What preamps outshine the Aesthetix Calypso?

I am interested in upgrading my preamp from the Calypso. It is a fine preamp, but I am looking for a preamp that is more dynamic and "involving". Ancillary equipment is the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC/Transport, a VAC Phi 200 power amp, and Sehring 703 floorstanders. The VAC preamps seem a bit too expensive for my tastes. The TRL Dude is intriguing but is simply too heavy for my audio rack. So, I am considering linestages from EAR, Shindo, BAT, and possibly Audio Horizons

I know the Calypso is a fine preamp. Can anyone advise me on what preamps really outshine the Calypso? My budget is $5K or so.
I had the Calypso and BAT VK-31se at the same time and kept the BAT. Bigger sound, better with vocals, better bass and much quieter. I would think the VK-51se at well under your budget used, or a used VK-52se right around your budget would be a big step up.
I've owned seven pieces of BAT gear through the years and all have been reliable, plus you can get Victor on the phone whenever you have a question.
That said, If i didnt own BAT gear I would probably own VAC.
Be worth exploring the upgrade to Calypso Signature if you like what the current one does but want some more. Been hearing great things about it.
I wouldn't change components until I looked at proper setup first

are you using stock power cords? If so they rob a system of dynamics, bass and sound stage.

are you using vibration/isolation products again the right devices add a lot to the dynamic mix.

are you using good power conditioning?

are you using effective room treatments?

if they answers to the above are mostly no then you should take your $5k and look at getting the performance out of what you have first and then and only then would I look at hardware changes.
$5K will buy you a used 2 chassis Modwright 36.5 LS/PS. I am using this preamp with my perfectwave dac and am very happy with it. Without the benefit of in home audition there is no way of knowing how you will like anything in your system compared to what you currently own. Case in point, I bought a Pass XP-10 based on recommendations in a thread similar to yours and did not like it (resold without a loss).

My strategy for components like this is to draw up a shortlist based on reviews, recommendations or may be something you heard in another system (this shortlist should include the Modwright IMO), then wait for a piece on the list to show up cheap used. Then you audition in house, and resell if you don't like. Works very well with speakers, amps and cables - not so much with digital stuff (too much innovation).
Mcondon, have you done the requisite tube rolling in the Calypso to optimize its performance?

If you have not done this yet, then I strongly suggest you do so before selling it.

I have owned and sold the Calypso twice and I love it and miss it.

If you've already done the tube rolling, then proceed with caution and buy the new preamp before getting rid of the Calypso - just my recommendation.

There are many great preamps, but in the end it comes down to personal preferences and system matching. In my opinion, the preamp is an extremely important part for maximum system performance.
I agree with Ckoffend.

I had the stock Calypso and loved it, but sold my seperates to try an integrated. The integrated route left me wanting.... so now I'm back to a tube amp with a Calypso Signature.

If you do try another preamp, keep your Calypso until you are certain that your new preamp meets your expectations.
Yes, I have done a fair amount of tube rolling with the Calypso, buying a variety of NOS tubes for that purpose from Vintage Tube Services.

Audiofreakgeek, yes I have experimented with and am using good power cords, isolation, power conditioning, etc.

Pdreher, I won't sell the Calypso until I am sure I have found a successor that I really prefer.

I may give BAT or Modwright a try, although have to admit some nervousness about 6H30-based preamps, as that is not my favorite tube.

Are there any fans of EAR preamps out there? One dealer who carries both VAC and EAR claims the EAR 868 linestage sounds pretty close to VAC preamps. Of course, he also knows I don't want to pony up the $15K for a new VAC Signature preamp.
What about a Audio Research Ref 3 or better;I always read about these as being some of the best of the best and resale if you don't like it should not be a problem.
Mcondon, sounds like you have taken the right actions to move forward with a well thought out plan. I am with you on the 6H30 tubes, as I have not been impressed with my limited experience with them.

The Ref 3 is a very good preamp as mentioned, it should also be noted there is a Ref. 5 at a good price right now on eBay!!! Or at least it looks like a good price to me???

I too have heard good things about the EAR preamps, though I am not sure if they are always available in balanced mode (which is important to me at least).

Personally, I am always hesitant with BAT, not because I don't like their products (I have owned 2 amps and one preamp of theirs), it just seems like they don't hold very good resale value??? I looked at the 51SE which one seller offered to me at well under $3K. I went with a Sonic Frontiers Line 3 instead.

I'd be tempted to look at the EAR preamps and it sounds like your dealer has them to allow you to audition, that's a huge plus.
.....ditto the Audio Research Ref 3.
That's a tough call... The ARC might be worth a try. You might try to stretch a bit and find a Callisto used....
Lamm LL2
I havevthe calypso and have owned the 868. Comes down to what you like. I prefered the calypso. Maybe you should take a hard look at the Romulus. It's the dac/cd player. Aesthetix is releasing it with an option pre amp volume control. Same setup as the calypso. The local dealer says it's an amazing piece. The first batch is already sold out. The next run will be available aftervthe first if the year. It will run 7 to 8k but it's a dac and has a high quality transport as well.
By the way, I'll be spending some time with it at rmaf this week.
Batthatman, I had not heard about this, how very interesting.

I would imagine that thisyis going to be a very large and sizeable piece of equipment. The Calypso is well filled out, quite heavy and a solid piece of gear. I can't imagine trying to cram a CD transport mechanism and the digital components into a box the same size as the Calypso.

Do you know who's transport they are using? Same with the digital conversion technology and implementation?

I felt the Calypso had a great power supply, and knowing Jim, I have to imagine that this product will have separate power supplies for the digital side and the analog side. I wonder what, if any corners will be cut with regards to this and getting everything into a single box?
Ckoffend, a single box DAC/CD player will not have a full blown tube preamp build in. It will be a DAC with (tube based) output stage and simple volume control, usually digital. In the case of the romulus the volume control is "Relay-based switched resistor analog/digital design.". This typically is one (small) board, and will easily fit into the single box.

If you are even considering going the volume controlled DAC route, I suggest you look into the Zodiac Gold + Voltikus. This is a DAC/Preamp (only one analog input) with analog volume control that has been getting some very good press.

I will be getting one myself to do a shootout against my perfectwave DAC + Modwright Preamp. I got intruiged by the DAC + Volume control scenario after (reluctantly) comparing the Perfectwave DAC (digital) volume Control directly into my poweramps, with running it through the Modwrigth. Much to my surprise, the difference were very small, and this got me thinking if I get a better DAC with better (analog) volume I should be able to get better sound than what I currently have, and resale of the modwrigt would pay for the project. A huge plus is the fact that the Zodiac has one analog intput, because this is all I need for my HT bypass.

There are some dealers that will get you a 30 day trial so trying this is a risk free proposition.
Edorr ...not to highjack this thread..but how do you get HT bypass using analog input?

Makes this option interesting to me
That's easy. For this your DAC / Preamp needs to have a digital volume level display, and a step attenuator (the Zodiac Gold does). You can simply ask the maufacurer what volume level corresponds to "unity gain" (i.e. 0db attenuation).

You connect the HT mains to the analog input, set the DAC/Pre to this unity gain level and you're in business. In fact most HT bypasses in preamps work like this - they don't bypass the active circuit, but fix the level at unity gain.

If the maufacturer does not know you can find the unity gain level yourself using an SPL meter, but you don't even really have to. The manual will tell you the gain of the preamp and the Db increments. So if your preamp has 10db gain and 0.5 steps increments and has a scale of 0-140, you just set the level to 120.

Better still, you don't even have to be at precise unity gain, because after deciding what level to fix the DAC/preamp on, you next trim your channels on the MCH sourse (typically a SSP) using the SLP meter. This which would synch up all the chanels even if your DAC/Preamp is not at exact unity gain.
Edorr, I have tried the PW DAC straight into my VAC Phi 200. I even bought a Lightspeed Attenuator to try, given the supposed shortcomings of a digital volume control. After a few weeks, I just did not like the sound, as the soundstage seemed to collapse and the bass was MIA. I put the Calypso back in the chain and much preferred it to the amp-direct and passive preamp setup. Makes me think the Modwright might not float my boat.

The BAT preamps sound increasingly appealing. Most reviewers/owners impressions mention how they throw a really wide soundstage and provide really deep bass. If they are slightly dark, that is OK with me, as a lot of CDs sound a bit "peeky" in my current setup.
My short list of used preamps for $5K includes first and foremost Ayre K-1xe then VAC Renaissance followed by VTL 6.5

As you can imagine, all of the above rarely show up on the used market, although lately I've seen a few K-1xe's, (mostly due to the fact that the model is discontinued.)
I went from the Calypso to the Modwright 36.5 and think it is Dan's best work. I auditioned the Ref 3, CJ ACT and the VK51se before choosing the Modwright. I have the single box version and am quite happy. The bass response on the 36.5 I found better than the other units. I think Edorr's recommendation is a good one.
I upgraded to the Calypso Signature and could not be happier. More musical and dynamic with less noise, but also more $$$$. Not as sensitive to tube selection...I can hardly find a tube that sounds bad in it unless the tube has a defect. If you spend the time matching the right tubes and have a good system(room too)the standard Calypso can be all you need.
It seems a bit odd that this thread never brought up the obvious step up from the Calypso: the Callisto Signature. If you think you're impressed with the Calypso's power supply, have a look at the Callisto's. A dozen updated parts to make a Calypso into a Signature still does not put it in the same league as the Callisto. The Callisto's 3D performance has much to do with its tube power supply.

Spending a fortune on tubes for the Calypso is just not going to do it. My friend maxed out his Calypso with Mullard 10M 12ax7 and we tried virtually every 6922 variation out there. A Callisto loaded with Sovtek tubes easily destroys the Calypso in any implementation. It's so much about the tube power supply.

Before I got the Callisto Signature, I had the BAT 31SE. I directly compared this to a friend's Calypso and the new Callisto Signature. I would take the BAT over the Calypso as the BAT's 3D performance easily beat the Calypso. But the BAT was lacking detail, extension and clarity compared to the Calypso. The Callisto Signature combined the strengths of the other two, and rightfully so.

The Callisto Sig is on occasion at the $5k price. But it's hard to find. My next choice would be to hunt down a BAT 51SE
I just got a TRL Dude and am compltely blown away by it. Better then any pre I've had.
VAC preamp's are top shelf, though you will likely have to go used to stay in your budget. But their gear is solid and VAC provides good service to second owners, so I wouldn't hesitate. I picked up my VAC gear here on Audiogon and it has been rock solid.
Given the ongoing Lightspeed passive thread with all it`s raves and praise I`m rather surprised this did`nt work out for you.
A CAT SL1 Ultimate should prove to be more dynamic - perhaps their greatest attribute [?], besides being very neutral for a tube preamp. There are others I like too, but for dynamics, the CAT would be the one I would audition (a fine phono stage too on those that come with it).
The Lightspeed did not work for me...I was picking up a lot of intermittent noise, seemed to be RF noise, related to using single-ended components and interconnects in a Manhattan high rise apartment. I also found that the Perfect Wave DAC sounded a little too strident through the Lightspeed. This has to reflect the shortcomings of the PW DAC, which seems to need a tube preamp to sound its best.

In some ways, I am trying to recreate the really wide soundstage and low-end weight that I had with my original low end set-up, which consisted of a Northstar DAC, a Manley Shrimp preamp, and a B&K 4420 power amp. Although it could be fatiguing, I loved the REALLY wide soundstage and low end weight. Great for listening to rock. Sort of trippy sounding in a good way. The current setup sounds achingly beautiful at times with well-recorded music, but at other times is a little too dull. Maybe I am being nostalgic about a wide soundstage, but am forgetting that shortcomings of such a sound signature, which is listener fatigue after long listening sessions.
Coincident Statement Line Stage
HI Jafox
i read your pass thread, can i ask how old is your Callisto unit.
i bought used Calypso and brand new Io sgn. MK2.
i came across used Callisto sgn. made 2003 year, no remote, with one PS. is there a different for New Callisto sgn. like upgrade Mk2. is there Mk2 for Callisto sgn.?

Hello Chris,
I passed the Callisto Sig onto a friend in late 2007. A few months later I took delivery of the Aria WV5 XL and never looked back. 8-)