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Reviewer: Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Apple iMac, Squeezebox Touch modified + Welborne Labs PSU, Jadis JD2 Drive, Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01, Audio GD Ref 5 [on loan], TotalDac, Trends UD-10.1
Amp/Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE, SPL Volume2, Orpheus Lab Three Monos, Trends TA-10.2, Hiraga Le Monstre
Speakers: Triangle Magellan Duetto
Cables: Legato & Naturelle Audio digital cable, Naturelle Audio interconnects Live 8 MK2, Audio Art SC-5 SE speaker cables, Legato Precision speaker cables, Legato Fluidita interconnects
Power Cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE
Stands & room: DIY, Triangle TS400 stands, Vicoustic panels
Review Component Retail: €30.000

It’s been a long time since these pages last covered anything by Audioaéro Design. It was 2005 in fact when Srajan’s first review of a French Audioaéro machine netted a Blue Moon for their Prima DAC. Over the intervening years many changes at Audioaéro now culminated in their most ambitious project, a true statement and cost-no-object CD/SACD player with built-in tube line stage simply called La Source with a nod at being an ultimate (not just digital) source component.

Amongst the many internal changes the most significant were the company’s buy-out after several reliability issues with their Prima and Prestige players—the Chinese subcontractor for the “ex Philips and Sony” transports finally vanished—; the move from Toulouse to a more central part in France to restructure the company; the divestment from the amplification manufacturing business and the renewed focus on the core competency of CD/SACD players and D/A converters. At that time the main challenge for the new management team was to secure a reliable provider for top-range CD and SACD transports and to contain production costs on the basis that everything possible would be made locally.

The La Source project positions this French company among the happy few of high-end digital source specialists to now rival the most expensive offerings from Esoteric, EMM Labs, MSB Tech and Orpheus Laboratories. To be able to compete at the very top, Audioaéro developed unique hybrid circuitry featuring extremely accurate digital processing using exclusive 32-bit resampling technology and a subminiature tube output stage. This ambitious project called for prestigious subcontractors such as Esoteric who finally agreed to supply Audioaéro with their very best OEM transport assembly; and ex members from Anagram Technologies for their digital circuitry and more precisely their DSP Star 32/384 modules.

Here it is relevant to stress that the historical partnership between Audioaéro and Anagram Technologies did not end with Anagram’s dissolution in 2010 [certain intellectual property rights have been acquired by Cambridge Audio who now use the Anagram chip in their universal players – Ed]. In fact Anagram’s main subcontractor took over assets and technologies to maintain commercial and technical partnerships. The Swiss ABC PCB company working for Anagram Technologies over five years currently supplies Audioaéro with specific parts previously designed by and still branded Anagram. Add to this collaborative workforce Audioaéro’s proven experience in digital conversion and analogue output stages and the stage was properly set for a competitive flagship SACD deck to arise.

When Audioaéro Design contacted me for a review of this player, I felt very honored as the product had launched two years prior but hardly been reviewed. I had opportunity to put this magnificent machine through its paces over three long months to explore most its capabilities. For the company La Source is an important move towards high-end international markets but it also represents an end-of-the-road platform to shelter a complete line of less expensive products like the introduction of La Fontaine during the last CES. In 2012 Audioaéro plans to release a completely new even more ‘democratically priced’ Capitole to represent the entry-level model of this range of music centers of three CD/SACD models with integral line stages.

Other short-term projects will be a range of D/A converters with a large diversity of digital and analogue inputs. Audioaéro first intends to capitalize on the previous Prestige players to release a very competitive Prestige DAC to market. Then the music controller range will move upmarket with La Fontaine and La Source equivalents.

For the mid-term future, Audioaéro might expand into audio servers, class A amplifiers and perhaps even PowerDacs. But the priority for now is excellence of digital playback combined with technical reliability. For this La Source represents a directorial blue print and Trojan horse. To manifest their ambition,  Audioaéro assembles each device domestically. All critical components are made in Europe by well-known reliable partners except for the very sophisticated casing which was subcontracted to California [presumably to Neal Faye – Ed] and of course the transport is Japanese. In some ways La Source is good-bye and never see you again to Chinese subcontractors. Audioaéro also has no intentions to expand its catalogue down market which would call for compromises. Their focus is squarely on the high end sector.