Aesthetix Atlas Eclipse Power Amplifier

Greek Myth or Audio Powerhouse?

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers
Aesthetix Atlas Eclipse Power Amplifier

The Eclipse completely banishes any of the veiling I heard in the earlier Atlas. Its transparency is pristine—not like a very clear window, but like no window at all between the listener and the music. This utter transparency is a hallmark of all great modern amplifiers, to whose ranks the Eclipse belongs. There is an overriding sense that you are hearing everything on offer from your musical source, with nothing hiding in the shadows. Whether it is the smallest instrumental nuance, or a reverberation from the back of the hall, the Eclipse reveals all. By this I do not mean to say that the high-end of the amp is tilted up. It is not. But it is an extremely revealing device which, with some material, can lead to an impression it is more extended in the high frequencies than many all-tube amplifiers of the same power rating. This is only an impression; some might contend that the all-tube designs are unnaturally rolled off and hence more forgiving, but I do not find that to be the case with the best modern tube amplifiers. In any event, the Eclipse owner may be confident that he or she is hearing everything the source material has to offer. 

I do not want to skirt the obvious question: Does the Eclipse sound like an all-tube amplifier? To my ear, the answer is “no.” Does it sound like an all-solid-state amplifier? The answer is still “no.” What it does sound like, as illustrated below, is a state-of-the-art amplifier that exhibits many (but not all) of the virtues or tubes and many (but not all) of the virtues of solid-state amplification, in one compact package. The flipside of this design approach is that it also seems to minimize what may be perceived as weaknesses of all-tube or all-solid-state designs. I think this is what Jim White, as well as other designers of hybrid amplifiers, set out to do. That is, obtain as many of the strengths of both tube and solid-state amplification as possible, while minimizing their sonic deficits. 

Some illustrations are in order. In terms of sheer power, I noted above that the Atlas has always been a powerhouse, and the Eclipse version is no exception. The Eclipse monos drive my Maggie 20.7s so effortlessly that they should be able to do the same with any speaker on the market. For review purposes, most of my critical listening was done with my Kuzma Stabi M turntable with Kuzma 4Point arm/Lyra Etna combination. For front-end electronics I alternated between the Aesthetix Io Eclipse/Callisto Eclipse combination and the Audio Research REF 10 Phono/REF 10 Line Stage combination. These are some of the best preamplifiers available, at any price, and easily allowed me to discern the sound quality of the Atlas Eclipse. 

Even though I started preparing listening notes shortly after the Atlas monos were installed, it is important to report that the longer I had the amplifiers in my sound system the smoother they became in overall response and the more open in soundstaging. After about 200 hours of use, they sounded much better than during the first week of my review period. So much so, in fact, that I basically had to start the review process again and revisit the same material I had played weeks earlier. I also found that placing Stillpoint Ultra 6 feet under both Eclipse monos was very beneficial; background level was even darker and musical instruments had greater body and sounded slightly more three-dimensional. I would suggest to any prospective purchasers that they experiment with connecting cables and support devices for the amps; it is well worth the effort for these and most amplifiers. I would also caution prospective purchasers of the Atlas (as well as dealers setting them up for demonstration) that they will not really hear the full capabilities of the Eclipse amps until they have broken-in for at least 200 hours, possibly longer. This is not a strange phenomenon in the world of high-end audio equipment, encompassing a broad range of electronics, cables and loudspeakers, but it bears mentioning, nonetheless. 

Once the amps were broken in, one of the first records I played for review purposes was Somethin’ Else, one of the fantastic Blue Note reissues I received from Music Matters. I have several fine copies of the original, and generally I am not a fan of many reissues, but I think this particular one is equal to or better than the original in almost every way. (I feel the same way about many of the other Blue Notes I have received from Music Matters.) With the Atlas Eclipse monos in the system, “Autumn Leaves” and “Love for Sale” sounded spectacular. The piano sounded natural and dynamic, centered in the mix as the perfect backdrop to Miles Davis’ trumpet and Cannonball Adderley’s alto sax. Likewise the stand-up bass, occasionally overblown on some Rudy Van Gelder recordings (at least in my experience), was tighter than expected and well-defined. No bloat or unnatural heaviness, yet no thinning-out either. Talk about a mix of tubes and solid-state: the horns had a body and richness closer to the sound of all-tubes, while the bass was presented with the clarity and control typically exhibited by fine solid-state amps. I also developed the impression that the Atlas Eclipse was very extended in the high frequencies, exceedingly clean and airy, seeming to have more bandwidth than many of the tube amps I have heard, especially of the more vintage variety. A thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. 

For fun I next listened to another favorite LP, Duke Ellington’s Jazz Party in Stereo (Classic Records). Again, I have several copies and am a big fan of the original LP, but I thoroughly enjoy this Classic Records reissue. This was one music party I’m sorry I missed (even if I was only 13 at the time!). The studio sounds cavernous, like a large auditorium. The sense of space is heightened by the clapping of the many Ellington friends lucky enough to attend the recording sessions. Accompanied by a huge percussion section, Duke was also joined by jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Rushing, not to mention Clark Terry and Johnny Hodges, among others. Daring and imaginative, this was Duke Ellington at his innovative best. Fortunately for us, it was recorded with sound quality to match and if you don’t have the original, Classic Records has given us a great reissue. 

Most of side one of Jazz Party is a set of cuts that together form “Toot Suite.” Listening to this music with the Atlas Eclipse in the system was a huge joy. Transparency was exemplary—seemingly nothing between the musicians and the listener. Each of the performers was presented in his own space, spread across a seemingly enormous stage. Moreover, the Eclipse monos allowed the instruments to sound three-dimensional, with the same tonal balance as heard live—nothing sterile and no paper-cut-out instruments. But most importantly, to me, the Eclipse showcased the sheer exuberance of the performers; they were clearly having a great time and, as a listener, the fun was contagious. The percussion was driving, the horns sounded remarkably life-like and the piano sounded natural and percussive, with due weight in the lower octaves of its range. The bass line reproduced by the Atlas on this recording is unusually tight and well-delineated (possibly, one of the benefits of a solid-state output stage?).