Digital Replay

The CD players we have on demonstration at present are all integrated, one box players. We are not against separates but these tend to be very expensive. We still believe CD players to be the more musical way to listen to digital recordings for a more natural, less ‘hifi’ sound, compared to other digital media. Some smaller independent labels are producing very high quality digital recordings on this format which can rival the best of the golden age of analogue recordings.

CD Players vs Streaming 

We have now listened to most of the brands that specialise in playing music files from a computer, streamers and servers that are available to the audiophile consumer and, to date, we are not convinced by any of them. Most do not come close to the sound quality achieved by a high quality recorded CD played on a quality CD player. FLAC and WAV files, even at so called higher resolution, still sound compressed when compared to the same music played from a CD through modestly priced CD players such as the Luxman D-03X or the Hegel Mohican.

The higher resolution music file, the size of a movie, such as those supplied by HDTracks or Native DSD should easily beat a standard CD – but it does not. In careful listening tests, this is very easily demonstrated with a close A vs B comparison using exactly the same music. Clearly something is lost even if they tell us it is ‘lossless’. Streaming from quality subscription services, such as Tidal or Qobuz, sounds very compressed compared to the same tracks played from a CD, even if it is claimed they stream at CD quality level. 

The major difference in sound quality is one of resolving the details that give the aural clues to the 3-dimensional depth of sound stage. The air and space around instruments and vocalists. These are very important aspects of 2-channel stereo and one that make it a more convincing recreation of the concert experience, not just merely a “hi-fi” reproduction. So far music files played from a computer from a hard drive fail to deliver these finest details despite the claims made for them. The tonal balance is also shifted towards the brighter end of the spectrum, far removed from the natural timbre of instruments and voices heard live. The sound stage is 2-dimensional, flat, with no real attempt to create the illusion of depth.

Convenient streaming and computer files may be, we have never chosen convenience over sound quality. Even DACs capable of supporting high resolution files, DSD and DXD recordings have not lived up to expectations despite glowing reviews. For us streaming from Tidal or Qobuz will be recommended as a convenient secondary source to offer our clients who use CDs as a prime source.

Streaming

We have introduced some streaming components to our portfolio but only after extensive and careful listening tests for sound quality. Up until this point, we have been disappointed with the flat, compressed sound of this medium, when compared to a good CD player. Streaming from subscription services such as Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon HD, etc, still does not compete with the same music played from a CD via a competent CD player.

We therefore regard streaming as being a complimentary technology to the best physical sources available, CD and Vinyl, as opposed to a replacement of these well-established, existing formats. Streaming offers convenience for casual listening, discovering new music, sampling music prior to purchase, or creating background music playlists.

After extensive auditions of many of the best brands in this arena, two stood out to us on sound quality: AVM and Innuos. Both offer exceptional sound quality from physical sources as well as offering a competent sound from streaming but have a different take on this area.

AVM offers a real TEAC based ‘Pure CD Drive’ CD player integrated into many of their streaming units and are a more traditional hi-fi component in appearance. The CD is played as in a conventional transport in real time.

Innuos has its history in computer based equipment only. Their units give the ability to quickly rip CDs to internal storage and then serve this data (along with other streaming services and attached storage) to the network, or direct to the audio system, or to a separate DAC.

Both brands offer a more natural sound than most other streaming products at their respective price points and are solely audio-focused in their design and build.

 

Streamers/CD Players

Coming soon

Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)

A new CD transport is always a welcome component to receive in an age when many are fixated on streaming and the new Audio Analogue AAdrive did not disappoint. We naturally paired it with the matching DAC from their ‘PureAA line’ of products, the AAdac. Once we had run this in, it displayed a wide and deep soundstage with a real sense of image density and weight to the music. The combination is very resolving without being fatiguing, which is typical of the Audio Analogue sound. Timing is excellent which adds to good rhythmic sense. Bass has all the attributes we look for: extension, authority, texture, and most importantly, the correct timbre. With well recorded classical pieces, the pair can deliver fast dynamics ably illustrating the power of orchestral works. The overall sound of this combination can be more forgiving than most in delivering brighter recordings with less of the hard edged, etched sound that can be the case with some competitive products. This AAdrive is a superb transport and represents exceptional value at the price offered.

As with all Audio Analogue products, this has been meticulously designed with great attention to detail and quality parts chosen by ear. The CD drive mechanism chosen, and then further modified in-house, is a very well-respected unit from Teac. This unit has been built principally for sonic excellence but also for long term reliability.

This is a substantially built unit using thick aluminium panels and matches the slim style of the other Pure AA line units, at only 22 cm wide. The viewing window on the top is a stylish touch not seen often. The remote handset, a thing of beauty in itself, matches the solid aluminium build of the main unit.

  • High quality CD transport from Teac (CD5020A) which is then further modified in-house including a new aluminium clamp
  • Digital output:
    • 1 x 75 ohm RCA S/PDIF
    • 1 x 110 ohm AES/EBU balanced XLR
  • Separate power supplies for the digital audio and control sections maximising resolution and detail retrieval
  • 5.5 kg of solid aluminium construction
  • Solid aluminium remote control
  • £1749 in silver or black

Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier)
We have been enamoured with the fully balanced AADAC since it arrived. The sound quality of this unit is totally seductive offering image separation, detail and micro dynamics delivered with finesse. Bass is full bodied and extended, along with class leading dynamics and depth of image. The compact 22cm wide unit has been designed to match the style of the other Audio Analogue products and looks striking.

This unit includes:

  • High performance D/A converter stage up to 32bit/768Khz using Sabre ES9038
  • Amanero USB converter up to 32bit/384KHz and native DSD (up to 512)
  • 7 different selectable digital filters
  • Digital Inputs:
    • 2 x Coax
    • 1 x Toslink Optical
    • 1 x AES/EBU Balanced
    • 1 x USB B
    • Antenna for Bluetooth aptX
  • Sample Rates:
    • SPDIF (up to 24bit/192KHz)
    • Toslink (up to 24bit/96KHz
    • AES/EBU (up to 24bit/192KHz) digital inputs
    • Bluetooth aptX® high quality audio wireless input (up to 16bit/48KHz)
  • Analogue outputs:
    • Both RCA and Balanced XLR
  • Separate boards for each stage
  • Separate power supplies dedicated to digital and analogue sections
  • Fully balanced and discrete audiophile components in the output stage to perfectly support the ultra-low noise and ultra-low distortion digital stage
  • High quality headphone output
  • Possibility to use in direct (DAC) or volume regulated mode (DAC + preamp)
  • Full aluminium construction
  • £3499 in silver or black

Alan Sircom (Hifi+ March 2021) recently reviewed this combination and was extremely impressed.

I think the AAdrive and AAdac are both something of a high-end star combination, in the making. They deserve to be at the front end of some extremely high-grade audio.

It (Audio Analogue) can do to digital what it does so well to Analogue shouldn’t be a surprise. However, the fact it does it so well, making this one of the go-to front ends to beat at the price still comes of something of a surprise, in part because the AAdac, in particular, takes on an extremely contended market. And wins

Finally, the AAdrive and AAdac combination taken together is worthy of note, as they represent one of the best ways of making a good sound from CD for the high-end enthusiast without £50k to burn.

Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier
Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier
Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)
Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)

AVM Streamer/CD players

Heralding from Germany, AVM have been developing and manufacturing truly high quality electronic equipment for more than 30 years. They have been producing this, with the goal of delivering ‘joy and emotion to the listener’. All the design and development is done in-house and all models are totally manufactured in their own German factory.

During our investigations, we were impressed with their quality of musical reproduction, along with their striking looks and their outstanding build quality. They use simple, logical design principals to achieve optimal performance levels. Because they do not design unnecessarily complicated circuits, there is less requirement to use compensating components for them to function correctly. This allows for a focus on the best components, and by carefully selecting these electrical components there is less of a fingerprint or character imposed on the musical reproduction.

AVM offers a wide range of equipment encompassing Pre-Power & Integrated Amplifiers, CD & Streaming, All-In-Ones, Turntables and a Phono Stage.

The EVOLUTION MP 5.2 CD Player & Streamer is a versatile unit which in our listening tests offered a most natural music reproduction, from both streaming and especially from the integrated ‘Pure CD Drive’ TEAC based CD player. Most streamers are not so focused on CD replay in this way. Thus, the MP refers to the fact that this is a true Media Player.

This superb product provides particularly good sounding streaming, plus a no-compromise CD experience, all in one chassis. This is a very talented and beautiful looking unit, with the ability to deliver all of your digital music with insight and aplomb.

This unit can stream from the Network (LAN, UPnP or Wi-Fi), from a hard-drive up to DSD (as the MP 5.2 has no internal storage /ripping capability), or from services such as QOBUZ, TIDAL or Internet Radio.

The MP 5.2 can also be used as your digital-hub as it has the following six inputs; USB, 2 x Optical S/PDIF, 2 x Coax S/PDIF, plus AES/EBU over XLR. It can thus function as the DAC to your entire digital universe. It contains a no compromise DAC utilising two fully balanced DAC modules per channel as well as using specially conceived AVM low-gain input stages, a technology borrowed from their flagship-line pre-amplifier (the OVATION PA 8).

Another feature that really sets this unit apart from the rest is the in-house developed EVOLUTION 83T Tube Line Stage, using custom AVM 83T tubes, used in a fully-balanced mode. Our listening tests easily demonstrated that this gives a very natural and satisfying sonic delivery with weight, detail and a very ‘real’ timbre to music.

With identical technical specifications but without the tube line stage there is the EVOLUTION MP 3.2 CD Player and Streamer. Whilst maintaining a high level of sound quality, this model offers a different tonal balance due to the all solid state circuitry at a lower cost.

The unit is controlled by either the RC S remote control app for both Apple iOS & Android (free of charge) or from the optional full-colour RC 9 remote.

EVOLUTION MP 5.2 CD Player & Streamer – black or silver £5750

Same specification as the MP 5.2 model but without 83T tube line stage
EVOLUTION MP 3.2 CD Player & Streamer – black or silver £4495

AVM website

EVOLUTION MP 5.2 CD Player & Streamer
EVOLUTION MP 5.2 CD Player & Streamer
EVOLUTION MP 3.2 CD Player & Streamer
EVOLUTION MP 3.2 CD Player & Streamer

A Portuguese company that has been dedicated to the improvement of digital music reproduction since 2009. Their goal was to focus on three core principles; Software and Hardware Synergy (providing true end-to-end solutions), Customer-Driven Research and Development (to truly understand what customers require) and finally developing an Open Platform (allowing integration with popular HiFi) that is being constantly reviewed.

In our listening tests covering all the key players aimed at streaming, we were very impressed with the sound quality of digital reproduction from both ripped CDs and streaming services. Right from the entry level, Zen Mini, the sound was way above the average. It was also clear how this sound improved as you step up through their range to truly nuanced and detailed performances. We have not always found this to be the case with other streaming dedicated brands.

With the most recent Mk3 range, Innuos has spent time and money developing custom computer motherboards. Designed specifically for their units to minimise Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), truly optimising performance, as opposed to the easier approach adopted by competitors of modifying something off-the-shelf. This custom hardware works alongside their custom firmware (innuOS).

Innuos has also focussed more closely on power supply quality with the entire Mk3 range, which is well known in audiophile component designs to provide large sonic benefits. Additionally, the USB interface itself has been further developed, to make this as free from noise as possible (a traditional problem with USB connectivity) maximising the transfer of musical information.

As well as sound quality Innuos has also concentrated on functionality. Their products are extremely flexible and easy to use – not always the case with products aimed at playing computer files. Each unit in the range can be used as a CD Ripper, Music Server /NAS (Network Attached Storage) and Streamer. This means they can be used either directly connected to your audio system or can serve music to suitable devices anywhere on your network, making placement more flexible. They also incorporate fan-less designs for quiet operation.

For these reasons, we have decided to stock the entire MK3 range from Innuos. They offer outstanding sound quality and superb value at their respective price points. Their stylish designs are a true bonus.

The ZENmini Mk3 (from £1049) is a small unit (214mm wide) and is their gateway product. In our listening tests we found this to be a musical and highly enjoyable performer, whether playing CD rips or streaming. It can be used as a CD Ripper, UPnP Music Server (NAS) and Streamer, so is extremely flexible

  • Integrated TEAC CD drive used solely for ripping to the hard drive, for copies of the highest quality.

  • It has both Analogue RCA and SPDIF (optical and coaxial) outputs making existing hi-fi integration as easy as possible. It has 4 x USB 3.0 inputs as well as 2 x RJ45 sockets.

  • It can output via analogue RCA any file up to 24 bit/192 KHz, using the internal DAC, but can serve files out to the network including DSD and MQA to a suitable DAC.

  • This, as with all models, can be controlled by a free of charge application available on Apple iOS, as well as Android and Windows 10

  • Streaming services supported are; Qobuz, Spotify Connect, Tidal and Internet Radio as well as being Roon Ready (Roon Core and Roon Bridge).

  • Sonos compatible.

  • It can be ordered with a variety of internal HDD drive options of between 1-8 TB of storage: 1 TB (£1049), 2 TB (£1149), 4 TB (£1349) or 8 TB (£1599).

  • Optional Upgraded Linear Power Supply, in a separate matching chassis which further improves sound quality. Available for £549 if purchased with any Zen Mini, or £599 if purchased separately.

The Zen Mk3 (from £2199) is their first unit in a full width chassis. In our listening tests we found the Zen to have a notable step up in sound quality over the ZENmini. Sound-stage is wider and deeper, with better transients, and with voices sounding more natural.

It has the functionality of the above ZENmini (CD Ripper, Server and Streamer) except for only having USB output (no analogue or SPDIF), so it will require a USB digital input into your DAC/Amplifier. Innuos have spent a lot of time developing the USB connection to achieve ultra-low-noise quality and is now their preferred choice.

Advantages over the ZENmini MK3 are:
  • New dual layer Power Supply Unit designed by Dr Sean Jacobs, incorporating high quality Nichicon MUSE Capacitors.

  • More attention paid to vibration control with the chassis treated, along with incorporating asymmetrical, anti-vibration feet based on technology developed for the Zenith Mk2 SE.

  • With the increased RAM in this unit, playback of stored files is entirely from the internal 8GB of RAM on board, allowing music to be played without engaging the hard drive (a bonus in terms of sound quality).

  • New Generation Quad-Core Intel CPU.

  • Completely isolated dual-Ethernet RJ45 ports with dedicated isolation transformers.

  • Supports up to DSD 128 via DoP (DSD over PCM) and native DSD, through a suitable DAC.

  • The internal Hard Disc drive options are: 1TB (£2199), 2TB (£2299), 4TB (£2499) or 8TB (£2749).

  • Silver or black faceplate option to a black chassis.

The ZENith Mk3 (from £3499) is their flagship one-box solution with the same styling as the Zen. In our listening tests, we found this to be a most impressive performer from both ripped CDs and streamed files. The soundstage opens even more, being more holographic in all dimensions than the Zen. Instruments have a smoother, more life-like character with the decay on notes being more natural. Bass transients are also more impactful. This unit offers a superb and very engaging sound for this price point.

Provides all the functionality of the rest of the range (CD Ripper, Server and Streamer)

Advantages over the ZEN Mk3 are:
  • Triple-Linear Power Supply Unit, designed by Dr Sean Jacobs, incorporating extremely high quality Mundorf Capacitors with ultra-low-noise regulators.

  • Incorporates SSD storage (with no moving parts) with newly improved vibration and EMI treatments.

  • Supports up to native DSD 512 through suitable DAC’s.

  • Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) options are: 1TB (£3499), 2TB (£3999), 4TB (£4499) and 8TB (£5899).

  • As with the Zen, silver or black faceplate option to a black chassis.

The STATEMENT (from £11400) is the ultimate 2-box solution from Innuos incorporating the best of their current technology to maximise sonic performance. In our listening tests we found the Statement to have the best sound when compared to other streaming capable brands at this price level. Music was textured and detailed with a deep and wide soundstage. Voices and instruments were detailed whilst remaining natural and nuanced, with plenty of micro-detail. This is true state-of-the-art and builds on the R&D for their previous flagship model, the multiple-award winning ZENith Mk2 SE. It truly is a statement piece.

Provides all the functionality of the rest of the range (CD Ripper, Server and Streamer)

Advantages over the ZENith MK3 are:
  • Double-enclosure linear power supply designed by Dr Sean Jacobs with 8 power rails (effectively 8 separate power supplies) that serve completely clean power signals to the various parts of the unit independently of each other. This reduces electrical noise caused by the voltage conversions of regulators. Moreover, these power supplies have been individually tailored for each critical component to work optimally.

  • Separately enclosed AC/DC conversion stage to isolate the transformer vibration and EMI emissions.

  • Regulation stage within the main enclosure to shorten the clean DC power path.

  • Custom designed components including a state-of-the-art Innuos designed USB board with a dedicated 5v power.

  • USB and Ethernet re-clocking by independently powered 3ppb OCXO clock for higher precision and lower phase noise.

  • EMI-Optimised, custom motherboard exclusively designed for Innuos.

  • Available in Silver or Black (milled-aluminium) for the front, side and top panels of both enclosures.

  • Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) options are: 1TB (£11400), 2TB (£11900), 4TB (£12400) and 8TB (13800.

    Statement Umbilical Cords upgrade: 0.5m pair £1099, 1.0m pair £1199, 1.5m pair £1299.

ZENmini Mk3
ZENmini Mk3
ZEN Mk3
ZEN Mk3
ZENith Mk3
ZENith Mk3
Statement
Statement

Innuos PhoenixUSB – Reclocker

This unit will maximise the sound quality from any streaming unit which currently connects to your DAC over USB. The PhoenixUSB is placed between the Streamer and DAC and will re-clock (regenerate) the data stream to deliver a cleaner, more accurate signal, with less digital jitter (digital timing inaccuracies) to the DAC. This allows the DAC to decode the signal more easily, using less aggressive error correction filtering and processing. This creates a more coherent and natural presentation, maximising audio quality and the subtle nuances of the music.

The PhoenixUSB uses technology from their flagship streamer device the Statement, which has the same USB Reclocker (clock chip and dual power supplies) built in. The high-quality clock included (again used in the Statement server) with its own linear power supply, minimises this problem.

Our listening tests used with a variety of streaming devices revealed a more expansive sound stage, with greater depth. The illusion of depth is one of the major problems with streaming music replay and to enhance this audiophile aspect is a real bonus. This allows a sense of space of the original recording to be perceived, experiencing the size and acoustic properties more fully. Overall tone and timbre are improved, becoming more natural – less “hifi”. Instrument separation is increased, and the decay to sustained notes is more natural. Speed of transients is increased, along with more impact and depth to the bass, Sibilance is also very well controlled and can help tame harsher sounding recordings.

The PhoenixUSB reclocker will help optimise any DAC and Streamer combination.

The 3 main design objectives for this unit are:

  • The USB chip regenerating the signal contains no switching regulators. All 3 independent voltages to the chip originate from an independent linear power supply with further regulation provided by 3 sets of high quality LT3045 regulators.

  • The use of a 3ppb OCXO clock running directly at 24MHz and connected via a board-track very close to the USB chip. No precision is lost within cables and connectors, as would be the case when using an external master 10MHz clock with an additional 24MHz clock generator.

  • Two independent Innuos Statement-level linear power supplies: one dedicated to the OCXO clock; the other for powering the USB chip/5V USB line.

Available in black and silver £2599

Innuos website

 

Innuos PhoenixUSB - Reclocker
Innuos PhoenixUSB - Reclocker

Streaming CD Receiver

AVM Streaming CD Receiver

The EVOLUTION CS 5.2 Compact Streaming CD Receiver is a very interesting and versatile all-in-one unit. One of the more recent trends in hi-fi is for ‘lifestyle’ units, these being smaller and with the ability to do more from a single chassis. This unit takes these principles to a new level of sound quality without serious compromise. We were impressed with the CS 5.2’s range of talents and sonic character delivering great dynamics and a very natural timbre. Exceptionally rare to encounter such sound quality from an all-in-one designs.

Firstly, there is a very powerful amplifier delivering 2 x 220 wpc at 8 ohms (2 x 330 wpc at 4 ohms), with 2 sets of switchable speaker outputs.

Next, contained within, is a TEAC based ‘Pure CD Drive’ to give outstanding CD reproduction. It is acoustically shielded and spring-mounted to protect from unwanted resonances and structural feedback loops.

Connectivity is ample with 4 analogue line inputs and 1 phono input (for both MM and MC). To compliment this it has a range of digital inputs (Coax, Optical and USB). There is both a pre-out and line-out.

This unit can also stream from the Network (LAN, UPnP or Wi-Fi) including from a NAS, from a hard/thumb drive (as the CS 5.2 has no internal storage/ripping capability), or from web services such as QOBUZ, TIDAL or internet radio. The streaming client firmware is updateable and upgradable, making the CS 5.2 future-proof. It also includes a RDS FM tuner.

It is fully controllable through vast menu functionality including; tone controls with bypass function, adjustable input sensitivity, individual naming of inputs etc. It is remotely controlled using either the RC S remote control app (for free download for both Apple iOS and Android) or the optional RC 9 full colour remote control.

As a bonus, it also has a high quality pure Class-A headphone amplifier with 6.3 mm output.

EVOLUTION CS 5.2 Compact Streaming CD Receiver – black or silver £5750

AVM website

 

EVOLUTION CS 5.2 Compact Streaming CD Receiver
EVOLUTION CS 5.2 Compact Streaming CD Receiver

CD Players

Founded in 1983, the company was brought to market to offer great value, very high-quality hi-fi electronics, with each being easy to use. Their first range, their 8000 series, is now considered a classic, warmly remembered by those who used them and who can attest to their build and audio quality.

The business was adversely affected by ownership changes and the economic slump of the early 2000s and the new owner ceased development in mid-2003. Eventually the audio side of the business was purchased by International Audio Group (IAG) which also owns Quad, Mission, Wharfedale and Castle Acoustics.

Audiolab was re-launched in 2005 under the leadership of Nick Clark with a new range of products under the 8200 Series to multi-award-winning, critical acclaim. The company has steadily grown since this time and has won many accolades for products including the legendary M-DAC, a stand-alone digital to analogue converter which rewrote the rule book of what was possible for the money.

Today Audiolab has two ranges, the 6000 and higher 8300 series. Both offer a very fresh, clean and modern aesthetic. They offer truly exceptional value offering above average sonic performance, excellent build quality at very reasonable prices. Their ranges consist of a gamut of very well reviewed electronics including:

  • CD players - with additional digital inputs (plus optional analogue inputs) and with the ability to work as preamplifiers if required
  • CD Transport – as huge fans of CDs we love this addition to their range offering a purpose built, no frills transport at a, frankly, ridiculously good price
  • Stand-alone DACs – with great integrated headphone outputs and some with the ability to work as a pre-amp if required. This includes the successor to the original M-DAC, the M-DAC+.
  • Network streamers – their newest model to market

CD Players and Transports:

CD Transport 6000-CDT

We make no secret of being fans of CD. We believe there is still superior sound quality to be had from this physical format compared to other digital sources. Audiolab has developed this stand-alone CD transport only to maximise the performance of this medium for those with either an existing stand-alone DAC or those with amplifiers with an integrated DAC with digital inputs. Focussing myopically on the one specific task of CD playback has maximised performance and is simply incredible for the money. It offers a wide and deep soundstage with great tonal accuracy which is exceptional on the market at such a bargain price. Principal specifications:

  • Contains the same mechanism as on their more expensive integrated CD players
  • Focussed solely on 16 bit / 44.1 kHz conversion from CD, nothing else, maximising performance
  • Digital output only through either Coaxial or Toslink (optical)
  • Designed to minimise noise and jitter being delivered to the DAC
  • Buffered playback mechanism which maximises audio quality and minimises the chance of damaged CDs not being read (which would be unreadable on a traditional mechanism)

Available in Black or Silver £379.95

CD Player 8300-CDQ with DAC/Pre-Amp/Headphone amplifier

This product is outstanding and offers a great deal of functionality, as well as simply CD playback. It can act as the DAC in your system, as has a set of digital inputs. The DAC itself is very high quality, allowing for both traditional PCM, DSD and MQA conversion. It can also be used as a digital pre-amplifier (utilising a digital volume control) to allow direct connection to a power amplifier. The 8300 CDQ has a superb sound for the price point and outperforms expectations at this price. As with the CDT, this unit offers great tonal accuracy and a wide and deep soundstage, a rarity at this price. This unit can become the heart of a system. Principal specifications:

  • ESS 32 9018 DAC chip (32 bit / 384 kHz and DSD 256) offering a range of PCM and DSD digital filter options
  • Digital Inputs: 2 x Coax; 2 x Toslink (optical); 1 x AES/EBU (balanced); 1 x USB (type B) for DSD playback (plus PCM)
  • Digital outputs: 1 x Coax; 1 x Toslink (optical); 1 x AES/EBU (balanced)
  • Analogue outputs:3 x RCA pair; 1 x XLR pair (balance) 
  • High-quality headphone output
  • The USB input also decodes for the MQA codec
  • High quality, robust, slot loading CD mechanism
  • OLED display
  • Full aluminium construction

Available in black or silver £1,099.95

 

Stand-alone DACs

M-DAC+ (DAC/Pre-amp/Headphone amplifier)

This DAC is the evolution to the original M-DAC and offers fantastic performance in a compact chassis for a very reasonable cost. This unit has been upgraded over the M-DAC to now include an integrated linear power supply, as oppose to the external switch mode unit used before. The M-DAC+ additionally offers DSD decoding as the original MDAC was limited to 24 bit/ 192kHz sample rates. The M-DAC+ includes:

    • ESS 32 9018 DAC chip (32 bit / 384 kHz and DSD 256) offering a range of PCM and DSD digital filter options
    • Digital inputs: 2 x Coax; 2 x Toslink (optical; 1 x AES/EBU (balanced); 1 x USB A plus 1 x USB B
    • Digital Output: 1 x Coax; 1 x Toslink (optical)
    • Analogue outputs:1 x RCA pair; 1 x XLR pair (balanced)
    • High quality integrated Headphone Amplifier
    • The ability to be used as a digital pre-amplifier
    • Potential use as a desktop headphone/active speaker solution as is compact in size (under 25cm wide)
    • Full aluminium construction

Available in black or silver £799.95

Audiolab website

 

CD Transport 6000-CDT
CD Transport 6000-CDT
CD Player 8300-CDQ with DAC/Pre-Amp/Headphone amplifier
CD Player 8300-CDQ with DAC/Pre-Amp/Headphone amplifier

AVM have been developing and manufacturing electronic equipment ‘for the highest quality of musical reproduction’ for more than 30 years. All their design and development is done in-house and all models are fully manufactured in their own German factory.

During our investigations, we were impressed with their quality of musical reproduction, along with their striking looks and their outstanding build quality. They aim to use simple, logical design principals to achieve optimal performance levels. Unnecessarily complex circuits are avoided allowing them to concentrate on using the highest quality components.

We have described in detail their EVOLUTION Media Players MP 5.2 and MP 3.2 in the section above, but these models can also be purchased as just CD players for those who do not require the streaming facility. Sound quality is of the same high level as that of the equivalent Media Players, particularly so for the EVOLUTION CD 5.2 CD Player that incorporates the tube line stage.

With identical technical specifications but without the tube line stage there is the EVOLUTION CD 3.2 CD Player. Whilst maintaining a superb sound quality, this model offers a different tonal balance due to the all solid state circuitry at a lower cost.

EVOLUTION CD 5.2 CD Player – black or silver £4525

Same specification as the CD 5.2 but without the 83T tube line stage
EVOLUTION CD 3.2 CD Player – black or silver £3150

AVM website

EVOLUTION CD 5.2 CD Player
EVOLUTION CD 5.2 CD Player
EVOLUTION CD 3.2 CD Player
EVOLUTION CD 3.2 CD Player

This Norwegian electronics company has been around since the mid-1990s but in recent years has become much better known in the higher end of the audio market. They have a very focused range of products which include integrated amplifiers with built in high quality DACs, two separated DACs and a dedicated CD player. The CD player is called a Mohican, which could be considered the last CD player you need to own. This plays nothing but Compact Discs and does so superbly. This product really appealed to us as a courageous move in today’s market where there is a trend towards computer files as a main source.

Most CD players today try to incorporate many additional facilities to enable other digital formats to be played, support DSD, etc. The problem is that these additional functionalities not only drive up the cost, but significantly reduce the sound quality when playing CDs. The Mohican does nothing but play CDs, rare in today’s market, and plays them exceedingly well. A dedicated CD player using the very latest in digital processing, adapted for CD only. The results are astonishing.

The Mohican CD player offers a truly high-end sound, a very refined, very organic sound. This elegant sound is largely due to their patented SoundEngine to control the clock, forcing jitter down to levels they have never reached before. Perhaps the lowest in the world.

Mohican Reference CD player £3900.00 NOW DISCONTINUED BUT WE HAVE TWO NEW UNITS OF THIS REMARKABLE SOUNDING CD PLAYER FOR SALE. 

Hegel Music Systems website

Hegel Music Systems H590
Mohican Reference CD player

Luxman is one of the legendary brands in HiFi. Hailing from Japan, their name has been around since 1925, when radio broadcasting was in its infancy. Luxman has focused simply on audio since then and is now world renowned for their high-end audio products. Luxman is always striving for naturalness in their presentation, allowing the listener to get closer to the music, ‘through emotional involvement’.

Luxman has been producing CD players ever since their DX-104 back in 1983, at the birth of CD. We are great fans of CD as a format, as we feel it still has much to offer compared to other digital replay formats. Luxman have a reputation for excellence and their CD players are no exception.

We have introduced Luxman into our portfolio after close A/B testing some alternatives brands and our own reference products. The new D-03X model introduced to the market in May 2020 is impressive for both the sound quality and the exceptional build quality. The sound can be summarised as transparent, fast and refined. The soundstage is very large, especially depth, and the speed of dynamics and transients is impressive, with rapid playing of piano or guitar passages delivered faultlessly. It never gets flustered rhythmically. 

We have just received our demonstration sample of the new Luxman D-10X CD player. Even immediately from the carton, it was clear this is one very special CD player. There is little doubt this is one of the best sounding CD players we have heard and is on a par with the Spectral Studio Reference models, which is one of the highest compliments we can offer. The latter already outperform many branded CD players costing several times more, and the Luxman D-10X even though it is priced at £15000, represent particular value for money. A more detailed report and appraisal on it performance is shown below.

Luxman D-03X CD player with DSD/MQA DAC

In our listening tests we found this unit to be very engaging. Tone is natural, with vocals being particularly well rendered. Highs are detailed and distinct but, importantly for us, are never fatiguing. Another attribute important to our selection is the illusion of the depth of soundstage and the D-03X does not disappoint, being both deep and wide. Well recorded classical works can show their dynamic range, micro details in quiet passages are dealt with so well, and the decay of notes sounding very natural. Bass is full, tight, and with high levels of textural information. Fast played passages on piano or guitar are presented with ease and without blurring of one note into the next. It has an extremely easy sound to live with.

The player includes MQA decoding technology, which enables you to play back MQA-CDs (a new physical format) as well as MQA audio files up to 24-bit, transferred via USB, optical and coaxial inputs. MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is an award-winning British technology that aims to get you closer to the sound of the original master recording. The dual mono, one DAC per channel, designs maximises detail retrieval.

For playing back music from a personal computer, Luxman recommends their LUXMAN Audio Player application. Available for both Windows and Mac systems, the software enables superlative USB output of FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3 and DSF/DSDIFF files. (The application is downloadable from the official LUXMAN website).


Features include:

  • High quality, dual-mono (fully balanced) DAC configuration utilising 2 x Texas Instruments PCM 1795 with fully balanced analogue outputs
  • High-precision, low-jitter/low-phase-noise master clock, used on all signals for minimal noise near the oscillation frequency and thus maximising transmission accuracy
  • Physical formats playback of CD, CD-R, CD-RW and MQA-CD
  • CD transport mechanism with steel top plate, 8mm thick solid aluminium base, a shielded box sub chassis and a loop-less structure to lower the noise floor for maximise detail retrieval
  • Massive power transformer, independent regulators for each circuit and large capacity filter capacitors. To minimise even subtle effects from magnetic fields, ground impedance and digital noise, the chassis is loop-less and shielded.
  • Digital inputs (all 24-bit MQA capable):
    • 1 x USB - DSD capable up to a massive 11.2MHz, and PCM up to 384 kHz/32-bit. In addition to conventional file transfers at fixed bitrates, the USB supports four modes of Bulk Pet* high-resolution audio file transfer, which optimizes data packaging and delivery to the DAC. This eases the processing load for both the host CPU and the device CPU enhancing playback stability and ultimately yielding improved sound quality
    • 1 x Co-axial - up to 192 kHz / 24-bit
    • 1 x Toslink Optical - up to 192 kHz / 24-bit
  • Digital outputs (which can be deactivated if not required):
    • 1 x Co-axial
    • 1 x Toslink Optical
  • Analogue outputs:
    • XLR balanced
    • Single ended co-axial
  • Aluminium remote control
  • Chassis size: 440mm (w) x 133mm (h) x 410mm (d); weight 13.2 kg

Available in silver aluminium £3,495

Luxman D-380 CD player

In our listening tests we found this pure CD unit to share the family sound of the D-03X, listed above with an easy-going, less “hifi” presentation. The main difference is that the D-380 has a tube output stage offering a pleasingly smooth delivery. Compared to the D-03X, the D-380 has a slightly more forward midrange and upper bass frequencies, whilst the D-03X offers a better overall linearity and capability at the frequency extremes. We feel that the lightly warmer sound of the D-380 may particularly compliment a lot of the brighter and more forward electronics in the market today (something The Audio Consultants tries to avoid) but still sounds superb on the more neutral components we offer. This voicing leads to a particularly non-fatiguing listening experience, with holographic vocals being a highlight. There is a solid-state option, bypassing the valve stage, which is also good, but there is no doubt that Luxman has designed this model to be used with the valve stage for main listening. And there is the glow of the tube visible through the viewing window in the front panel.

The styling of this unit is distinctive, housed in a wooden case with a finely finished aluminium front panel. The use of the ‘38’ in the naming convention is an homage to older units from Luxman’s past that helped give them the reputation they enjoy, and hence the vintage inspired appearance. There is also a matching tube amplifier (the LX-380) in the same finish. Newly released, the D-380 CD player offers a vintage aesthetic, with very much a modern-day sound.

Features include:

  • High quality, Texas Instruments PCM 5102 based DAC
  • Dedicated jitter reduction chip to suppress distortion at the digital to analogue conversion stage maximising detail retrieval
  • ECC-82 valve output stage, which can be deactivated for pure solid-state operation if required. This can be further enhanced by the two digital filter options
  • CD transport mechanism with an 8mm thick solid aluminium base for improved data reading stability
  • Digital outputs (which can be deactivated if not required):
    • 1 x Co-axial
    • 1 x Toslink Optical
  • Analogue outputs:
    • Single ended co-axial
  • Wooden enclosure with hair line finished aluminium front panel and steel rear
  • Aluminium remote control
  • Heavyweight build. Size: 440mm (w) x 167mm (h) x 286mm (d); weight 10.8 kg

Available in wood/aluminium finish £3,799

Luxman D-10X - Flagship CD/SACD player & DSD/MQA DAC NEW

Immediately from plugging in the very first time, it was clear this is one incredibly special CD player. The natural sound quality with immensely low noise floor results in a level of transparency rarely heard with any digital replay format. Holography and image presentation is quite remarkable. There is little doubt this is one of the best sounding CD players we have heard and is on a par with the Spectral Studio Reference models which is one of the highest compliments we can offer. The latter will outperform many branded CD players costing several times more which makes the Luxman D-10X priced at £15000 almost a “bargain”.

In our listening tests we found the D-10X to be one of the very best CD sources we have ever heard. Tone is completely natural. The soundstage is not only very wide but also very deep, to allow for a truly holographic sound field. This is also demonstrated by how well the size of the recording venue is rendered to the listener. Highs are handled with real finesse with a huge amount of micro-detail, without any digital glare or sibilance. More complicated music, such as orchestral, is shown in all its glory and elegance. Even in complicated passages the D-10X never misses a beat, allowing huge amounts of information to be delivered clearly and with excellent articulation. Bass has true extension whilst retaining natural tone and texture. SACD replay is also very impressive.

The build quality D-10X is exemplary, industry reference standard constructed from thick plate metal, and weighing in at 22 kg. The drive mechanism is totally silent, not only in loading and unloading but whilst the disc is played. The action of the CD drawer itself (with locking and sealing mechanism) is a mechanical marvel and is just one example of the sheer level of detail Luxman went to in the development of this flagship unit.

We firmly believe in the superiority of CD replay over other digital sources and have been lucky enough, over many years, to use some of the best units from around the globe. This player is right up there with the best of them and illustrated clearly just how much CD still has to offer in terms of sound quality.

The player includes MQA technology, which enables you to play back MQA-CDs (a new physical format) as well as MQA audio files up to 24-bit transferred via USB, optical and coaxial inputs. MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is an award-winning British technology that aims to get you closer to the sound of the original master recording.

For playing back music from a personal computer, Luxman recommends their LUXMAN Audio Player application. Available for both Windows and Mac systems, the software enables superlative USB output of FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3 and DSF/DSDIFF files. (You can download the application from the official LUXMAN website.)

Features include:

  • The D-10X marks the debut of the world’s finest D/A converter, the MUS-IC™ BD34301EKV chip from ROHM Semiconductor. Used in dual mono configuration (one per channel) these converters have industry leading specifications and have been developed with the focus on audio quality.

  • ODNF-u – Only Distortion Negative Feedback (ultimate) – which debuts on the D-10X. This fully balanced configuration maximizes error detection accuracy, minimizing distortion. You will hear far greater expressive power with enhanced micro-dynamics across the audio spectrum, especially in the higher frequencies. The stage also achieves a natural and smooth waveform without the conventional output filters. The secret is the tailored, gradual 1st order filter × 3 band processing inside the circuitry.

  • LxDTM-i drive mechanism – LUXMAN original Disc Transport Mechanism (improved). The transport is enclosed in 8 mm thick aluminium sides that extend to the front and rear panels, plus a 5 mm thick steel top plate. For added protection, the physical mounting system forms an integrated structure that supports the side frame. Together with an improved disc reading mechanism, the result is playback of an altogether higher order.

  • Unique Luxman Printed Circuit Board (PCB) - Dielectric effects, unwanted resistance and stray capacitance in printed circuit board patterns can all degrade the audio signal. LUXMAN suppresses these effects with generously thick 100 μm copper foil, gold-plated connections and peel coat removal of the solder mask. In addition, their gently curved wiring pattern delivers smooth signal flow.

  • High-precision, low-jitter / low-phase-noise master clock, used on all signals for minimal noise near the oscillation frequency and thus maximising transmission accuracy.

  • Premium selected components - No detail is too small for LUXMAN engineers to consider and refine. The RCA output jacks apply gold plating over an alloy that combines the conductivity of copper with the durability of brass. They also use rugged Neutrik XLR terminals for the balanced in/outputs. In addition, density gradient cast iron insulator feet provide firm support, while diffusing structure-borne resonance

  • Massive power transformer (up 27% on the previous flagship player), independent regulators for each circuit and large capacity filter capacitors. To minimize even subtle effects from magnetic fields, ground impedance and digital noise, the chassis is loop-less and shielded.

  • Physical formats playback: CD, SACD, CD-R, CD-RW and MQA-CD

  • Digital inputs (with all being 24-bit MQA capable):

    • 1 x USB - allowing DSD up to a huge 22.4 MHz, and PCM up to 768 kHz / 32-bit. In addition to conventional file transfers at fixed bitrates, the USB supports four modes of Bulk Pet* high-resolution audio file transfer, which optimizes data packaging and delivery to the DAC. This eases the processing load for both the host CPU and the device CPU enhancing playback stability and ultimately yielding improved sound quality.

    • 1 x Co-axial - up to 192 kHz / 24-bit

    • 2 x Toslink Optical - up to 192 kHz / 24-bit

  • Digital outputs (can be deactivated when not required):

    • 1 x Co-axial

    • 1 x Toslink Optical

  • Analogue outputs:

    • XLR balanced x 1 pair

    • Single ended co-axial x 1 pair

  • Full aluminium enclosure with exemplary world-leading, build quality

  • Aluminium remote control provided.

  • Size: 440 mm (w) x 154 mm (H) x 418mm (D) and 22.4 kgs

  • Available in trademark Luxman silver aluminium finish for £14,999

Steve Guttenberg, ‘The Audiophiliac’ on YouTube (and ex Stereophile Magazine) recently reviewed the D10-X and was extremely impressed as is evident from the following comments.

Now I have owned, or reviewed, my fair share of very high-end digital products, DCS, Meridian, MSB Technology, Audio Research and Total DAC. All have come through and I liked them. This one, the D-10X, is something else.”

I think at this point you have picked up on my excitement, my enthusiasm, for the Luxman D-10X. It is one of those products I will never get over”. “On a different level of luxury and build quality”.

Mrs Audiophiliac and I packed it up this morning to send it back to Stereo Exchange and I had a little tear in my eye saying goodbye, I am gonna miss you.”

Please watch his full review.

Review Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQEUU3qf8d0

 

Luxman website

Luxman D-03X CD player
Luxman D-03X CD player
Luxman D-380 CD player
Luxman D-380 CD playerLuxman D-10X CD player
Luxman D-10X CD player

One way to enhance your system to upgrade your digital conversion to current specifications is to add a stand-alone Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC). This can be used for multiple reasons including some, or all, of the follow:

  • Upgrading a CD player or CD transport

  • Upgrading and/or enabling sound from a PC, laptop or streamer

  • Upgrading sound from AV equipment or a games console

  • Giving multiple additional digital inputs to any hi-fi system

  • Pre-amp ability (with some models)

  • Adding a high-quality headphone amplifier (with some models)

After long listening tests we have decided to stock the following units which we feel offer exceptional value and performance, for their price points:

 

Audiolab M-DAC+ (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier)

The M-DAC Plus is the evolution of the multi award winning M-DAC which took the world by storm. In our listening tests we found this to be a compelling listen at an attainable price. We compared this against DACs costing multiple times its price but the M-DAC Plus did not disappoint. It delivers a very credible holographic soundstage with natural tone offering outstanding value for money.

This is a small form factor unit only 29 cm wide making accommodation easy and provides many features including:

  • Uses the ES9018 Sabre reference DAC chipset which is extremely well respected

  • Proprietary, discrete master clock to minimise jitter

  • Digital inputs:

    • 2 x Coaxial

    • 2 x Toslink Optical

    • 1 x AES/EBU, 1 x USB for PC and 1 x USB for iPod/iPhone/iPad

  • Digital Outputs:

    • 1 x Coaxial & 1 x Toslink Optical

  • Analogue Outputs:

    • Both XLR and RCA

  • Sampling rates:

    • 24-bit / 192kHz (Optical, Coaxial and AES)

    • 32-bit / 384kHz (USB)

    • 2.8MHz (DSD64), 5.6MHz (DSD128), 11.2MHz (DSD256)

  • Class A JFET Output stage

  • Digital pre-amplifier which can be bypassed

  • Various digital filter settings providing slightly different ‘flavours’ of delivery

  • High quality headphone output

  • Remote control

  • Textured Aluminium Construction

£800 in silver or black

Audiolab website

M-DAC+ (DAC/Pre-amp/Headphone amplifier)
M-DAC+ (DAC/Pre-amp/Headphone amplifier)

Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier)

We have been enamoured with the fully balanced AADAC since it arrived. The sound quality of this unit is totally seductive offering image separation, detail and micro dynamics delivered with finesse. Bass is full bodied and extended, along with class leading dynamics and depth of image. The compact 22cm wide unit has been designed to match the style of the other Audio Analogue products and looks striking.

This unit includes:

  • High performance D/A converter stage up to 32bit/768Khz using Sabre ES9038

  • Amanero USB converter up to 32bit/384KHz and native DSD (up to 512)

  • 7 different selectable digital filters

  • Digital Inputs:

    • 2 x Coax

    • 1 x Toslink Optical

    • 1 x AES/EBU Balanced

    • 1 x USB B

    • Antenna for Bluetooth aptX

  • Sample Rates:

    • SPDIF (up to 24bit/192KHz)

    • Toslink (up to 24bit/96KHz

    • AES/EBU (up to 24bit/192KHz) digital inputs

    • Bluetooth aptX® high quality audio wireless input (up to 16bit/48KHz)

  • Analogue outputs:

    • Both RCA and Balanced XLR

  • Separate boards for each stage

  • Separate power supplies dedicated to digital and analogue sections

  • Fully balanced and discrete audiophile components in the output stage to perfectly support the ultra-low noise and ultra-low distortion digital stage

  • High quality headphone output

  • Possibility to use in direct (DAC) or volume regulated mode (DAC + preamp)

  • Full aluminium construction

£3,499 in silver or black

Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)

A new CD transport is always a welcome component to receive in an age when many are fixated on streaming and the new Audio Analogue AAdrive did not disappoint. We naturally paired it with the matching DAC from their ‘PureAA line’ of products, the AAdac. Once we had run this in, it displayed a wide and deep soundstage with a real sense of image density and weight to the music. The combination is very resolving without being fatiguing, which is typical of the Audio Analogue sound. Timing is excellent which adds to good rhythmic sense. Bass has all the attributes we look for: extension, authority, texture, and most importantly, the correct timbre. With well recorded classical pieces, the pair can deliver fast dynamics ably illustrating the power of orchestral works. The overall sound of this combination can be more forgiving than most in delivering brighter recordings with less of the hard edged, etched sound that can be the case with some competitive products. This AAdrive is a superb transport and represents exceptional value at the price offered.

As with all Audio Analogue products, this has been meticulously designed with great attention to detail and quality parts chosen by ear. The CD drive mechanism chosen, and then further modified in-house, is a very well-respected unit from Teac. This unit has been built principally for sonic excellence but also for long term reliability.

This is a substantially built unit using thick aluminium panels and matches the slim style of the other Pure AA line units, at only 22 cm wide. The viewing window on the top is a stylish touch not seen often. The remote handset, a thing of beauty in itself, matches the solid aluminium build of the main unit.

  • High quality CD transport from Teac (CD5020A) which is then further modified in-house including a new aluminium clamp

  • Digital output:

    • 1 x 75 ohm RCA S/PDIF

    • 1 x 110 ohm AES/EBU balanced XLR

  • Separate power supplies for the digital audio and control sections maximising resolution and detail retrieval

  • 5.5 kg of solid aluminium construction

  • Solid aluminium remote control

£1,749 in silver or black

Alan Sircom (Hifi+ March 2021) recently reviewed this combination and was extremely impressed.

I think the AAdrive and AAdac are both something of a high-end star combination, in the making. They deserve to be at the front end of some extremely high-grade audio.

It (Audio Analogue) can do to digital what it does so well to Analogue shouldn’t be a surprise. However, the fact it does it so well, making this one of the go-to front ends to beat at the price still comes of something of a surprise, in part because the AAdac, in particular, takes on an extremely contended market. And wins.

Finally, the AAdrive and AAdac combination taken together is worthy of note, as they represent one of the best ways of making a good sound from CD for the high-end enthusiast without £50k to burn.

Audio Analogue website

Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier
Audio Analogue AADAC (DAC, Pre-Amp and Headphone Amplifier
Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)
Audio Analogue AADRIVE (CD Transport)

Innuos PhoenixNET – Audiophile Network Switch

Innuos have now released this audio focussed network switch, which allows any streamer to be upgraded by improving the Ethernet signal it is receiving. After installing this new PhoenixNET switch into our studio streaming system, replacing an already high quality NetGear switch, there was an immediate and obvious upgrade to the sound quality. Network switches are often overlooked but they are instrumental in the audio quality you hear from your streaming services. Network switches were never originally designed with audio quality in mind, which does not help. For this reason, most commercial switches are introducing noise and/or delivering badly timed information to the streamer, and then onto the DAC, downgrading sound quality.

Place the PhoenixNET between your Router and Streamer, as close to your streamer as possible, for optimal sound quality. The use of better quality Ethernet cables with commensurate quality RJ45 connectors will further enhance quality. For further assistance here, please call to discuss.

The ports on the PhoenixNET use the same noise isolated Ethernet ports found on the Innuos Statement, their flagship Music Server. Individually shielded, high quality Ethernet ports are soldered directly to the board with no Ethernet activity lights. It is well known that blinking LEDs introduce considerable electronic noise into digital circuits. The lowering of noise and increase in timing accuracy, means more transparency, more micro details resolved, allowing fine nuances to be easily heard. This technology will also boost the performance of any Ethernet (RJ45) connected device through the three high-quality RJ45 outputs.

Timing is everything with digital signals. The better control you have on this, ‘Jitter’, the easier it is for your DAC to decode the information without more error correction. This allows the DAC to use less aggressive filtering and processing and thus delivers a more coherent and natural presentation. There is also a high-quality clock included, same as that used in the flagship Statement server, with its own linear power supply, which additionally minimises this problem.

In our listening tests we found the sound to be improved in all the critical audiophile areas. The soundstage opens up in both width and, more importantly, depth. The illusion of depth with streaming is one of the main problems with this form of music replay so to enhance this aspect is a major benefit. Timing is also improved presenting the rhythmic qualities of recordings in a more coherent manner.

The PhoenixNET design objective is focused on 4 key areas: Noise, Clock, Power, and Vibration.

Minimise Network Switch Noise

  • Simpler 100mbps network switch chip results in a lower operating noise floor compared to Gigabit chips.

  • Network switch chip with no internal switching regulators. All 3 independent voltages are supplied by dual, internal, Statement-grade linear power supplies with independent ultra-low noise regulators.

  • Massive individual Network Isolation Transformers to further isolate from noise coming from router or other connected devices.

  • Individually shielded, high quality Ethernet ports soldered directly to the board with no Ethernet activity LEDs significantly reducing electronic noise.

  • EMI absorption used in critical areas minimising the impact other key components.

Increase Clocking Precision and Stability

  • Using the same 3ppb 25MHz OCXO oscillator as used in the Statement, individually powered by its own linear power supply and connected directly to the network switch chip, avoiding precision losses from using external master clocks.

Provide Pristine Power to the Components

  • Two independent Statement-grade linear power supplies with Mundorf Capacitors to power individually the OCXO clock and the motherboard, keeping the power path as short as possible with less opportunity for EMI contamination.

Minimise Vibration on Components.

  • Anti-Vibration feet tuned to the resonant frequency of the chassis.

  • Top cover treatment to damp airborne vibration.

  • Sturdy RJ45 ports with silicone isolation connection to the chassis.

Available in black or silver £2599

Innuos website

Innuos PhoenixNET
Innuos PhoenixNET

It is easy to obtain a significantly better sound quality for your CDs by some simple and cost effective treatments. One tip is even for free! The improvements are far from subtle and make sound more natural, less ‘digital’, with more clarity and depth. It raises the bar and separates the sound obtainable from these silver discs further from the other computer orientated digital sources.

 

Disc Cleaner

The outer plastic that encapsulates the aluminium foil of a CD is made from optical grade polycarbonate. This is the same material that spectacle, and some camera, lenses are made from. It is important that this surface is absolutely clean for the laser to extract the information from the pits in the foil without corruption. Even if the surface looks clean it probably isn’t. The manufacturing process will inevitably leave a film of release agent from the stamping process and, with time, atmospheric pollution with coat the surface. The simplest and safest way to clean this surface is with a proprietary cleaner.

The best one we have evaluated is that made by Furutech called PC-Alpha Disc Pure Cleaner. It comes in a little puffer bottle complete with a microfibre cloth. It treats around 100 CDs. For maximum cleanliness, we would recommend using a soft tissue (such as Kleenex) and disposing of it after use. This avoids the build up of dirt on the microfibre cloth unless this is washed very frequently. Remember to clean across the disc surface, never in a circular motion.

Furutech PC-Alpha Disc Pure Cleaner £26

Furutech PC-2 Disc Pure Cleaner

 

Static Build Up

Plastic materials build up static charge very easily. This is especially a problem in a dry centrally heated environment. CDs are particularly prone to this and this influenced the sound from them adding a brightness and harshness to the upper frequencies. Furutech have come up with a novel little static charge remover that is simple to use and treats a CD within 20 seconds. It is called a Destat III. Play a non treated disc for 30 seconds or so. Put it in the Destat machine and play it again. The results are dramatic. A whole new life comes to the sound. It sounds less ‘digital’ with upper frequencies sweet and rounded. Sibilance is virtually eliminated. In our view an essential component for the best sound from CDs.

Furutech Destat III £319

Battery driven, mains adaptor.

Furutech Destat III

 

Free Sound Improvement

When listening to your audio system, try turning off your wireless router and all mobile phones. The sound improves by quite a big margin. Tonal balance becomes more natural with more authority and, most importantly, the sound stage becomes much more holographic. And it’s free!

Go on, we are sure you can live without being connected for a few hours for the sake of an evening’s listening pleasure.