Aesthetix Io Eclipse (£16,700)

A no-compromise design for those seeking the ultimate in vinyl replay.

The Io Eclipse is for audiophiles seeking the ultimate in vinyl replay. Its two chassis are the size of most manufacturers’ power amplifiers, one the phono stage itself, the other the power supply.

The Io Eclipse costs £14,000, or £16,700 with independent L/R volume controls – as reviewed here. (With this option you get a ‘bonus’ line level input.) Each control has four silver contact 46-position switches ganged together in a unique configuration and each switch comprises 46 Roederstein resistors, making a total of 184 per channel… There’s more: if you wanted to go the whole hog the Io Eclipse can be driven by two power supplies!

The Aesthetix manual warns ‘A great deal of listening was invested in finding optimal tube types and brands. It is therefore not recommended to try alternatives’.

It was soon evident that the Io Eclipse has a magical ability to transport you to the studio or concert hall where a recording has taken place. Analogue favourites such as Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances with the Dallas SO/Donald Johanos [Athena ALSW-10001] and Sheffield Lab’s ultra-real Comin’ From A Good Place by Harry James [LAB 6] sounded breathtakingly real and ‘alive’. The sound of the Dallas SO was rich in texture and tonal colour, the image sharply etched. The explosive dynamics of the bass drum and timpani were tightly controlled and the stereo spread realistically compact, given the close-to-the-stage perspectives. ‘The Foot Stomper’ from the Harry James’ direct-to-disc album was similarly vivid and energetic, the big band spread in holographic fashion. The verve and vibrant resonance of the brass, the sound of wooden drum sticks striking skins and cymbals… the Io Eclipse brought everything to life.

So addictive was the revelatory transparency of the Io Eclipse that we found ourselves re-discovering countless records not played for a decade – like Rickie Lee Jones’ 10in Girl At Her Volcano [Warner 92-3805-1]. ‘My Funny Valentine’, always difficult to reproduce, sounded relaxed and highly polished, the Io Eclipse taking the dynamics of Rickie’s searing vocal projections in its stride.

If the focus of our listening was on vinyl, the Io Eclipse’s auxiliary line-level input equally disclosed ear-opening revelations. The full-on blast of the opening track of Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia album on DVD-A [DTS Entertainment], sounded stellar. Where it so often collapses into a wall of sound, the fabulous resolution of fine detail and tight, tuneful bass helped make clear sense of this dense production, bringing to the fore the jangly guitars and peeling away myriad layers to reveal all manner of studio effects usually buried.

Detailed and airy without sounding obviously analytical, the Io Eclipse can claim to be one of the finest phono stages money can buy. It is uncommonly articulate, and quiet, with not a hint of the rose-tinted ‘tubey’ quality some might expect from an all-valve design.

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011