June 4, 2012

Musical Calypso! Aesthetix Calypso Pre-Amp.

The Aesthetix Calypso looks very classy with it's black over silver anodised aluminium finish.

I first encountered this pre-amp, along with it's matching phono stage sibling, the Aesthetix Rhea, when a friend bought the pair from overseas, back in 2009. I could still remember how the tubed pair captured my musical imagination, I've always yearned for a local dealer to carry this brand in to the Malaysian high end audio retail sector. The good news is that my prayers were answered, when The Audio Store secured the rights to distribute Aesthetix locally. The bad news is that I had just up graded my pre-amp a few months ago!

Still, the good folks at The Audio Store tried to tempt my faith, with this review offer. Like the Rhea phono stage, the Aesthetix Calypso belongs to the entry level Saturn range of the company's products. The more up market and highly impressive Jupiter range is also on demo at The Audio Store. The build quality is sumptuous for an entry level high end audio offering, save for the plasticky dull grey looking remote. The thick all round aluminium panels, resulting in a sturdy chassis, along with pure dual mono, fully balanced circuit design is highly impressive. The top panel can be easily lifted for a little eye-fi and tube(a pair of 12AX7 and 6DJ8, a.k.a. 6922 resides inside) maintenance, should it be required.  Tube rollers will be in high heavens, due to the many choices of these two type of tubes available in the NOS or after market supply. However, Aesthetix does not seem to encourage tube rolling as they practically match each tube supplied to the particular unit, and replacement tubes are encouraged to be matched, and supplied by the manufacturer.
The insides of the Calypso reveals a lot of attention to impeccable audio engineering applied in the design process. The front portion of the box, where the power supply transformers reside are sealed to shield the audio signals from EMI/RFI leakages. The top panel is held on by Velcro strips, which makes it easy to access the tubes. This review was written based upon the Calypso connected with balanced inputs and outputs.

I inserted the Aesthetix Calypso in to my system, taking place of my just acquired, pre-owned Pass Labs X0.2 pre-amp. From the power up then standby, the unit takes about 45 seconds for the tubes to become stabilised, and be ready for playback. The blue LED display counts down the remaining time, and than clicks the the audio circuit turn on relay. I immediately re-called why the Calypso previously made such a musical impression on me. Before I continue, let's just say that I am probably tube biased when it comes to sound preference, so it shall be no coincidence that this is gonna be a superb product review, which any way one looks at it.
The only area of glaring cost cutting, a DVD standard like remote is provided, but thankfully, ergonomics are logical and intuitive in daily use.

This is fusion Japanese music, titled 567, by Miroku, is recorded by JVC's best production facilities which results in spectacular playback fidelity. In the right system, it's capable of projecting the illusion of 30 feet sound stage depth. One must experience it in one's audio lifetime to believe the hype!

The sound is beautifully balanced, that Aesthetix walks the fine line between refinement, clarity and dynamics, imbued in a warm and inviting tonal palette. There's no excessive tubeyness in the sound, just well balanced and highly enjoyable. There's an airy delicate refinement on the highs here, not quite attainable at this price point before, or from even costlier solid state pre-amps. The mid range is well rounded and robust, giving male vocals it's full chest of vocal breath. Playing familiar violin and viola tracks reveals the wonderful harmonic texture and timbre of the said instruments exquisitely. The bass is at once solid, articulate and tune full, so that the very foundation of music is well preserved to start with.

This tube pre-amp is also very capable of defining dynamic shading in a linear fashion. It doesn't get shouty when playing loudly, nor does it sound musically lost when playing at soft volumes. The Calypso holds musical rhythm, images and sound staging together, regardless of playback volume.

This is one of the quietest and noise free tube pre-amp I've heard. The jet blackness in the back ground really allow for 3D prop up images within a deep, layered and dark sound stage. Playing the JVC recorded CD, titled 567 produced by Japanese cultural artist Miroku, on a 16 bit FLAC file via my Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo really brought out the illusionary 30 feet sound stage depth effect on track 2 of the said CD. I must say that in my small room, it didn't quite made the illusionary 30 feet, but it was certainly the deepest I've managed to achieved by far!  Now, we are talking about the art of self deception at the highest possible level here.

There's only one area of sound performance that I could fault, is the matter of transparency. Compared to my Pass Labs X0.2, the Calypso did left me slightly wanting for more fine details buried deep within the sometimes complex musical structure, where the resident pre-amp just bares it all in the open. However, the Calypso is so musically engaging, regardless of what ever music genre is spinning, it's easy to overlook it's one and only small sin of omission. At the very least the Calypso never distort the truth or tell lies, it only with held certain minor information, which to most of us don't really matter, not unless, you're that nutty fella writing this review!
The back panel is busy with both balanced XLR and RCA single ended inputs and outputs.

Overall, for it's asking price of RM$17,800.00, I find this Aesthetix Calypso to be an over achiever of sorts. I can think of some of one looking to buy a used Audio Research Reference 3, only to find this Calypso pre-amp more musically appealing, unless one is fanatical about the transparency factor, that is.

Listening to music via the Aesthetix not only sounds tonally right and rhythmically tight, but rather it's the way it engages the listener, drawing one in to a staged event or recording venue and artistic emotional intents all rolled in to one, highly rewarding experience. I found it hard to return this unit to The Audio Store, but yet I am hoping to sample the Aesthetix Janus Signature in the near future, should that chance come around. I find the Janus one chassis solution to pre-amp and phono stage needs highly appealing in the up graded Signature form, of which the Calypso and Rhea is also available in. Here's looking towards a better tomorrow indeed!

Aesthetix is sold by The Audio Store, contact Mr Aw at 03-78872233.


Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...


It's a beautiful looking kit!

When I saw the price, I was a bit smiiten. In term of technological advancements, do you think there are anything unique about the Calypso?

Xav said...

Great review !!! Can you give details on that Japanese Fusion music CD from JVC ? Thanks :)

Big E said...


I am more than smitten with the Aesthetix Calypso. There's no particular new technological advancement in terms of tube circuit design. It's more of refining existing circuits and more attention to details, plus low tolerance, high quality matched parts that matter.

For the price, it's an absolute killer!


Glad you enjoyed the review. It's been a while since I've been this excited about a hifi product.

I've received many request to9 elaborate further on the Miroku CD, which I'll certainly write about especially soon.

Stay tuned.

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Big E,

Sorry I mistook you for OS earlier.

Thanks for the reassurance. I guess the little bit of "tube" inside everyone of us just don't die easy! Hahahaha.....

That glow of light, somewhere, somehow, just represent hope and a brighter future I guess....