Upgrades. Is there a more seductive term in the lexicon of audiophiles? The hands start to twitch, the heart palpitate at the mention of the word. Promises of fresh vistas, hidden treasures revealed, the old made anew.
Enter Jim White. White, a soft-spoken, genial fellow who cut his audio teeth working at Theta, has now spent over a decade refining his own Aesthetix brand of preamplifiers and phono stages at his factory in California. At the summit have stood the Io and Callisto. Now they have been forged into even mightier products, boasting new capacitors and an entirely new and far more rigid chassis to insulate the innards from the untoward effects of vibrations borne by air and by sea. They look a lot classier as well. White even allows customers to mix and match the colors of the front panels and various controls so that they can customize their unit(s).
White was kind enough to send me samples of the latest versions of his Eclipse phono stage and preamplifier for a test drive. Did I have any idea of what I was getting into? Intellectually, yes. Physically, no. I came home one afternoon to find a towering pile of boxes waiting for me on my front porch—no less, to be precise, than nine, including the remote control. Suffice it to say, White means business when it comes to the business of audio.
Both the preamplifier and phono stage each boast two separate power supplies. Much of the magic of stereo reproduction resides in power supplies, and White has obviously gone some ways to capture it. My TAS colleague and chum Jonathan Valin has already raved about the earlier versions of the Aesthetix products, lauding their extraordinary bloom and spatial reproduction. The latest units don’t lose those virtues; they simply build upon them to produce a soundstage that can only be termed billowing, in the best possible sense of the term. The sheer palpability of the Aesthetix gear is second to none. The units have remarkable drive as well, a tribute, I think, to their industrial-sized power supplies. White is also proud that he has considerably lowered the noise floor in both units.
The unique feature of the Eclipse phono stage is that it does not use a step-up transformer or transistors to supply gain for the moving coil input. Either can have a detrimental effect upon the tiny phono signal. White’s accomplishment is to rely solely upon tubes for the additional gain. To my ear, it lends a certain purity and ease to the sound, helping to account for the Eclipse’s amazing bloom. Nevertheless, the sheer amount of tubes in these units means that they will never achieve the tomb-like silence of a solid-state unit or one like the Allnic or Ypsilon phono stages that use only transformers.
Neither the preamp or phono stage is for the fainthearted. They put out a lot of heat and devour a good chunk of real estate. But if tubes are your bag and it’s time to upgrade, then the latest gear from Aesthetix should be high on your list of products to check out along with the efflorescence of spanking new preamps and phono stages from companies like Audio Research, VTL, and Lamm.