By Lam Seng Fatt
From the outset, I must say that the Aesthetix Calypso linestage is a beautiful component.
Not only does it look good from the exterior, but its interior – which can viewed from grilled ventilation openings – is extremely simple, neat and tidy. Whoever designed it surely believes in the beauty of simplicity.
It is also cool as its volume control is the display panel itself. Press the left side of the display panel and the volume decreases and if you want it to be louder, press the right side of the panel. My 18-year-old son was looking around for the volume knob and I told him to press the display panel and after struggling to get it right, he mastered it quickly and said, “Hey, that’s cool!” Now, it takes a lot these days to get teenagers, whose smartphones are their constant companions, to state that something is “cool”.
The control buttons on the front panel are all triangular and after pressing the power on button, you have to wait for something like 40 seconds for the preamp to warm up and settle down. The controls on the front panel are main input, tape input select, volume (by pressing the display panel), balance, phase, mute, display and bypass. For protection, the ‘mute’ function has to be disengaged before you play music.
The Aesthetix Calypso linestage has four tubes – two 12AX7WB, two 6922/6dJ8 – which are factory fitted. I did not unscrew the chassis to find out what brand the tubes were as I felt the designer should know best and would have chosen the best tubes for the component.
According to the website, it has fully-balanced circuitry from input to output, including internal balancing of single-ended inputs. The volume control uses discrete switched resistors with 88 1dB steps. The amplifier circuit uses zero feedback.
It has five line RCA or XLR (balanced) inputs, plus one tape, RCA or XLR while there are several outputs consisting of two RCA (SE) and XLR (balanced), and 1 tape RCA. This ought to be more than sufficient for the average audiophile and the Aesthetix Calypso could easily be the control centre of a pretty high-end system.
As I said earlier, the linestage looks good and is well made with thick non-resonant chassis. But how does it sound?
Plugging it with a pair of WyWires Platinum interconnects to the resident Bryston 4B SST power amp and thence to the ATC SCM50 floorstanders, I started spinning CDs from my usual selection for reviews such as The Corrs, Cowboy Junkies, Cassandra Wilson, etc. I used a Roksan CD player as transport and the Chord Hugo as DAC.
The first sonic character I noted was that the Aesthetix Calypso linestage sounded colourless, but not in a bad way as it was doing what a preamp was supposed to be doing – that is adding nothing to the sound. It had no character of its own. If being colourless can be considered to be a facet of character, then its character is colourless.
It has such a neutral sound that in my view it may sound dull in some systems. It would require some colour from other components in the sound system like the power amp or CD player or interconnects to ‘flavour’ the sound to your liking. Expect no warmth or euphonious qualities from the Aesthetix Calypso.
Now, this lack of warmth is actually quite surprising given that it has tubes in the circuit. The Aesthetix definitely does not sound like a typical tube preamp.
The second thing I noted was that it had a large soundstage and the images were quite dense and well defined.
The third thing I noted was that the tonal balance was neutral too – it was not too bassy, the treble was surely not toned down but was extended and open and the mids were not too thick or congested.
The Aesthetix simply recreated what was recorded on the CD without adding any artifact or removing any artifact. It just did its job. If the recording is dynamic, you will hear dynamic sound. If the recording is dull and congested, you will hear dull and congested sound.
In human terms, the Aesthetix Calypso is a no-nonsense, straight-talking matter-of-fact kind of guy. Thus you will either hate or love the Aesthetix Calypso.
If a linestage with no character and offers sheer neutrality is what you need, then get the Aesthetix. If you want flair and flamboyance, look elsewhere.
What I heard was the standard version which uses high-grade Rel-Cap polypropylene coupling capacitors. There is a Signature version which uses higher quality components.
The Aesthetix Calypso is priced at RM22,000 (rrp). For more details, call Mr Aw at 019-2682559.