2019 Golden Ear Awards: Neil Gader

Equipment report
Integrated amplifiers
2019 Golden Ear Awards: Neil Gader

Aesthetix Mimas Integrated Amplifier
The Mimas is, to my way of thinking, an old musical soul, though at a glance you wouldn’t think so. Hip and striking in its clean precision machining and uncluttered design, you’d conclude that this 150Wpc, dual-mono hybrid amp is just another high-performance entrant in the already overpopulated integrated-amp sweepstakes. However, Mimas, the first integrated from Aesthetix, is in its own way as distinctive as any linestage integrated amp I’ve heard. Capable of expressing the full palette of tonal and textural colors, it embodies many of the classic sonic virtues of the golden era of tubes but with the ease and control and extension that are hallmarks of today’s finest gear. As it fashions these essentials into a harmonious whole, its character hints of classic midrange warmth and airy treble sweetness with bass response as nimble as it is formidable. Mimas doesn’t sound solid-state or tubey either, in spite of twin 6DJ8 valves in the preamp section. There are no obvious fingerprints or colorations, tonal dips or peaks, treble-octave grit or grain, or insecurity in the bottom octaves. Yet Mimas communicates sonic elements that are often but not exclusively ascribed to tubes—particularly the aforementioned sense of midrange-infused liveliness, textural complexity, and dimensionality. Perhaps key to Mimas’ distinctive style is how it places the musicians of an orchestra within the acoustic environment of the performance—establishing the prominence of the soundspace and then illuminating and projecting the musical images upon the backdrop of that environment. Aesthetix’ Mimas is the very definition of what I am seeking today in an integrated amplifier—unalloyed transparency and musicality served up with rich reserves of power. The stuff that makes for a Golden Ear Award.

ATC SCM50 ASLT Loudspeaker
In a manner of speaking I’ve coveted (and now own) this floorstanding loudspeaker for decades—at least bits and pieces of it. Let me clarify. This obsession actually began with the ProAc Studio 3 loudspeaker back in the 1980s—a three-way, vented design that was anchored by a massively built 75mm soft-dome midrange transducer that turned out not to be of ProAc origin but sourced from ATC, a fellow British company well-known for its active professional loudspeakers. The ProAc fed my listening biases by producing vocal and piano image of such fluency and liquidity that they seemed to materialize players in the room—a transducer that captured harmonics, timbre, and dynamic potency and nuance in a way that gave me shivers. It was on the strength and authority of this powerful dome that my quest began. And, finally, I sprang for an ATC, albeit in the abbreviated compact version. The smallest SCM20SL monitor achieved some of what I was looking for, but as a two-way it lacked that key piece of the puzzle, the 75mm dome. After a now holy-grail-like pursuit that had become a fixation, the quest came to a close with my purchase of the SCM50 ASLT. The three-way, tri-amplified SCM50 ASLT (with 75mm dome!) that I now own conveys a character of no-nonsense ease and neutrality that is underscored by three key properties: first, midrange presence and immediacy; second, midband speed that borders on electrostatic territory; and third, a staggeringly wide dynamic envelope that easily puts electrostatics and most cone loudspeakers of this size to shame. Transient behavior is quick and lifelike, rather than underlined for effect. Bass response plummets effortlessly and accurately into the mid-30Hz range. In audio as in life, high expectations are often tempered by the harsh glare of reality. For this enthusiast, the opposite has turned out to be the case. And with that, a lengthy quest has come to an end.