Large-scale works are produced with substance and stability, a stability that extends beyond the clearly defined soundstage into the realm of rhythm and timing. Shawn Colvin’s Steady On (CBS 466142-1) features a trip-hammer drum-beat that both anchors and drives every track, but you’ll rarely have heard it projected as solidly or with such impetus as the Aesthetix achieve. The propulsive effect is remarkable, underpinning and pushing the vocal forward. And what a vocal; Colvin’s voice is deceptively sweet given the acid content of the lyrics, the Aesthetix combination revealing both the pain and the anger behind the words. This is a real voice from a real person singing about real events and the amps leave you in no doubt about that. I ran the amps with both my vdH Condor and the Goldfinger Statement, the Janus offering more than enough gain for either, with no noise problems. In fact, the 6dB stepped gain options allow you to balance musical energy against noise in a way that fixed gain stages can’t match. The result is LP reproduction with clarity and resolution, substance and power, a sense of flow and forward motion, natural colours and a complete absence of that synthetic edge or etching that marks out hi-fi from music. It’s a character that offers the perfect foundation for the substantial reinforcement provided by the Atlas, a character that carries over to the reproduction of silver disc. Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker is full of presence and body, subtlety and deft rhythmic touches, while the deep bass incursions that underpin a track like ‘AMY’ are still solid, still come as a surprise. It’s this ability to be solid and stable without becoming planted or static that brings the intimacy and directness to the music played on the Aesthetix pairing. Whilst you’d never mistake this for a small amp, it embodies so many small amp attributes (rhythmic flexibility, natural dynamic expression and warmth, immediacy and communication) that the presence of not just big amp virtues, but big amp virtues done really well can come as a shock. The unmistakable backing vocals from Emmylou Harris on ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ are almost ghostly real, while the building chorus and almost anthemic finale swell from nothing, leaving you wondering just where they came from. Turn to big-time classical and orchestral sweep can almost literally sweep you away.
Like every other piece of audio equipment, the Aesthetix Janus and Atlas will always be prey to context. Put them with the wrong partners and they’ll sound sluggish and heavy, dull and overbearing. But unlike most amplifiers, the thing to avoid here is speakers that don’t need (or want) what these amps have to offer. Easy to drive with a tailored bottom-end? Look elsewhere. Super sensitive and high impedance? Definitely look elsewhere. Just don’t be fooled by the numbers. On paper, the Focal Scala V2 – at 92dB sensitivity and a nominal 8 Ohm load – look like exactly the sort of speaker the Aesthetix should avoid, but dig a little deeper and you’ll notice that not only does the impedance curve exhibit a 3.1 Ohm minimum, but the -3dB point at 27Hz is generated from a single 270mm woofer in a true three-way configuration. That’s definitely the sort of speaker that will really benefit from the light-touch control and load tolerance available from the Aesthetix amps, while their sheer class will also make the most of the amps’ refinement. No surprise then that the combination is a spectacularly successful one, reflected by the fact that the Scala V2s, driven by the Atlas mono-blocs and Io/Calypso Eclipse offered one of the best sounds at RMAF 2013 – easily outpacing the vastly more expensive Stella/Soulution system that was also on show! Get it right and these amps will really reward you, their positive attitude bearing magical musical fruit.
Big, bold, solid and surprisingly agile, these amps are good enough and communicative enough to put you really close to the performers and their performance. With unforced power and a real sense of presence, they project music with an uncannily natural sense of pace, flow and colour. Having run the Atlas in a few systems now, it has become a real go-to amp. The Janus, despite the astonishing value, will clearly only appeal to those who use, or want to get back into using, vinyl. For everybody else, there’s always the Calypso – at £4,850. That makes the phono-stage in the Janus pretty much a £1,950 option and at that price it will come as little short of a revelation to many listeners – especially those used to the one size fits all approach adopted by so (too?) many manufacturers. It’s not until you use these Aesthetix electronics together that you realize their full potential – and believe me, that potential is considerable!
Tube Complement: 8x 12AX7, 4x 6922/6DJ8
Inputs: 5x line-level (balanced or single-ended)
1x phono mm/mc (40 – 75dB gain)
Cartridge Loading: 9 values from 75 Ohms to 47 kOhms
Line-level Gain: 23dB
Cartridge De-mag: Yes
Absolute Phase: Yes
Outputs: 2 pairs XLR, 2 pairs RCA
Output Impedance: 1 kOhm single-ended,
600 Ohms balanced
Dimensions (HxWxD): 120 x 455 x 458mm
Tube Complement: 2x 6SN7
Rated Output: 200 Watts/8 Ohms; 400 Watts/4 Ohms
Input Impedance: 470 kOhms
Input Sensitivity: 60mV (1 Watt), 2.3V (full power)
Dimensions (WxHxD): 458 x 203 x 483mm
Weight: 32kg (claimed – but my back says they’re lying!)
Manufactured by Aesthetix
Authorised UK stockists:
Cool Gales: +44(0)800 043 6710
Hi-Fi Sound: +44(0)845 601 9390