Mu­sic Player of the Year

“The X45 is a rare do-it-all source, and im­por­tantly aims to do it all at an au­dio­phile level of re­pro­duc­tion. Whether stream­ing, rip­ping CDs, play­ing high­res from its in­ter­nal drive, or record­ing and edit­ing vinyl, the X45 is a de­light to have in con­trol

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What do we even mean by ‘Mu­sic Player of the Year’? Well with so many paths to play­back of mu­sic th­ese days, we can give awards to CD play­ers, to stream­ers, to a turntable — but how should we recog­nise a box that at­tempts to do pretty much ev­ery­thing in one unit? That’s cer­tainly where Cock­tail Au­dio sits with its do-it-all so­lu­tions, some of which even in­clude the am­pli­fi­ca­tion as well. The X45 is more the do-it-all source, and im­por­tantly it aims to do so at an au­dio­phile level of re­pro­duc­tion. Its out­puts are avail­able not only on the usual un­bal­anced RCA sock­ets but also from bal­anced XLR sock­ets. It uses a high-qual­ity toroidal power trans­former, with sep­a­rate sup­plies for dig­i­tal and ana­logue cir­cuits. Its con­ver­sion uses dual ESS Sabre 9018K2M chips, widely re­garded as the world’s best, and ca­pa­ble of han­dling high-res PCM files in pretty much any for­mat up to 32-bit/384kHz, as well as DSD na­tive to DSD256, with MQA-com­pat­i­bil­ity as well, so that you can take ad­van­tage of high-res stream­ing from Tidal.

Other stream­ing ser­vices are, of course, also avail­able, and the X45 en­ables ac­cess to Spo­tify, Deezer, TuneIn’s airable in­ter­net ra­dio ser­vice, and a num­ber of oth­ers like Qobuz and Nap­ster which are not, yet, of­fi­cially, avail­able to Aus­tralia. We were de­lighted to find it Roon Ready, should you choose to in­vest in that mu­sic-serv­ing soft­ware (see p86). For all this net­work­ing the X45 use­fully has a Gi­ga­bit-ca­pa­ble Eth­er­net con­nec­tion.

You can plug a com­puter into its USB-B in­put to play di­rectly into its DAC. You can plug a turntable into its mov­ing-mag­net phono stage and play your black vinyl (and record it, and cut it up and store it). There is an ad­di­tional ana­logue in­put, and dig­i­tal in­puts on coax­ial, op­ti­cal and AES/EBU sock­ets.

But in ad­di­tion to re­ceiv­ing mu­sic, it also gives. That CD slot on the front panel is for rip­ping as well as play­ing, and round the back is space for a hard drive po­ten­tially up to 8TB ca­pac­ity, with room for more to be at­tached via two high-speed USB-A 3.0 slots. Once you have a good se­lec­tion of mu­sic in there, the joys of pre­loaded mu­sic be­come ob­vi­ous, es­pe­cially with such well or­gan­ised ac­cess. As high-res files get ever larger, they be­come more prone to the lim­i­ta­tions of your home net­work, but hard-drive stor­age makes them im­mune to that, and guar­an­tees seam­less play­back (and gap­less works great too).

And we’re still not done — there are DAB+ and FM ra­dio tuners inside, and AirPlay is avail­able too. Given all this you might find it re­mark­able that there’s no Blue­tooth here. But we like to think this is a qual­ity de­ci­sion — why make such a ca­pa­ble ma­chine then sub­ject it to the medi­ocre bit-re­duc­tion of this poor­est of trans­mis­sion stan­dards? We spoke once with Cock­tail at an IFA booth in Berlin, and they con­firmed that the Blue­tooth omis­sion was a qual­ity-based call.

Via ei­ther bal­anced or un­bal­anced out­puts, the X45 just got out of the way of the mu­sic; we couldn’t as­cribe any par­tic­u­lar pre­sen­ta­tion to it, other than trans­parency to source. one of its great achieve­ments is its ease of use for a de­vice so ca­pa­ble, and we love the huge supplied printed man­ual with pic­tures, which helps with the more com­plex tasks, like cut­ting up your record­ings into in­di­vid­ual tracks.

At $4999 it is not a cheap source, but add up its con­stituent abil­i­ties, and you re­alise what a bar­gain it is, even with­out con­sid­er­ing the sav­ing in rack space.

More info: www.tivoli­hifi.com

Tivoli Hi-Fi’s Ge­off Haynes col­lects the award for Cock­tail Au­dio.

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