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
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.