September 30, 2012

Aesthetix Atlas Power Amplifier

I like this Aesthetix Atlas Power Amplifier quite a lot.

During the week I had it in my system, I was enjoying music rather than getting fiddly and fidgety with hifi reproduction. Coupled to my TAD Compact Reference loudspeakers, the Aesthetix Atlas produced smooth, delicate and gorgeous sound to serve up the music. Listening through the Atlas was always satisfying and enjoyable, which can’t be said of every piece of hifi equipment that has passed through my listening room. I became disinclined to analyse what the Atlas did from a hifi perspective after a while, rather, every night when I switched the system on, I slipped into a relaxed mode to listen to the music. To LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, not the sound.

How did the Atlas do this? It was hard for me to put my finger on one particular area and say, ‘there, that’s the secret ingredient.’ My way of putting it would be to say that the Aesthetix did not do anything wrong and did a lot of things more than right. Trying as I might I could not find one area of the Atlas’ sound performance that I could be critical of. It was this rightness that contributed to my musical enjoyment. When the analytical and critical mind of an audiophile was put at ease only could we enjoy the musical beauty, I suppose.

Saying that the Atlas did nothing wrong seems like a backhanded way of praising, but I assure you it is not. The Aesthetix Atlas seems to bring out the best of its hybrid (it has a tube input stage and a solid state output stage) design while not inheriting the weaknesses of the 2 dissimilar technologies. The worst solid state could have roughened highs, hardened mids, or sounding anaemic, the Aesthetix Atlas did not even have a hint of those. The worst tube gear could have flabby lows and excessive warmth, the Aesthetix? None of those was in its vocabulary.

The best word to describe the sound the Aesthetix Atlas produced was ‘pristine’, in my opinion.  The sound was clean but it was not sterile, the highs were sparkly yet sweet, the bass production was strong and well controlled yet tuneful, the mid was neutral while veering a little towards richness. Every note was properly reproduced with nothing getting rough or poking out like a sore thumb. The pristine sound of the Atlas allowed excellent details to come through. I especially appreciated the way it portrayed musical details in the recordings, such as ambiance cues and minute changes in tone and shades, of which the TAD-CR1 loudspeakers could really take full advantage of. My normal music diet which consists almost entirely of acoustic stuff – jazz, classical and vocals benefited tremendously, the greater details and nuances meant there was more to listen to and that translated to greater enjoyment. The Aesthetix Atlas is a music maker extraordinaire.

The Atlas has 200w on tap. It was interesting to compare it to my Pass Labs XA60, which is a class A 60 watter. The higher power from the Aesthetix did not manifest itself as a bigger sound or bigger scale, in fact I felt that both the Aesthetix and the Pass Labs were equal in this regard. The XA60 though exhibited the typical class A voluptuousness in imaging while the Atlas’ was more focused and cleaner. One clear advantage that the Atlas had was in the bass region, again it was not bigger or deeper bass that the Atlas’ higher power produced, but it was in bass control that the Atlas won out. The Atlas’ bass exhibited better nuances and simply played better tune, which was easy to hear in the acoustic bass line on many jazz recordings. I could listen into the bass notes, hear what was going on and follow their progression. In handling dynamics, the contrast between the two was also interesting. If I liken it to a 100m dash, the Pass Labs was more explosive coming off the starting line, but at the halfway mark, I could sense that on occasions it would start struggling a bit, especially on a big crescendo. The Aesthetix Atlas on the other hand was holding steady all the way, unwavering and unfazed, until it reached the climax. The Aesthetix Atlas sounded more at ease, and that translated into a more relaxed listening experience rather than more of an ‘edge of the seat’ kind.

The silver fascia version of the Atlas that I took home for audition looked handsome. The only ergonomical grouse I had was that the chassis did not have grab handles built in. So, to move the Atlas’ 70lbs bulk was not easy, carrying it for any distance was a 2-person job.  The Aesthetix Atlas offers both single-ended and balanced connections. There is a pair of loudspeaker output, the binding posts are the Cardas design which I delighted in using where the speaker cable spades could be tightened down by hand with a few turns of the big knobs. One unusual feature on the Atlas is the high-pass crossover input, this input allows a rolloff point to be set between 40Hz and 200Hz, the rolloff slope is 6db/octave. Such a feature will be handy if you intend to mate a subwoofer to your main speakers.

The Aesthtix Atlas is well built, the quality commensurate with its not insubstantial RM28,000 list price, though for what it can do  I think it is good value in today’s hifi world. It tempted me to think about replacing my current amplifier with it.

If you were to give it an audition, I am pretty sure it would tempt you too.

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

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