Aesthetix Audio Mimas integrated amplifier

I love listening to new audio products and discovering how they make me feel. I do my best to open my mind, ears, and pores, to trust the process and see where it leads me. Ultimately, for all the words and analogies I or any reviewer may conjure up, what we do isn't very different from a dog sniffing out a new patch of grass or an insect sending out its antennae to determine what's what.

In all cases, the spirit and care with which we approach new territory helps inform our conclusions.

So it was with eager anticipation that I approached the Mimas integrated amplifier, the latest product from Aesthetix Audio, a seven-person company based in southern California and founded in 1994 by designer Jim White.

White claims that the hybrid Mimas's solid-state power and tubed preamp sections combine the functionality of his Atlas power amplifier ($8000) and Calypso line stage ($5000) in a single, 44-lb package costing $7000 in its basic configuration. The name of this and other Aesthetix models sprang from a Monopoly-like game called Solar Quest that White's family used to play. The game involves flying around our solar system on each planet's moons. White had memorized the names of those moons—Atlas, Calypso, and Mimas all orbit Saturn—and thought they'd make great product names. He spoke to me about the Mimas by phone.

"Our goal with the Mimas was to not sacrifice our core values whatsoever as we brought the technologies that are in our more expensive separates into an integrated," White told me. "The power section is a zero-feedback, DC-coupled, balanced, bridged design. We retained the volume control from the Calypso line stage and the whole gain-stage structure. The output stage is very similar to what's in the Atlas. The essence of what is in the other products is in the Mimas. It's not like we made the parts cheaper. The circuitry and parts are identical. All of the cost savings is that it's in one chassis."

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Asked what he considers most special about the Mimas, White pointed first to its fully balanced volume control, which comprises 60 individually switched resistors that permit volume adjustment in increments of 1dB. "When you see 0.5dB or even finer resolutions, that usually means it's an [integrated circuit]," White replied. "I'm not saying that all ICs necessarily sound bad, but in comparison to individual resistors, they do. As for traditional potentiometers, they have a particular sound characteristic depending upon the kind of material used, and they don't track well. When you go down to the lower ranges, where most people listen to music, they track very poorly. What I mean by tracking is the channel-to-channel balance. A balanced potentiometer greatly affects the operation of the balanced circuitry. So, for me, the priority in preamps is volume control, volume control, volume control. And preamps are a little bit what I'm known for, because those were our first products." This left me eager to discover whether 1dB volume increments would be too large. Would some recordings always seem either too loud or too soft?

White stressed that the Mimas has a fully differential, tubed gain stage. The output stage has no global feedback or servo for correcting DC offset. He also emphasized parts quality: Roederstein plate-load resistors, Reliable Capacitors as coupling caps. "A power amplifier can be capacitor-coupled, which relieves the burden of DC offset to a certain degree, but most solid-state power amps have to either have some way to correct for DC offset or track so well so that they don't have offset at the output. For Aesthetix, that means we have to take great care in matching individual sets of FETs . . . . The easy solution for this product would be to put in a DC servo, [but] even though it would be a lot easier to build, we're doing without it because its effects would be audible."

The Mimas's power transformers are wound in-house; White says the power supply provides "a ton" of capacitance, allowing the amplifier to "effortlessly drive a wide range of speakers." Would it be able to adequately drive my Wilson Audio Alexia 2s—hardly the easiest load on planet Earth?

There are, of course, trade-offs in squeezing a preamp and a power amp into a single box. Separates isolate functions in individual, (hopefully) well-shielded enclosures, with separate power supplies. The physical distance between a separate power amp and preamp, or between the cases of a two-box preamp, minimizes the interactions of power transformers with low-level signals. The noise resulting from those inter-actions can obscure details, diminish vivid colors, and raise the low noise floors that many audiophiles crave. In the case of the Mimas, Aesthetix has attempted to minimize interactions by using a stainless-steel transformer cover and as much component shielding as they could fit into the box.

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There's a lot in that box, even without some significant options that were not yet available for my listening sessions. The first two will likely be available by the time you read this: a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono-stage card ($1250) whose fully discrete, FET-based, high-gain differential circuit uses Wima film capacitors and offers adjustable gain and loading; and a DAC card ($1250) that will permit playback of PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64 via S/PDIF or USB, and 24/352.8, 24/384, and DSD128 via USB. The DAC will include fully balanced differential analog circuitry incorporating Wima film caps and asynchronous USB technology from Wavelength. Due in September: an upgrade of the Mimas's headphone amplifier from the standard 1/3W, IC-based device to a fully discrete, class-AB, 1W amp, with an upgrade to Mogami wire ($500); and an adjustable, high-pass crossover with frequency settings of 60, 80, 100, and 120Hz, to facilitate pairing the Mimas with a subwoofer ($300). Expected by year's end is an Ethernet card with its own control app, which will transform the Mimas into a Roon endpoint (ca $1250).

The only option my review sample came with was Aesthetix's stylish aluminum remote-control handset ($400); it was sent because production of the standard plastic remote was delayed. The upgraded remote, designed and manufactured by Aesthetix, is smaller and heavier than many, with backlighting triggered by movement, but only in low light. This remote comes with its own hefty manual that explains how to cycle through the Mimas's menu system via the remote to adjust its many settings.

On with the show
Setup was simple. To accommodate the lengths of my Nordost Odin 2 interconnects and cables and my limited shelf space, I put the Mimas on a lower level of my Grand Prix Monaco rack. To test the Aesthetix's integrated-amplifier functions, I connected the dCS Rossini DAC's balanced analog outputs to the Mimas's analog Input 1, turned the Rossini's volume control all the way up to unity gain, then ran speaker cables from the Mimas's easily tightened speaker terminals to the Wilson Alexia 2s.

Since the Mimas can also function as only a preamp, I also tried feeding signals from the Mimas's balanced preamp outputs to my reference Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression monoblocks to the Alexia 2s. Finally, I returned to my reference configuration—Rossini DAC to Progressions to Alexia 2s, volume controlled by Rossini—and listened again.

One big question concerned whether to plug the Mimas into a power conditioner. Ever since we built my dedicated listening room, I've regularly used two power conditioners: currently a PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 for the front end and an AudioQuest Niagara 5000 for the power amps. I'm not the only Stereophile reviewer who finds that amplifiers sound smoother when plugged into a non–current-limiting power conditioner that's designed to handle heavy loads, with significantly tighter bass—even when, as in my case, that wall houses a carefully designed dedicated circuit whose 8-gauge wiring is fed by a relatively new high-current power transformer that serves only five households.

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

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