ARIES Cerat products don’t look “boring” or “predictable”, no one will argue over that… some of its products may even seem outright flamboyant and outlandish, more than hinting at the designer’s beyond-the-box approach. Even on the inside, this hi-fi manufacturer from, of all places, Cyprus, doesn’t walk down the traditional path. The company reflects both high-end and bespoke audio sensibilities.
Since the company was set up a decade ago, it has turned out a range of speakers, amplifiers, preamps, DACs and phono amps. Its Kassandra Series and Helene DACs, Diana integrated amp, Incito S preamp, and Gladius, Stentor and Symphonia speakers have drawn acclaimed from various hi-fi publications and websites in Europe.
Aries Cerat started out making speakers, but the electronics followed, based around tube and solid-state circuitry, and taking a less trodden path that company head honcho Stavros Danos believes is the only way for him to achieve the sound performance quality he had sought even before he started designing amplifiers and DACs.
Danos has a background in aerospace and robotics, and his mission is to “change people’s perception of High End”. We had never heard of the company until we received an email a few years ago over a new product launch. In more recent news, Danos has appoint Centre Circle Audio as the Malaysian distributor for Aries Cerat.
We reached out to Danos (he’s photo shy, which is why you won’t see his face here!) for his story.
Who is the founder/s of Aries Cerat and what is the company structure now?
I founded the company in 2010. I was at crossroads between pursuing a career in aerospace and robotics/mechatronics, the field I specialised in after university, or doing what I found myself being passionate about, to show what is possible in high-performance audio. I had by then designed a full range of electronics and speakers, which came after I realised that what was available in high-end audio at the time was, in my humble opinion, just not up to my expectations. I kept on wondering where the music spirit was in most systems I had auditioned at the time. I decided to change peoples’ perception of High End, and this is our company’s mission since January 2010.
The company is 100% family owned and is established in Limassol, at the southeast part of Europe. We employ a number of skilled technicians, and all mechanical, audio, electronic and product design is my responsibility. I also perform all the electrical and mechanical assemblies that I consider critical, as well as all the tuning, testing and auditioning of all units being produced.
Cyprus is an unlikely place, for most of us, for a hi-fi manufacturer. How did you get into making tube amplifiers?
I began studying and experimenting in electronics as an early teenager, and after following my studies in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, I gained the academic knowledge to go further and deeper in this passion of mine. Music and audio was another separate passion of mine, but the two – electronics and audio never mixed at the time. In electronics/mechatronics, I was mainly focused on digital systems architecture, working on new processor architectures, motion control, mechanical interfaces etc, while in audio, I was trying to satisfy my “musicophile/audiophile” vice with commercial offerings. It was not until my early 20s that I realised I could combine the ever-search for outside-of-the-box electronics design with audio. So my two passions converged. Tube electronics was something new to me at the time, and it was difficult for me, as someone who designed with glue-logic full working processor, and always thinking in zeros and ones, to understand why circuits designed with tubes sounded the way they did. This was the beginning.
What was the company’s mission from the start? Has it been successful?
In a sense, the company’s mission was a personal one, and is driven by my personal drive to change people’s view and perspective on high end audio. Back in my early years, the motive and agenda were driven by my disappointment about what the industry had to offer to music lovers. I know that the music was underserved from what I was hearing, at least from what I was exposed to. Deep down I knew that there should be something better, and started designing what I believed served my music better. This is how it all began.
A decade later, and leaving aside my subjective opinion on how music reproduction equipment should sound, I can only know if we are successful by and from the experiences that other audiophiles/music lovers have with our designs. So far, the feedback we receive is overwhelming in that we make a lot of people interested back in high performance audio, and revive their excitement about high-end audio or music reproduction. Daily testaments from our clients and users make me think we are successful in changing people’s perspective on high performance audio. This keeps me motived to push the bar higher and higher.
Why did you chose the “tube path”? Explain to us in “layman” terms your approach to designing tube amps and other products.
We usually choose tubes for the simple reason; you can design better sounding circuits using tubes as active elements. It is not a dogma or a panacea. I really detest dogmas and absolutes. I always try to have objectivity in all aspects of design, and try to scrutinise every parameter of my designs. Why use this topology over the other, what power supply design to select, down to last detail of layout and signal routing.
This applies to our complete design portfolio. An example of how I approach design dichotomies is the everlasting single-ended vs balanced/differential argument. Most of our tube stages are single-ended, however in some very specific stages, we use differential topologies, though not a run-of-the-mill but proprietary tube differential stages. An example would be in our phono input stages, where a differential stage is used on the input stage, to cancel out noise pick-up and amplify the native balanced signal of the cart generator as true differential signal. The latter two stages of the phono stages are single-ended, simply because the noise cancellation properties of differential are not essential, while the specific SE stages sound better. It is always a matter of what is the best solution for specific task. There is no universal solution for all problems. Same as with tube as voltage/current amplifiers. If the circuit we are developing is better sounding than their SS equivalent, then the tube stage will be preferred.
Another example is our TriodeFet technology. We could never proceed in developing this technology if we were dogmatic about tube vs SS technology. The TriodeFet is a special proprietary technology, which uses tubes and transistor to create a new active element, which presents triode like transfer curves with transistor-level of current surge capabilities.
I always try to think outside of the box and ignore all the prior art when approaching to solve a specific issue. This might seem as reinventing the wheel, but it actually allows you to come up with some very unique design ideas.
What makes your products – the amps, preamps, DACs and speakers – stand out, sonically and in terms of design?
Most of our electronics designs originate from the early equipment I designed before and at the start of the company, as tools or lab equipment you may say, to help me design the perfect speaker, if such a speaker exists. We initially founded the company mainly as speaker design/manufacturers. As I was not satisfied with what was on the market available regarding electronics, to acquire as help to our speaker design projects, I began developing and experimenting with cost-no-object electronics designs, ideas and designs which I had running in my mind for some time. These ideas were not limited by budget, size, prior art limitations and all limitations that usual commercial equipment have, as these would be lab equipment, no-compromise equipment to guide us to develop our horn speaker technologies and tune our top range speakers.
These lab electronics were soon drawing the attention from audiophiles and industry professionals. It was then that we decided to reform, or reshape our lab electronics as to be commercially available designs, while keeping the core technology and attention to detail/cost-no-object character. I believe the core sound of these early electronics have remained in place in our recent designs of today, and in addition, it is a fact that our newly developed speaker systems do help us push the envelope of performance of our electronics far beyond of what we thought possible. Better speakers help make better electronics, and better electronics push us to make better speakers. It is an ongoing developing / improvement race.
What is the reaction from audiophiles and trades people to a hi-fi manufacturer from Cyprus. How has the response been to Aries Cerat products?
Cyprus’ economy is a mainly service-based, and at same time is considered a tourist resort island. It is also objectively quite challenging to run a manufacturing industry of any sort, audio or in general. Some tech companies are slowly beginning to move their base to the island, but they, as we, are swimming against the tide, or running against the grain. I would resemble our company to live in an entrepreneur bubble-like world in Cyprus, isolated from local market and business world, running a high-end audio company in the most southeast city of Europe. But we are very proud of that.
At the beginning, the origin of our company raised some eyebrows as Cyprus would not be the first place where you would expect a boutique electronics brand to emerge, but the performance of our designs quickly changed that idea. I think the fact that we operate from Cyprus slowly became a plus, as our affiliates, when visiting, can enjoy the deep blue Mediterranean sea.
What has been your most successful product commercially, and what do you think is the best product you’ve made so far, in terms of sound and technology?
Our digital sources are the section of our design portfolio that hold the majority in sales and mostly contribute to our brand awareness. The Kassandra Series, and the new smaller Helene are our most successful products. At close distance is our smaller amplifier, the Genus, which IMHO changed the way users see integrated amplifiers.
All of our series of products are showcases of some of our technologies. I never design something for the sake of having a particular product type. I always design and launch a product if I feel this product has something new to show. For example, the Impera Series is a showcase of our Inverted Triode technology, the Ianus Series is showcase of our TriodeFet technology. Same as with Talos phono Series, which holds some very unique design elements. In addition, our speaker technologies include the diffraction-less horns. It is personally difficult to choose one favourite design over the other. However, I will admit that the recent re-launch of the Ianus Series with the Geminae and Essentia amplifiers, which are designed using our second generation of TriodeFet technology, has been my weak spot. It had my full attention for the good part of last year and I am very proud of the results.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business? Will this change the way people listen to music?
The pandemic changed the world in so many ways, in so few months, that the results will take some years to be fully comprehended. The way businesses are run, from daily operations, marketing, manufacturing, client relations, the whole package has changed dramatically.
I think the impact on the audio industry remains to be seen. Short-term impact was also not even across the industry, as some companies closed down, while others flourished. I think it is risky to claim the reason why this has been the case.
Our company has seen sales soar while in the peak of the pandemic, which surprised us. The company turnover has been increasing every year since its establishment, and this year has been no exception.
My guess is that, music still is the perfect getaway from the daily grind, a reliable escape from a world which is only getting darker.
Do you feel High-End Audio is a viable business in the long run?
High-End audio is alive and expanding. It sometimes gets on the wrong path, but I think it will find its way. We have an obligation as designers to put music first and numbers last. Music pleasure is what drives the industry and we must remember that. There are some exceptions but I think, as almost all industries eventually self-correct their bubbles and misguided turns, high-end audio will self-correct as well.
Are there plans to take your technology into the personal audio/headfi domain?
Even though we do not yet have in our portfolio a dedicated personal audio design, our Genus integrated is highly acclaimed as a SOTA headphone amplifier, secondary as integrated speaker amplifier, and many headphone aficionados choose it for their SOTA personal audio systems. We have a number of HP amp designs that were developed over the years and kept in the prototype stage, at least for now. As an example, we have tried some of our proprietary technologies such as the Inverted Triode system, the TriodeFet as well as the NOIES circuits, in a number of HP amplifier implementations using these technologies with extremely good results. I think these designs were (temporarily maybe) victims of bad timing – we have been overwhelmed by the introduction of some new series as well as the expanding of some existing ones. Yes, I stand guilty for the fact that we did not step fully into personal audio yet. It will happen, hopefully soon.