The all-tube moving-coil stage is a rare beast indeed. Whilst tube phono-stages are both common-place and popular, when it comes to low-output moving-coil cartridges, the vast majority switch to either transformers (Zanden) or J-FETs (Audio Research) to achieve the additional, noise-free gain required. The one exception is – and seemingly always has been – Aesthetix, whose original Io all-tube phono-stage established the blue-print that the company has followed ever since. The original Io was big (running in its ultimate form to three large chassis), complex and expensive. It has evolved through several iterations to its current flagship form, the Io Eclipse, still a substantial three-chassis unit housing a total of 36 tubes. But it has also been joined by the Rhea: sleeker, more affordable and being built into just one-box, far more svelte. With a ‘mere’ 10 tubes, it’s a lot more affordable and only gives away 5dB of overall gain compared to its big brother. That means that you get variable gain of up to 75dB, remotely switchable loading, multiple inputs, a choice of balanced or single-ended outputs and a built in cartridge de-mag circuit, all in a neat and really rather stylish casing. But such elegant versatility inevitably costs. Throw in the matching Calypso line-stage and you are looking at the wrong side of £9,000, with the Signature versions featuring upgraded internal components adding a further £4,500. Not cheap, although considerably more affordable than the Io Eclipse and its partnering line-stage, a combination that can easily push way up beyond the £30K mark, depending on configuration.
Such prices demand performance to match and in that regard the Aesthetix units don’t disappoint, individually or in tandem: while the Rhea and Calypso turn in excellent results used in isolation, there’s no escaping the fact that used together, the whole is significantly greater than the sum of the parts – the two dovetailing to impressive musical effect. Which rather invites the question, ‘what happens if you combine the two in a single box’? Given that the casework and power supply collectively swallow a large share of the parts budget, doubling up could deliver real gains in terms of value, especially if you can do so without compromising the performance.
Enter the Janus, to all intents and purposes, just what I’ve outlined above. Built into its single slim-line housing you get a full-facilities preamplifier, including phono stage with variable gain from 40 to 75dB, adjustable loading and the de-mag circuit. You get the same 88-step volume control as used in the Calypso, phase inversion switch, feed-back free circuitry and balanced and single-ended options on all inputs and outputs (except phono). In fact, the only thing you lose is the two extra phono inputs featured on the Rhea. That and save a whole hunk of money! The sheer range of facilities and inputs makes both the front and back panels of the Janus pretty crowded but that’s a small price to pay. Besides which, the signature triangular buttons and window rocker volume/setting control that Aesthetix employ keeps things neat, clean and surprisingly spacious when it comes to operating the unit, while all functions are available via the basic but comprehensive remote control handset.