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This review first appeared in the March 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Aesthetix - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: 31.500zł

Each day our life becomes more digitized. Hence nobody shows surprise by even linguistic hybrids like CD transport/DAC or DAC/CDP. Modern language follows the reality we live in. It reflects the minds of the people using its technology. It matters not whether that's a good or bad thing. And the reality of our present audio world sees the status of physical music carriers degrade at a fast pace whilst the importance of computer music files grows at a mindblowing rate. When a respected company today introduces a new CD player, it either means that somebody went ape or that it disguises some clever strategy. Which one depends at whom such a product is addressed.

Jim White of Aesthetix

I still remember a conversation I had some 3 years ago with Adam Shaw-Cotteril, director of sales at Cambridge Audio. We met in the very comfortable surroundings of Bartek Łuczak's photo studio which is responsible for how High Fidelity looks. We sat, sipped our tea and chatted about new CA products including their new NP30 file player. I remember asking an obvious question then – did this mean that they would resign from making CD players? Adam shook his head no emphatically. They would continue to manufacture CD players for as long as customers listened to discs. One could think this the only correct answer. But if you take a look at my interviews of 'The Editors' cycle, you'll see how each audio journalist has his own opinion about the future of the compact disc. Some claim that people will use CDs for many years to come, others feel that the era of CD is over already.

What do I think? One thing obvious to me is that the countdown for CD has already begun. The format will become obsolete sooner or later. In the mid-priced segment CD players will become extinct pretty soon. They are literally getting murdered by many manufacturers offering some sort of decent file player. It might take longer in the entry-level segment because until now manufacturers there have failed to offer cheap and easy-to-use products. I think the situation in the high-end is quite different. I think here CD and SACD players will last longest, perhaps another 10 to 15 years. There are many reasons for this but the most important is that only recently we have begun to experience real magic from CDs. Only the relatively latest generation of players has been able to present true top performance of what may be gotten from a CD. It would be a mistake to kiss the format good-bye too quickly.

This progress was achieved by both the actual hardware players and newer compact disc manufacturing processes like Crystal Disc, SHM-CD, HQCD, Blu-spec 2, SHM-XRCD24, CD-R copies of master tapes and so on. And one more factor discourages owners of high-end systems from using music files. It seems that even the best labels still aren't ready to author files properly in particular for hi-res versions. Most of them learnt by now how to produce a very good sounding CD but music files seem to remain terra incognita with many traps waiting along the road to good sound.

That's why Audio Research recently introduced the CD9 and why Aesthetix released the Romulus. These are high-end machines for high-end systems. What's interesting is that the latter comes in two versions, with and without CD transport. If you're not planning on spinning discs the D/A converter with USB input called Pandora will suffice. That costs around 24.000 Polish. If you mean to keep spinning CDs, go with the Teac transport which adds 4.000zl. Then you'll have a transport and DAC in one box. There's one final option for either – volume control which adds another 3.400zl. The fully loaded version now becomes a CD player/DAC/preamplifier as the version I reviewed. Some of its features are a RedBook-designed transport mechanism, a twin-transformer power supply, four ultra-precise low-jitter oscillators sitting right next to the DAC chip, asynchronous USB input licensed from Wavelength Technologies, digital inputs for 44.1–192kHz PCM in modular slots, USB 1 and 2 modes (the former requires no driver), an optional second USB input, proprietary digital filters embedded in a Motorola DSP56362 chip, Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC chips and an analogue output stage built around 2 x 12AX7 and 2 x 6DJ8/6922.

Sound – a selection of recordings used during my auditions: MJ Audio Technical Disc vol.6, Seibundo Shinkosha Publishing, MJCD-1005, CD (2013); Adam Makowicz, Unit, Muza Polskie Nagrania /Polskie Nagrania, "Polish Jazz vol.35", PNCD 935, CD (1973/2004); Artur Lesicki Acoustic Harmony, Stone & Ashes, Fonografika, 559040, CD-R (CD: 2010); Bogdan Hołownia, Chwile, Sony Music Polska, 505288 2, CD-R (CD: 2001); Czesław Niemen, Katharsis, Muza Polskie Nagrania, PRCD 339, "Niemen od pocz±tku, nr 9", CD (1976/2003); Czesław Niemen, Spodchmurykapelusza, Pomaton EMI, 36237, CD (2001); Depeche Mode, Heaven, Mute/Columbia, 47537-2, maxi SP, CD (2013); Diorama, Even Devil Doesn’t Care, Accession Records, A 133, CD (2013); Frank Sinatra, Sinatra Sings Gershwin, Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music Entertainment, 507878 2, CD (2003)...

...John Coltrane, Coltrane, Impulse!, 589 567-2, "Deluxe Edition", 2 x CD (1962/2002); Józef Skrzek, Podróż w krainę wyobraĽni, Polskie Nagrania/Metal Mind Productions, MMP CD 0541, CD (1978/2009); Komeda Quintet, Astigmatic, Muza Polskie Nagrania /Polskie Nagrania, "Polish Jazz vol.5", PNCD 905, CD (1966/2004); Lars Danielsson, Mélange Bleu, ACT, 9604-2, "ACT: Nu Jazz"", CD (2006); Lucy Ann, Lucky Lucy Ann, Mode Records/Muzak, MZCS-1121, "Mode Vocal Collection", CD (1957/2007); The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out, Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment Hong Kong, 883532, "K2HD Mastering CD", No. 0055, CD (1959/2011); The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 032 UDC, "Direct From Master Disc. Master Edition", gold CD-R (1964/2009); Tomasz Stańko Quartet, Lontano, ECM, 1980, CD (2006); Wes Montgomery, Echoes of Indiana Avenue, Resonance Records, 195562, CD (2012).