Upstream Audio, Aesthetix, Focal, Sonore | FLAX 2020

Upstream Focal Aesthetix FLAX 2020

TAMPA, FL (PTA) — Upstream Audio was showing a masterfully configured digital and analog sourced system featuring components from Aesthetix, Focal, and Sonore.

Sponsored by Core Power Technologies A/V
Florida Audio Expo 2020 coverage sponsored by Core Power Technologies A/V

Upstream Focal Aesthetix FLAX 2020

The Story

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.

Upstream Focal Aesthetix FLAX 2020

The Sound

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.

Upstream Focal Aesthetix FLAX 2020

The System


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

Sponsored by Living Sounds Audio
Florida Audio Expo 2020 coverage sponsored by Living Sounds Audio

The Photos