At first the system might seem simple and spartan but with a total system cost pushing $72k, it became apparent that the folks at Upstream Audio were not playing around. First let’s talk about the DAC (and CD Player) from Aesthetix. With a price tag of 11,500 USD, the Aesthetix Romulus CD Player / DAC was the second most expensive thing in the system by only $500 USD.
Money well spent I say, as the system fronted by Focal Kanta No. 3 loudspeakers really did sing. I say this because often we see systems on display that are speaker heavy when it comes to how the prices line up. The old chestnut is true about “putting the bulk of your money on the speakers.” But it’s also true that everything else matters too. Especially sources and amplifiers.
The Aesthetix Romulus is a vacuum tube based digital-to-analog converter with one USB, three SPDIF inputs and adds a CD transport mechanism, with the option to add a volume control. Everything about the Romulus is built for audio-porn, from its licenced USB low jitter and noise isolation, to its DSP, fully differential DAC, power supplies and tube output stage. It’s all business.
As for the Kanta No. 3 — I’m really impressed with how great these speakers are. It’s been a while since I gave them a serious listen. The Kanta series have always been known for gathering crowds at audio shows, and sometimes that just doesn’t equate to me getting in a good listen.
The Kanta No. 3 is a floorstanding loudspeaker that is the largest of the Kanta series and represents its best full range offering. Still holding on to the Beryllium tweeter that Focal is famous for, the big change is in the flax fiber mid-range and bass drivers.
Smooth and focused. Sophisticated and modern. Smooth is something I’d never thought I’d be saying about Focal loudspeakers, but it’s true. In concert with the Aesthetix electronics, the pairing was remarkably smooth and detailed. Nothing about the sparkle in the top end came across as harsh or bright, bass notes were full and effortless. When it came to soundstage and imaging using cinematic pieces, the layering and stage was supremely convincing of 3D effects.
Romulus Signature CD Player / DAC – $11,500 USD
Rhea Signature Phono Preamplifier – $8,500 USD
Mimas Integrated Amplifier – configuration price uncertain
Signature Rendu SE Optical Reference Network Streamer – $4,490 USD
OpticalRendu w/ Channel Islands Audio VDC-7 Power Supply – $1,295 USD
SonicTransporter i9 Optical – $2.599 USD
USB Discreet Power and Signal Conductor USB (1.5 m) – $995 USD
Ovation Turntable – $8,500 USD
Tracer Tonearm w/ Hana ML – $1,200 USD
Concept Wood Turntable – $2,500 USD
Satisfy Black Tonearm w/ Hana SL – $750 USD
Kanta No. 3 Loudspeakers – $12,000 pr USD
Power Conditioning by IsoTek
All analog cabling by Iconoclast