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Line Preamplifier


Aries Cerat

Manufacturer: ARIES CERAT Ltd
Price: 7500 euro

STAVROS DANOS | 52 Vasileos Pavlou A’
3052 Limassol | Cyprus


f you wanna get things going, start with panache. This is one of the strategies of drawing customers’ attention and one that brings about good results. In the areas where experience counts, such a dramatic entry must be followed by a continuation that will keep the interest in the brand and products running. Audio is just one of such areas.

It must have been two or three years ago, give or take, when I was transfixed by the sight of massive audio components in an exhibition room of a Cypriot company that goes by the name of Aries Cerat. The preamplifier and monoblocks presented there and then literally eclipsed with their size everything that home audio had offered previously. The machines were the size of a solid fridge, and with their brightly glowing vacuum tubes they arrested everybody’s attention and left them with their distinct logo on their retinas – that of the stylized horns of the zodiac Aries.

Size matters, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. It is especially important where classic mechanical and electrical solutions matter i.e. in the tube audio gear. In that particular case the amount of iron in the transformers and chokes translates directly into their capabilities. The ageing factor is also very important. Everywhere where the high temperatures are involved, proper ventilation is the key factor. The better the heat dissipation the longer the components life.

This is the fact known to all tube aficionados. Not without the reason the first tube amplifiers that were made for the cinemas from Western Electric looked like large wardrobes (it is enough to recall the Western Electric Ballantyne MX24D and RCA Western Electric Theatre Amplifier). I cannot resist the feeling that the reference models from Aries Cerat are the result of longing for those ancient machines and that starting a company with such specific profile was an attempt to restore the hierarchy of demands which made the audio business in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly in the US where it was the domain of scientists and engineers, responsible for the greater part of the solutions that we know and use until today.

Miniaturization has its merits, too. Shortening of the signal path, eliminating of the majority of cable connections, tighter tolerance and, something that should not be underestimated, bringing the audio systems to the living rooms instead of just basements and garages – all of that was a good thing. We all benefit from that. Aries Cerat, however, seems to suggest that it was a compromise, which resulted in losing something that made music sound so natural. The sound might have not been so accurate and “faithful,” in the sense of “precise at all cost,” but it was unbelievably normal and “humane.”

Looking at the Incito and knowing how huge the Impera II Ref and Pondera Reference amplifiers are, we are aware that the company had to work out a compromise. The Incito is much smaller than its more expensive cousins, which makes it look more like classic preamplifiers. Its weight, on the other hand, combined with bullet-proof construction and design solutions employed, all directly refer to the original “wardrobes”.

Its exterior indicates that we are dealing with an original proposition. Before powering it on, the thick, semi-transparent acrylic front panel is black. After switching it on, three components light up its surface from below: large abbreviations of the active inputs near the top, volume level in the right bottom corner, and a green diode in the center (after 30 seconds when the preamp is stable). The input names and volume level in such components, if at all, are displayed using LCD or OLED display screen, or sometimes alphanumeric LED displays. Here, an old solution was employed, based on Numitron tubes, with incandescent filaments arranged in the typical seven-segment plus decimal point matrix. Passing current through the filaments creates letters or numbers. The whole unit looks just fantastic and it is hard to believe that Aries Cerat is just four years old.

owner, designer

I am a Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineer, specialized in robotics, CNC automation and electronics. As a music lover I always pursued the ideal and perfect home music reproduction. As I felt disappointed by what the market had to offer, early on I was interested in designing and building speakers and audio electronics for myself. Using my engineering background, I studied and experimented everything regarding audio reproduction and acoustics. Before establishing our company, Aries Cerat, I already developed and built my personal horn and full tube electronics audio set-up, from PC-to-ears. Starting the company pushed the R&D capabilities to another level.

Aries Cerat was founded in 2010, in Limassol, Cyprus. Our goal was to give to the audiophile community a new perspective on how true music reproduction should sound. Specialized high tech equipment, such as our 5-axis, high-envelope working station, 3-axis mini work station, as well as sophisticated modeling and designing software, provide us with the skill and abilities to develop and manufacture speakers with unique properties and performance. Novelties include our stacked ply enclosures for all of our speakers, 360deg horns as well as our GD optimized crossover circuits, along with true top notch drivers used.

Our tube and hybrid designs, always provide something unique and new to their respective market, while their implementation follows strict rules in part quality and built process. Many of our designs use proprietary circuits, true tube topologies never used in audio before, with unsurpassed sonic performance, of which the Impera II (inverted tube output stage), the Pondera (N.O.I.S PSU), the Ianus hybrid (super-triode output stage) are two standouts.

The Incito is our smallest and simplest preamplifier. It had been developed for some years now, and we decided it was mature enough to go into consumer production. We took a great Einstein’s quote, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” and put it at work on this design. Simple circuits always work and most important, sound much better. However, simple solutions come with many shortcomings. Especially in audio, this comes in the form of questionable measuring performance.

This is not the case with the Incito preamplifier. The heart of the Incito preamplifier is a zero feedback power gain stage, which is consisted of a transformer-coupled super-triode, using the ultra-high trans-conductance E280F which was only made by Siemens. This superb tube is loaded with a highest quality step down transformer, of 5:1 step-down ratio. Measuring data are supreme for a zero feedback design. Voltage swings of over 320V are easy task for the power stage, and is stepped down to 64Vpp, while keeping transistor-like noise figures. Our step-down transformer provides very low output resistance and more than adequate current to drive any load down to 200 ohms!

The power supply is built around the 5AR4 rectifier, with separate double pi filtering for each channel, using oversized chokes and high speed capacitors, along with a double ultra-low noise adjustable bias supply.

Nagrania użyte w teście (wybór)

  • Alice Coltrane, Eternity, Warner Bros./Warner Bros. Japan 8122-79598-0, “Jazz Best Collection 1000, Nr 9”, CD (1976/2013).
  • Anna Maria Jopek, Barefoot, Universal Music Polska, “Promo Copy”, CD (2002).
  • Billie Holiday, Billie Holiday, Clef/UMG Recordings UCCV-9470, „David Stone Martin 10 inch Collector’s Selection”, CD (1954/2013).
  • Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie,Bird & Diz, Mercury/UMG Recordings UCCV-9466, „David Stone Martin 10 inch Collector’s Selection”, CD (1952/2013).
  • Cream, Disraeli Gears, Polydor/Universal Music LLC UICY-40023, Platinum SHM-CD (1967/2013).
  • Depeche Mode, Ultra, Mute/Sony Music Labels, Blu-spec CD2, (2007/2014).
  • Electronic, Electronic, Factory Records/EMI Records 5099990743122, “2 CD Special Edition”, 2 x CD (1991/2013).
  • Jerzy Milian Trio, Bazaar, Polskie Nagrania “Muza”/GAD Records GAD CD 017, „Polish Jazz vol 17”, CD (1069/2014).
  • Kenny Burrell, Soul Call, Prestige/JVC JVCXR-0210-2, XRCD2 (1964/?).
  • Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCO-40005, Platinum SHM-CD, (1958/2013).
  • Shankar, Song For Everyone, ECM 1286, “ECM Touchstones”, CD (1985/2008).
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet, Plastic Dreams, Atlantic/Warner Bros. Japan 8122-71068-2, “Jazz Best Collection 1000, Nr 6”, CD (1971/2013).
Japanese issues available at

This time I will start from the end, for a change::

Stavros, could you please tell me the price of the preamplifier. The review is ready but I don’t know the price.

The retail price is 7500 EURO.


Dear Wojtek,
Please, let me know how the preamplifier sounded in your system; I’m really very curious…

Your Incito is a fantastic preamplifier! I asked for the price at the end because I had to put my impressions in the right context. Now that I know the price I have to say that it is more than justified, I liked the product a lot!

Wojtek, thank you very much!
We simply try to give our customers a better quality at lower prices than those of our competitors. The Incito is our smallest preamplifier, and yet we have a customer who swapped his 35,000 euro preamplifier from another manufacturer for the Incito. It is an honor to us that you liked it, too.


This type of a short e-mail exchange is quite normal; it is the “kitchen” of a process that results in the text you are reading. Being in touch with an audio manufacturer I try to learn as much as possible, to get as close as I can to the designer.

I want to walk in his shoes for a mile and learn what he wanted to achieve, why he made the choices he did and where the results came from. I do believe that in the high-end audio understanding the intentions of the manufacturer is essential to a proper description of a product. Because in the high-end a person and a product are just two sides of the same coin.

The preamplifier made by Stavros is remarkable. As he says himself, it is the smallest machine of this kind in his product lineup and yet he approached it with the same zeal and devotion as if he had been designing a reference, statement product.
I believe that this type of approach guaranties an audio component that sounds exceptional and does not come with a too high – in the high-end terms, that is – price tag. It is not as good as the Ayon Audio Spheris III and Mark Levinson №52, commanding a price of (respectively) 30,000 USD and 33,000 Euro. I am convinced that sticking to all principles of reviews and comparisons, a good product for 30,000 euro will always be better than one for 7,500 Euro; such is life.
But I cannot deny that in certain systems and configurations, and with precise expectations in mind, it MAY really turn out that with a good preamplifier for 7,500 Euro we can achieve better results than with a preamp costing 30 K and more. There is also one more possibility - that the 35,000 Euro preamplifier Stavros wrote about, which was replaced by the Incito, was not so good after all…

Fortunately, the Incito does not need any rhetorical props; it stands on its own. The sound is well organized internally, drawing our attention to the well extended edges of the frequency range. It is a rare feat to have both the bottom and top end in such a refined form in the same product. If a component has a good treble, i.e. one with good resolution, selectivity and saturation, which is usually true about tube preamplifiers, their bottom end tends to be not equally satisfying. Almost always it lacks definition and selectivity. Solid state preamplifiers, in turn, usually have a well-controlled bass but the treble leaves something to be desired. It is frequently thin, dead and bright. If not, it tends to be muffled.

The Incito’s edges of the frequency range are equally good. The top end sounds selective and resolving, but never unpleasant. Even with the remixes of Depeche Mode, and this is a rather difficult material for a pleasant playback, the system with the Cypriot amplifier sounded engaging and interesting, the cymbals did not disturb my listening session and even added to it with different hues. The same happened to good recordings, for example, The Modern Jazz Quartet’s album Plastic Dreams, with graphic art designed by Stanisław Zagórski, a Polish artist. The good recordings had depth and three-dimensionality, which the worse ones were lacking.

To tell the truth, I kind of suspected that. I was familiar with the sound of expensive designs from Aries Cerat from the High End show in Munich and one thing that always grasped my heart was their dense, beautiful treble. This is one of the things that separate hi-fi from hi-end. And I just knew that inside were tubes in a SET configuration with transformer coupling – I know that from phono preamplifiers and some common sonic characteristics can be identified. Despite the fact that I was not surprised with such a good treble presentation, the level of Incito’s refinement was the prize I expected and longed for.

Bottom end. The Achilles heel of most tube amplifiers. Here it played a fundamental role. This was the range that gave the whole sound its character. It was extremely disciplined. The recordings, which I got used to go easy on when playing them back with other tube amps, acting on the assumption that such is their "charm" and that’s it, sounded deep, colorful and interesting with the preamplifier under review. Even such deep extensions, as those on The Love Thieves from Depeche Mode album Ultra or on Tricks Feat. Sqbass from Novika’s Tricks Of Live, seemed to make no impression on the Incito. Unlike me - I was very much impressed by the definition, very pretty, deep colors and extremely deep bass. The preamplifier is transferred equally to the very edge of the possibility of Harbeth M40.1. Only the reference preamplifiers (the Ayon and the Levinson) managed to do it better. Apart from them, however, I have not come across a preamplifier that would handle this range so well, regardless of its price.

What was the differentiating factor, which showed Incito’s own character, was among others the way of building up the instruments’ bodies and the way they were set in space. The sound of this preamplifier is saturated and full, dense. It is a good sound. Unlike in most of similar cases, the presentation is slightly recessed, behind the speaker line. “Recessed” is probably somewhat misleading, because it's not meant in a negative sense, but perhaps more like “pushed back” intentionally. This gives you the kind of perspective like in the tenth row of a concert hall, or like from the middle and rear sectors of a stadium during a rock concert. The foreground is strong, solid and dense, which results in a clear presentation, which is open and firmly rooted in the ‘base.’ At the same time, however, it is slightly distanced, not offering such tangible phantom images as the Ayon and the Mark Levinson do.

I know this type of sound from high quality phono preamplifiers, with step-up transformers in the first stage, for example the Manley Steelhead V2. It is usually combined with a less expressive midrange, compared with the edges of the frequency range. Here, everything is served with a slight restraint; with freedom but without imposing anything. The sound is extremely clear, which gives the recordings breath and perspective. At the same time, it is far from being bland. What helps in that is a slightly emphasized mid-bass, which gives everything depth and authority. This is a modification, which in this case brings about a cool result – it saturates everything and makes it bigger. I would be hard pushed to call it a flaw, because without that the sound might seem slightly too distanced and too controlled. The way it is, we get an expressive, strong sound with superbly saturated midrange.


The Incito is a very versatile preamplifier. Every kind of music sounds professional on it. In modifies the sound to a small degree, leaving lots of room for auxiliary components. It is not ultra-transparent, but such is the charm of audio – each and every time it is nothing but an attempt to put together individual components to make a whole, which would give us as much music as possible. Stavros evidently has a great ear, as this kind of sound cannot be achieved in a "blind" fashion, or just going by measurements. If only the unit’s design is consistent with the design of your room and with your idea of what an audio component should look like, the Incito may turn out to be a bull’s-eye hit. It has its own character, but one that is "subservient" to a greater cause. All in all, an interesting piece of audio gear, offering a beautiful sound.

The preamplifier from Cyprus was reviewed in my reference system, where it was pitted against two other preamplifiers: my new Spheris III from Ayon Audio and the №52 from Mark Levinson. It was driving two power amplifiers: the Soulution 710 and the YBA Passion Power Amplifier 650. The Incito was hooked up to the CD player via the Siltech Royal Signature Series Empress Double Crown interconnects, and was feeding the signal to the power amplifier via 1.5 m Acoustic Revive RCA-1.5TRIPLE C-FM interconnects. Power was supplied via the Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9500 power cord. I usually use isolation feet under the preamplifiers I review. This time I gave up on that idea – the Incito is very heavy and I was afraid that by lifting it up and moving around several times a day I might inadvertently damage (harm) it.

The preamplifier from Cyprus will take by surprise anyone who would want to lift it up. All the more so that its dimensions - 480 x 320 x 165 mm - do not prepare you for that. And yet it weighs no less than 33 kg. Fortunately, the weight is evenly distributed and does not affect the balance. What contributes to the weight is the enclosure and the massive transformers and chokes. The chassis is made of steel sheets, with laser-cut holes for cooling, which form a pattern of the Aries Cerat logo. The side panels are thick aluminum plates, with rounded wooden components mounted on top.

The front panel is twofold: when viewed from the front, we first have a thick blackened acrylic sheet, with user interface components behind. They are mounted on circuit boards bolted to an aluminum plate behind them. The selected input and volume level are indicated on a display using Numitron vacuum tubes. In the center there is a green LED that lights up when the unit is ready for operation.

The Incito is operated using the remote control unit, so you need to keep an eye on it. It is an aluminum affair with steel push buttons, which I have seen used by several other manufacturers. It gives us access to input selection, volume level control, mute mode and allows us to switch off the volume indicator and the green LED. In the latter case, however, the selected input’s symbol is still lighted up. There is no on/off button. From the bottom you can see an acrylic disc with the infrared receiver LED. The mechanical power switch is located on the rear panel, near the mains socket.

The rear panel boast six pairs of rhodium plated RCA connectors (the same are used in the ASP-1000 preamplifier from the Polish company Abyssound; see HERE). These are very solid, screw-on connectors, here stacked vertically, with much distance from each other. On customer’s request, the company also includes an XLR balanced input. The preamplifier circuit is unbalanced, but the input transformer allows for a very nice desymmetrization. The input signal load is thus exactly the same as in fully balanced systems.
As a matter of fact, the output has been treated the same way – here we have a pair of RCA connectors and a pair of XLRs from Cardas. With the latter, you have to lift off the ground connection, using large toggle switches that need some force to operate.

The electrical circuit seems simple, which is the case with all the best audio products. At the same time, however, you can see a few unusual components, like rarely used vacuum tubes, or a very carefully designed power supply. The topology resembles that of a small SET power amplifier. Each channel sports a single gain stage on the triode, loaded with large coupling transformers, visible from the side. The transformer ratio is 5:1, and allows driving low impedance loads, up to 200 Ω, without modifying the frequency response, which is 4 Hz - 100 kHz (at -6 dB).
The gain stage capabilities are proven by something that I was told by Stavros. During their tests, they once used a transformer with the ratio of 25:1, which allowed them to directly drive high sensitivity speakers. The preamplifier turned out to be capable of 1 W power output. They keep this unit in their office, where it drives the Symphonia speakers.

We can also find fantastic resistors in the signal path, in the form of flat plates with resistive layer, which I have seen in crossover networks used in the Dynaudio Confidence Platinum line. The circuit sports small potentiometer knobs which are part of the circuit, used to set the tube bias current. It can be adjusted to a certain extent, slightly changing the Incito sound. For me, it sounded best in the position recommended by Stavros.
Input selector employs relays, and volume control is handled by a discrete attenuator that includes small, great looking relays and SMD resistors. Each channel has its own attenuator circuit board. This section is controlled by an encoder. Siemens E208F tubes are coupled to the input and output using impedance matching transformers. The input connectors look great and allow for twisting the wires - in the Incito they are screwed on and additionally soldered.
As I said, the power supply is very complex. Its basis is a powerful toroidal transformer, mounted to the side panel, and a choke. Power supply circuit includes a 5AR4 tube rectifier. Adjacent to it, you can see fast-charging capacitors and a polypropylene capacitor specifically designed for high-quality power supply circuits. Similar capacitors are used in the power supply of my Spheris III.

And a few words about the names. 'Incito' in Latin means "exciter" or "to lift." Stavros says that they came up with the preamplifier name because that is how they perceive its role in the audio system and that is how it sounds. He also says that all Aries Cerat products have names that reflect their "personality."
Equally interesting is the origin of the company name - Aries Cerat. 'Aries' is the Greek word for 'ram' and Stavros is the zodiac Aries. 'Cerat' means horn (in Latin), and is derived from the Greek word κέρας (keras). The word is used to describe the conical shape of a horn, rather than an actual animal horn. The juxtaposition of the two words results in a very distinctive logo – that of a ram, whose horns are replaced with "horns" as musical instruments.

Specification (according to the manufacturer)

Frequency Response: 4 Hz – 100 kHz (-6 dB)
Output Voltage (max): 32 Vrms/10 kΩ
Output Impedance: <50 Ω
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0,005% (typowo); <0,1%/20 Vrms
Dimensions: 480 (W) x 320 (D) x 165 (H) mm
Weight: 33 kg



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse &#8211; power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) &#8211; wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One