I have a confession....I am a sucker for tubes. My first tube amplifier purchase was a McIntosh 245 many years ago, and I have bought many valve amps since. I have gone through just about any brands that are worth trying from the budget Mingda to the legendary Audionote Kondo. The one that got me the most was the Audionote UK Ongaku. That amp was just so exceptional in most areas. The accuracy of the human voice was like nothing else I have heard back then. However, as much as I love the Ongaku, the down side was like most (if not all) valves amplification I have owned, self-noise and the lack of deep bass control. I remember I was dreaming and wishing with my audiophile friend about a company that would build an amplifier which has a voice like the Ongaku but the bass control of a Krell Evolution one power house and must be dead silent in operation. No clicks, no pops and definitely no transformer hum to be heard. Wouldn't that just be the pinnacle of all amplifiers?
Keep the faith
Many years have passed since I became a HiFi dealer, and I get to try even more audio equipment from around the world and also from various manufacturers / distributors. About 2 years ago I was asked to evaluate the Aries Cerat DAC / Amplification setup. At that time I had my own favorite brand in a solid state form. It’s not that I have gone off valves, but just let's say I thought the tube amp I was looking for didn't exist. I half-heartedly agreed that I would do it; but only because he is a good friend, well until I had a look at the Aries Cerat website to see what to expect and that's when my mind started to change. The information on their website was telling me that these people are willing to do whatever it takes to produce the finest amplifier in the world. At this point the countdown has begun.
Where is Arnie?
Why does all high-end Audio have to be this bloody heavy?! That was the polite version of what I was shouting while taking some of the biggest, heaviest audio products I have ever lifted out of their boxes. Just the wooden crates that they come in are actually a lot heavier than most of the mainstream amplifiers on the market. Oh the joy of this job!
Two hours and nearly 700kg later, we were just about ready. My trusted engineer, Adam, started to remove the lid for biasing and tube installation, that's when my eyes nearly popped out from the socket! If there is such a thing as hifi porn then Aries Cerat would be XXXXX rated! For example, the transformers in the Impara pre-amp would have made it in the majority of other brand's beefy power amplifiers. The layout inside was super neat and thoughtful, no signal lines crossing the path. Things get better again in the Concero Mono, the build quality here is way beyond its price tag, the amp is full of high quality components with various power supplies looking after individual important sectors, keeping the noise floor to a minimum. We hooked them up to my personal pair of speakers, Maxonics. The signal was supplied by Aries Cerat's Helene and DAC.
We turned the system on one by one, starting from the DAC then Pre then the Mono amps. There was no hum, no noises even if I was risking burning my ears from the hot vales by almost pressing them down on the chassis, the Aries Cerat were dead quiet! We left the room for about 20 mins with music playing to let the system warm up. After that lifting, strong coffee and biscuits seemed like the best invention since sliced bread.
The Hills are alive.....
As we were walking back to the listening room, we were looking at each other with a smile. We had the similar feeling as we were walking towards a live music show and that is always a good sign. I started off with my test audiophile playlist. Jazz at the Pawnshop is a great album that also challenges any hifi system on imaging, the Aries Cerat showing off right away their ability to fill spaces around the room. The glass collecting, the whispering in the crowds was as clear as I have heard, yet never stood out too much to distract the performance of musicians.
Next up on the playlist was Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughan, and my note said Aries Cerat dynamic is among the best at any price! We could hear the realistic dynamics from the softest possible to the loudest just like in real life, SRV's voice was large and dead center of the listening room, with the presence that you could almost hear his lips open and close as he's singing. Bass is solid and while they are not quite the 450 watts of pure class A, solid state kinda bass of my dream tube amp, the Aries still has control, agility with impeccable timing.
After a few more test tracks I could see Adam, my engineer, getting a little impatient. You see, he is a music lover, not a hifi lover and while both do go hand in hand in my world, I certainly do get his point. I started to play random songs from my music servers and wow we were in for a musical ride. Anything from Oasis, Muse to Neil Diamond, Aries Cerat just drew us in keeping us there, never letting go of the emotional connection. It's like a personal concert in the listening room, it's one of those rare occasions where you don't want what's being played to end, yet you can't wait to hear the next song. I could tell you about the holographic soundstage from the Oasis Familiar to Millions album or the soaring brass of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue but you still wouldn't get the point of the Aries Cerat system. This set up just makes me want to dance, sing along with what's being played and get non stop goosebumps in the process. If this is not HiFi nirvana I am not sure what is?
Be careful what you wish for?
As a hifi dealer, we need to sell to survive. In the current market full of class D products which you could fit the entire system on to one rack, how on earth am I going to be able to sell a set of big and very heavy tubes set up? To be honest, I don't care, I bought a set for the demo because I love them. As it happens the brand is selling better than I initially thought but the main point remains, I finally have my dream tube set up, I guess I wished hard enough all those years ago.