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Old 02-20-2019, 10:22 AM
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Jem666 Jem666 is offline
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Default Analog Domain Calysto showcase at BelHiFi

Saturday February 16th, a beautiful day, the sun is holding a dress rehearsal of spring and Calysto is in town. Not the Nymph of Greek Lore but a pair of Analog Domains’ remarkable mono block amplifiers. A fun day too because of the opportunity to chat with Angel Despotov, Electronics Engineer Extraordinaire and driving force behind Analog Domain, who braved an 8-hour road trip so he could personally deliver his Ultimate Sound Machine creations to an Ultra High End showcase.

Venue of the showcase, BelHiFi, a one of a kind High End Audio shop housed in a charming cottage located in the green belt around Belgium’s capital Brussels. Think “Kid in a Candy Store slash Aladdin’s cave”, that pretty much summarises my sentiments when exploring the rooms filled to the brim with audio gear of varying exotic flavour and pedigree. Low door frames though. Still feel the bump on my head from running into one.


quite an eclectic setup

The Calysto (550W/8 ohm) is the first in a line of amplifiers that all bear names borrowed from Greek Mythology. Calysto’s siblings are The Artemis (1kW/8 ohm), The Athene (2kW/8 ohm) and The Apollo (4kW/8 ohm). All amplifiers have the same circuit topology in common and differ only in the size of power supply and number of output transistors. Power doubles when impedance halves.

All amplifiers share Analog Domains’ signature trait of not impressing any kind of signature sound on the amplified signal. Sounds like a double negative and might as well be the definition of ultimate sonic fidelity.

Neutral just does not seem appropriate an adjective to qualify these monoliths of power as this could imply a lack of involvement or ability to solicit an emotional response. They offer a conduit to the truth of a recording without adding or subtracting anything. They just amplify, that is what they do, and the drama is left to the content of the recording and other components in the chain.

Analog Domain amplifiers are so good they are essentially self-effacing. They will reveal the true nature of the source and push boundaries as to lay bare the limits of speakers and the room they play in. Time to fess up, I am slightly biased. These qualities are accessible at a more obtainable price point courtesy of the AD 75P and AD 75D, which I both own and enjoy with great satisfaction.

Analog Domain is a rather young German company based in Munich. I really like their “Han Solo” kind of attitude towards high end audio, and I mean this in the most endearing way possible.

No hopping on the “Fad of the Month” bandwagon here. There are the laws of physics; there are electronic circuits to wrangle electrons into submission and do the Masters bidding. Heat is the enemy. Noise should become irrelevant and dynamic range ability reigns supreme in the service of realistic volume levels. I think that pretty much sums up everything AD stands for (BTW Angel Despotov and Analog Domain are interchangeable in that sentence). Oh, and they are fearless. The Master Electron Wrangler does not shy away from a challenge. Case in point is the Analog Domain DAC1, which will take on the best MSB and dCS have to offer and proudly stand its ground. “We are the new kid on the block; bring it on”.

Pierre Costers, owner of BelHiFi, put together quite an eclectic setup to demonstrate the abilities of the Calysto’s.

Source : CEC TL0 3.0 CD Transport (29.995€)
Streaming Source : Lumďn U1 Mini Sbooster (2.347€)
DAC : CEC DA0 3.0 (29.995€)
Preamplifier : TruLife Audio Athena Reference (24.000€)
Amplifiers : Analog Domain Calysto mono blocs (129.000€)
Speakers : Focal Stella Utopia EM (85.000€)
Hifi Rack : Falkenohr (18.000€)
Cables : Entreq

Save for the Focals, I had no prior experience with any of the components so my impressions are just that, impressions. I am not a big fan of Focal loudspeakers. At previous auditions of Focal gear, the Beryllium tweeters just did not do it for me at high(er) volume levels, so not sure what to expect.


Angel Despotov, Electronics Engineer Extraordinaire

Angel Despotov, the perfectionist that he is, still found some minor issues with the sound but for me the whole presentation was more than satisfying and very lifelike. Width and depth of the soundstage not exaggerated although instruments did come over a little bit oversized, but then this could all be down to the nature of the recordings used.

Overall a level of performance justifying the substantial price of admission. The TruLife tube line preamplifier introducing just this very subtle tad of tonal saturation, which was evident in the rendition of piano notes and crash of cymbals. At this price point, it is all about personal taste and one could hardly find fault with the proposition on display. I never heard a Focal speaker play better than when being driven by the Calysto but I doubt the Beryllium tweeters will ever be able to seduce me.

Before commenting on how the Calysto’s factored into the picture I would like to share a realisation I experienced now on several occasions. A good 16 bit/44,1kHz recording played through a system of this calibre sounds absolutely convincing to the point I very much doubt a high res recording would really make that much difference. Mastering and in particular degrees of compression are bound to have a far greater impact on perceived quality than bit depth and sampling frequency.

Now for the Calysto’s, what can one say about an amplifier whose very raison d’ętre revolves around the premise of not interfering with the source material except for the amplification part?

It was mesmerizing to see the needle of the power meter hover around the 1-Watt mark, barely hitting the 10-Watt mark at louder passages and all this while totally belying the sound levels achieved. However, the meter was somewhat misleading as it showed average power.

Kick drums and loud notes with steep attacks need a lot of power to come alive, and this was so apparent from the first note, flung into the room by the Focal towers, on.

After having attended showcases with the YG Acoustics Sonja 2.2 (partnered with an ASI Grand Stereo amplifier) and the Kii Three BXT it has become more and more apparent to me that one of the keys to unlocking realistic sound reproduction is to be found in the ability to amplify and transduce the attack of notes and transients as faithfully as possible at realistic volume levels.

As Joseph Fourier (remember him from your math classes) would say, by their very nature, they relatively contain a lot of energy and the necessity to get this energy into the room without restraint would seem to make that a primus inter pares requirement.

Sadly, with the loudness wars and all, the very life is squeezed out of a lot of music and one cannot conjure up dynamics when they are not in the source material. Nevertheless the selection of demo tracks, including the obligatory percussion and bass solo track, amply demonstrated the unfazed muscle of the Calysto’s to great effect.

Transients are one thing, bass another. It is intoxicating to hear the full body of bass notes. As some bass notes built up there seemed to come no end to their impact and depth. I would even venture to add that the Calysto’s barely tapped their potential. As self-effacing as they are, they act like these endless wells of power.

I wondered; if the Calysto is so capable why the need for its more powerful stable mates. Cruelly inefficient speakers, big rooms and the logarithmic nature of the db scale would answer that question and suddenly The Apollo (4kW/8 ohm) doesn’t seem so outrageous anymore.

If you have the coin to spend and are looking for an End Game amplifier that does not constrain you to a “Brand” sound, be sure to check out this new kid on the block. Do the math and I’m confident your most outlandish power cravings will be satisfied by one of Analog Domains’ Ultimate Sound Machines.

It was nice to catch up with Angel Despotov and Hans Van Put (the distributor), people passionate about their craft and business. And big thanks to Pierre Costers for making the showcase happen.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Analog Domain Calysto 1.jpg (83.7 KB, 45 views)
File Type: jpg Analog Domain Calysto 3.jpg (80.6 KB, 43 views)
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Last edited by Jem666; 02-20-2019 at 10:29 AM.
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Old 02-20-2019, 10:30 AM
joey_v joey_v is offline
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So did you like the Focal Stellas?
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System 3: Rotel RC1570 Pre -> Rotel RB1582 Amp -> Focal Kanta 2 ->
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Old 02-20-2019, 10:44 AM
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Default Analog Domain Calysto showcase at BelHiFi

Quote:
Originally Posted by joey_v View Post
So did you like the Focal Stellas?
I was pleasantly surprised by their performance. They surely need an amp of the Calysto's calibre to sound right.

They are absolutely top echelon, but that tweeter is just too piercing for me at high volume levels. It comes down to personal taste.
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Last edited by Jem666; 04-20-2019 at 04:19 AM.
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