Review: Aesthetix Callisto Signature Tube preamp
Aesthetix Callisto Signature line stage,
This is something less than an actual review, but I felt strongly it needed to be said. Jafox was kind enough to bring his Callisto Signature with the one power supply option over to compare it to my Aesthetix Calypso line stage. (Please see my full review of the Calypso to put this review in context) http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?rprea&1113012524&openusid&zzJadem6&4&&
The Callisto and its separate complementary phono stage the Io, come in a number of configurations. This review is only relating to the Callisto Signature. The following are excerpts copied direct from the Aesthetix web site:
The Callisto Line Stage and Io Phono Stage can be used together as a complete pre-amplifier system or separately in line-level only systems, add-on phono, or Io with volume controls as a dedicated phono preamplifier. The Aesthetix Power Supply is the size of a power amplifier. Identical for all Aesthetix audio chassis, each Callisto or Io requires a dedicated Power Supply. Separate umbilical cables feed each channel of the dual mono audio chassis… Each separate amplification or buffer stage has its own power supply filtering network and regulated heater supply to isolate individual sections and prevent interaction.
The Callisto Line Stage optimizes both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and outputs. The Callisto audio chassis contains one main amplification section and an output buffer section. The first section is a medium gain, low noise, zero feedback (or 6 dB feedback from single ended sources) differential amplifier composed of a 6922 tube and a 12AX7 tube. Lastly, the signal is buffered and sent to the output jacks in balanced form.
The Mark II feature custom Roederstein resistors, replacing the standard metal film resistors in the earlier version. Custom made coupling caps feature twice the output capacitance to provide deeper bass and the ability to successfully drive lower impedances.
The Signature versions use custom-made inter-stage Teflon coupling capacitors, replacing the polypropylene units, with a cost factor of over 15 times greater per unit…. All of the input and output wiring is replaced with specialized Cardas Teflon coated signal wire… The Signature units obviously take advantage of all of the Mark II advancements. Both original versions and Mark II units can be upgraded to Signature status.
Each Aesthetix unit is hand built. All units undergo a rigorous test procedure, which includes auditioning in a high quality audio system.
Aesthetix Io Mark II $6,500
Aesthetix Io Mark II with Volume Controls and 2nd input $9,000
Aesthetix Callisto Mark II $9,000
Second Power Supply Mark II $3000
Aesthetix Io Signature $9,000
Aesthetix Io Signature with Volume Controls and 2nd input $11,500
Aesthetix Callisto Signature $11,000
Aesthetix Signature upgrade $3,000
Jafox is a tube and analog guy so I had some concerns as to how he would receive my Sony SCD-1 digital front end, Aesthetix Calypso line stage (the single box little brother to the Callisto), two Plinius SA-102 solid sate amps and Dunlavy IVa speakers. We started the audition with the Calypso in the system. I played a number of midrange heavy, acoustical pieces from Sara K. to help him get used to my system. We then moved on to a few Patricia Barber pieces followed by Lucinda Williams. We then went to two pieces we had heard on his analog system a few days earlier, Norah Jones and Pink Floyd. Over the hour or so Jafox was able to begin critiquing my system with excellent observations. He felt the piano reproduction was tonally better than any digital system he had heard, but he was bothered by the lack of acoustic decay. He was missing the body, and wholeness of his tube system. We both agreed our two systems were remarkably similar tonally, but his was fuller, warmer and more liquid. Mine was drier, more analytical. Imaging and definition as expected was better in my system. Pace, rhythm and tempo were remarkably similar.
I believe Jafox had a good understanding of my system at the end of our one hour session. He was very much missing the body and added weight of his system. He expressed he missed the warmth and fluidity of his analog/ tube system. This was pretty much what I expected, but I was impressed by how astute Jafox was, and how well he was able to describe what he heard and what he felt my system lacked.
Then it was time to switch line stages. First observation with no signal but volume turned up about 1/3. (approximately listening level) The system was DEAD QUITE! I needed to put my ear within 5” of the speaker to hear any noise. This is roughly the same as my system has always been. We first played Pink Floyd, the very first note and I heard “Oh WOW” from Jafox. A smile came to his face as he settled back into the listening chair. Body, depth, weight, fullness and on I go with adjectives that can explain how much this line stage added to the recording. All the detail remained as strong as it always has been; it simply was fuller and more dimensional. We then played Patricia Barber. Piano was as right tonally as ever, but now the strings held there notes longer. The decay was complete and full, exceptionally believable. Patricia’s vocals were warmer and fuller. I commented to Jafox that her voice was richer than live. Yes, I believe the Callisto has added a richness that is not quite natural, but if this is how unnatural sounds, I’ll take it. Then I noticed during an acoustic guitar passage that I heard the players hand kind of stick and squeak on the neck of the guitar as he changed cords. I’ve listened to this disk a hundred times; I never heard this as something human and real. It’s always been just a sound suspended in space. Detail is enhanced with a richness and humanness that was lacking before. Every part of the sound stage was now anchored to a physical object. I didn’t realize this had been a problem in my system, but in retrospect some sounds were simply hanging in air without context. The Callisto has created this context.
Everything was fuller, more life like with a pureness that I loved and best of all I lost nothing. The background is still pitch black, the detail is just as involved and the pace was perfect. Tonality is beyond reproach, decay is exact and extremely entertaining. Jafox, who has created an amazing synergy of analog and tube gear was heard saying “I could live with this” as he again settled back with a look of contentment. Yes the purest solid state/ digital guys would complain that this was not as clear and etched as they demand. True enough, but it will only be a select few that would have this reaction. If you love your Wadia digital feeding Krell amplification while driving electrostatic speakers, this will not be your heaven. But if you’re anyone else this is simply amazing!
So here were two audio geeks from complete opposite sides of the hobby coming together one night to find complete agreement, the Aesthetix Callisto is perfection. In order to tie this review back to the Calypso it should be pointed out that Aesthetix has done an excellent job pulling the qualities of the Callisto into the much more affordable Calypso. Most of us will never dedicate this much money into a line stage, but if you want perfection it’s in the Callisto. If you want a very special line stage that is quite musical it’s in the Calypso as well as the Callisto. Is the Callisto worth almost three time the cost of the Calypso, it depend on your wallet and your goals in a system. If you’re looking to go as far as you can go, the Callisto probably is three times better. It was that amazing in my system, far greater than I thought was possible.
What will I do? It’s mighty tough to justify an $11,000 line stage when I haven’t been healthy enough to work for two years, but in another time, another world I would upgrade in a second. Given that I probably will never be fortunate enough to own this line stage, I just hope I can be happy with my system after hearing the Callisto. Today however, my system sounds like crap and I can only hope the memory of the Callisto fades fast…
Anyone want to by a Calypso for $11,000? Think of as charity.
P.S. Thanks Jafox
Sony SCD-1 digital front end
Two Pinius SA-102 amps, bi-amped vert.
Dunlavey IVa speakers
Nordost Valhalla cables