Aesthetix Audio Mimas integrated amplifier Page 2

Jim White seems of like mind when he states, in the manual, "Although proprietary RFI (radio-frequency interference) filtering is built into the Mimas, in some situations an AC power-line filter may provide additional sonic benefits." My Niagara 5000 seemed a good choice since, when AQ's designer Garth Powell was developing the Niagara, he tested it with an Aesthetix Atlas power amp, among other equipment. I listened to the Mimas plugged directly into the wall, and then with AC conditioned by the Niagara 5000. Through the AudioQuest I heard a smoother top and tighter bass.

One of the reasons I invite local audiophiles to join me for listening sessions is that they invariably break me out of my classical ghetto with some very different music. A few weeks after I began listening to the Mimas, Port Townsend's Peter Schwartzman came over and proposed that we stream "John Taylor's Month Away" from King Creosote and Jon Hopkins's Diamond Mine (16/44.1 FLAC, Deep Six/Tidal/Qobuz). This lovely track is ideal for evaluating gear. It begins with an emotionally evocative man's voice, progressively backed by guitar and what sounds like a harmonium, a very deep bass rumble, and layered women's voices—then segues into a long, ambient, room-filling, New Age–ish postlude in which sounds of water and birds are layered with synthesizer and female voice.

I first listened to this track with the Mimas plugged into the AudioQuest Niagara 5000. When we switched to wall power, the recording lost some of its arresting ambience, the bass was less clear, and the sense of total immersion at the end was so diminished that the track basically lost its magic. After repeating this comparison with several other tracks, and noting how the Niagara 5000 helped bring out natural color contrasts and details, I stuck with the Niagara 5000—save when, later, I schlepped the Mimas to the house of my friend Gary Forbes, a musician and physician, to hear how it would fare in a system closer to the Mimas's price range (see below).

719aeth.ins

Opening the ears
Using the Mimas as an integrated amplifier to revisit Paul Lewis playing the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, of Schubert's Piano Sonata in B, D.547 (24/96 WAV, Harmonia Mundi HMM 902324), I found the sound appealingly musical and involving with realistically round piano notes. As Schubert's music tugged at my heart, I noted the lovely liquid ringing of the piano's high notes and the beauty of the sound overall. But the music lacked transparency and the space between notes was less silent than I'm used to.

Next, I checked out the Mimas's ability to reproduce vibrant tonal colors by listening to two recordings of chamber music by the master colorist Debussy. The sound of his Cello Sonata, performed by cellist Edgar Moreau and pianist Bertrand Chamayou (24/96 WAV, Erato 565142) was not as deep and rich as I know it can be, with tonal colors that were muted. The period instruments of Jean-Guihen Queyras and Javier Perianes performing the same work (24/96 WAV, Harmonia Mundi HMM 902303) sounded extremely natural, with a lovely glow. But with both, I felt I was listening to a recording rather than the sound of real instruments vibrating in space. The difference lay in the slight gauze thrown over the soundstage. Even with the system fully settled in, I was never able to close my eyes and say, "Yes, I feel as though I'm listening to this music in the actual recording venue." It always felt one step removed.

Ten days later, when Peter visited, we began with my old standby: Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra's recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 (DSD128, Channel Classics CCSA 38817/NativeDSD). The beginning of the first movement has blaring horns, pounding percussion, tinkly triangles, and silken strings, all of which soon transition from militant cries of alarm to the sweet sounds of spring. We also listened to the first of Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra, "Praeludium," in Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony's highly detailed, low-range–rich, wallop-packing recording (24/192 WAV, SFS Media SFS0070). We then chose "Your Heart Is as Black as Night," from Melody Gardot's My One and Only Thrill (CD, Verve B0012563-02), and ended with "John Taylor's Month Away."

After that, I listened to the same tracks again to grok the sound of the Mimas functioning solely as a preamp, with the Progressions handling amplification, and then compared this with the sound of my reference system. With all four tracks, my impressions were consistent.

The first thing that stood out was the excellence of the Mimas's bass. I'd made a few changes in cables, equipment supports, and power conditioning since reviewing Verity Audio's Monsalvat Amp-60 stereo power amplifier ($58,000) for the May 2019 issue, but I'm 95% certain the Aesthetix Mimas did a better job of handling the Wilson Alexia 2s' impedance dip in the bass. Yes, the D'Agostino Progression monoblocks ($38,000/pair) produce even more bass, but for an integrated amplifier that costs less than a fifth the Progressions' price, the Mimas fared very well. The pounding bass drums in Mahler's Third shook my space and made a substantial mark in the Berg. There was nothing sluggish about the sound of this integrated amplifier.

719aeth.2

When I switched from the Aesthetix as a full-functioning integrated to only using its tubed preamp section, highs grew a bit too bright, colors gained in vividness, transparency, detail, and three-dimensionality improved markedly. The lovely warmth and glow often associated with tubes intensified. So did the emotional impact of the music.

The track that proved most revealing was "John Taylor's Month Away." When Peter and I first heard it through the Mimas, I hadn't realized that one of its layered sound effects is created by women singing in harmony. Nor was Peter clear about the source of sounds that we later suspected were made with a harmonium. We were both still taken with the music, but some of the clarity we'd come to expect from my system was absent. As soon as I switched to the Mimas's preamp section, with the Progressions doing the amplifying, solo voice sounded lovely, and the guitar ideally mellow. More color and three-dimensionality emerged, especially in this track's final minutes. Most important, feelings of sadness and empathy captured in the singer's voice received a major boost.

The brightness I'd heard through the Mimas's preamp section vanished when I removed the integrated entirely from the signal chain and fed the Rossini DAC directly into the D'Agostino Progressions. The extra warmth I'd heard in the sound of King Creosote's guitar was replaced by a natural resonance to its body. At one point in the song's first half, when the accompaniment is minimal, the pristine silence that emerged lent the performance a hallowed feel. For the first time, I realized that the low, steady pulse in part of this track is intended to resemble a heartbeat.

In Gary's room
I packed up the Mimas, took it along with me to the living room of my friend Gary Forbes, and plugged it into his system: Immedia RPM-1 turntable with SME 309 tonearm and Lyra Delos cartridge, EAR 834P phono stage, Avalon Acoustics Arcus loudspeakers, nondescript wiring—save for the single power cord and pair of interconnects, all Nordost Odin 2s, I'd brought over to provide some sonic consistency with my own system (and which Gary asks to borrow whenever I'm not using them). The Mimas replaced Gary's older VTL TP2.1 preamplifier and ST-150 power amp.

After the session, Gary sent me a note. I'll quote a few of his comments in much the same way that advertisers often use comments from reviewers: "I...have never heard it artic- ulated so forcefully and tunefully." "I was able to hear deeper into the recording, with lifelike image size." "I heard more body than head. RT's searingly beautiful solo...floated well beyond the speaker's confines." "Listening . . . through the Mimas was like enjoying a vanilla-bean affogato on a summer afternoon—sweet, refreshing, and ready for another."

All of which leads me to say...
When I used the Aesthetix Audio Mimas as a full-functioning integrated amplifier, the strengths of its tubed preamp stage and FET power stage seemed to balance each other out, delivering gratifyingly neutral and flowing full-range sound whose beauty extended through its excellent bass, convincing pace and drive, and delightful touch of radiance. When I used the Mimas solely as a preamp, its sound was brighter and warmer, with increases in transparency, color saturation, three-dimensionality, and the glow often associated with tubed products. In both cases, musical flow, hard-hitting bass, and tonal beauty together drew the Mimas's bottom line.

Reviewing a piece of audio equipment in the context of a much more expensive system runs the risk of emphasizing its shortcomings; well-chosen, more expensive components that are synergistically matched certainly should sound better. Nonetheless, I was delighted by how fine the Mimas sounded in my reference system, and how well it fared in another system with more comparably priced equipment. While I may have wished for more clarity and silence between notes—whether it was Miles Davis or Debussy or Whistler's Mother who said, "Music exists in the space between the notes," it's a truth that has always spoken to me—the Mimas came across as an anything-but-lightweight baby that sang out strongly and packed a mean punch while glowing like a champion. There is something quite special about its sound that deserves a strong recommendation, and that will surely win the hearts of many discriminating audiophiles.

COMPANY INFO
Aesthetix Audio Corporation
5220 Gabbert Road, Suite A
Moorpark, CA 93021
(805) 529-9901
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
MZKM's picture

Yet another integrated amp that has measurements on-par with the Outlaw RR2160 (well, no DAC or phono measured for the Mimas), yet has far less features (subwoofer output with selectable crossovers, main in for DSP, A/B speaker outputs, tone controls, etc. and yet costs magnitudes more.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I don't know how they compare sonically. From my perspective, assuming you can afford both products, sound quality rather than the number of features is the prime consideration. Otherwise, it could be a case of paying for 537 cable channels, only to discover that there's nothing worth viewing.

MZKM's picture

I just don’t see any high end engineering or purposeful colorations that warrant the price. It even has more odd order harmonics than even, which I don’t understand with hybrid design like this. Even if dead accurate isn’t your thing, but at least one can appreciate the feat of engineering that Benchmark’s products have. And it Outlaw can sell an integrated for <$1000 with all the features mentioned and have similar distortion, wattage, channel separation, etc. as this integrated which is around $10,000 fully loaded, I personally don’t see how the price is justified. May sound cynical, but I believe this is the best the company can make, and they simply can’t compete with the saturated lower end market, so they priced it high enough to where a few units sold keeps them solvent.

johnnythunder's picture

Aesthetix amplifier. I have and they sound beautiful - on the warm, tube-ish side of beautiful for sure. They also look beautiful, bespoke and massive. Impeccable build quality. Sorry that yhey don't make "home theatre" products. Not sure why you read a subjectivist audio magazine like Stereophile if you think measurements are the most important barometer of sound quality. You must have loved the late Julian Hirsch's audio criticism. And probably Consumer Reports. Instead of instant skepticism - probably based on monetary sour grapes - why don't you refrain from commenting until YOU have made a meaningful comparison of the two products.

MZKM's picture

I haven’t listened to this amplifier, but I have listened to many high end ones. You claim it has a warm sound (no doubt due to the hybrid design), but the measurements clearly show that to be false, it is dead neutral like most any other solid state amp, and I doubt you are hearing the high levels of odd-harmonics as warmth.

I visit Stereophile to find well engineered products, from speakers like the Vivid Audio Giya models to amps like the Benchmark AHB2.

If you can find an instance where during a DBS that measurements did not accurately predict listener preference, then I’ll stop instant skepticism.

What does home theater have to do with this? Wanting a 2-way crossover with dual subs as well as DSP, or at least tone controls, for the speakers is very beneficial for music.

johnnythunder's picture

Home theatre amplifiers are rarely audiophile products. That doesn't mean they may not sound decent but this magazine is 99% dedicated to 2 channel (or even one channel) systems DECICATED TO PLAYING MUSIC. And tone controls have not been part of audiophile equipment for eons. That doesn't mean that some audiophile integrated don't have them. Certain Japanese high end manufactures such as Luxman, Leben, Accuphase have tone controls that don't harm the integrity of the signal. " Well engineered" is a very slippery slope. You seem to be equating well engineered with a plethora of features. I prefer bespoke and hand made with attention to detail and with sound quality in mind rather than something with large heatsinks and 900 inputs. Less is more with audiophile equipment. An Apple Watch has more features than a Swiss Watch. They both tell time but one is a modern feature laden appliance and one is an heirloom product.

MZKM's picture

Well, not in this case, you get similar measured performance compared to an amp that’s 1/10 the price. Unless you believe there is a large factor in sound quality that isn’t captured in Atkinson’s measurements (remember that this isn’t magic, if there is a difference in the electricity it’s outputting, it has to be measurable).

Doesn’t matter if not traditional, there is hardly a case for being against DSP (unless the case is if done poorly). Most high-end HiFi manufacturers are behind the times, some may offer a Loudness control but many AVRs use the ELC to perfectly preserve tonal balance regardless of listening volume, because as a fact, no passive speaker on Earth sounds the same at low volumes and at reference volumes, our hearing doesn’t work like that.

johnnythunder's picture

You may want them to tell you the whole story but that's not possible. It's not that easy. Audio is part science and part magic and part subjective tastes. Give 2 audio designers the same components to work from and the component they assemble from those parts will sound different. It's like the cooking show CHOPPED - use the same ingredients and some people will produce amazing stuff and others not so much. Ask Nelson Pass if all things sound the same. It's a very very subtle art. Price will dictate many things besides sound quality so it's not just $$$$ that is the deciding factor.

Glotz's picture

Comparing products is only accomplished while listening.. not theoretical garbage. Measurements never tell one how a unit sounds... Never.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Music exists in the space between the notes" .......... Is it the 3rd harmonic space? :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... Luxman L-509X, the Marantz PM-KI Ruby and the Parasound Halo HINT 6.

In the meantime, Aesthetix Audio can redesign their product to incorporate adequately sized heatsinks.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

kindly arrange to have Jason sent a new car, a 48-hour day, and a new storage facility for all the products on Ortofan's list.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Has JVS seen the pictures/video of the new, first ever, mid-engine Corvette Stingray? ......... May be JVS could take it for a spin and write a review about the car and the 10 speaker Bose audio system, which comes with the car :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... trade in your pair of D'Agostino power amps on a new car - problems solved.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

As far as storage space is concerned ........ JVS could get some PODS ........ not the iPods ........ They are also, kinda portable :-) ..........

Anton's picture

48 hour days are not all they're cracked up to be, Jason!

;-D

johnnythunder's picture

it was perhaps the loveliest sounding amplifier I ever heard. How can you criticize a product without actually listening to it?
PS - I know tube amps theoretically do not need heatsinks. Was just making a point.

Allen Fant's picture

Great review- JVS
The Integrated Amp has certainly come a long way over the decades, so much so, I am seriously considering my next purchase. This newest offering from Jim White peaks my curiosity.

briandx11's picture

Great review; thoughtful and complete. What I am not 100% clear about is, at its base price point of $7000 can you recommend this item, and is it Class A material?

I am especially interested as I have a Mimas on order from Aesthetix that will arrive hopefully by the end of next month. What is clear to me from the review is that the Mimas should have no worries adequately driving my Wilson Yvette's.

P.S. As my piano teacher points out routinely to me, the space between the notes is the performance, not the composition.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you for the strokes. Hopefully they are deserved, because the recommendation I state in the conclusion may not seem conclusive enough for you. It is, however, my honest opinion, complete with the stated caveat.

Heard in the context of my considerably more expensive system, I consider the Mimas, in its initial base iteration (without phono preamp, DAC, headphone upgrade...), deserving of a solid Class B rating . It is possible that, with all its options, the rating could conceivably rise to B+.

A question to your piano teacher. Is the space between the notes solely in the performance, or is it perhaps inherent to / lying dormant in the composition, waiting for the right artist to bring it to life?

jason

briandx11's picture

Thanks Jason for your additional comments. Your review is one of the reasons I subscribe to Stereophile.

As far as my piano teacher is concerned, her assertion is that the notes on the page is simply structure, a kind of baseline. It is true that many composers add suggestions and other marking to further clarify their original intent, however until the performer(s) actually plays the piece, no music exists.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Both the Wilson Alexia2 and the Wilson Yvette present difficult low impedance loads and phase angles ....... See Stereophile measurements ........ Mimas may not be supplying enough current to handle those difficult loads :-) .........

briandx11's picture

Before making the decision to purchase the Mimas I read a review from Great Britain where the reviewer actually owns Wilson Yvettes. It is clear from this review that the Mimas should have no problems properly driving my speakers.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yes ..... I have also read that Hi-Fi News review ....... Wilson Yvettes are relatively easier to drive than Alexia2 ...... Hope you enjoy listening to the Mimas driving the Yvettes :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You may want to consider Mark Levinson No.5805 integrated amp, which is approx. in the same price range as Mimas ...... See Stereophile review of ML-5805 :-) ..........

Robin Landseadel's picture

"Is the space between the notes solely in the performance, or is it perhaps inherent to / lying dormant in the composition, waiting for the right artist to bring it to life?"

Good question. Sviatoslav Richter's performance of the opening movement of Schubert's B flat sonata is more space than notes. Probably the most dramatic performance of the work we will hear.

mmole's picture

...Cage's "4'33" so compelling: All space with no notes at all.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I'm waiting for JVS' reviews of D'Agostino Progression integrated and darTZeel LHC-208 integrated amps :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Space .... The final frontier? :-) ..........

mcrushing's picture

So glad I kept reading this discussion. Perhaps for the first time ever, the tired old argument about how amps should sound the same if they measure the same actually gave way to an interesting discussion about music.

briandx11, I LOVE your piano teacher's idea that "the space between the notes is the performance." But JVS's insight about notes and spaces lying dormant in a composition until an artist brings it to life reminded me of a video I saw recently which compared Dusty Springfield's version of "Son of a Preacher Man" to Aretha Franklin's. A great example of two artists bringing totally different experiences and points of view to the exact same piece of music. (It's worth noting also that both recordings were produced by Jerry Wexler.) Here's a link for anyone interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE94D5_d0z4

It's part of the Vox "Earworm" series, which tackles some pretty advanced musical theory in an accessible way that I'd think many Stereophile readers would enjoy.

JohnPM's picture

The dBW power figures seem to be reduced depending on the load relative to 8 ohms, for example:

Quote:

Aesthetix specifies the maximum power into 4 ohms as "nearly double" that into 8 ohms; I measured 275Wpc into 4 ohms (21.4dBW, fig.6)

275 W is 24.4 dBW, why the 3 dB reduction? Watts are watts, surely.

John Atkinson's picture
JohnPM wrote:
275 W is 24.4 dBW, why the 3 dB reduction? Watts are watts, surely.

Stereophile's convention follows that established by Martin Colloms and others in the 1980s, in that all our dBW figures are referenced to 2.83V into 8 ohms, ie 1 8 ohm W. That way, an amplifier's departure from being a perfect voltage source is evident.

If the Mimas were a perfect voltage source, it would deliver 22.55dBW into 8 and 4 ohms. As it actually clips at 180W and 275W, the latter a shortfall of 1.15dB, it is clear that this amplifier is not a voltage source.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

JohnPM's picture

Thanks for the clarification. Perhaps the unit should be dBW8R or similar. Or perhaps the rms voltage delivered into the different loads should be stated, as V or dBV.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

For some of the integrated amps such as the Mark Levinson No.5805, the 2 Ohm power output is measured ..... However, for some of the integrated amps such as this Aesthetix Mimas the 2 Ohm power output is not measured :-) .........

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
For some of the integrated amps such as the Mark Levinson No.5805, the 2 ohm power output is measured ..... However, for some of the integrated amps such as this Aesthetix Mimas the 2 ohm power output is not measured :-)

When a manufacturer specifies maximum power into 2 ohms, I do measure the clipping power into that load. However, if they don't I tend not to. This is because the manufacturer is basically saying that the amplifier does not have the necessary power supply capability to deliver continuous clipping power into 2 ohms - something that would add considerably to the price.

In the past when I have still tested the power into 2 ohms, the amplifiers have tended to break on this test. Even with 2 ohm-specified amplifiers, I leave this test to the very end.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

X