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Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Digital Source: Musical Fidelity A5, Esoteric X-03SE
Analog Source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, RB300, Denon DL103
Preamplifier: SMc VRE-1 preamplifier [on review], Adcom GFP750, Clearaudio Nano
Amplifier: Genesis Reference 360, Musical Fidelity A5, McIntosh MA2275
Speakers: Nomad Audio RPDs, FJ OMs, Rogers LS 3/5a
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Libtec, Zu Gede, Cobalt Ultimate XLR, Consonance Billies
Power Cords: Zu Bok & Zu Mother, Cobalt Ultimate
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics, Standesign stand
Room size: 15' x 30' x 9' opening to 3 other rooms, short wall setup, suspended wood floor, sheetrock walls and ceiling.
Review component retail: $8700

Hand-made in Germany.
Let me be very clear from the start - if the above statement does not correlate to quality and reliability in your mind, read no further. When it comes to sonic performance per dollar, this player is seriously handicapped by its country of manufacture and the badly weakened dollar. Don't get me wrong, the AA player has many admirable qualities but in the sonic department, it faces tough competition at two thirds its price. If you are unwilling to consider the AA player a piece of audio jewelry patiently hand-crafted in Germany; and if you are not ready to overlook the distorted currency factor like anyone else buying a Mercedes or BMW in the US these days; then it does not stand a chance against Ayon, Raysonic, Marantz or Cary.

If you belong to the category of people who feel that, despite similar specs, driving a BMW 535xi is not quite the same as driving an Infinity G35x and you are willing to pay for that elusive difference; if you are searching for a source gently leaning towards the warm and easy of hi-fi listening; then the AA CDP should make it on your list of players to audition

Accustic Arts offers a full line of electronics, speakers and cables and the CD Player I Mk3 is their entry-level 2-channel digital source. AA also offers a full-featured multi-format multi-channel player and, for the strong of heart and wallet, a separate Reference Drive and Tube DAC using a 32-bit architecture, murmured to be taking digital playback to new heights (isn't it amusing that as soon as a format is pronounced dead, manufacturers all rush to author statement playback systems as if having the last word in a shrinking world somehow bestowed sainthood). The object of today's review does not use a 32-bit chip but rather undisclosed 24-bit/192kHz upsampling while adding a slight but deliberate deviation from neutral that I am more accustomed to hearing in non-oversampling, non-digital-filtering designs. But more on this later.

The AA Player I Mk3 is built around the top-loading CDM Pro LF drive with cast metal frame and uses mechanical decoupling to further limit the effect of vibrations on musical playback. Particular attention was put on the power supply which includes a generously dimensioned magnetically shielded toroidal core 100VA transformer as well as 5 separate power supplies for laser control, digital signal processing, display control, display heating and D/A conversion. This hefty power supply, cast metal drive and inert aluminum enclosure translate to a healthy 35lb on the scale and make the Player I a far denser piece of gear than a quick look would initially suggest (although the similarly priced Esoteric X03-SE weights 60lb, making an even stronger statement on what overbuilt truly means, relegating the AA Player to second fiddle when it comes to pounds of metal for the dollar).

To round up introductions, I need to mention the presence of high quality, enclosure-mounted RCA and XLR analog outputs as well as AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital outputs but unfortunately none of the digital inputs I was expecting from a CD-only player at this price. That's a very regrettable omission in my mind. It would have helped close the value gap this player suffers without adding insurmountable manufacturing cost. Provided specifications mention low distortion of 0.0016% (THD+N), dynamic peak levels of 120dB, crosstalk better than -101dB and S/N above 103dB. I don't put a lot of stock in how those numbers relate to musical enjoyment so let's just say that they put the AA player amongst the top-measuring performers but not necessarily at the very top for any of those specifications.

The front fascia is made of a thick aluminum plate, slightly broader than the enclosure itself and sticking out on the sides in a fashion reminiscent of pro gear that needs to be enclosed in a rack. Since nobody in their right mind would enclose a top-loading CD player in a rack, I assume it's just a design statement. The display in the center of the front plate is relatively small but of high sharpness and contrast, making it easier to read from a distance than any player I have owned or reviewed so far. This display is surrounded by the play and stop buttons and further out, by two knobs, one to access track next/back, the other to take the player out of standby mode (in which all critical circuits are maintained warm for optimal sound from the start). All knobs and controls have the most sensuous feeling, a firm but never excessive resistance that could easily drive me to use descriptive imagery I'd later regret.

The main on/off switch is located around back and surprisingly, the manual recommends shutting the player down completely if it won't be used for more than an hour. So what's the standby mode good for if you can only use it for less than 60-minute intermissions? Enquiries made with the distributor determined that the statement in the manual is only for compliance with European laws on energy preservation. If you're eco-conscious, use the back switch (warm up takes about 20 minutes). If you're not, the frontal knob will do. All the other typical functions can be accessed from the remote control, another heavy metal affair I do not recommend you drop on your foot or coffee table.

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