a priority.
Edited to add that I bought mine used for much less and the total cost for upgrading the tubes and the capacitors - Audyn Coppers, all per direct recommendations from Aric, were less than $150.
I bought Cary Audio SLP 05 preamp with upgrade about 4 months ago, that cost me just below $9000. When I turned it on, I was terribly disappointed but Mr. Bill Wright assured me that it will change after 100 hours. He suggested I leave preamp only on with some music playing, through the weekend (about 80 hours) and there was dramatic improvement. Over next week with regular listening, sound got better and now, I think it is fantastic. It has dynamics, clarity and musicality that I had not expected. I am very happy about the purchase. Currently, I am using the tubes that came with it (Electrolux), plan to try other tubes in future. Cary audio has 30 day trial (please check about this on their website). It might be an option for you.
All i can say is the the PS Audio BHK preamp transformed my system. i had been running directly from the PS DSD DAC to the BHK amp, but the preamp really improved every aspect of the sound. very reliable and great functionality and PS has great customer service. I am not in the audio biz so this is not written with any ulterior motive.
I had YBA 1 delta, which had “tubey” sound but more uniform response through the frequencies. Cary is a magnitude better in all respects. I paid about $6000 for YBA about 12 years ago, so, not a cheap unit.
you will be amazed sound of Cary but make sure you put 100 hours on it before form an opinion. I am sure you will like Cary better than ARC, which I found in past not to my liking. Good listening!
+ 1 on Hiphile's recommendation. I was the third proud owner of the excellent preamp. His newest version is three generations improved from mine. Google Don Sachs preamp for many excellent reviews of the preamp. It is truly outstanding preamp for around $2K. I'd bet it would be very comparable to the Cary Audio SPL 05 for about 25% of the cost. Both preamps employ venerable 6SN7 tubes, which is where the magic lies.
I bought the Calypso about five years ago and have been very happy with it's performance. I'm currently having it upgraded to the "Signature" model. I like its versatility and the sound is fantastic. Like most tube preamps, it has a little tube rush, but am expecting that to be gone, upon its return. The only downside is the cheap looking remote. U would expect a company with a name of Aesthetix, to be more concerned about the aesthetics.
I second the Don Sachs DS-2 recommendation. Love mine, and you have a vast selection of options (XLR ins, remote volume control, and caps) to choose from. Start price is around $2k. I have owned many other tube preamps for 10x the price but this the last one I'll ever own. Throw in a good quad of CV-181s, or NOS Sylvanias, and you're good to go. These are hand-built to order and simply the best I've ever heard. They don't play well with sand amps, but then most tube preamps don't. Don's a pleasure to do business with.